I struggle in the door from Down the Country, arrows still sticking from my hat, the leather mail satchel shot through with renegade bullets. But instead of the hero's welcome with which I am accustomed to be greeted, Herself announces:
"The cat's gone missing."
"Again?" I ask, throwing my gun belt over the hat stand and feeding the pony a sugarlump.
I say: "I bet he's in next door's shed."
"He's not. I checked."
"Where's his sister?"
"All locked up. She doesn't seem to miss him at all."
I go outside and clap my hands loudly, startling the pleasant African child next door who waves at me a little uncertainly. I wave back and retreat indoors.
"He'll turn up. Fish fingers for dinner?"
We sit and eat. Herself's heart isn't in it.
Herself hops the fence anyway and opens the shed door, calling. Still no cat.
"He'll turn up," I say again. "Wait and see."
Herself rings me from her walk.
"No," I say.
"Why do you sound so muffled?"
"I'm on my hands and knees in our shed with my head stuck half-way under a shelf trying to get a candle to shine in a reflection made by your makeup mirror to see if the bloody cat is inside the kennel I said I'd dig out from under all the junk and didn't do."
"Any sign of him?"
"No. But I have a great view of his sister, making fetching cat faces at herself in the mirror."
Herself moons about for the evening, mentioning where we'll bury the cat when we come across it dead in the ditch. Or how lonely it must be in whatever attic it has become trapped in.
About a quarter to nine there's a thump from the back door. The cat galumphs in, throws his briefcase and cap into the corner and marches about, tail high, telling us what a crap day he's had and how the market went today (starlings down; a good day to put money into sparrows).
He then had the cheek to ask me why he was being fed so late.
His sister didn't even say a word when I dropped him off at their feline condominium.