SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 16: In Which We Try To Put Together The Pieces

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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