The Apothecary and the cat sat in the bath in companionable silence. Each lost in their own thoughts, or possibly in mute reflection. It was impossible to tell the difference.
The bath, a large old-fashioned clawed-foot type, sat in the centre of a sparse room notable only for the black and white floor tiling and stark white walls. Those privileged few who had seen this room could visualise this scene in a motivational poster with captions referring to attributes such as austerity or minimalism, or perhaps emptiness. If only it were not for the existence of the two occupants of the bath.
Many thought the Apothecary to be elderly, given the wispy nature of his long grey hair and the extraordinary length of his dirty grey beard; the later he kept in a straggly plait whilst the former was too sparse for such formality.
Little can be said of the cat, being a standard ginger tabby, other than the fact that its coat was waterlogged and its whiskers drooping. And, of course, the fact that it was sitting in a tub of water by its own choice.
The Apothecary was an enigma. His neighbours knew little about him. There was rarely any noise from his small, narrow terrace in a row of similarly non-descript houses. As far as those with whom he shared a driveway knew, he kept regular working hours and appeared to walk to whatever occupied his days. He kept no car, and had never been known to have gone away for any more than a single day.
Had anyone asked, none of the other residents would be able to recall any visitors. Salesmen and charity collectors did not call at the Apothecary’s house. The low iron-railed front gate was kept locked. And yet all would agree he was pleasant enough in his responses to casual greetings by others. The Apothecary did not initiate conversations.
In truth, the people in his street felt better acquainted with the cat. It spent its days sitting on the window sill of the only window that fronted the street, until the Apothecary came home in the afternoons and pulled down the blind. The cat was mainly motionless throughout the day, apart from the constant twitching of its tail. Not even the occasional bird that perched briefly in the pocket-sized and cemented front yard could produce any response from the cat.
A group of young hooligans once theorised that the cat was mechanical, and threw a rock at the window. The cat flattened its ears and bared its teeth, but if it hissed those beyond the glass could not hear it. There was, however, no doubt in their minds that the cat was glaring at them with such malevolence that they were convinced they should spend their energies elsewhere.
Had the cat cared, it would not have been uncomfortable with being referred to by its species. The Apothecary, had he known, would perhaps have been puzzled by the title given to him by the strangers that lived around him. He knew little more about chemistry than his cat. It was history that bound the two together.
To be continued ....