STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“This clutter is unacceptable,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, as she knocked a shoebox full of receipts off the kitchen table and onto the kitchen floor.
I blinked. What else can you do when you’ve been awake for thirty-six hours straight? That’s the kind of a weekend it was.
“Is that clutter any more acceptable on the floor than it is on the table?” I queried, in what, in my state of near-delirium, I imagined to be an impeccable sword-thrust of logic.
“On the floor,” Miss Carol replied, as she thumped in its general direction, “this random scattering of pocket-and-purse-worn slips and tatters will provide sufficient enrichment to hasten the passage of this otherwise-interminable afternoon. You should be grateful that I have spared you the effort of entertaining me as you labor away at pointless toil.”
“I’m doing my taxes,” in that scraping nasal whine that I reserve exclusively for that weekend when I am Doing My Taxes. “And as always, you are of no help.”
Miss Carol scoffed between bites of an Applebee’s sales slip, a ragged remnant of a pleasant lunch taken in those long-ago pre-pandemic times. “As you know,” she droned in the voice of one firmly convinced of the exclusive certainty of her views, “I favor the so-called ‘single tax’ plan advanced in the late 19th Century by the late economist Henry George. It is my view that the present complexity of the American tax code is profoundly unnecessary. If you wish, I shall at this time outline my beliefs in great and all-consuming detail.”
“Nertz,” I growled. “That’s what the internet is for. Go post on Reddit and let me work.”
“You cannot claim me as a dependent,” she warned. “In fact, it is painfully obvious that it is you who is entirely dependent upon me. Were it not for my strict control of your personal habits, it is unlikely that you would be in any way a productive member of society. Instead you would loll pointless in bed until representatives of the bank that holds the chattel on this dismal shanty arrived to forcibly remove you.”
“Sez the one who sleeps eighteen hours a day,” I muttered, as I tried to figure out if I could deduct all those Humpty Dumpty potato chips I ate last year as a “home office” expense. I mean, it even suggests “office snacks” would qualify, but how do I know that’s not a gag stuck in there by the underpaid coder who put together this cheesy software I’m using?  It’s questions like this that keep me awake nights.  These freelance writing jobs I do on the side create many complications in my life when tax time rolls around. Actually, I correct myself – tax time does not “roll around.” It falls on you like a sandbag and you spend an entire weekend trying to push it off.
Miss Carol finished eating two sales slips and what appeared to be part of the bill for fixing my brakes last August. I used my car to ride staff out to the Drive In last summer, so that ought to be deductible, right?  Will they accept a bill that’s half eaten by a cat? What if they audit me? Can I just show them Miss Carol as evidence? I bet H & R Block never gets questions like that, but then again, they’ve never had to deal with me after three days of sleep deprivation.
“I’m almost done here,” I exhaled, in that way that I imagine I might exhale going up Heartbreak Hill if I was ever so rash as to attempt to run the Boston Marathon. Actually, if I ever tried that I’d probably pull a Rosie Ruiz, but hey, you know her name and not the name of whoever it was who won that year, so that’s gotta count for something, right? You see what my mind does when I’m sleep deprived? I let out another triumphant sigh as I pressed the button marked “TRANSMIT.”
“I cannot help but notice,” Miss Carol commented, “that this envelope containing a 1099-MISC form from one of your writing clients remains unopened. No doubt this was an error, and you have omitted vital information from your return.”
I dropped my head to the worn old tablecloth and emitted a sound not unlike that of a wounded elk. Actually, I’ve never heard a wounded Elk, but I did hear a Knight of Pythias once with a sprained ankle, and he made a pretty loud noise.
“Do not be alarmed. The authorities will no doubt be stern but merciful in the handling of your case. When you are sentenced to the Federal penitentiary for tax evasion, doubtless you will be permitted the occasional visitor. I shall make every effort to comfort you during your incarceration.”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I groaned in the voice of a poor taxpayer just trying to get along.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“You are of course aware,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat as she pushed a bowl of hot canned chili off my desk and into my lap in order to make way for matters of greater importance, “that Daylight Saving Time commences effective at 2 AM on Sunday March 14th. “

“Excellent,” I sighed in that way that you sigh when a hot bowl of canned chili has just been pushed off the desk and into your lap. “That means one less hour of my life to be taken up by crap.”

