STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“Clearly you failed to comprehend the purpose of my address,” argued Miss Carol T. Cat, in a voice that to the uninitiated resembled that of a one-thousand horsepower electric motor grinding away at an unlubricated bearing.
I pressed my head into the pillow, in a futile attempt to squelch the throbbing of my basilar artery. “Will you please give it a rest,” I moaned. “Or if you can’t do that, at least give me a rest. It’s been two days!”
“Nevertheless,” she continued, “I maintain that your brusque dismissal of me from the microphone during our recent radio broadcast deprived the listening public of much-needed guidance and direction during these uncertain times.
“All you said was ‘feed me,” I grunted from within the pillow. “I gave you a chance to go on the air and all you said was ‘feed me.’ What kinda speech is that?”
“It was fraught with meaning,” replied Miss Carol, swatting the back of my neck with a pawful of ever-so-slightly-unsheathed claws. “It was a demand not just for material sustenance, but an echo of the public’s demand for spiritual and intellectual sustenance in this time of crisis – for the guidance and wise leadership that only I myself can provide. ‘FEED ME,’ cries the public. I hear their desperate entreaties and I respond. My powerful sense of noblesse-oblige demands it. Hew-mons require my intercession at this time, and I shall not withhold it from them.”
I sat up. There was no sense trying to sleep. Miss Carol was in the mood for a filibuster, and it fell unto me to provide an audience. “Too bad you weren’t this gabby during the radio show,” I murmured. “Might have been more interesting listening than ‘feed me.’”
Miss Carol glowered, her bright green eyes blazing in the darkness. “There is another matter I wish to note,” she said, her voice taking on a steely tone. “I could not help but be aware of the fact that I received no billing on the broadcast. My name and contributions to the program were not highlighted in any way in the opening or closing announcements. This is unacceptable. In future, I shall insist on ‘before the title’ billing. Such phrasing as ‘Miss Carol T. Cat starring in ‘The Strand On The Air,’ etcetera will be acceptable.”
“Oh, sure,” I sighed, flopping back onto the pillow. “I’ll get right on that.”
“I also require a statement in the program closing to the effect that ‘Miss Carol T. Cat’s appearance on this program is by special arrangement with Carol T. Cat Productions, LLC, Miss Carol T. Cat, president.’ I shall leave the precise wording in your hands. Your writing abilities are well suited for the crafting of tedious boilerplate.”
My eyes rolled, despite my best efforts to freeze them in position, and I was thankful for the darkness until I realized that cats can see in the dark.
“Which brings us to my next appearance on your broadcast,” Miss Carol continued. “I find that I was allotted insufficient time during my previous engagement to present all of the points I wished to enumerate. I shall require at least twenty minutes during my next appearance in order to fully outline my platform for hew-manity.”
“You aren’t gettin’ no twenty minutes,” I snapped back. “We’ve only got an hour show, and nobody’s gonna listen to you for a third of that.”
“They will do so. They will be carried away by the brilliant gleam of my personal charisma. Scarcely will they realize even a moment has passed before I have concluded my remarks.”
“Look,” I growled, rolling onto my stomach. “Get your own show. ‘The Strand on the Air’ is the Strand’s show, OK? We’re trying to give people a good dose of Strand-style entertainment to see them thru until we can open again. It’s bad enough you hijacked my blog, now you wanna take over the broadcast too? No way, toots.”
“I shall overlook your impudent tone. Begin at once to prepare the next program. I shall have much to say. As hew-mons tentatively resume their public activities, they will need reminders to observe all necessary precautions and to conduct themselves in a manner in which the risks to all will be minimized. I advise all hew-mons to observe necessary restrictions with good humor and with courtesy, and to avoid a pell-mell rush forward that may unnecessarily imperil the vulnerable. I offer my benediction to all hew-mons, and I wish only their safety, as individuals and as a community. Their observance of all that is required of them in this time offers the highest and greatest fulfillment of my personal request – ‘feed me.’”
I rolled over on my side.  “Are you done?” I groaned.
