She looked at the cat, now lying on its back beneath her forearm and fingers, and whispered the words “Farrow and Ball”. The cat lifted its soft grey head and opened its mouth in acknowledgement, the sound of its lips smacking open then shut making Alice smile. She patted the cat on the head, reassuring it as she slid carefully down into the bed. She lay back and looked at the ceiling. Her mother’s brass lamp needed dusting and could probably do with a polish. She’d not touched it once in four years other than to change a bulb and, once, to hang a damp shirt from it. The cat wiggled beside her, demanding another tickle. “Farrow and Ball,” said Alice again. “They’ve gone for wildlife now.” She could hear the woodpigeon from its perch on the chimney stack, its throaty gurgle echoing into the room from the fireplace. She listened for the pattern Paul had pointed out at the weekend. “It stops during a phrase, listen.” And they’d both paused the action of pulling on socks and pants. “Listen!” There it went again, stopping on the second crotchet of verse on a slightly higher note than the previous three. “I wonder if it starts from the next note,” said Paul, “or from the beginning again.” They’d both remained standing, still as they could, waiting for it to continue. But it never did, so they went downstairs for breakfast. Here, now, she could follow it again. She listened and noticed that Paul was right: it started from where it left off, in the middle of the verse, or “the phrase” as he’d put it.
At noon, Alice took a chair and sat in the front garden, warming herself in the sun beneath her neighbour’s yellow roses. She was trying to come to terms with the colour of her front door. Since the break-in that summer, she’d decided to buy a new door, one with double locks top and bottom and special metal bolts on the hinge side. It was heavy wood, not PVC like the old one, and she had wanted to paint it the colours of a woodpigeon. Grey, violet, pink, green, blue. A mix. “Woodpigeon pink,” she’d told the door manufacturers in Edmonton. The man had laughed at her. “Don’t bother with Farrow and Ball,” he’d said, “that’ll just cost you. Pick a colour and go to Homebase to get it mixed.” She had explained to him that the colour she wanted didn’t exist, as far as she knew, that it was a combination of woodpigeon feathers. “They can do you anything, girl,” he replied, “just go to Homebase.” But Alice hated the industrial shopping site above the North Circular. She yearned to have a little paint shop at the end of the street, the sort her mother used to visit when Alice was a child, when she’d be left in the car with her two brothers watching their mother inside the shop, disappearing into the back with Mr Peacock. She used to tell them they’d be fine for 20 minutes because they had the dog. “He’ll bark at everyone,” she’d say, “and we can have Fudge bars for tea if you stay right here and don’t open the door to anyone.”
Looking at the ceiling now, still listening to the woodpigeon, Alice began to cry. She hadn’t intended to shoot the one in the shed. It was supposed to be a bit of a joke. The gun was a toy gun she’d found on a walk along the Mynd. It had been lying there on the moss. She didn’t realise that the cork pellets could actually kill. But the pigeon had fallen from the pergola and landed with a thud on the decking. Dead. There was no blood, and Paul suggested she’d hit it so accurately on the head, she’d knocked it out. But it never came round. So in the evening Alice had walked to the bench at the back of the garden, sat down and plucked feathers from its neck, belly, its back and tail. Then she threw the bird into the long grass for the cat. It took several weeks to rot down, and her neighbour had hinted several complaints over the fence. But what upset Alice most of all was the beauty of her door. She loved the colour like she loved velvet and pink prawn chews. Each time she walked through it, she felt she was walking into childhood, as if nostalgia was oozing through the gloss. She knew, she thought to herself every evening, she was home.