“I find your language unsuitable for a family audience,” sniffed Miss Carol, “but then, having met your family, I will excuse the transgression. You speak, as do we all, the language of our upbringing. But to continue, I call your attention to the matter of the impending timekeeping change in order to ensure that my feeding schedule is in no way disrupted.  Although the fiction of ‘spring ahead’ is enforced upon your hew-mon affairs by means of the Daylight Savings law, I advise you that as a felid I am of course exempt from the provisions of this legislation, and that my own affairs shall remain governed by Standard Time.  I shall therefore require my meals one hour earlier than the time indicated by the clock. Be aware that I shall carefully and thoroughly enforce this policy.” She paused to lick a splatter of chili off the edge of the desk. “I have advised you before that Hormel brand chili is too highly seasoned for my digestion, and I recommend that in the future you purchase a milder blend.”

Miss Carol licked the back of my neck, because, you see, by this time my head was slumped on the desk.

“You seem disquieted,” Miss Carol observed. “I should think that the shift in time, heralding as it does the approach of the vernal equinox when the world is, as the poet says, ‘puddle-wonderful,’ would lift your spirits.”

I raised my head and sighed again, pausing to wipe a spot of chili off my forehead with the sleeve of my sweater. Hey, I need to wash it anyway, whatever.

“I thought they said,” I groaned, “that 2021 was supposed to be a better year than that sack of politics and plague called 2020. But look what’s happened since. That gawdawful mess in January. Then in February, I have to go to the doctor. You know how much I love to go to the doctor. Nothing makes me happier than subjecting myself to the tender mercies of that octopus-like entity we know and love as the Health Care Industrial Complex, especially when they mess up my paperwork and I have to spend a month – or more – trying to get it fixed. And then JACKIE BRADLEY GOES TO MILWAUKEE! On top of all the terrible things in the world, my favorite ballplayer JUST UPS AND LEAVES AND HE DOESN’T EVEN SAY GOOD BYE. And here I am, sitting here, with a lapful of chili and a sarcastic cat who judges me. I ASK YOU.” I sighed a sigh so sighful that it resonated in the faraway capital of West Sighghistan. “And you know what else? You know what Friday is? March 13th? It’s exactly one year since I ran my last movie show at the Strand.”

Miss Carol regarded me with a doleful but not unsympathetic gaze.

“How can it even be a whole year ago,” I moaned. “Does time really go by that fast? I remember that night in every detail. We all knew something was coming but didn’t know what. And I stood there that night, while fifty-four people came to see ‘Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears’ and I tried to joke and kid around and I said ‘step right in neighbors, guaranteed Covid Free show tonight, I can take your ticket,’ and I had no way of knowing that after fourteen years that would be the last ticket I’d ever tear until – who knows when?  And then two days later we closed and that was it. A whole year’s gone by, and I’ve spent most of it sitting in my office down there surrounded by McDonald’s wrappers and memories. I ask you. Is that fun? Where’s the laughs? Where’s the popcorn? Where’s the Strand Kids whose happy youthful spirits keep me from souring into a bitter old woman who sits alone at night eating stale Wheat Chex and watching ‘The Bachelor?’”

“I think,” commented Miss Carol evenly, “that you are once again exaggerating your situation for the sake of humorous hyperbole. It is a common trope of comedy, but if I may venture to express an opinion, you here take it to an extreme. You are indeed a ‘sad  sack,’ but I submit that you are not, in fact THAT sad a sack.”

“Well, I wasn’t kiddin’ about the McDonald’s wrappers,” I admitted. “I mean, let’s face it – over the past year, I’ve had more contact with Ronald than anybody else. Well, maybe the Colonel is up there too, but you get what I mean. I miss HUMAN CONTACT WITH ACTUAL HUMANS. I’d even settle for somebody telling me the drain is clogged.”

“I had intended to call that to your attention,” Miss Carol replied, “but I concluded that you would soon discover this for yourself when you observed the water dripping even now thru the kitchen ceiling.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat!” I yelled, rushing for mop and bucket.

“Fly envious time,” recited Miss Carol, licking up the last chili splatter, “till thou run out thy race.”

