Just last week he had called her. She had sounded cheerful.
“No, no, no, don’t!” she’d yelled, laughing.
“What’s that, aunt?”
“I was talking to Kitty from Hamburg.”
“My kitty!” she laughed, “I was talking to my kitty!”
“Ah okay.” That spoiled rotten cat of hers…
“She ran off with my bead again, hahaa!”
She had always been a little strange, his great-aunt.
And now she was lost.
This morning she hadn’t come to drink a cup of coffee with her neighbors, the Nose couple, at her usual time. She didn’t answer the phone, the newspaper was still in the mailbox, the back door still locked, and she didn’t even respond to the doorbell.
Oh my, oh my.
Couldn’t he come by with the spare key?
Yes, they knew he was busy, but he was the only family auntie had left.
They didn’t want to obtrude themselves. He could hardly suppress a burst of laughter. He knew for sure that auntie’s neighbors were keeping a close eye on her every move.
It was typical that auntie had never entrusted thém with a spare key.
Well, alright then. He could probably spare an hour to visit her.
That night it had frozen. He hoped aunt Martha was warm enough in her cottage in the country. Except for the Nose couple, who took care of her during the rare times when she needed help, no one lived in the immediate vicinity. Behind auntie’s house stretched a popular nature reserve, where many people came for a walk. Auntie could not be persuaded to come and live in the city. This is where she had lived for a long time and where she would continue to live until her last breath! That it was impractical for him and that he couldn’t visit her as often as she wanted, she took for granted.
Half an hour later he was on his way. When he arrived at his auntie’s house, he indeed found all the windows and doors closed. Smoke came out of the chimney, which reassured him. When he stuck the spare key in the lock of the back door, the Nose’s were already looking over his shoulder. When they got in, they spread through the house and called auntie. The only response they got was a loud “meow!” and a contented purr from the fat black and white she-cat, who lay in a basket of knitwork on the floor next to the sofa. The poor beast! The bowls for her kibble and water in the kitchen were empty. Mrs. Nose filled them to the brim, but Kitty from Hamburg continued to purr in the basket. On the coffee table lay auntie’s cell phone and her pillbox. The phone’s battery was dead. No wonder she hadn’t answered their calls.
They expanded their search to outdoors. They yelled “auntie!” and “Martha!” as they walked around the house and even a little distance into the nature reserve, but they got no response. Mr. Nose noticed with concern that auntie’s blue coat was still hanging on her coat rack and the striking pink sneakers she always wore outside still stood neatly underneath it. They searched the house and its immediate surroundings again. But auntie was still nowhere to be seen. An hour after his arrival, the three of them were sitting worried in the living room with a jug of coffee and a bowl of biscuits that Mrs. Nose had brought from home. Where could aunt Martha be? During their absence, Kitty from Hamburg had eaten all of her kibble and drank all of her water and now she lay purring contentedly on the knitwork again.
He discussed aunties doings of late with her neighbors. Mr. Nose remembered that auntie had locked herself out a couple of weeks ago while scattering bread crumbs for the birds in her front yard. The front door had slammed shut behind her and her house key hadn’t been in her pocket as usual. Fortunately, the weather had been fine at the time, and Mr. Nose, who was of short stature, had been able to climb in through an open kitchen window and open the front door for her. What if she accidentally locked herself out again? But than why hadn’t she come to her neighbors? Or… wait. What if it had already happened last night? They had visited their daughter. Perhaps she had rang their door bell in vain.
Increasingly worried, they decided to search the area together one more time before calling the police. This time he came up with the idea to search the garden shed as well.
And there he found her…
The freezing cold at night had become fatal for her. Aunt Martha had died, curled up on a lawn chair, with an old tarp pulled over her that hadn’t provided enough warmth.
They were moved.
Back in the warmth, they called the authorities. Mrs. Nose sat quietly sobbing into her handkerchief.
Kitty from Hamburg still lay purring contentedly on Auntie’s last knitwork. In a rare impulse of sentimentality, he took her on his lap. Damn, the beast was heavy! As he lifted her, the knitwork shifted and there it lay: the colorful braided cord with a shiny bead on one side and auntie’s house key on the other.