“I must also advise you at this time that I have secured personal representation thru the William Morris Agency for all of my future appearances on your broadcast,” she concluded. “You will receive the appropriate contracts by overnight mail.”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
I thought it, but I didn’t dare say it.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
My eyes snapped open with a sudden jolt. I didn’t know where I was, or when I was, or why I was, or what I was, or how I was.
And then it all swam into a not so focused blur.
And I screamed.
I jerked upright, my breath in short gasps, and I kept telling myself it wasn’t real.
But it was.
Miss Carol T. Cat looked up from the corner of the bed, her bright green eyes the only light in the dim, dusty room. “You have disturbed my pre-dawn rest period,” she grunted, in a voice that might remind the uninitiated of that last rumble your car makes before it stalls halfway up a hill and you start rolling backward. “Whatever your explanation for this inappropriate behavior, I am certain that it is inadequate. Please leave the room at once and spend the rest of the night huddled  on the bathroom floor.”
“That cinches it,” I muttered to myself. “I really am awake. Well, that’s an improvement over that dream.”
“Hew-mon dreams are merely the manifestation of a poorly-controlled subconscious,” replied Miss Carol. “The felid mind makes far better use of its regeneration period. Our dreams are devoted to careful planning for the future. When your yelp of despair interrupted my slumber, I was immersed in a detailed dream involving the stalking and elimination of a large invasive rodent that had attempted to annex portions of my personal space. Be assured that when this rodent appears – as it one day must, given your slipshod repairs to the basement wall – it will be dispatched with extreme prejudice. Thus reassured, you may now resume your slumber.”
She coiled into her usual sleeping position, but I wasn’t ready to follow suit. My dream shook me, and when I get shook I stay shaken. “It was awful,” I blurted, as she cocked a disapproving eye in my direction. “It started out OK, but…”
“It is obvious that there will be no further rest for either of us until you have unloaded your mental burden,” sighed Miss Carol. She sat up and glared at me thru the darkness. “Very well then. Relate your dream.”
“There was this baseball game going on,” I began, “in a vacant lot on the street where I grew up.”
“You have been traumatized by the discontinuation of professional sports due to the pandemic,” interrupted my counselor. “This matter is of trifling significance. Refocus your mind. Now, good evening. I must return to my own rest.”
“That ain’t all of it,” I continued, as in a marked manner, Miss Carol rolled over on her side. “One of the Strand Kids was pitching. But instead of a ball, she was holding a paper soda cup full of popcorn. And when she threw it, the corn sort of fanned out in a big ball. It looked all pointy and spiky like them pictures you see of the coronavirus. And then it just sorta dispersed in the air.”
Miss Carol sat up. “An effective visualization of the ‘community transmission’ phase of the pandemic. But you may rest assured that this threshold has not been reached in our community. And indeed, due to effective implementation of precautionary measures, it is increasingly unlikely that it shall do so.”
“And then all of a sudden I was in the Strand,” I went on. “Only it was completely dark inside. Now, I been in the Strand by myself a lot – and it’s never completely dark inside, not ever. There’s always light comin’ from the Exit signs an’ the emergency lights, an’ comin’ thru the windows from the street outside. It’s never absolutely pitch dark, not ever. But in this dream, it was. I couldn’t see my hand in front o’ my face. An’ I was stumblin’ around tryin’ to find a light switch, tryin’ to find a flashlight or somethin’, but no matter what I did an’ no matter where I turned, it was still dark, an’ I started to panic. An’ then I heard voices – it was the Strand Kids, all of them, goin’ back to the beginning. And they were trapped in the dark too, but I couldn’t find them an’ they couldn’t find me, an’ none of us could find a light.  And then I could feel somethin’ landin’ on me, somethin’ settlin’ out of the air. I couldn’t see it – but I could feel it. It was pieces of popcorn. An’ then I woke up.”
“You have devised an effective scenario for a low-budget television horror film,” said Miss Carol. “Make immediate arrangements for its production and transmission over one of the major streaming services. An eager public awaits the disturbing and fear-inducing product of your fractured subconscious. Stephen King shall look to his laurels.”
“Yeah, right,” I replied. “But what does it mean?”
