Hubert

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This was a piece of English homework I was set last year (full marks =)). It's about an old widow with only a cat called Cabbages for company, and what she remembers about her husband. Bon appetit!

Submitted: December 14, 2008

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Submitted: December 14, 2008

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Hubert

Hubert’s photograph still smiled down at her, as it had done for over ten years now. She knew that smile so well, with its big, slightly wonky teeth. His spectacles had slid to the end of his nose, as they always used to when he smiled, and one snowy eyebrow was slightly raised.

It was so lonely without him. They’d never had any children, just Cabbages, and even he was getting on a bit now. Which reminded her: she should bring him in soon, it was nearly his dinnertime. After he’d eaten, she’d pick him up and put him on her knee, and he would sit there, purring. It would make her feel better, at least until she next thought about Hubert.

She rose to her feet, a little unsteadily, and made her way towards the door. As she was about to go outside, she thought she saw Hubert in the corner of her eye, sitting in the chair she had just vacated. But no, he wasn’t there when she turned. He couldn’t be, not anymore.

Outside, the street was deserted but for some youngsters slouching against the house opposite’s fence, and the weather was dark and gloomy. It was always dark and gloomy these days. She remembered her honeymoon, how sunny it had been, and how it had been bright for the next forty-five years. Then, like a light switch had been flicked off, all the brightness had abruptly gone.

She cast her eyes over the front garden, but it was empty apart from the grass, some flowers under the window, and the tree. Cabbages was very old for a cat, and his arthritis didn’t normally let him go past the edges of the garden. She herself had a similar problem.

So, the tree was the only logical place for him to be. He often climbed up it, and there wasn’t anything she could do to tempt him down again. She looked at it. It was a horse-chestnut, older than her grandparents and taller than her house. Rotten to the core, too. She kept worrying that it would fall down, but what could she do? She didn’t have anywhere near enough money to hire someone to cut it down.

She shuffled over to it and croaked “Cabbages?” Nothing happened. She cleared her throat and called him again, a little louder. Still nothing happened in the tree. Some of the young louts across the road were sniggering at her, but she ignored them and peered up through the branches. She couldn’t see him, and decided to go inside before it rained. She would just have to face the evening alone. It wouldn’t be too bad, she thought. She could almost see Hubert now, standing in the doorway with his arms crossed, smiling at his wife’s foolishness.

As she walked painfully back to the house, she remembered how Cabbages had got his name. It was one of Hubert’s little jokes. As he’d said, it was common knowledge that cats had nine lives, because you couldn’t get rid of them. Cabbages, he’d said, smiling as he always did at his own jokes, were also impossible to get rid of, because you always had some left on your plate. Therefore they must have nine lives, or at least seven. That was how he’d made the connection between cats and cabbages, and why he’d named their cat “Cabbages”. He’d probably read it from some book sometime, but it had made her laugh, and still did now.

Then she heard something that broke her from her reminiscing. A truly terrible sound, like someone sawing through a blackboard but a hundred times worse. She turned around, knowing what she was going to see and dreading it; the tree was falling! With a sound that would haunt her nightmares for years, the mighty horse-chestnut leaned over sideways. For a moment it seemed to hang in mid-air; then, it came crashing down across the road.

Silence fell. For a few minutes, all she could do was stare at the wreckage. Then her mind seemed to wake up again.

“Cabbages!” she cried, and her voice sounded scared. Her old legs found new life as she practically sprinted over the pile of timber. She sank to her knees, ignoring their protesting clicks. Surely it couldn’t be. Not again. Not like Hubert. It was too soon, too sudden, too unexpected.

She didn’t want to be alone.

A new sound caught her attention. It was nearly as unpleasant as the sound of the tree, but to her it was like the ray of sunshine that had been missing for so long. It was a plaintive, pathetic little mewing sound. Cabbages was alive!

She grasped the nearest piece of wood, and tried to lift it. It didn’t sound like he was buried too far down. If she could just get to him... But she couldn’t. The wood was too heavy, and her hands were too weak. She tried again with a different piece. Surely she could lift this one. But no, the wood slipped from her feeble hands with a soft thud.

Someone squatted down next to her. She thought she saw a flash of white hair, light glinting off someone’s glasses, and she looked up; but it was one of the youngsters from across the road. His hair was brown, and he wasn’t wearing glasses at all.

He didn’t say a word, but grasped one of the pieces of wood she had just failed to lift. Young, powerful muscles rippled, and the timber came free. The young man reached down into the exposed cavity and pulled out a wriggling, spitting ball of fur.

“Yours?” he grunted, and placed the cat into her arms.

“Thank you,” she stuttered. He nodded, and stood up. There was a street lamp behind him, and its light shone in his greasy hair, momentarily making it look white. For a second he was Hubert, exactly as he had looked ten years ago, on their fortieth wedding anniversary. He had handed her this same cat then, too, and the words he had spoken echoed in her ears as though he were speaking them right now.

This is for you, Sarah, as thanks for looking after me for the past forty years.” Then his voice had turned serious. “But let’s not spend all our time looking to the past. We have long lives ahead of us, and we need to live them. Remember that.”

She had forgotten, but she remembered now. She clambered to her feet, tears in her eyes. “Yes, Hubert, you’re right! I’ve spent too long looking to the past. I’m going to live my life from now on! Thank you!” And she turned and ran back to the house, Cabbages the cat in her arms. The brown-haired young man stared after her, muttering “Mad old crone,” under his breath.

And behind him, the ghostly figure of a man with snowy white hair and glasses that had slid to the end of his nose was standing beneath the lamppost with his arms folded, smiling at his wife’s foolishness. “You’re welcome,” he murmured, and slowly faded away into nothingness.


© Copyright 2020 Matthu. All rights reserved.

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