Surveillance by Nuala O’Connor

Putin looks at me with love, then lunges and bites my finger, his sharp little teeth vising my skin. He has always been a little fucker, a hot-cold kind of cat. He’s like most people, I suppose, totally two-faced. I shove Putin off the window-seat and, sucking my own blood, continue my surveillance because there’s sod-all else to do, in these lockdown days.

Number eight’s granny has escaped again; she’s trotting back to her own house, probably, but her son-in-law trails behind her, letting her stretch a bit, I suppose, before dragging her back to her cocoon. This granny smiles a lot and I like that. I mean, she can’t have much to be thrilled about, being gaga and widowed and what-not. I can never understand how married people get through the day-to-day lunacy of being together; she is probably rejoicing that her husband is gone. Still, anyone over fifty who manages to smile has saintliness inside them, if you ask me.

The policeman from number four is out now, talking to Granny and her SIL, and he’s waving his arms about, not social-distancing at all and, as a frontline worker, he should know better. His name is Clarence Whitby-Walks, I shit you not. And, when off duty, Clarence likes to dress like the stars. He does Dolly Parton – so frickin’ obvious! – and Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. I have to say, he does look like them – a bit – but he’s just so creepy. A policeman in lipstick. Well, you know, I just can’t.

I open the window a crack because Clarence and the SIL are shouting at each other now. Clarence has the granny by the arm, steering her towards her cocoon – two metres apart, moron! – and the SIL pulls his MIL by her other arm, and now there’s an epic push-me-pull-you going on. The granny has started cackling like a loon, but the men are blueing up the air with their bollix this and fuckwit that, because each of them wants to win. Next thing Granny stumbles on the kerb and over she topples, and the two men let go of her and, in a sort of mad slow-quick-slow movement, she hits the footpath and clunk goes her head.

‘Yowch,’ I say, and my heart is battering in my chest so hard I think it will pop into my throat. Putin jumps onto the window-seat again, startling me, and I stroke his grey back and we watch the scene before us, like a pair of gladiators at the Colosseum.

Clarence starts backing away now and he’s shaking his head; the SIL is kneeling by his MIL, crying, ‘Oh God, oh Jesus’, and my nose fills with the sweetness of lemon hand-sanitiser because his cries remind me of the way our church smells these days.

The granny’s blood is making a black puddle on the cement and the SIL is crouched over her, mithering like a baby, probably thinking about the fact that his wife is going to murder him because of what he’s done to her mother, and Clarence has disappeared inside his own house and shut the door.

Putin flips over onto his back so that I will scratch his belly and I dig my nails in as much as he’ll allow and I croon, ‘Good puss, great puss’ and, when I look out the window again, the SIL is gone and the granny is just lying there, a small smile on her lovely old face.

Nuala O’Connor lives in Co. Galway, Ireland. Her forthcoming novel is about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce. Nuala is editor at flash e-zine Splonk.

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