Miss Carol resumed her sleeping position. “The significance of this dream is obvious,” she said, without bothering to open her eyes. “You are frightened. You dislike the uncertainty surrounding your personal future, and you are languishing after the loss of your normal routine. And you miss the young persons with whom you regularly associate, as the mental stimulation they provide prevents your mind from ossifying into senescence.”
“Is that all?” I responded. “I was afraid I was goin’ crazy.”
“It is entirely normal to feel fear and uncertainty in these times, even for an emotionally-friable hew-mon such as yourself. Even I, a member of a superior species, have experienced moments of uncertainty in recent weeks. Be assured that these emotions shall pass as we move, each day, one step closer to the ultimate resumption of normal conditions.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“I might also advise,” she continued, “that in future you forego the consumption of an Italian sausage sandwich with cheese and tomato sauce immediately before retiring. A person of your advanced years will find a small bowl of tepid gruel a more appropriate evening snack. Should you require a beverage, a warm cup of Postum will suffice.”
“Just how old do you think I am?” I protested, but Miss Carol had already fallen back to sleep.
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I murmured as I did likewise.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“OW!” I yelped, as the greasy piece of metal sliced into the palm of my hand, and threw the screwdriver across the room to punctuate my statement.
Miss Carol T. Cat, alerted by my sudden outburst, thumped off her comfortable roost on the ragged old living room chair, where she’d spent the afternoon coiled in quiet contemplation of the eternal majesty of the universe and the virtues of Friskies Turkey With Giblet Gravy, and ambled into the kitchen. Her furry face crinkled into a frown of deep, deep, disapproval.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded with a yawn. “If you have injured yourself, see to medical treatment at once. I observe that your wounded hand is the one required for opening cans. There must be no interruption in its availability for this essential purpose.”
“Ahhhh, nertz,” I grumbled, winding my hand in the tail of my sweater to stanch the bleeding. Paper towel’s hard to get these days.  I kicked at the piece of metal in helpless fury, missed, and stumbled  against the kitchen wall, upending a garbage barrel filled with empty bottles, which spewed out on the floor all around me. They say primates are the only creatures capable of laughter, but I swear I saw Miss Carol snicker.
“You appear at poor advantage,” she snorted. “I advise that you ‘pull yourself together’ at once. Wacky slapstick antics are in poor taste in the current environment of global crisis.”
“I’m tryin’ to fix the stove!” I blurted, struggling to hoist my unwanted extra weight to its feet.
“Such tasks are best left to trained professionals,” replied Miss Carol, turning to nip at a gob of dust my fall had sent drifting onto her fur.

“Do I look like somebody who can afford to hire a trained professional for anything right now?” I snapped back. “Besides, the last time I had a repair guy in here he asked if my TV set came from Civil War times.  I don’t need to pay these characters to come in here and make fun of me. I got you for that.”
“I am pleased to be of service,” she snarked, walking over to the dismantled pile of corroded metal that, until an hour ago, was my kitchen stove. “Perhaps if you had not attempted to take it apart,” she suggested, “the stove would not require repair. Possibly you have, once more, served as the architect of your own demise.”
“I didn’t break it,” I fired back. “Well, I did, but not like that. See, there’s this thing inside the oven that senses the temperature, an’ I was tryin’ to cook a pizza in there an’ I knocked it off the hook that it’s ‘sposed to hang on, an’ when I tried to hang it back up, I bent the wire too much an’ it broke off. So th’ thermostat wouldn’t work, an’ when y’turn on th’ oven, it goes up to like 550 degrees.”
“At last,” exulted Miss Carol. “Sufficient warmth! It will make life in this draft-ridden shanty somewhat more bearable.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not so good for cookin’. An’ it turns out to fix it, you gotta buy a whole new thermostat. But before you can order one, you gotta get the part number. An’ before you can do that, you gotta take the stupid stove apart to take the old thermostat out!”
“It is infinitely easier to destroy the works of man,” observed Miss Carol, “than to create them.”
“What?” I muttered, as I applied a tourniquet made from a torn dish towel to my bleeding hand.
