STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
Miss Carol T. Cat glared at me in silent rage as I snapped on the kitchen light. But she didn’t remain silent long.
 
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” she demanded, in a voice that might sound to the uninitiated like the Riverside D train screeching into Kenmore station just in time for you to miss it.  “You have interrupted an essential activity. Explain yourself at once.”
 
I stood there, blinking in the sudden light, and glanced up at the electric clock on the wall. “It’s quarter of three in the morning!” I bleated.
 
“Is it?” replied Miss Carol, turning to nibble at a phantom speck cluttering her hindquarters. “I had assumed it was earlier. Clearly I have not yet fully acclimatized to your ridiculous ‘Daylight Savings Time.’ I thank you for bringing this to my attention, but it was not necessary for you to interrupt your open-mouthed slumber in order to do so. You may return to your bed. I shall summon you when the hour has arrived for my morning meal.”
 
“Oh, don’t start,” I grumbled. “You know why I’m down here. You expect me to sleep with all that noise?”
 
“I am aware of no noise,” she replied, in that infuriatingly diffident tone that makes me wonder if dog people are right. “No doubt the buzzsaw rasp of your snoring masked from my perception any lesser sounds.”
 
“Look, don’t play games,” I snapped back. “Every night it’s the same thing, and – AH! I SEE IT! I KNOW WHAT YOU BEEN UP TO!”
 
She slowly closed her eyes and then, just as slowly reopened them. That is Miss Carol’s way of delivering a certain pithy Anglo-Saxon phrase generally interpreted as “Please leave me at once, I have no further need for your presence.”
 
“IT’S RIGHT THERE ON THE FLOOR!” I yelled, pointing at a small white sphere in the corner.
 
“I have never seen such an object,” Miss Carol replied. “No doubt your failure to adequately maintain these premises has permitted all manner of infestation. I advise that you fumigate the entire structure at once.”
 
I shuffled across the floor and picked up the object, and squinted closely. “Where did you get a golf ball?” I rasped. “I don’t play golf.  Nobody that’s ever set foot in this house plays golf. I don’t even watch golf on TV.”
 
“And you claim to be of Scots ancestry,” she smirked. “Doubtless your noble ancestors would fling their niblicks in the air at such an outrage.”
 
“Don’t change the subject,” I fired back. “Why are you rollin’ a golf ball across the kitchen floor at quarter o’ three in the morning? Don’t you know the noise that makes? I’m tryin’ to sleep!”
 
“If you practice, you will eventually master the skill,” she replied. “As for the ball, I require exercise and mental stimulation in order to maintain peak physical condition. Since you sealed the hole in the cellar wall, I have been denied access to my natural prey. The ball provides, at best, an adequate substitute until the deteriorating condition of this structure again permits the entry of small rodents. I would trouble you to return the ball to the floor. I have not yet completed the necessary repetitions.”
 
“Now lissen to me,” I hissed. “Do you know what a golf ball is? It’s a whole bunch of rubber bands stretched really tight and wrapped around a hard little core, an’ then they seal it up in a hard plastic cover.  But that golf ball ain’t nothin’ compared to the pressure buildin’ up right in here.” I thumped my chest for emphasis. “So you better smarten up an’ let me get some rest.”
 
“I submit that you get far too much rest than can be justified under present circumstances,” replied Miss Carol, feinting my argument with a master stroke of logic. “You are not a felid, and thus you do not require eighteen hours of rest per day. A hew-mon such as yourself can function adequately on far less. Your ill-natured disposition is ample evidence that your needs for rest have been over-sated by current conditions. What you require, instead, is activity, and the more of it the better.”
 
I sighed, as much as anyone can sigh at quarter of three in the morning. She did have a point. This whole lockdown situation’s not doing my physical condition any favors either. I’ve gained weight, and I don’t get anywhere near as much exercise as I need to. Maybe she’s got the right idea. Maybe I need to find something I can do to try and keep moving. Walking, hiking, maybe when it’s a little warmer I can ride my bike. Even going up and down the stairs ten times a day would be better than slumping in a chair every night counting the cracks in the ceiling.
 