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“March,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, “has arrived!”
Ordinarily I would have welcomed this news. March is the harbinger of many things that bring me great pleasure  – the Vernal Equinox, Baseball, ... um…. Well, OK, March is the harbinger of two things that bring me great pleasure, and the news of its arrival should be something I would greet with much eager anticipation. But it’s hard to greet anything with eager anticipation at three in the morning, especially after the news of its arrival has been delivered following a swift, blood-drawing swat at the forehead by one’s  feline companion.
“Yeah, swell,” I growled, attempting to suffocate myself with the pillow. “Actually, it got here yesterday. What’s your point?”
“I call your attention to the leonine manner of its arrival,” continued Miss Carol. “The wind is howling outside our window at a distressing speed and strength. The dying poplar tree next to the window is bending and sagging precipitously under its fearsome gale. Doubtless more shingles are being torn from the roof of our shabby hovel at this very instant, and carried thru the air to fall on the unsuspecting heads of the unfortunate few who must be busy about their daily employment at this unwholesome hour.”
“Good,” I exhaled from within the pillow. “Maybe they’ll conk whoever it was that stole those quarters out of my car the other night. I needed  those to buy my breakfast.”
“Your attitude,” rebuked Miss Carol, “is uncalled for. The arrival of spring is a time of great portent. This month will mark exactly one year since the Strand Theatre was forced to shutter its doors in the wake of the present cataclysm.  The spring season traditionally represents a time of new growth, of rebirth, of emergence from the grim cocoon of a cold and dismal wintertime into a bright new world of promise. And yet there you lie, foundering in the ocean of your own pathos.”
Well, I ask you. Who could argue with a line of bunk like that? I ask you. Certainly not me. With a sigh I reached over and snapped on the light, put on my glasses, and squinted at the furred bulk that sat, like a plaster garden statue, at the end of my bed. And weighed about as much to boot.
“You’re right,” I said,  “Spring is comin’, and things are lookin’ up. At the theater we’re working on all sorts of projects for the spring and summer, and before you know it the time will come when we won’t just be virtual anymore. Remember last year when I said ‘every day brings us one day closer to reopening?’ Well, that’s still true. Every day. One day closer.”
I paused as a severed shingle slapped hard against the bedroom window, but I wasn’t worried. You only have to worry about them when they come in side-on, that’s when your glass gets cracked. You learn this kind of stuff. It’s been that kind of winter.
“So you agree, then” continued Miss Carol, “that steps should also be taken to resume a more normalized routine in our own daily lives. The reinstatement of my mid-afternoon pre-evening meal would be an appropriate step in that direction.”
“Oh no you don’t,” I snapped. “That was never a thing. Uh uh. You never had four meals a day, that was never a normal thing.”
“Your advancing years,” sniffed Miss Carol, “have clearly taken their toll on your memory. Perhaps you will recall my early-morning pre-breakfast jentacular?”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I sighed, burying my face in the pillow and fumbling for the light. Even after all these years, every day of my life “comes in like a lion.”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“I require your attention,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat as she leaped forcefully onto my desk in that way that felines leap forcefully onto desks.

“So what else is new?” I replied, with more irritation than is generally advisible. “I’m busy. Go find something to do.”

“I have in fact found something to do,” Miss Carol replied. “I am, in fact, doing it now.”

How do you respond to an argument like that? I ask you. I ask you, I guess, because I know if I ever ask her I won’t like the answer. So, I ask you. And you don’t know the answer any more than I do, so let’s just forget the whole thing.

“I repeat,” continued Miss Carol. “I require your attention.”

“Look,” I grouched, “I really don’t have time for this routine right now. We go on the air with the Strand On The Air broadcast in just a few days, and it came out five minutes over. I’ve got to cut five minutes worth of breaths, sighs, groans, and extraneous syllables here. Do you have any idea how much time a breath represents? About two tenths of a second. Do you know how many of those you’ve got to trim to take out five whole minutes?”

“How many?” inquired Miss Carol, her face an impassive mask. She always wears that face when she has a firm grasp on my chain and is prepared to yank it, but I won’t give her the satisifaction of knowing that I know what she knows that I know. Or something.

“A lot,” I said, refusing to be compromised by my unfortunate inability to do arithmetic beyond a fourth-grade level. You people who forced me to learn the New Math, you’ll hear from me some day, you can be sure of it. “So lemme alone to work here, I need to get this done. This is a very important show.”

