In the same way most of the mass of an iceberg lay unseen below the surface, so did the greater meaning of the front room of number 23. The mantle clock, condiment set, aspidistra and candles were eye-catching in their own ways but it was their relative positions that was the main business of the room.
Mrs Woosencraft gladly shared the rest of her home with the cats but no four-footed creatures ever entered her front room. They were curious all right, all cats are. Every now and then an inquisitive furry face peered through the door, one paw hesitantly poised above the threshold. The paw never descended, they never went in.
The room wasn’t a temple, nothing in it was sacrosanct or sacred, there was no mystic anti-feline radiance. It was just the place Mrs Woosencraft practiced the one thing that most exercised her intellect and to a significant extent defined her – the magic that allowed itself to be known quite wrongly as Deg Naw Wyth.
In that sense the room actually was Mrs Woosencraft. When the cats looked in, she looked back. Like young children at the threshold of an adult’s private room they hung at the doorway, lost their nerve and quietly slipped away.
When Mrs Woosencraft first came to Brighton the glass animals in the display case felt more important. Rulers, set-square, protractor, and significant amounts of time had all been used to place them exactly as she felt they needed to be – their relative positions, the alignments of their gaze.
She came to realise that all that careful arrangement was prevarication, a delay that could be better spent actually getting on with what needed to be done.
Also, the one that was supposed to be a duck but looked like nothing that had ever quacked kept falling over.
‘It’s just a lot of fiddling about,’ Ethel Godwinsson once said. ‘The only good it can do is help you focus. You may as well bake a cake or have a poo.’
The clock needed winding once a week, the aspidistra liked having its leaves wiped with a damp rag. They and the candlesticks drew down focus, centred and balanced the room. The angles between them were exactly right. It was all she needed and she knew it. Today, however, with sunlight slanting through the windows, she prevaricated with her glass animals. She turned the red octopus and the deer, adjusted the stance of the giraffe and balanced the almost but not quite a duck.
The dachshund came from Bangor, the pelican from Solva. The glass fly, perhaps the strangest beast in her glass menagerie, come from Prague, a present from one of Ethel’s nephews.
Ethel Godwinsson had passed on. Her bungalow was sold to developers and that was that. Mrs Woosencraft might be the last practitioner of the craft but she hadn’t given up hope. With the wisdom of luminaries such as Keith, Heegner and Cataldi to draw upon and the affinity of her cats for a certain type of oceanic person there was still every chance she would find what she had come to Brighton to look for. More to the point – who.
Losing her cat, had been a major set-back. Cats did disappear every now and then. They were nosey and they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. Surprise led to panic, panic to flight, and flight to – well, unfortunate encounters. Wherever Un Deg Naw had ended up she hoped the silly thing was happy.
Its absence had forced Mrs Woosencraft to ‘borrow’ a replacement so she had nineteen cats again.
That ‘borrowing’ brought a pang of guilt whenever she saw the original owner.
A disappearing cat was one thing, the bumblebee quite another. Some person with power had stepped in, rattled her cage and literally buzzed off again. She’d paid them back tit-for-tat, but still didn’t know the who or the why. It was high time she took a deeper look into what was going on.
Pen and paper, slide rule, compass, log tables, pencil sharpener and rubber lay ready. Mrs Woosencraft took her place at the black oak table and became the final component in the alignments of angle and distance in the room. She sat quietly, listened to the steady tick of the clock and harmonised herself with the symmetry of the room. Focus arrived, she was in the moment that had no name, where consequence could be seen before action, an answer known before the question, the effect before the cause. It was the place Ethel Godwinsson called ‘The Zone’. She set to work on the calculations for her spell.
It was late afternoon by the time she had finished. When she’d considered the results they felt like some kind of melodramatic joke:
Two groups of four travel together.
A journey across water.
Monsters in the deep.
To be continued…