by Jude Higgins
AFTER WE’D BEEN retired for a long time, my wife Wanda decided we could begin a new career as vets. She’d started losing her marbles and was luring in neighbourhood cats with cooked chicken breast and other tasty treats. Wanda insisted the cats needed extra TLC. They looked lonely, she said and some were so old and feeble. She made a fuss if I tried to shoo them off and didn’t notice the pictures pinned to lampposts from distraught owners offering rewards. Recently, I sneaked back a fluffy ginger tom called Pumpkin, who kept depositing dead birds on our doormat, to a big house with a Porsche in the drive. Refused the cash, of course. My reward—seeing the expression in the neighbour’s eyes shift from the stiff politeness people often indulge us with, out here in deep country, to gratitude.
I gave Wanda a fluffy toy cat to stroke instead of Pumpkin and she was happy enough. But I was sad. Overcome with grief. ‘Sluice it all away,’ I told myself at the bathroom sink, swilling my puffy red eyes.
‘Shall we build a website called Vets “R” Us?’ Wanda said a few days later. She’d laid down a saucer of milk for the toy, but sounded almost normal. ‘We might get a few more animals in then. Guinea pigs and rabbits as well as cats, perhaps.’
‘We’re not vets,‘ I said, off guard after a glass or two. ‘We’re two women, getting on a bit and one of us might die in the not too distant future.’
Wanda looked concerned. ‘Have you a pain?’ she said. When I told her the ache was in my heart, she offered to make me a poultice. ‘I can’t have you dying.’ Her voice was robust. ‘Can I bandage anything?’
‘Wrap me all up,’ I said. I let her tuck me into bed with a hot water bottle. And she cooked me porridge as if it were breakfast time.
She perched on the bed and cocked her head, like a tiny bright-eyed robin.
‘What shall we call ourselves, now we’re not vets?’ she said. ‘People need to know. Any ideas ?’
I knew the names we were called behind our backs. And what the neighbours might say if they found out about her stealing their animals. I squeezed her hand.
‘Wanda and Marie,’ I said.
Wanda climbed into bed and put her head on my shoulder.
‘Wanda and Marie,’ she whispered, amazed, as if it were an entirely new thought.
Jude Higgins is a writer and events organiser. Her flash fiction pamphlet, The Chemist’s House was published by V. Press in 2017. She has been published in Best Microfiction, long listed for Wigleaf top 50 stories and nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net. Many of her stories are published in literary magazines and anthologies. She organises Bath Flash Fiction Award and directs the small independent press Ad Hoc Fiction and Flash Fiction Festivals, UK. @judehwriter judehiggins.com.