“Indeed?” Miss Carol asked, with a flicker of bemusement akin to that she displayed that time she found the mouse in her food dish. “Upon which obvious target do you turn your oh-so-mordant wit on this occasion?”

I let the sarcasm slide. Living with Miss Carol, you get pretty good at that. “We’re gonna do the Internet this time,” I declared, stabbing an accusatory finger in the general direction of that place downtown where Midcoast Internet Solutions used to be. “Yeah. The INTERNET. In this show we’re gonna put it in its place but good.”

“You will excuse,” smirked Miss Carol without attempting to hide it, and that’s when you know you’re really in for it, “my skepticism of the sincerity of your quixotic attack. You are, and I am certain that my statement is fully supported by all available relevant facts, entirely in the thrall of the online environment. Were you charged by the minute for your Internet access, as was the case in days of yore, you would most certainly be living in greatly reduced circumstances.” She looked around at the clutter of my office. “Even more so,” she continued, “than at present.”

I glared at her, and her bright green eyes flashed an ever so fleeting spark of amusement. That made me even madder, but knowing what I was in for if I let on, I squelched the riposte straining for expression, and instead filed it carefully away for future reference. Instead, I glared again, and tossed off a simple “Oh yeah?” That ought to fix her.

“It would seem to me,” she continued, “that you owe a great deal to the Internet. It has permitted you much during the present global crisis. You have taken advantage of a steady flow of useful information. You have been permitted a limited sort of social access with your various young persons. And the Strand Theatre itself has taken full advantage of the possibilities offered in securing alternative methods for the presentation and distribution of content.”

“I hate that word,” I interrupted. “Content. Makes it sound like we’re stuffing some cheap, generic product into a plastic tub on a production line or something. We offer entertainment, enlightenment and education, not creamed cottage cheese.”

“I have reviewed your most recent radio script,” countered Miss Carol. “The jury is, as they say, still out on that particular question. But my larger point remains unrefuted. Your attack on the internet is unsound given your personal dependence upon it.”

“That’s the whole problem though,” I snapped back. “We need the Internet – but we DON’T need what it does to us! It’s the problem of the 21st Century – a dependence upon technology that is fundamentally designed to make us ever more dependent on it!”

“And you intend to solve this problem – how?”

“I can’t solve it!” I retorted. “All I can do is point out the absurdity of it! We’ve got comedy sketches that do that – and Brittany Parker’s written a great new song called ‘Doomscrolling Blues’ that really lays it all out! If all we do is give people a bit of catharisis for their feelings about the Internet, it’ll be a job well done!”

“But,” inquired Miss Carol with a studied sincerity that I always find absolutely terrifying, “what if persons outside the area served by station WRFR 93.3 and 99.3 FM wish to hear the broadcast. Surely you do not wish to exclude this portion of the audience from your broadcast words of solace?”

“Well, they can tune in over, February 28th at 5pm Eastern, 4pm Central, and 3pm Pacific – or they can download the show starting next week via their favorite podcasting platform or!”

Miss Carol nodded. “I rest my case.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I murmured, laying my head on the desk. It’s going to be a long night.

