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I happen to love cats as well as dogs and hedgehogs, so when KYRA came up this idea, I thought, "Why not?" Here's my contribution to her anthology and to the cats that I hope will benefit from the sales. Hope you don't nod off while reading.
C. Lee McKenzie
Permission to publish this in the Charity Cat Anthology
I should have gotten a flu shot. That’s what the doctor said as he wrote out the prescription for antibiotics. I didn’t argue. I couldn’t. A base drum was lodge behind my eyes. My chest had a gorilla on it, and I still had to drag my body out of the doctor’s office, to my car and home. Oh, yes, and stop by the pharmacy to fill the prescription. Of course, it was raining.
Living alone could be hard. Living alone while sick, really hard. I cursed Nathan Blackstone for the zillioneth time since he moved out, and then I drove to 24 Hour Pharmacy. Pity parties should only last a year. It had been a year, one week, two days and, I glanced at my cell, forty-five minutes. Time to get on with my miserable, flu-ridden life.
I was in luck. Only ten people stood waiting at the pharmacy counter, and they smiled back at me when I hacked and wheezed at the end of the line. Thank God the Christmas spirit was on the loose. I handed in my prescription and plopped into a chair, leaning my head back and closing my eyes. My research project was already behind schedule, and now I’d have to call Peabody and ask for an extension. I had sick leave, so it shouldn’t be a problem, but if I didn’t finish on time, it would back up his work and someone else’s and . . . . I’d be better as soon as I started the antibiotics. I had to be.
“Miss Colridge. Prescription pick up.”
It took a few minutes for the pharmacist to tell me about the side-effects and how to take the pills. I tried to listen, but the buzzing in my ears made it hard to concentrate. Finally, I clutched the white bag filled with the drugs guaranteed to make me well, and dragged myself to the car.
As I opened the driver’s door a cat ducked from under my back tire and sized me up. His left ear was tattered, and his tail bent at the tip. The rest of him was a disorganized calico. His back a sable, his hips black with a touch of orange. His paws would have been white if they didn’t have mud spattered on them.
“Shoo! Go away. You’ll get run over in this parking lot.” I slipped behind the wheel and put the key into the ignition just as the cat leapt onto the front of my car. Ignoring me, it sat, looking a lot like a 1930’s hood ornament facing into the wind.
I rolled down the window, accidentally hitting the all down button so every window in my car slid open.
“Hey! Get off.”
The cat turned to eye me, then lifted its paw and, with it’s tongue, untangled something from between its toes.
“I have to go. Scat!” I hissed out the window. Two elderly ladies, their arms filled with Christmas bundles, double timed past my car, glaring at me.
The cat did a deep yoga stretch, walked back toward the windshield, then single-footed it along my window and hopped into the rear seat.
When I looked back, he stared at me with unblinking gold flecked eyes. Then he circled a couple of times before settling onto the cushion and curling his tail around the top of his head.
“Perfect.” I think I groaned.
If I took him to where I lived, it would at least be safer. Less traffic. Some open space where he could hunt mice. We had tons of those, especially since Nathan had lugged King Kat with him. So I rolled up the windows, put the car in reverse and maneuvered out of the parking lot onto the street. My one thought was to get home and to bed.
In the garage, I opened the passenger door. “Last stop,” I said to the cat. “Out you go.”
He stretched up and jumped to the floor, then padded to the where the rain dripped from the garage roof onto the driveway.
I hit the automatic button, the door came down, and the cat darted inside.
“No!” But it was too late. He was in the garage, and I was too sick to care. “Fine. The garage is yours for the night.” I unlocked the door to the kitchen and staggered in. At last. Meds, then bed.
The phone rang the moment I poured a glass of water and dumped a pill out. “Hi Mom.”
“Jeannie. What’s wrong with you? You sound horrible.”
“A touch of flu. I’ve got antibiotics, so I’ll be fine soon.”
“I’m coming up.”
“No. You don’t have to. I’ll be well enough to drive down for Christmas. Promise.”
From the garage, the cat howled.
“Is that King Kat? Is Nathan there?” Her voice billowed with hope.
“No and no. It’s a stray.” I looked at the bottle of pills on the counter. Had I taken the pill? I thought so, but maybe not. This time I made sure to swallow one.
“I worry about you alone, Jeannie, especially when you’re sick.”
I heard her worry. I just couldn’t do anything about it. I’d done my best to marry Nathan. I just hadn’t. Nathan didn’t understand that a research assistant had deadlines and meetings and hours online. He didn’t understand how important all of that was.
At the moment I didn’t care about anything except lying down. But Mom was onto her “you must settle down” lecture, and the cat was howling in the garage, and my eyes weren’t focusing anymore.
“Mom? Mom?” I broke in on her momologue.
“I have to go. . . take care of my cat problem. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Okay, honey. I love you. You know that.”
“I do. I love you, too.”
I opened the kitchen door and peered into the dark garage. The brush of fur against my leg meant the cat was inside. When I did a search, there he was under the table, peering back at me.
