Rosie’s Rhymer

It was a cold, wet, grey summer’s day in London. Rosie was huddled under the arches behind Waterloo Station, wrapped in her familiar blanket and some cardboard she had found behind the taxi rank. There was a chilly wind but Rosie wanted some privacy; the crowds on the South Bank had been bad-tempered in the cold making them uncharitable towards a smelly, mumbling old woman asking for change.

As Rosie sat in the shadows muttering to the Others who kept her company about how unkind the shiny people were, she noticed a little black cat prowling in the dark corners behind a pile of litter. It looked like it had spotted prey; its thin little body was quivering with anticipation and its eyes were fixed on a paper bag. Suddenly something flitted across the stones towards the black binbag spilling its contents on the ground nearby. And the cat was on top of it, apparently without moving through the intervening space.

Rosie laughed to see the little cat’s satisfaction. “Caught it Mab?” she cried. “Just like the old days.”

When she was a dainty young morsel of womanhood, many years before, Rosie had had a little black cat called Mab, a tiny little bundle of cunning and cleverness renowned for her mousing skills and evil temper. Only Rosie could touch her, and then she became the perfect lady, purring and winding round Rosie’s legs.

Rosie also had a boy in those days. His name was Thomas and he had straw coloured hair and eyes like a summer sky, hot and blue and piercing. Thomas lived with his sister and mother in a quiet little village. He worked as a farmhand, ploughing and scything and sowing and raking muck. When he wasn’t working or helping with his mother, he was with Rosie.

In the summer they went to the meadow on the hill and lay in the warm grass making daisy chains. Thomas made stories for Rosie, and Rosie made potions to help Thomas’ mother cope with her pain. While she looked for herbs, Thomas would sing to her or recite the old tales or make up new ones where Rosie was a magical princess and Mab was her familiar.

Rosie laughed and said, “I’ll bind you to me with these magical chains!” and put the daisies on his head. Mab pounced on Thomas’ toes as if they were fieldmice, making him dance away.

“Mab’s caught you fast,” laughed Rosie, “like a mouse. Now you’ll have to sing her a song or two.”

Later while Mab was hunting real mice for her dinner, Rosie and Thomas explored other pleasure in the grass, afterwards laying panting on the crushed flowers and listening to a skylark singing somewhere high in a sky as blue as Thomas’ eyes.

Thomas and his sister argued when he went home.

“She has you befuddled!” his sister shouted. “You leave me to spend all your time on the hill instead of helping me with mother!”

Thomas’ mother died a couple of weeks later. His sister cried for days and told everyone Rosie’s potions had killed the old woman. Thomas missed saying goodbye to his mother because he and Rosie were on the hillside. His sister argued with him again, and then she moved away to another village. Thomas didn’t see her again until he was an old man and she mended their quarrel on her own deathbed.

Meanwhile Thomas and Rosie spent many happy years together. At first Rosie worried about getting pregnant, because they had not married. As time went by it became obvious this was not going to be a problem. It was their one sadness.

“Perhaps we could take babies from the village,” suggested Rosie in a moment of desperation. “There’s plenty of families with too many mouths to feed. They’d thank us for it.”

Thomas was shocked and refused to discuss it. His stories and songs grew sadder and sadder, and his smile was less frequent as the years passed. When he died Rosie thought she would die too, but she didn’t.

Sitting under the arches, watching the cat, Rosie missed Thomas all over again.

“Grief don’t get no easier,” she said to the Others around her. “Get lost, the lot of yer! Get away!” She waved her arms aggressively. “I want some peace and quiet!”

A passing policeman paused, then decided she was harmless and carried on.

Thomas came to her again and sang one of his songs to make her happy. His kiss was as soft as a dream. The blue of his eyes made the dark shadows fall back, and warmth of the sun in the meadow warmed Rosie again. Looking down she saw Mab on her lap, enjoying the sun with her.

“’Bout time,” she said. “Where have you bin all these years?”

Mab purred but said nothing.

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