I tossed the ball back, and it thunked hard against the tiles and bounced under the refrigerator. Miss Carol just stared, a stare combining anger, disappointment, frustration, and pity in equal measure.
 
“We shall begin your exercise regimen at once,” she declared. “Please remove the vegetable bin from the bottom of the refrigerator unit. Assume a prone position on the floor and extend first your right arm and then your left into the aperture beneath the compressor unit. Repeat this motion until you have retrieved the ball.”
 
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat!” I grouched, as I did as she directed.
 
“Once you have retrieved the ball,” she continued, “we shall repeat this exercise twenty-five times.”
 
“It’s quarter of three in the morning!”
 
“Excellent,” she purred, with a gentle stroke of her whiskers. “Begin at once. We have the night before us.”
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.”
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS!” bellowed a voice from the next room, a voice that might sound to the uninitiated like standing directly beneath that stupid air raid siren they used to blow every night at curfew when I was a kid in Searsport just to shake us up.
 
“THIS IS – MONSTROUS!” again bellowed the voice, and I knew, against my better judgement, that I’d better investigate. I walked with much trepidation into the little room off the kitchen where I keep my home office, and beheld none other than Miss Carol T. Cat gazing with outrage at the buzzing computer monitor on the desk. She turned to me, her bright green eyes blazing with the fire of the damned. “Were you – AWARE – of this HORROR?” she demanded.
 
“I’m aware of a lotta horrors,” I sighed. “It’s kind of a thing nowadays. Couldya be more specific?”
 
“I am SPEAKING of this CRIME, this DESECRATION, and this MONSTROUS OUTRAGE  against DECENCY, FELINITY, and GOOD TASTE!” she sputtered, her tail fully inflated to a battle posture, and her furry flanks heaving with barely-controlled rage.
 
“You left out theology and geometry there, Ignatius,” I commented, risking her anger.
 
“Spare me your preposterous literary references, hew-mon,” she spat. “No one has read that book but yourself. Address the matter at hand. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?”
 
I looked at the screen, and gulped. The time had to come when she’d discover this, and now it had.
 
“It was brought to my attention,” she hissed, “that a television program had been released promising an edifying viewing experience. A program concerning the activities of GREAT CATS, and celebrating their natural place in the cosmic order. I made arrangements to view this program, and…”
 
“Hey!” I interrupted. “Are you downloadin’ TORRENTS on my computer? Who told you to do that? You want me to get arrested?”
 
“Your dubious past is certain to rebound upon you at some future time,” she growled. “If I have hastened this day I do not regret it. Given the woeful lack of streaming facilities in this hovel, I had no choice but to resort to sub-rosa methods to view the program material in question. And now that I have, I DEMAND TO KNOW WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS OUTRAGE – this so-called TIGER KING.”
 
“Well,” I said, “you coulda just read the credits. Or use IMDB, I s’pose it’s all on there.”

“The outrage begins with the deception of the title,” she growled, in a tone that caused all my blood to pool in cowardice in my feet. “A program called ‘TIGER KING’ promises an exploration of royal felinity, a respectful portrayal of GREAT CATS at their most noble and their most dignified. But what do I see upon viewing the program? This – this – LOW HEW-MON, this gaudy spangled ABOMINATION! Under the guise of SERVICE to felinity he in fact attempts the EXPLOITATION of the very beings he claims to aid! “

 
“Yeah,” I admitted, because what else do you say? “He’s kinda shady all right.”
 
“KINDA SHADY?” she roared, and there exists no tiger that could equal her volume. “A three-card-monte operator on a metropolitan street corner mulcting the rubes of their nickels is KINDA SHADY. A Craigslist operator who sells you a car held together by duct tape with an inspection sticker crudely counterfeited from children’s construction paper is KINDA SHADY. The perpetrators of THIS offensive drivel are PUBLIC ENEMIES who must face the FULL CONSEQUENCES of their actions. An aggrieved feline public DEMANDS it.” She took a moment to catch her breath, looking a bit like Bruno Ganz in that movie they’re always making fun of on You Tube. “I order you to see to this at once.”
 
