SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 12: In Which We Maybe Do Some Viewing

 
 
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“Enough of this!” snapped Miss Carol T. Cat in a voice that sounds to the uninitiated like a truck driver jake-braking down Camden Street on a Sunday morning when you’re trying to sleep.
 
I froze where I stood. “Enough of what?” I replied, a edge of fear in  my voice. These last few days had been especially tense between the two of us, with cold, foul weather compounding the stress of forced confinement.
 
“You have paced the full circuit of this dwelling sixteen and three-quarters times in the past thirty-four minutes,” calculated Miss Carol with her usual precision. “You are causing unnecessary wear to the imitation Persian rug covering the living room floor. Note that the nap is distorted in an exact tracing of your footpath.  This is unacceptable.”
 
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
 
“Apologies are irrelevant,” she replied. “You will cease pacing at once. As you know, I frequently recline upon this rug, and a raised nap is essential to my comfort.”
 
“I won’t do it again,” I stammered.
 
“No,” she stated with finality, “You will not.”
 
I sighed, and considered sighing again. But one glance at her stern visage caused that second sigh to stall in my esophagus. With some effort, I forced it back down, and shrugged with resignation. Another glance at Miss Carol suggested that further efforts along that line would also meet with brisk discouragement.
 
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I asked. “We got a lotta day left here, and we gotta do something with it.”
 
“I suggest that you, in the vernacular of the present day, ‘Hulu and Refrigerate.’”
 
I had to think about that one for a minute. Finally, the light dawned. “You mean ‘Netflix and Chill?’”
 
“The exact wording is of no consequence,” Miss Carol replied with an impatient glare. “An afternoon of passive television entertainment would serve to settle your agitation, and would permit me to pursue my own activities free from distraction.”
 
“You mean sleep in the chair, right?”
 
“You are correct.”
 
I took a deep breath. We’d been over this before. “You know I don’t have Netflix here,” I said. “You know my computer can’t handle it.”
 
“I have been meaning to call this matter to your attention,” she interrupted. “The purchase of an updated device for internet access for this household is long overdue. Your current computer is now old enough to vote in all municipal, state, and federal elections. A computer of more recent manufacture would permit you access to a whole world of outstanding entertainment and enlightenment, such as is now offered by the ‘Strand at Home’ service.”
 
“Was that a commercial?” I asked.
 
“A public service announcement,” she corrected.
 
“Well anyway, computers cost money,” I protested, “and why spend money when you can find perfectly good ones at the side of the road with a ‘FREE’ sign?”
 
“You practice false economy,” she countered. “At some future time I shall demonstrate this to you mathematically. At present, however, there remains the question of entertainment for this afternoon.”
 
“Hey, I know,” I said. “Just a minute!” I ran upstairs –well, actually, I slowly ascended the stairs pausing every three steps to huff – and returned shortly carrying a large plastic storage bin. “Our problems are over,” I declared. “We’re gonna have some fun!”
 
Miss Carol threw me a frown fairly dripping with skepticism. “That container promises no stimulation, unless you intend to place it on the floor so that I might climb inside. This might prove distracting for a brief period, but I hardly would consider it sufficient entertainment for a full afternoon.”
 
I snapped off the lid and reached inside. “VHS tapes, baby!” I crowed. “Now we’re talkin’!”
 
Miss Carol cast me a look akin to that which she displays when she discovers a hair in her Friskies. “Recall that I was born in the year 2009,” she said. “I am unfamiliar with such an obsolescent format.”
 
“Oh, we got everything in here,” I said, plunging both hands into the bin. “Lookit – fifteen years of ‘Doctor Who’ episodes taped off MPBN! Some of ‘em even have pledge drive breaks with Bernie Rosetti! Remember? ‘Call within the next ten minutes and get this disappearing TARDIS mug?’”

Miss Carol was not impressed. She approached the bin and pawed one of the dust-covered cassettes. “’Beavis and Butt-Head Moron-A-Thon 1996,’” she read. “I hesitate even to ask.”
 
“Aw, that’s some great stuff,” I enthused. “Best pop-culture criticism of the ‘90s on that show. Did you know Patrick Stewart was a big fan?”
 
Miss Carol gazed at me with a look that can only be described as deep, profound pity. “You are the house manager of one of the finest independent theatres in New England,” she said, slowly shaking her head, “an establishment widely hailed for the unusual quality of its presentations. If only the public knew.”
 
“You’re a snob,” I retorted. “Hey, lookit! Here’s something you’ll like.”
 
“I very much doubt it,” she snorted.
 
“No, this is great. A silent movie starring John Barrymore and Dolores Costello. They were married, you know.”
 
“Indeed,” she replied with no enthusiasm whatsoever.
 
“They were Drew Barrymore’s grandparents,” I continued.
 
“Who?” asked Miss Carol. “You move from irrelevance to irrelevance.”
 
“Oh, this is a great picture. See, it’s based on the story ‘Manon Lescaut,’ same as the opera. Costello is Manon, and Barrymore plays this chevalier guy. Not Maurice Chevalier, but he’s still French, right? And they’re in love an’ all that, an’ when she gets kidnapped by this evil Count Whatshisname, Barrymore takes care of her cat!”
 
That got Miss Carol’s attention. “The cat doubtless steals the production,” she said.
 
“An’ Barrymore goes all around Paris looking for Manon, an’ he’s carrying this cat with him, an’ some musketeers or whatever make fun of him an’ he gets in this big swordfight – all the while he’s carryin’ the cat, and the cat is all ‘whatever!’”
 
Miss Carol displayed the first enthusiasm she’d shown all day. “I should like to meet this cat,” she said. “Arrange for this at once.”
 
“Uh, this picture was made in 1927, so – uh – I’m afraid that – ah….”
 
“Leaves have their time to fall,” sighed Miss Carol, “and flowers to wither at the north…”
 
“Huh?”
 
“I quote from the hew-mon poet Milton,” she explained, “in reference to the evanescent nature of existence. I am not surprised that you are unfamiliar with his work. To my knowledge he never wrote for the comic magazines.”
 
“Well, anyway, it’s a great movie. We oughta watch it.”
 
“I suggest that you do so and leave me in peace,” she said, taking her customary place in the living room chair. “The hour has arrived for my midday rest period. View your film but with the volume muted.”
 
“It’s a silent picture,” I protested.
 
“As it should be.”
 
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
 
“As *you* should be.”
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