As Time Goes By
I found the address on Seasalter Road, near Graveney, and now stood gazing at the gate of a blissful garden. I I glanced up as the front door to a brick home came ajar and a woman’s round face smiled at me from the opening. “Hi,” I called, “I’m Elisa Martinelli, from the U.S…”
The middle-aged woman, dressed in lavender slacks and a cable-knit sweater, moved carefully down the shallow steps of her stoop and advanced along the walkway. “I’m so happy you found us. Come inside…” She unlatched the wrought-iron gate and swung it wide.
“Are you Miriam?” I asked, but it was obviously her. “It’s so beautiful, so peaceful here!”
“I hope it stays that way,” Miriam replied, walking briskly. She climbed the stoop and stepped inside, holding the front door for me to enter.
I don’t know what I expected from a cattery in the UK — cages and the odor of cat boxes? — but there was nothing of the sort here. The interior of the home was all polished wood, plush carpet and comfortable furniture scattered with cat toys and kitty-beds. I counted a dozen Siamese cats, including kittens, sleeping and playing. I was excited and happy to be among them, direct descendants of the kittens imported from Bangkok in 1886.
Miriam beckoned me to follow her into a cozy dining area off the living room where a table was set for tea. “Please, sit. Let’s talk.”
As I lowered myself into a painted Victorian side-chair I thought I heard the sound of a propeller driven airplane. The gravelly noise hovered just on the edge of my perception, and I waited for it to begin its Doppler arc as it passed. But the noise didn’t abate, and instead grew louder, as if the aircraft were circling directly over the house. “Wow,” I commented, “What is that?”
Miriam studied me, an embarrassed expression on her face. “I was hoping this wouldn’t bother us during your visit.” She sighed, began pouring tea. Cats yowled as the number of roaring engines above seemed to multiply.
My heart pounded and I felt the urge to run, to hide. It was all I could do to stay in my seat. My eyes were turned upward, my knuckles white as I clutched the cloth at the edge of the table. “What the..?” I suddenly heard the unmistakable scream and rale of fighter planes soaring high, swooping, shooting, spiraling. I couldn’t stand it any longer. “I’m sorry,” I said as I leaped up and ran through her living room toward the front door. I charged out, down the steps, down the brick path. I turned and turned, my neck craned, the edge of my hand shading my eyes.
The sky was blue with puffs of white clouds. It was clear, the sun was shining brightly. There was a slight aromatic breeze. There wasn’t a thing up there. Not a single object, not a shadow on the ground. I caught sight of a neighbor, who grinned and nodded at me. I was startled by Miriam, standing at my shoulder, holding two cats I’d let escape when I flew outside. “Where are they, what happened?”
“They’re not there. They’re never there. It’s been getting louder, and more frequent. I was hoping your visit would be…” She paused as the horrific clamor seemed to grow more faint. “It’s over for now. Please, come back inside, this won’t happen again for a while.”
“I don’t understand.” I was reluctant to return. I wanted very much to get back into my rented car and leave the area. Every hair on my body was standing upright. Much like the cats in Miriam’s arms, whose tails were fluffed and fur spiked.
“Sounds like Hawker Hurricanes to me. And Messerschmitts,” a man said, his voice wobbly. I recognized him as the neighbor I’d just viewed in the next yard over. He was standing beside us now.
“Sam, go home,” Miriam said, her tone flat.
“I’ve been telling her,” he continued, ignoring the woman and her cats, “it’s August, September 1941, getting closer and closer. Not everywhere, just here … our bad luck, like when you have a sinkhole or a landslide or some other natural disaster pop up.”
“Elisa, I’d love to sell you some kitties, won’t you come back inside?”
“Perfectly safe, just scary,” the old man continued. “You know what it feels like when your train is moving in one direction, and the train on the track next to you is moving in the other? That’s what I think, two times are passing one another, almost touching, so close we can feel the heat from the flames and hear the the Browning machine guns, but on different tracks…”
I looked upward one more time — the sky was serene. I couldn’t stop shivering.