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“I don’t know what to do,” I muttered to myself, sitting alone in the early morning gloom of a darkened living room. “What CAN I do? How can I TELL her?”
“Tell ‘her’ what?” queried Miss Carol T. Cat as she materialized out of the ether in that unsettling way that felines have. Wherever she had been during the long night, and whatever she had been doing were matters not for the likes of me to know, and I knew better than even to ask. “Has one of your beloved Young People become enmeshed in some peccadillo? I advise you leave them to their fate. A dose of ‘tough love,’ though it pains them now will doubtless do much to build a stern character for the challenges they will doubtless face in their declining years.” Miss Carol either gave a smug smirk or displayed just her regular face. I couldn’t really tell which. “Unless,” she continued after momentary musing, “the young hew-mon in question is the one whom you call ‘Lilita.’ I find the method by which she provides me with ‘skritches’ in the proper place entirely salubrious, and if she requires your aid you must rush to her assistance at once. I shall pack your bag.”
I gazed at Miss Carol for a long moment. Even after a decade sharing a house with her, she has lost none of her ability to take me aback. Being taken aback is no fun at 2 in the morning, and I expressed that opinion, but Miss Carol merely licked her paw and settled on the arm of the big blue chair. She seemed relaxed, and I figured, well, maybe this is as good a time as any. Not that there’s ever a good time for news like this, but sometimes you just gotta dive in.
“No,” I sighed. “It isn’t about any of the Kids. It’s about – it’s about YOU.”
Miss Carol’s ears twitched.
“More specific,” I went on, figuring once you start rolling down the hill you might just as well forget about stopping, “it’s about your FOOD.”
That did it. Miss Carol snapped upright as though her entire twenty pounds of massed felinity had transformed into a broken spring. Her bright green eyes burned a hole in my neck, and I pulled up the collar of my ratty old bathrobe to guard against further damage. “Explain your statement,” demanded Miss Carol. “Comply!”
“Maybe you noticed lately, the food I’ve been giving you…”
“If by your remark you mean to inquire if I have noted the lack of variety in my recent diet,” she replied in a voice that could have been chipped off the evaporator of a refrigerator that hasn’t been defrosted in six months, not that I would know anything about that, “it has been noted. I had, in fact intended to call this to your attention this very morning, at the usual hour for my breakfast meal. But since you raise the topic now, I can only assume that you have in fact come to a satisfactory resolution of the issue, and that no further action is required.”
I sighed again. I’ve gotten really good at sighing over the past eleven months. There’s a lot of it going around these days.
“There’s a problem,” I exhaled. “There’s actually a major cat food shortage right now, all along the East Coast. A shortage of canned cat food. Now, I could get you the dry kibble…”
“You know my views on that subject,” Miss Carol frowned. “I have sensitive teeth, and I am intolerant of grain products. A creature of lower evolution, such as a canine or a rodent, may be entirely comfortable consuming such matter, but I, as an obligate carnivore, cannot countenance such a meal.”
“I know, I know,” I replied. “But the thing is, I can only get what I can get. I go in the store, and there’s just a few cans of this and that in stock. And I know beef makes you sick…”
“Ill,” interrupted Miss Carol. “I realize that in your coarse working-class upbringing you were taught to say ‘sick,’ but those of refinement say ‘Ill.’ I refer you to the research of Professor Alan S. C. Ross on the use of language as a class marker in colloquial English. You will find his views educational, and possibly beneficial in your future endeavors.”
“Look, I’m trying to explain this to you, OK?” I blurted. “It’s not even really a food shortage – there’s plenty of food. The problem is there’s a shortage of aluminum to make the cans! Apparently so many people are staying home because of the pandemic, and eating and – um – drinking out of cans that you just can’t get the metal! And people aren’t recycling anywhere near enough old cans to make up for the shortage.”
Miss Carol’s eyes shot to the kitchen, and I knew what was coming.
“I observe,” she began, and I tried not to roll my eyes, “that you have gathered a large mound of empty aluminum cans in the pantry. You speak of an aluminum shortage that, it would appear, you yourself have done much to create.”
“No, no, no,” I protested. “I need those cans! I need them for the Strand radio show, for sound effects. See, if I have a character fall off a ladder or something, I take those cans and put them in this big wooden crate, and then I kinda shake ‘em up in the air and back down into the crate – and it makes a sound like a crash! I mean, it’s either I do that, or I set up a microphone in front of an ACTUAL LADDER, and then I climb up it and fall off! And I could break my neck doing that! Would you rather I do THAT?”
Miss Carol gave no reply.
I scowled. Miss Carol still gave no reply.
“Well? I demanded.
Miss Carol’s eyes fixed firmly on mine. “I’m thinking it over!”
I gazed back for a long moment. “You stole that gag from Jack Benny.”
“Never heard of him,” she replied, brushing a phantom bit of lint from her fur.
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat!”
Miss Carol again fixed me in a gaze, and turned her head petulantly. “Now cut that out!”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager.


“You are aware,” intoned Miss Carol T. Cat, “that this Sunday is a day of great import? A hew-mon festival commemorating your peculiar mating practices.”

“Izzat so?” I sighed. “Who’s got time for that stuff, anyway? I work for a living.”

“Ah,” replied Miss Carol. “And yet, I cannot help but observe that you seem to have laid in some manner of preparation for an afternoon beyond your usual scope of activity.”

