SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 9: In Which We Do A Little Light Reading

 
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“I find this author offensive,” commented Miss Carol T. Cat, in a voice that sounds to the uninitiated like an oil barrel full of tin cans rolling down four flights of stairs in a cheap walkup building with no elevator. With an expression of infinite distaste. she shoved the heavy volume off the arm of the chair. It hit the floor with a hollow thud. “This author, this insufferable Joyce James, is incoherent, bombastic, and self-absorbed.”
 
I took a deep breath, knowing that contradicting Herself is one of those things that Just Isn’t Done. But somewhere, a line must be drawn.
 
“Not to be combative,” I began, “ but the name is James Joyce, not Joyce James.”
 
“The name of the author is of no significance to me,” she replied. “I find this work ponderously self-important and of little true merit. The quotidian experiences of this Leopold Bloom are tiresome and repetitive. He learns nothing over the course of the work of the consequences of his actions, nor do his activities carry any consequence to the world in which he moves.  Further, his actions say nothing to the feline experience”
 
I saw an opening, and I seized it. “Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong.”
 
She jerked her head up and glared at me. “Wrong?”
 
I gulped as I hurriedly rephrased my remark. “I believe you may have overlooked certain passages in the work.” I picked up the book and riffled thru it, looking for a specific passage.
 
Miss Carol sneezed. “I might call to your attention,” she said, as she delicately wiped her nose with an impeccably-groomed paw, “to the fact that many of the volumes in your – ah – personal library seem not to have been consulted in quite some time. The books are laden with dust.”
 
I looked up. “Who has time to read when they’re working all the time.”
 
“You are not working now,” she pointed out, with a trace of irritation in her tone. “You have spent the weekend seated in the chair gazing with glassy eyes at the television set, and I will add that your viewing habits leave much to be desired. I believe that I have seen all of “Green Acres” that I care for. The hew-mon characters are woefully incompetent and unspeakably bizarre, and clearly irrational in their refusal to accept the guidance of a superior species.”
 
I stopped riffling the book. “I’m sorry,” I said, shaking my head. “I didn’t get that last?”
 
She sharpened her gaze. “I am speaking of course of the swine. Clearly the swine is the most intelligent individual in the program’s cast, and the human characters would do well to accept his counsel.”
 
“You mean the pig? Arnold the Pig?”
 
“Indeed. His wise leadership could easily lift them all from their dismal rural poverty and elevate them to a higher, better way of life. And yet they resist. Judging from your own repeated failure to act upon my own advice, this seems to be a common hew-mon weakness. Your hubris will be your downfall.”
 
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I replied, starting to get my back up. “Look how people are cooperating now, look how they’re doing what they gotta do to slow down the spread of this virus. They don’t like standing in line at the store or staying out of public places or standing six feet apart an’ all the rest of it – but most people are putting aside their individual agendas and working for the good of the community. I think that’s pretty darn commendable, myself.”
 
Her face took on a thoughtful expression. “Some progress has indeed been made,” she conceded, “but your species will face further challenges before final resolution of the crisis. This is no time to slacken the hand. I’m sure that Arnold the Pig, in his supreme wisdom, would agree with me.”
 
“I’m sure he would,” I sighed, and returned to the book. I riffled further until I found what I wanted. “Here,” I said. “Chapter four. You’’ll see that Leopold Bloom has a significant personal impact on the feline experience.”  I rested the book on the hassock in front of the chair, and pointed to the relevant passage.
 
Miss Carol squinted her eyes – she would hate me for sharing this, but she needs glasses and is too vain to wear them – and scanned down the page to the section I had indicated. She cleared her throat and read aloud in an elegant and cultured voice reminiscent of Miss Tallulah Bankhead in her prime:
 
"Mrkrgnao! the cat said loudly.
 
She blinked up out of her avid shameclosing eyes, mewing plaintively and long, showing him her milkwhite teeth. He watched the dark eyeslits narrowing with greed till her eyes were green stones. Then he went to the dresser, took the jug Hanlon's milkman had just filled for him, poured warmbubbled milk on a saucer and set it slowly on the floor.
 
Gurrhr! she cried, running to lap."
 
"There," I said, taking back the book. "You see? Leopold Bloom had a significant impact on the life of this cat. Had it not been for his efforts, she would have had no milk that day."
 
"Nonsense," sneered Miss Carol. "To leap atop the dresser and knock the milk jug to the floor would have been the work of an instant for this clever, intelligent, and highly-perceptive feline. The actions of Mr. Bloom were no doubt well-intended, but in the end were non-essential."
 
"Hmph," I hmphed, and opened the book again. "He gazed with perplexity upon the sleek wellfurred form, and stated aloud 'Ridiculous fatbarrel cat.'"
 
Miss Carol snapped her head up and gave me a withering look. I slipped the volume back onto the shelf and walked into the kitchen, ignoring the heavy thud that echoed behind me as the book again hit the floor. I had had my fill of James Joyce for the day, but Miss Carol's experience was only beginning.
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