“I quote from the works of Will Irwin, muckraking journalist of the early twentieth century,” Miss Carol added with satisfaction. “No doubt you are unfamiliar with his philosophy, given that it rarely appeared on ‘Dubble Bubble’ gum wrappers. In any event, you have obviously succeeded in reducing your kitchen range to scrap metal, which may bring a small sum on the secondary market. Perhaps with the proceeds you might make a down payment on a newer, more efficient food-preparation device. AS you know, I am fond of roast turkey, but the small size of your present oven has for too long precluded the appropriate preparation of such a feast.”
“Oh no,” I declared. “Money’s tight right now. No way I’m gonna go further into debt just so you can eat all the white meat and leave me with the thighs and the neck. I ain’t that dumb.”
“With further effort, I assure you that the goal is within sight.”
“Look, it’s gonna cost me two hundred berries just to get the thermostat for this thing, an’ then I’m gonna have to go thru all the work of puttin’ it in. I don’t need any lip from you. I just sent away for the thermostat on eBay, an’ we’re just gonna sit tight till it gets here.”
“Perhaps,” conceded Miss Carol, “I have been too harsh. I realize that tempers and nerves have worn thin due to the isolation prescribed under the current conditions of pandemic. As a sign of my goodwill, I suggest that perhaps a bracing cup of tea would restore your inner being and fortify you for the challenges ahead. Perhaps you should put the kettle on.”
“Yeah!” I enthused, as my bleeding hand slowed to a weak trickle. “A cuppa tea, that’s the ticket.” I filled the kettle and turned to place it upon the – dismantled and thoroughly pile of scrap metal sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Miss Carol looked up at me with a slow blink of her bright green eyes, turned, and slowly walked away. I could swear I heard her chortle.
I tossed the kettle over my shoulder and heard it crash against a stack of unwashed dishes, and sank muttering into a corner of the pantry.
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“Cease that incessant babble!” commanded Miss Carol T. Cat, in a voice that sounded like the one that summoned you to the principal’s office when you were in the first grade the time you tied Mark Robinson’s shoelaces to the back of his chair because he kept trying to get you to watch him eat a bug at recess.
“I can’t,” I replied with dignity. “I’m rehearsin’!”
“Rehearsing your testimony will be of no benefit,” Miss Carol declared, pausing to make an unsuccessful attempt to nibble at the base of her tail. “You will be convicted and sentenced to the maximum penalty permitted under the law, and for good reason.”
“Hah?” I replied, and I meant it.
“Only persons of limited grasp of their faculties sit at the kitchen table illuminated by the dim glow of a single bare bulb, talking to themselves,” she continued. “It shall prove your undoing.”
“Why do I even try?” I said with a shake of my head borne of long, sad experience. “Look, I’m busy here. You’ve got food in your bowl, go bother that for a while.”
She stretched her head upward and rose upon her rear haunches, the better to try and catch a glimpse of what I was doing. She looked like a flabby, furred penguin – but I wasn’t about to say so. “What is the meaning of this activity?” she asked. “It seems to serve no purpose.”
“I’m practicing for the Strand radio show,” I said with more than a wisp of exasperation. “We’ve got a special ‘Social Distancing Edition’ coming up on May 17th”
“Your last attempt at entertainment so befouled the air,” she sneered, “I found it difficult to breathe. I tuned in the entire performance, and heard not a single mention of myself. I found your program offensive on that basis. Do you not realize that there are over ninety-five million cats residing in the United States? And yet, your broadcast included no feline performers, and made no reference whatever to this vital segment of the population. I can provide a full electrical transcription of the program for your reference in order to prove my point.”
“Oh, don’t bother,” I mumbled, fearing an argument and knowing its outcome. “You don’t know anything about entertainment anyway. When were you ever in a show?”
“It may interest you to know,” she snapped back, “that I am descended from a show business family. My great-grandmother eleventh removed was a mainstay in a famous vaudeville act. She appeared for several tours on the old Poli time with ‘Swain’s Rats and Cats,’ and was highly praised by the critics. ‘Household Pests and Pets in Perky Pranks’ went the billing. I am surprised you were unaware of this. At some future date I shall share with you the dear old grimalkin’s scrapbooks, in which she can be seen posing with the Four Marx Brothers backstage at the Keeney Theatre in Brooklyn. I believe Captain Sorcho and his seal act was also on the bill that week, but I have no photograph of grandmother posing with the seal. Family lore has it that she found seals distasteful.”
