SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 36: In Which My Anxiety Gets The Better Of Me

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“Did you know,” I wondered aloud, “that reindeer survive in the Arctic winter by eating lichens and moss that they scrape up out of the permafrost with their hooves?”

Miss Carol T. Cat sat on the arm of the big blue chair, fixing me in a withering gaze.

“It’s fascinatin’ to learn this stuff,” I stammered, unsettled by her unblinking glare. You haven’t been withered until you’ve been withered by Miss Carol T. Cat’s withering gaze. Or her unblinking glare, either. “It’s all in the National Geographic, see? ‘Antlered Majesties Of The World.’ With pictures, even.”

Miss Carol said nothing. Behind her, the clock on the mantel chimed a hollow, out-of-tune TWO. I keep meaning to fix that.

“Are you aware of the time?” she finally replied, her voice carefully modulated to conceal her irritation. “It is 2 AM. At this hour, you are required to be in your bed, the better to provide me with much-needed insulation on a December night. Your insistence on setting the thermostatic control at its lowest possible point only serves to further chill this draft-ridden hovel in which we dwell, and as you know, the felid tolerance for cold decreases with increasing maturity.”

“I can’t sleep.” I admitted. “I’m having bad dreams again – last night I had three in a row, and tonight, I hadn’t been to sleep but an hour when I had a real doozie. I dreamed that you jumped up on my chest and turned into one a’ them little fluffy white yappy dogs. An’ you yapped right in my face, an’ your breath smelled like that bone saw I used to have to clean when I worked in that meat place. I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I came down here to try an’ get a grip. I turned on the radio but there was nothin’ on but this UFO conspiracy junk, an’ there’s nothin’ on television but this guy with weird fingers tryin’ to sell bags of worn-out Mercury dimes for easy payments of $162 a month. So I grabbed a magazine an’ tried to read.”

“Your sleep patterns have been disturbed for some time,” Miss Carol agreed. “This cannot continue. I require you to ‘pull yourself together’ at once. An early morning snack might be in order. You will find the can opener on the kitchen table.” 

“I’m not hungry,” I protested.

“I, however, am hungry,” Miss Carol retorted. “I suggest that careful attention to your household duties will prove salubrious.”

My head, great cementy lump that it is at 2 AM, thumped back on the chair.  “It’s no use,” I groaned. “I just can’t take any more. I’ve been taking it for nine months and I just can’t take any more. It’s December. It’s dark at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I work all day in an empty theatre and I come home at night and sit in an empty house!”

Miss Carol scowled, and twitched her tail around the room. With her motion, a pile of books fell off the arm of the chair and clunked hardcoveredly to the floor. “A house as heaped with such a collection of irrelevant printed matter and assorted bric-a-brac as this scarcely qualifies as ‘empty’,” she opined. “Indeed, it is likely that you will one day  be cited for operating a ‘thrift store’ in a residential zone. The authorities take a dim view of such violations.”

“It ain’t a store if you don’t sell anything,” I mumbled. We’d had this discussion before, and I was ill-inclined to revisit it now. “But you get what I’m sayin’, right? I want my old life back!”

“Your life will resume its normal shape when conditions so warrant,” she replied, her voice taking a firm tone. “In the meantime, perhaps conditioned mental discipline will aid you to maintain your composure.”

“Hah!” I hahed. I’m in no condition for this at 2 AM, especially when I haven’t slept thru a night in a week.

“Gaze into my eyes,” she commanded. “Mastery of the art of hypnotherapy is one of my many accomplishments.”

“Don’t be stupid,” I growled. “You can’t even swing a half-a-dollar on a chain. How you gonna hypnotize me.”

Under the dim 60-watt lamplight, Miss Carol’s bright green eyes grew perceptibly brighter as they locked onto my own. She began to purr. Softly at first, then louder.

“You can’t hypnotize me,” I slurred, feeling my head thicken. “Ridiculous fat barrel….”

The purr grew louder.  I heard nothing else. The light went out.

I awoke, still slumped in the chair, as the clock struck seven.

“I was successful,” declared Miss Carol, from atop a stack of couch pillows.

“What?” I spurted, trying to get the taste of old flannel out of my mouth. “I fell asleep, that’s all. It happens.”

“Indeed,” said Miss Carol, a trace of a smile creasing her furry face.

“Yeah, well, you annat hypnosis, that’s the bunk,” I said, hoisting myself with some effort out of the chair. “Just a lot of baloney.”

“Indeed,” said Miss Carol, as she watched me open the refrigerator and, as if in a dream, pull out half a pound of said delectable salty lunch-meaty treat and dice it neatly into her bowl.  “Just a lot of baloney.”

“Wait, I forgot the gravy,” I muttered, with the unmistakable sense that someone else was controlling my movements. “Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

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