The Aitken Alexander Isolation Series: You’ve Been Invited by Julianne Pachico

Photo: Nick Bradley

 

You’ve Been Invited

Once you receive your invitation, it’s important to reply right away. Your invitation will be tied in an elegant red ribbon, with a black ink pawprint working as a seal. Feel free to write your response below the invitation’s elegant cursive phrasing (a simple ‘OH MY GOD YES PLEASE I WANT TO GO TO A CATS’ TEA PARTY RIGHT NOW TAKE ME THERE AS IN RIGHT THIS INSTANT, IMMEDIATELY’ will suffice). Give it back to the messenger, a dapper tuxedo cat in smart white socks. He’ll bow so low his wet nose will brush against the ground. Try not to giggle. Try not to gape.

 

If you’ve never been invited to a cats’ tea party, this is no cause for anxiety. Simply follow the messenger to the predetermined location. You may have to crawl through a hedge. Duck through a back garden and cross a road. Pass the grocery store and the pharmacy with little concern – there will be no lines, no masks. You don’t need to worry about that today.

 

When you get to the tea party, everybody will be there. The muscular tabby who sits on your doormat and refuses to budge, blinking at you irritably as you struggle with disinfecting your keys. The ancient ginger with the manky eye, who always drools as she sunbathes at the bottom of the garden. Those annoying grey kittens from your childhood, the ones that wouldn’t stop attacking your toes in bed – didn’t your mother say they’d been killed by a hawk? How lovely that they were able to make it; how nice they were able to come. And look, there’s your grandmother’s fat black tom, who you haven’t seen for decades. He’s gone and made himself comfortable by the cream jug, with tell-tale white smears already over his nose. How predictable. How pleasant.

 

At the tea party, you can help yourself to as much food as you’d like. Victorian sponges and cucumber sandwiches. Fruit scones and chocolate mocha cake. You have a choice between Earl Grey and Darjeeling, camomile and peppermint. The other guests will writhe between your legs, roll around on the table, knock over the sugar, and purr as they rub their sweet widdle kitty cat faces all over you, oh my gosh you are just the sweetest little kitty, oh aren’t you oh aren’t you.

 

It’s not just them, either. Your neighbours – they’ve made it too. The ones you called the police on for arguing too loudly in the front garden – they’re here with their children, the ones whose names you don’t know. Smiling and smiling. It’s time to learn who they are, isn’t it? The older couple who sent you a Christmas card. Your Nigerian hairdresser, who you never spoke to again after that one appointment, due to your embarrassment about your ill-kempt hair. Here’s the woman who ran out into the street in pyjamas to rescue her half-blind rescue dog that had wandered out of her yard by accident. Here’s the shop attendant from Aldi who distributed hand sanitizer. Your hands will brush against everybody’s as you pass the cheese and crackers. You’ll lean in too close as you exchange greetings – how have you been, how have you been coping, it’s been so long, it’s been such a crazy time, hasn’t it? You’ll feel hot breath on your face, and you won’t withdraw.

 

Your family and friends, co-workers and acquaintances – oh my goodness, they’ve managed to make it too. What a joy. What a surprise. Your parents from abroad. Your best friend from kindergarten. The only boy who gave you a Valentine in Year Five. Your Portuguese grandfather who died of lung cancer before you were born. At the cat’s tea party, everyone is invited. Everybody will come. Your cat’s tea party can be whatever you want it to be.

 

(Dogs and dog people are also welcome, obviously.)

 

There will be prosecco and fireworks. There will be elephants and a trapeze artist. Flower petals will fall down from the sky; the brass band starts playing.

 

Everywhere, you will be touched.

 

Julianne Pachico’s first novel, THE ANTHILL, will be published by Faber (UK) and Doubleday (US) in May 2020. She is also the author of the story collection THE LUCKY ONES, for which she was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.

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