Rafe Stonor opened his eyes to the sun streaming through the curtains of his bedroom window and a familiar noise in his ear. Sitting on his chest was Artemis, a small black cat with golden eyes and a loud purr.She had been the gift of a beautiful and gracious lady with whom he had had a passionate but brief love affair.
"Breakfast?" he enquired. Artemis signalled her agreement by jumping off the bed and heading for the kitchen with her tail aloft. Rafe, stretching and yawning saw to both their needs.
A world famous painter, he had moved temporarily into the neighbourhood a few weeks ago. Five years of intensive work had culminated in an exhibition in New York. It had been well received by critics and the art world alike. He was exhausted with both the work and all the attention. His agent had found him this small flat in a sleepy seaside town in the off season. Here,far from his usual haunts, he could chill out, as she put it, for a few months. Rafe had been delighted with the idea, the town and the flat. Since his arrival he had eaten and slept better thah he had done for a long time. Artemis, who went everywhere with him, was equally happy. For once she had him all to herself and was shamelessly exploiting the situation.
Banned from bringing paints, palette and easel for the time of his rest, he had nevertheless managed to hide a sketch pad in his luggage.
"Let's look at the world outside" he said to the cat. Sitting in the armchair by the window, he gazed at the street outside. It was a quiet street in a residential area with a few shops. A block of flats opposite had already provided him with much entertainment. A newly wed couple had a flat on the second floor. Everything they had seemed new and they were still in that delightful stage of early married life. On the floor above them was an old couple who went out several times a day with two pekinese dogs. When she had seen them in the street below, Artemis had nearly gone through the window in her haste to get at them. It took Rafe a long time to calm her down and negotiate a truce. She had now reaced the stage when she sat on the arm of his chair and hissed and spat whenever they appeared. On the top was an elderly Jewish gentleman, who with an old world courtesy, lifted his hat to any ladies he passed on his daily walks. Rafe was fascinated by him and had made several sketches of him for a painting that was taking shape in his mind. Also on the top floor was a flat where the curtains were drawn for a large part of the day. Rafe was puzzled. Late morning the curtains were partially drawn back and a woman would look out. She was tall and distinguished looking, with beautifully coiffed white hair and was always impeccably dressed. She emerged from the main door of the block late one afternoon walking with a cane. Rafe watched her walk to the end of the street and enter a park. She stood by the park gates for a while, as if she was waiting for someone. No one seemed to join her and she walked slowly home. From where he sat Rafe could sense her desolation. She regained her flat and closed the curtains again. Who was she? Rafe knew it was none of his business but she intrigued him, also a vague memory was lurking in the back of his mind, but it refused to come to the fore. Where had he seen her before?
One afternoon, with the sketch book tucked under his arm and several pencils sticking out of his pocket, Rafe went for a long walk along the seafront. He had left Artemis asleep on the bed, had checked all possible escape routes carefully knowing how persistent she could be when she wanted to go out. This was a strange neighbourhood for her and if she got out she'd get lost. He sat on a bench and sketched happily until the light began to fade and he headed for home. As he opened the front door he expected to be met by a long tirade of feline recriminations. He was greeted by a total silence. He called her. No answer. Seized by panic he checked the rooms,every window was shut. Then he looked in the bathroom, not only was the door ajar but he'd left the window slightly open to let the steam out after his shower. Artemis, never one to have her desires foiled, had got out that way. He opened every window and called her. No sign. He rushed out into the street half expecting to find a small black corpse in the gutter. There was none. He walked slowly up and down the street looking and calling, to no avail. He went back home in case she'd come home. No sign of her. He sat for a moment deciding what to do. Artemis was not only in a strange place but she was totally unstreetwise.
It was nearly dark, he had to do something. He had an idea. He went out again and crossed the street to the block of flats opposite and rang every doorbell. The only one who answered was the old Jewish gentleman on the top floor. He showed Rafe into his flat when he heard the story. No, he hadn't seen a small black cat. The young folk on the second floor would be home from work shortly perhaps they could help. He made Rafe a cup of tea while they waited. A few minutes later they heard them come in. With thanks and a promise to let him know if Artemis was found Rafe went and knocked on the newlywed's door. It was opened by the young man. Rafe related his story.
