SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 38: In Which We Get The Shopping Done

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“Hey!” I heyed, as Miss Carol T. Cat hurtled over my shoulder and plonked solidly upon the desk. Now, hurtling is quite an accomplishment for eighteen pounds of fur, claws, and adipose, but Miss Carol T. is no ordinary Cat.

“I repeat,” I repeated, “’Hey!’” Miss Carol T. Cat responded by knocking a pair of pliers off the desk and a faint trace of a smile flicked across her furry features as it made a satisfying “clunk” on the floor. I wasn’t pleased by this. I’m at the age where I have to choose my bendings-over carefully, and I prefer to avoid them altogether unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately the toppled implement was, in fact, absolutely necessary to the work I was doing, so, begrudgingly, I creaked off the edge of the chair and, boldly defying the aggressive onset of bursitis in my right shoulder, leaned over just far enough to reach the pliers and snatch them up. I could swear I saw a look of annoyed disappointment replace that trace of a smile on Miss Carol's pan, but I ignored her. Well, no, I lie. She made it impossible for me to ignore her by, without breaking her gaze, shoving the pliers back off the edge of the desk again.

I knew when I was licked. “What’s the problem?” I groaned, certain that it had some relation to an empty food bowl or some other pressing concern.

“The time has come,” declared Miss Carol, “to discuss the coming holiday season.”

“That’s exactly what I’m doing here,” I snapped back. “Or was, until you decided to interfere in the proceedings.”

“Nonsense,” sniffed Miss Carol. “You are amusing yourself with some trifling task, bent low over your work and squinting desperately in a futile attempt to compensate for your fading vision. You will cease this fruitless activity at once, as I call your attention to matters of more serious import.”

“Oh yeah?” That’s always a pretty weak response, but it was late and I’d exhausted most of my ripostes arguing about whether “Monsieur Verdoux” is a funny picture or not over on some sorry corner of the Internet. Hey, don’t laugh. Yeah, like your life’s any more dynamic right now. “Oh yeah?” I pressed forward. “Look, I’m doin’ some important stuff here. I’m makin’ a Christmas present for my mother.”

“Indeed?” replied Miss Carol. “You must excuse me. I had formed the impression that you were toying with a small heap of corroded old junk.”

“Shows what you know. I’m making something she really needs,” I insisted. “Something she’ll use every day. Something I can’t say out loud here because she reads this blog and she’ll complain I spoiled the surprise if I let the cat out of the bag now…”

Miss Carol’s eyes expanded dangerously. I immediately retracted my poor choice of idiom. As it happens, Miss Carol is quite fond of bags, but she emerges from them on her own terms, in her own time, with no interference from low creatures like me.  My half-baked apology brought no respite from her glare, so I pushed on. “I’ve been doin’ a lot of shopping,” I said. “As you know, one of the Dear Young People is getting married next year ---

“I shall not attend,” snapped Miss Carol, “if those foul canines are present.”

“I don’t think you’re invited anyway,” I replied. “It’ll be socially distant and all. But I’ve got her a Christmas present that suits the situation, but I can’t tell you what it is here. Another of the Dear Young People has recently added two young felines to her household, and an appropriate holiday gift is en route. She also has a husband,” I added. “And a snake.”

Miss Carol’s eyes took on the appearance of glowing green basketballs. Miss Carol is not fond of reptiles. Many years ago I shocked her sensibilities with a small rubber garden snake, and she has never forgiven the transgression. “The disturbing activities of your youthful acolytes are of no consequence,” Miss Carol continued. “The time has come to discuss – my own gift.”

“Look, I told you before,” I rushed back, “it’s against the zoning to keep a wild turkey in the house. Even if you’re only gonna use it for practice. But that does remind me of something else. You got fans on the internet, you know, and some of them have asked me what they could send you for a Christmas present. An’ y’know what I told ‘em?”

Miss Carol’s face was a study in close concentration, but she said nothing. I picked up the cue.

“I told ‘em they ought to make a donation in your honor to the Strand’s Go Fund Me page. We’re trying to meet a goal of $20,000 to help us get thru the rest of the pandemic and all, an’ really, wouldn’t you rather anything they might use to buy you some toy you’ll bat under the couch or under the radio and immediately forget about be spent instead to help keep the Strand a going concern? We’ve been doing a lot for the past nine months to keep things moving – streaming entertainment, educational projects, our radio show, this blog, all the other things that keep the Strand spirit alive – and when we get to where we can reopen the actual theatre, why, we really want to hit the ground runnin’. So what better way to recognize the edifying role Miss Carol has played in your life over the past nine months than to visit and send a little something in her honor?”

“Indeed,” nodded Miss Carol. “I would find this a worthy and entirely commendable manner of acknowledging me at this festive season. I urge all of my many followers to take careful heed of the appeal thus given. But – that is not what I came here to discuss.”

“It isn’t?”

“It is not. My purpose this evening is to announce the gift I am prepared to share with you. In honor of the holiday season, I shall permit you to sleep thru the evening without interruption come Christmas Eve. I shall slumber quietly at your side, ready to snap to immediate attention in order to assist Mr. S. Nicholas Claus in the performance of his festive duties, but I shall not awaken you until the coming of the dawn.”

I was genuinely moved by her largesse. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You may express your gratitude by, in lieu of a wild turkey, unleashing a bowl of Friskies Turkey Filets with Gravy.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“Have a care,” she warned, looking over her shoulder as she led me to the kitchen. “I agreed to let you sleep, but I will not be responsible for any falling lumps of coal.”

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