Under the pressure of this argument, my head had sunken to the table. “Are you done yet?” I murmured. “Because I really gotta get back to work. I have to play four different characters in this show and I need to get the voices down. We’re doing the whole thing as a cut and paste job – I’ll do my parts, Brittany and the band will do their parts, I’m gonna get Dan Bookham and Lili Bonarrigo and Joanna Hynd to record some stuff, and then I’ll edit it all together an’ it’ll sound like we’re all right up there on the stage just like when we do a live show.”
Miss Carol looked intrigued. “I recommend that you prepare a place for me on this presentation. “
“What would you do?” I protested. “Do you have an act? Do you sing? Do you play an instrument? Do you tell jokes?”
“I shall lecture,” she said. “I shall discourse on any number of topics the broadcast audience will find of stimulating interest. I am widely knowledgeable in multiple fields.”
“Yeah, well, that’s not what we’re doin’ here,” I responded. “People get enough lecturin’ these days – we want to have some fun. We’ll have some comedy, and some tunes, and a chance to just try and see th’ lighter side of the situation we’re in. Comedy’s an important safety valve in times of crisis, an’ if we ever get to where we can’t laugh at ourselves, we’re in worse trouble than we think.”
Miss Carol considered my point. “Under those circumstances, I believe I shall leave the performing to you,” she said. “I am, as I have stated before, a serious cat. But I am certain that people will laugh at you, even as they have your entire life.”
“Well thanks,” I said, before I got her point. And by the time I did, it was too late.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
Miss Carol T. Cat glared at me in silent rage as I snapped on the kitchen light. But she didn’t remain silent long.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” she demanded, in a voice that might sound to the uninitiated like the Riverside D train screeching into Kenmore station just in time for you to miss it.  “You have interrupted an essential activity. Explain yourself at once.”
I stood there, blinking in the sudden light, and glanced up at the electric clock on the wall. “It’s quarter of three in the morning!” I bleated.
“Is it?” replied Miss Carol, turning to nibble at a phantom speck cluttering her hindquarters. “I had assumed it was earlier. Clearly I have not yet fully acclimatized to your ridiculous ‘Daylight Savings Time.’ I thank you for bringing this to my attention, but it was not necessary for you to interrupt your open-mouthed slumber in order to do so. You may return to your bed. I shall summon you when the hour has arrived for my morning meal.”
“Oh, don’t start,” I grumbled. “You know why I’m down here. You expect me to sleep with all that noise?”
“I am aware of no noise,” she replied, in that infuriatingly diffident tone that makes me wonder if dog people are right. “No doubt the buzzsaw rasp of your snoring masked from my perception any lesser sounds.”
“Look, don’t play games,” I snapped back. “Every night it’s the same thing, and – AH! I SEE IT! I KNOW WHAT YOU BEEN UP TO!”
She slowly closed her eyes and then, just as slowly reopened them. That is Miss Carol’s way of delivering a certain pithy Anglo-Saxon phrase generally interpreted as “Please leave me at once, I have no further need for your presence.”
“IT’S RIGHT THERE ON THE FLOOR!” I yelled, pointing at a small white sphere in the corner.
“I have never seen such an object,” Miss Carol replied. “No doubt your failure to adequately maintain these premises has permitted all manner of infestation. I advise that you fumigate the entire structure at once.”
I shuffled across the floor and picked up the object, and squinted closely. “Where did you get a golf ball?” I rasped. “I don’t play golf.  Nobody that’s ever set foot in this house plays golf. I don’t even watch golf on TV.”
“And you claim to be of Scots ancestry,” she smirked. “Doubtless your noble ancestors would fling their niblicks in the air at such an outrage.”
“Don’t change the subject,” I fired back. “Why are you rollin’ a golf ball across the kitchen floor at quarter o’ three in the morning? Don’t you know the noise that makes? I’m tryin’ to sleep!”
