SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 27: In Which We Shift Into Autumnal Mode.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

"It has come to my attention that our property is littered with leafy refuse,” commented Miss Carol T. Cat. She was standing on my chest as she made this observation, rendering it impossible for me to ignore.

“So it is,” I groaned, squinting at the alarm clock on the nightstand. Most of the luminious paint on the dial lost its glow some time during the Johnson Administration, but enough of a shine remained that I could pick out the time in the gloom of the pre-dawn murk. “Quarter of six is no time to give a hang about leaves,” I growled, using a word other than “hang,” and pushing the pillow down over my face in hopes of concealing myself from the arrival of another morning.

“Our property is unsightly,” Miss Carol continued, “and it attracts vermin. I have observed several obese squirrels rampant in our yard. Release me for but a moment and I shall correct this.”

“I don’t care,” I moaned. “Squirrels deserve to live. In fact, they got a better life right now than we do. They don’t have to worry about the future, they don’t have to deal with everything we’re dealing with. All they do is pick up nuts off the ground an’ store them away for winter. I wish I could do that. There’s so many nuts around right now somebody needs to store ‘em away for the winter.”

“Your attempt at veiled social commentary does not alter the circumstances,” Miss Carol replied. “The autumnal equinox has passed. Leaves must be gathered and placed for municipal pickup. The norms of a dignified society demand it.”

“I’m leaving the leaves there for the bees,” I muttered from beneath the pillow. “Save the bees. The world needs the bees more than it needs a grubby little corner of the North End to be free of leaves.”

Miss Carol knew she was fighting a losing battle, and thumped to the floor, her fur bristling with irritation. I’d hear more about this later. I let out a sigh and pulled the pillow off my face, acknowledging the inevitability of another day. I made several attempts, and finally succeeded in rolling myself out of bed, into my bathrobe and into the bathroom, where an unspooled roll of toilet paper festooned the floor. Miss Carol had been busy about her work overnight, and with the sun just poking up behind the steam clouds from the carrageenan plant, it was time for me to be busy about mine.

I’ve got a lot to do these days down at the Strand, even though our doors remain closed. There’s our upcoming concert this weekend out at the Owls Head Transportation Museum featuring a live performance by Goldenoak – the first live show presented under Strand auspices in nearly seven months. There’s preparations for the October “Strand On The Air” broadcast, a Halloween-themed phantasmagoria in which the folks down in Abysmal Point encounter a spine-chilling tale of ghostly vengeance. And there’s the continuing work I’m doing toward bringing the building up to CDC specs in preparation for our eventual reopening – there’s techs to arrange, vendors to contact, labor to be done, and no time at all for such pointless trivialities as raking leaves. The leaves can stay until next spring, and the world will be better off for it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I was feeling as refreshed as I ever feel as I headed into the kitchen to feed Miss Carol and put the kettle on – but she wasn’t sitting as usual beside her bowl.  I stepped into the little room off the kitchen I use as an office, and there she was – sitting on my desk and gazing out the window with murderous slit-eyed hate at a plump grey squirrel – who sat on his haunches and gazed back at her with a look that can be described only as defiant insouciance. If a squirrel could ever look like a tap-dancing James Cagney about to punch an adversary in the moosh, this squirrel had it down.  Miss Carol resented him. Miss Carol resented the window pane that kept her from him.  I knew her frustration – there’s a lot of things to resent, to feel frustrated about  in the world right now, but just sitting there fuming about them isn’t going to change anything.

I turned back to the kitchen, plonked the kettle down on the burner, and wrenched open a can of Friskies Whitefish and Tuna Filets.  Miss Carol heard the can cracking open and sensed the tiny wisp of Whitefish and Tuna Filet scented aroma that hissed out when the lid came off, and thumped into the kitchen, resigned to one more day without a squirrel to mount in her trophy case.  I shrugged. “It ain’t an easy world,” I sighed, “an’ it ain’t a fair world. The leaves are fallin’, the dark is comin’, an’ we don’t know what’s out there. But hey, you got cans, I got opposable thumbs and a sapient cerebral cortex --  an’ somehow we’ll muddle thru.”

The kettle whistled, I poured it over the tea bag, and began to think about my day. “Maybe next time,” I heard Miss Carol say, as the first dribble of boiling water hit my bare foot, “you should put the tea bag in a cup first.”


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