He wasn’t budging, so I opened one of the last cans of Kitty Tuna Delight, dumped it into a bowl, and set in on the floor next to King Kat’s special door. I unlatched that, then I took down another bowl and put water in it. I had to hold onto the sink for a minute because the room suddenly developed tremors, but that passed, and I put the water next to the tuna.
Had I taken that pill? God I hoped so. But if I hadn’t I’d never stop this flu and finish that project. I’d never be able to drive down south to Mom and Dad’s for Christmas. The cat slunk along the wall and sniffed at the tuna, then he put his head in the bowl and didn’t stop until he’d emptied it.
I took a pill. Now I was sure I’d had the antibiotics. I was sure to be okay by morning. Back to work. Ready for Christmas. All systems go.
The next thing I felt was a tiny rasp against my eyelids. My eyelashes stuck together, so trying to open them was taking a lot of effort. Just when I stopped trying, that rasp dragged across my eyelids again.
I managed to create a small slit between my eyelashes and looked out at a blurred image of gold flecked eyes. It took a minute to figure out that the side of my face was numb and pressed against the kitchen floor.
The cat pushed his head under my chin, purred and tapped his paw on my cheek. Even that tap hurt, but I pushed onto all fours, then using the cupboard, pulled myself to my feet, and looked out the kitchen window.
I’d been out all night. What had the pharmacist said? Watch the dosage carefully. I had. Hadn’t I? I couldn’t remember.
Cat meowed, then ducked out King Kat’s door, letting it click closed behind him. Holding onto the counter, I slid down to sit with my back against the cabinet.
It was the steady kneading on my leg that brought my head up.
“Back so soon, heh?” But the light had shifted to the other side of the house. It was afternoon. “Work. Should call. . . .” Instead, I crawled to bed and fell across it.
When I woke it was dark. The cat was curled into my back, but came around to nudge me as soon as I moved.
“Hey, you. I think you saved my life.”
He blinked, then tapped my head with his paw the way he had when I’d been sprawled on the floor.
“I know. Food.”
I sat up, taking my time and hoping the nausea would go away once I got to my feet. Almost. Not quite. I made the bathroom in time to hurl. I think the phone was ringing, but it was hard to tell because I had a full orchestra in my head, cat was meowing, and I was having trouble sucking air into my lungs. They felt swollen and pressed against my chest.
I got it together enough to find the kitchen and another can of cat food. “You deserve a medal, cat. How about a name, instead?”
He ignored me, and as I wobbled back to bed, the cat door click open and shut.
It was the weak sunlight filtering through the bedroom curtain, that brought me around the next time. I was alive. But the bathroom mirror had other ideas.
After a shower and testing out if I could keep some juice down, I looked outside for the cat, but he wasn’t there.
“Hey cat. Come on. I owe you.” Besides, and this I thought to myself, I miss you. I hadn’t admitted how lonely this place had been since Nathan and King Kat moved out, but now I did. Now I admitted I needed something else in my life besides my job.
I called Peabody. I explained some of what had happened and promised I’d have the research to him by tomorrow afternoon. Then I called home. I listened to Mom’s momologue again, but this time I agreed that, yes, I needed to make some changes. And, yes, old Pete Synder wasn’t a bad guy. And, yes, if she asked him to Christmas dinner, I’d be nice to him for a change.
I sat at the kitchen table with my laptop until I had most of the data entered. King of Hana, 11th dynasty. . .first cat name to appear. . .Bouhaki meaning Devine Healer.
“Bouhaki,” I whispered. I had the perfect name, but the cat wasn’t here anymore. My life had a pattern. I always seemed to find what I needed after it was gone.
At dusk, I rummaged in the refrigerator and lucked out when I found the left-overs from the Chinese Take-Out. It smelled okay, even the limp noodles came to life once I heated them.
I was at the sink, slurping the last of those noodles when the cat door clicked, and there he was—mouse and all. He delivered it at my feet, brushed my leg two times and checked his bowl.
“Chow Mein with mouse for dessert? Delightful.” I scooped the last can of King Kat’s food into the bowl and promised him I’d shop tomorrow. Then while the cat ate, I transported his present outside by the tail.
When I came back, he greeted me by leaping onto my chair. “Okay, Cat. I’ve got a name for you. How does Bouhaki sound? Devine Healer. Perfect, right?”
He appeared to give it some thought, then he rubbed against my leg, and I took that for a yes.
“And I’ll call you Bou for short.”
He was having none of that, I could tell by the way he turned his back on me.
“Fine. Bouhaki. Have it your way.
And he always did.
A Bit About The Author (for inclusion in the Charity Cat Anthology)
Carol Kilgore bestowed the title of WINNER on me in her blog contest. You might want to see what's she up to.
PK Hrezo sent me a great commemorative set of newspapers from the New York Times coverage of the sinking of the Titanic.
Thank you both. It felt like Christmas this week.