“If you practice, you will eventually master the skill,” she replied. “As for the ball, I require exercise and mental stimulation in order to maintain peak physical condition. Since you sealed the hole in the cellar wall, I have been denied access to my natural prey. The ball provides, at best, an adequate substitute until the deteriorating condition of this structure again permits the entry of small rodents. I would trouble you to return the ball to the floor. I have not yet completed the necessary repetitions.”
“Now lissen to me,” I hissed. “Do you know what a golf ball is? It’s a whole bunch of rubber bands stretched really tight and wrapped around a hard little core, an’ then they seal it up in a hard plastic cover.  But that golf ball ain’t nothin’ compared to the pressure buildin’ up right in here.” I thumped my chest for emphasis. “So you better smarten up an’ let me get some rest.”
“I submit that you get far too much rest than can be justified under present circumstances,” replied Miss Carol, feinting my argument with a master stroke of logic. “You are not a felid, and thus you do not require eighteen hours of rest per day. A hew-mon such as yourself can function adequately on far less. Your ill-natured disposition is ample evidence that your needs for rest have been over-sated by current conditions. What you require, instead, is activity, and the more of it the better.”
I sighed, as much as anyone can sigh at quarter of three in the morning. She did have a point. This whole lockdown situation’s not doing my physical condition any favors either. I’ve gained weight, and I don’t get anywhere near as much exercise as I need to. Maybe she’s got the right idea. Maybe I need to find something I can do to try and keep moving. Walking, hiking, maybe when it’s a little warmer I can ride my bike. Even going up and down the stairs ten times a day would be better than slumping in a chair every night counting the cracks in the ceiling.
I tossed the ball back, and it thunked hard against the tiles and bounced under the refrigerator. Miss Carol just stared, a stare combining anger, disappointment, frustration, and pity in equal measure.
“We shall begin your exercise regimen at once,” she declared. “Please remove the vegetable bin from the bottom of the refrigerator unit. Assume a prone position on the floor and extend first your right arm and then your left into the aperture beneath the compressor unit. Repeat this motion until you have retrieved the ball.”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat!” I grouched, as I did as she directed.
“Once you have retrieved the ball,” she continued, “we shall repeat this exercise twenty-five times.”
“It’s quarter of three in the morning!”
“Excellent,” she purred, with a gentle stroke of her whiskers. “Begin at once. We have the night before us.”
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“Now here’s somethin’ you’re really gonna like,” I said as I pulled the cover off a small cardboard box and dumped its contents on the living room rug.
“You will be returning to your normal routine?” muttered Miss Carol T. Cat in a voice that might sound to the uninitiated like the ominous grinding of gears in a transmission that’s about to fail. “I am pleased to receive this news, as it will bring an end to your constant, as you yourself might say, ‘belly-aching,’ and will permit me at long last to resume my own strictly-observed daily schedule.”
“Hah,” I hahed. “Your schedule. You sleep, you get up, you eat, you go back to sleep again. Nice work if you can get it.”
Miss Carol’s bright green eyes felt the irresistible pressure of an incipient glare, and snapped open. “I have fallen far behind in my work thanks to your infuriating presence,” she replied. “You pace the floor, you grumble and you whine, you play gratingly loud music on the phonograph, accompanied by incompetent vocalizations you designate as ‘singing’ and lead-footed stompings you offer as a woeful parody of the dance, and you interfere with my efforts to shift items on the end tables into a more aesthetically pleasing design.  Your presence here accomplishes nothing of value, and the sooner you are relegated to the darkest corner of the Strand Theatre to resume your duties there, the more satisfactory for my own vital agenda.”
How do you answer that? I didn’t. Instead, I sat on the floor and began to spread out the contents of the box before me.
Miss Carol’s meticulously-groomed whiskers twitched just a micron, a sign that I had piqued her interest, and she extended her head out over the edge of the ragged, claw-scracthed old chair to obtain a better view. “What is the meaning of this activity?” she asked, carefully modulating her voice so as to maintain her accustomed air of subtle contempt.
“This,  O fatus catus,” I declared, somewhat grandly, “is a jigsaw puzzle. This is gonna keep me busy for days.”
“I have often directed you to ‘act your age,’” she sniffed, “but I did not intend for you to take my advice quite so literally. May I mix you a glass of Metamucil and bring you a crocheted shawl to go with it?”