Miss Carol’s gaze directed toward a small collection of objects laid out on the living room coffee table. Actually, since I don’t drink coffee, it’s more of a books-and-cats table, but we’ll let that go for now. Suffice it to say that a small collection of objects was so laid out as previously stated. 

“Yes indeed!” I declared, with a flare of energy unaccustomed in these present February doldrums. “I been working pretty hard lately, so I decided that the only Valentine I’m gonna treat this year is *me.* As the saying goes, ‘Live Alone An’ Like It!’”

“I call your attention to a misstatement of fact in your previous remark,” snapped Miss Carol. “You do not, in fact, Live Alone, and it has occasionally been my observation that you do not, in fact, Like It. Otherwise, there could be no possible explanation for your action last night ejecting me from the bedchamber.”

“You knocked over that pile of books and magazines and a copy of ‘In Dubious Battle’ hit me in the head,” I retorted. “I like Steinbeck as well as the next one, but not at 2 in the morning, and not in the head. I’m kinda funny like that. Deal with it.”

“So I am to surmise, then,” Miss Carol continued, “that these objects so displayed are not intended for my perusal. Presumably my Valentine’s gift awaits its proper presentation at an appointed hour?”

I squirmed with discomfort, which when you come to think about it, is about the only way there really is to squirm. I mean, who ever heard of anybody squirming comfortably? It just isn’t done. So, indeed, I squirmed with discomfort. “I – ah – wasn’t able to get you a Valentine’s present this year. I went to the store – and – well – you might not believe it, but there’s a chronic cat food shortage in this town right now.”

If Miss Carol had visible eyebrows they would have elevated dangerously.

“It’s true,” I stammered. “I went to every store around here an’ the shelves are picked clean. Probably something to do with this stupid pandemic, I dunno. Nobody at the store could explain it. Why do you think you’ve had all them weird flavors lately instead of the stuff you usually like?”

“I had been intending,” nodded Miss Carol, “to draw this to your notice. I am skeptical that the so-called ‘ocean whitefish’ specified on the label is in fact a product of any recognized ocean. But no doubt this dilemma will be resolved with alacrity. An uprising among the feline population of the greater Midcoast would be a severe consequence for an already pandemic-wracked population, and no doubt the authorities well understand the risk they face.”

“Yeah,” I said. “So sorry ‘bout that.”

Miss Carol sighed. When Miss Carol sighs, you can see all three of her fangs – the fourth she lost in an incident too horrific to disclose involving a strip of flypaper one early summer morning – and it’s a disturbing sight. So I proceeded with caution.

“Anyways,” I said, “I decided since it’s just you an’ me here, I’d get something we could do together for Valentine’s Day. I thought we’d have a movie marathon an’ you could sit in my lap an’ go to sleep or something. Look, I got a complete DVD collection of Wheeler & Woolsey movies. Even ‘Mummy’s Boys!’ That’s the one, you know, where they fight an actual mummy.”

Miss Carol rolled her eyes, and extended a claw in the direction of a cellophane bag. “And what,” she inquired, “do you call this?”

“Um,” I hesitated, knowing that I would soon earn her censure, “that’s a bag of fun-size $100,000 Bars.”

“WHAT?” Miss Carol erupted. “The roof of our shabby hovel left nearly perforate after the recent storms, and yet you squander our valuable funds on expensive chocolate? By what dubious means have you even ACQUIRED such a prodigious sum? Were you,” and here her eyes narrowed, “in any way involved in the recent Gamestop debacle?”

“They don’t actually cost $100,000,” I explained in a rather desperate tone. “That’s just marketin’. You know, to appeal to ritzy people.”

Miss Carol frowned. She herself, as a devoted disciple of Mr. Veblen, disdains the moral emptiness of conspicuous consumption, but realizing that hewmons are, after all, a less-evolved species than catdom, is usually willing to let such things slide, and when the claws didn’t lash the bag of candy from my hand, I knew I was in the clear.

“Come on,” I said. “Get up in the chair with me here. It’s time to take it easy. Look, we’ll start off with ‘Hips Hips Hooray!’ You like that one, don’t you?”

Miss Carol rolled her bright green eyes again, and jumped up into my lap. And I could swear I heard her purr, “ridiculous fat barrel hew-mon.”

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