"Come in,come in. By the way, I'm Tom and this is my wife Sylvia. No we haven't seen a small black cat and we've just walked back from the station. What you need are some fliers. Have you got a photo of her?"
Rafe produced one from his wallet together with a card with his mobile number.
"Sit down for a minute. I'll do you some fliers on the computer."
Tom was all efficiency. Sylvia, just as practical, made Rafe a stiff drink and a sandwhich. The fliers were produced and Tom divided them into two piles.
"Tell you what, we'll take one pile and stick them up on our way to the station tomorrow. You take the other pile and stick them up in the opposite direction. Someone must have seen her and taken her in."
Rafe, warmed by the kindness, went home where he spent a cold, sleepless night having left all the windows open in case Artemis turned up. The next morning, bleary-eyed and headachy he pushed his breakfast round a plate, then collecting his coat he took the other pile of fliers and set out. True to their word, Tom and Sylvia had fixed fliers to every suitable surface. Rafe did the same thing in the opposite direction then went home to worry, fret and wait. It was mid-afternoon when he arrived home and sat in his armchair by the window, with his mobile on his knee. The bad night started to catch up with him and he nodded off. His mobile ringing woke him. A woman's voice answered his "hello."
It was a calm and gentle voice and it said
"My name is Laura Faber and I have found your cat. Would you like to come and collect her?"
Rafe shot out of the armchair at speed.
"Where are you Mrs Faber?"
She gave him her address? Struggling into a jacket he looked at the block of flats opposite. The woman who had found Artemis was the mystery woman on the top floor
He hurtled out of the door, pausing at the florist to buy a posy of flowers. Clutching these he rang Mrs Faber's doorbell. She opened the door with Artemis in her arms. Artemis looked smug and smelt of roast chicken.
"Where did you...? How did you...?" he burbled.
Mrs Faber led him into the sitting room, handed him the cat and relieved him of the flowers he had thrust at her.
"How kind. I'll put these in water, please sit down and I'll tell you all about it. Would you like some tea?"
While he was waiting with Artemis settled on his knees, he looked around him. The room was tastefully furnished but what caught his painter's eye were the paintings on the walls. Then it clicked. The late Robert Faber had been one of the great painters of the 20th century. Now he knew where he had seen Laura Faber before. Her husband's portrait of her hung in one of the big London galleries. He'd admired it several times.
Laura Faber came in with a teatray and the flowers in a delicate vase. These she set on the coffee table next to a studio portrait of a handsome young army officer, who bore a strong resemblance to her.
"My son Paul",she said as she poured the tea. "He's in Afghanistan with his regiment. I go cold every time the phone rings. Let me tell you about my encounter with Artemis. I saw your fliers on my way to the park today. I go there often as it is a favourite place of mine. On my way back I noted your phone number in case. When I came home I found her crouched on my bedroom window sill. I let her in. She seemed very hungry so I gave her some chicken. The rest you know. I'd like to say Mr Stonor, that I am a great admirer of your work and I've read all the critics on your recent exhibition in New York. I am delighted to meet you and glad that the circumstance is a happy one."
They spoke of art for a while then clutching Artemis he left having extracted a promise from Laura that she would have lunch with him at her favourite restaurant. He then knocked on the Jewish gentleman's door to introduce him to Artemis. She was happy to add yet another fan to her fan club. Tom and Sylvia were delighted to meet her too when he rang their bell. They arranged to meet up at a local pub on Saturday.
Once safely home, all doors and windows secured, he looked at Artemis and said "I came here for a rest cure but your escapade has made sure that I met some friendly and interesting people." Artemis gazed intently at him with her golden eyes and headed for the kitchen.
Copyright Jacqueline Hastings 2010