“That’s right,” I said, with a shake of my head. “Be funny. But jigsaw puzzles are great. They keep the hands busy and the mind sharp. Look at this – one thousand pieces. And when you get it assembled it makes a picture.” I held up the box cover so she could take a closer look.
“Repulsive,” she recoiled. “Take it away at once.”
“I thought you’d like this,” I said. “It’s a cat.”
“That,” she sneered, “is no cat.”
“It’s a paintin’ by Picasso,” I argued. “Lookit, it says right here. ‘Cat Devouring A Bird.’ I woulda thought it’d be right up your alley.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I have not had the privilege of devouring a bird in well over a decade,” she growled, “thanks to your intervention. In my younger, feral years bird-devouring was a favorite activity. But your insufferable attempts to impose bourgeois moral values upon me have left those days a mere pleasant memory.”
“Hey,” I protested. “Watch it.”
“You have resisted my suggestion,” she continued, “that opening the window screens to permit entry to birds would quickly end the plague of car-staining and roof-spotting that runs rampant in this neighborhood. When next you step outside, may the consequences of this suppression of my natural instincts and prodigious gifts for bird-devouring be upon your own head.”
“Look,” I said, “do you wanna help me with this or not? I thought it might be somethin’ we could do together. You know, to pass the time.”
“Very well,” she replied, her graceful bulk thumping off the chair. “I shall provide assistance. Begin by cutting all projecting portions off each piece so that each is rendered a perfect square. This will greatly expedite the completion of the task.”
“That ain’t how it works,” I said. “You gotta figure out what pieces fit together, an’ gradually they come together into bigger pieces, and then they sort of come together into even bigger pieces, until finally you got a whole picture. It’s sorta like the way society works. You might think some o’ the pieces are more important because they got more of the picture on ‘em, but you don’t get the whole, entire picture until every piece fits. It’s like what we’re dealin’ with right now. The pieces some people didn’t think were important at all, turn out to be the pieces that are holdin’ the whole picture together.”
Miss Carol considered that thought. “You make a surprisingly logical argument,” she concluded.  “Please move aside and I shall assist you further.” She reached out and batted one of the pieces across the floor. It hit the rim of the hot-air register, bounced up, and fell thru the grating down into the pipe. “That piece was unessential,” she stated.
“Hey!  Didn’t you just hear what I said,” I yelled. “Every piece is essential!”
“That piece was not,” she countered. “I observed that it bore the image of the face of a circus clown. If you consult the image on the cover, you will note that Sr. Picasso did not see fit to include any image of a circus clown in his painting of a ‘Cat Devouring A Bird.’ The reasonable conclusion is that the piece I have just eliminated belongs to another puzzle entirely. In fact, I call your attention to the fact that none of the pieces here seem to correspond with the box image. Note here – this appears to be a portion of a portrait of Mr. Spock. And this piece seems to fit a picture depicting a horse in a pasture, no doubt contemplating the moment where he kicks away his rider and makes a desperate bid to reclaim his freedom.  And this piece here appears to feature a portion of the left jowl of President Richard M. Nixon -- note the delicate shading of the beard shadow.”
I scrabbled around the pieces, and I could see that she was right.
“It would appear,” Miss Carol smirked, “that you have been, as I believe the slang term goes, scammed once more.”
I threw the box against the wall in frustration. “I’m never buyin’ a puzzle on eBay again!” I stormed. “$6.99 down the pipe!”
Miss Carol observed me with a trace of something resembling amusement. “If you will regain control of your emotions,” she said, while delicately licking her paw, “I am able to provide a solution to your dilemma. You may easily obtain a portrait of a ‘Cat Devouring A Bird.’ Note that your camera is on the shelf. Note that there appears to be a tufted titmouse at the feeding station you have established outside. And note further that only a pane of glass and a rusted screen stand between that tufted titmouse and myself. It would be the work of an instant for you to obtain a portrait of a ‘Cat Devouring A Bird’ that is of far greater merit than Sr. Picasso’s daubing. And one which, I might add, we would both find satisfying.”
I looked at her for a long moment, and then looked out the window. Then I bent down to begin scooping the pieces back into the box.
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
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