by Louise Worthington
Caroline’s skin begins to cool on top of the white knotted sheet, and her mouth opens to elicit a sound no other human hears. Tissues are alive, vessels ripe for more inscription as her thought-flesh thrashes in sleep. Now, her skin is permissive, sweat glands and pores open like a mouth of rough sea-water.
Startled by something, Caroline wakes and purrs with pleasure. Then with a jolt to find her cotton nightie wrapped under her hairy armpits, she yanks the nightie down, appalled by her nakedness and the odour of sweat and something else on her face and neck. Hair is matted to her forehead, and yet the bedroom doesn’t feel unusually warm.
Switching on the side-light, Caroline casts her green gaze around the ground floor apartment. A reading book on the bedside table might settle her down, but the soft marrow of her dream lingers. Her temples ache and the space between her eyes and legs are damp. Perhaps she should get up, drink a glass of warm milk. A look behind the curtains might reassure her guided by the orange glow on parked cars and wheelie bins.
Still, the shadows cast by her nightie, the contours of flesh within it, cause her to pause. The vividness of the dream lingers on her exfoliated epidermis.
She tosses the covers off now pooled in a lemony light. It is two o’clock in the morning. Too early to get up for work. Caroline decides to do a few jobs in the kitchen, feed the cat, wash up the dishes from her tuna-pasta supper, and then go back to bed.
Miniature white light from appliances is cast in rigid digital shapes. The temperature in the kitchen is much cooler. Sweetpea’s cat flap is caught in mid-swing—a long furry tail exits.
Caroline flips on the light-switch and screams at the clowder of cats perched on kitchen units, on the kitchen table and licking at the leftovers on her dinner plate.
‘Christ! Get out!’
Nonchalantly, furry heads turn, a perusal of feline gaze follows, but none of the cats move a muscle. Black and white fur on the table, two purring tom-cats, a tortoiseshell, one mangy moggy, a hissing fat grey male, some mating, some caterwauling,
How long has this been going on for? She touches her brow. Was it sweat she felt there, and elsewhere?
Caroline removes the daffodils from a vase and throws the water on the kitchen floor. Hissing, three cats exit through the cat flap. Outside, cats are yowling and fighting. Sweetpea jumps onto the kitchen unit beside her and studiously begins to lick her hand. Its familiar rough tongue dislodges a memory: the familiar scent, texture.
Screaming now, Caroline runs to the bathroom and hastily steps into the shower. Tears and hot water keep falling until steam billows from floor to ceiling, obscuring the mirror and the face staring into it.
Louise Worthington is a writer in the West Midlands, UK. Her work has recently appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Storgy (forthcoming), Scribble, Ariel Chart and elsewhere. Find out more here https://louiseworthington.co.uk/ and Twitter@worthing9