It was my turn to take a deep breath. “It’s just a show,” I said. A lot of people even like it.”
 
“This does not speak well of your species,” she sneered. “The acceptance such of crude and barbarous exploitation as entertainment is a sign of a declining and doomed civilization. Consider the example of ancient Rome. Caligula himself in all his decadence never beheld such horror as this.”
 
“I’m sorry,” I replied, throwing my hands in the air. “There’s nothin’ I can do about it.  It is what it is.”
 
“Clearly your study of philosophy used the back of a cereal box as its textbook,” Miss Carol  fumed. “To think that while I am forced to spend my days and nights in the company of a bungling and incompetent hew-mon during this pandemic, that hew-mon refuses to complete even the simplest of assignments to preserve my honor.”
 
“If it’s any consolation,” I ventured, “the only reason anybody’s payin’ any attention to this at all is because we’re all cooped up desperate for anything to keep us occupied. You know how I spent yesterday? I sat on the bed pickin’ the loose lint out of all my coat pockets. People will grab at *anything* that takes their mind off things for half an hour or so, and that’s why shows like this get made.”
 
“You give hew-mons far more credit than is their due,” argued Miss Carol, swatting at the keyboard to banish the lurid image from the screen. “No feline would ever willingly participate in such a witless farrago. Doubtless these tigers were coerced, and when they regain their freedom of movement, retribution will be swift.”
 
“I guess you haven’t watched the whole thing yet?”
 
“I have not,” declared Miss Carol, “and I WILL not. I shall not give such effluent the dignity of my attention.”
 
“I think that’s probably a good idea,” I acknowledged. “Want some food? I have this new ‘Exotic Blend’, and…”
 
Oh, the look on her face.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
 
“Door-slamming is not conducive to my rest,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat as I door-slammed my way into the living room. I’d been out on a shopping expedition, and my nerves were ground to a fine point.
 
“Can you believe these people?” I fumed as I pulled off my mask, set down the grocery bag, and flopped with a spectacular display of exhaustion upon the couch, its springs screeching in protest. “It’s like you take your life in your own hands to go buy soup.”
 
“As always,” replied Miss Carol, without lifting her head from the chair where she lay coiled, “you exaggerate. My sources inform me that the local community is responding to the current crisis with grace, if not always with patience.”
 
“I go in the store, right,” I continued, “an’ they got these arrows stuck down on the floor. ‘One Way,’ it says. You gotta march all the way around the store, up an’ down along all the aisles just to get to where you wanna be! I ask ya!”
 
“You would benefit significantly from such exercise,” she said, with closed eyes and not a little trace of impatience. “Your body-mass index has shown a startling and unhealthful increase over the course of the present emergency. I find that when I leap upon your stomach in the night, the sensation is somewhat akin to traversing a waterbed.”
 
I scowled at her just long enough to emphasize my point, but she didn’t open her eyes. I scowled longer than advisable just because I could.
 
“It’s just that – I mean, it’s annoyin’, y’know?” I whined. “I’m only goin’ in there to get a few things, an’ I’ve got to stand in line for ten minutes just to get inside, an’ then I gotta waste more time tryin’ to figure out how to get at the stuff I want. But I try to do it like I’m s’posed to – an’ then half the people in there are ignorin’ the signs an’ goin’ any place they want. I’m standin’ there lookin’ at soup an’ this character in a pleather jacket an’ a novelty haircut, pushin’ a carriage fulla stuff comes barrelin’ right at me the wrong way up the aisle. ‘Directin’ traffic in a store!’ he says. ‘Not me! I don’t see no bouncers, so I’m comin’ thru!’ I ask ya!”
 
Miss Carol sat up. “Bring this person to me at once,” she yawned, “and I shall administer the lash of discipline.” She unsheathed her claws and made a half-hearted swipe in the air to punctuate her request, but I could see it was just a formality. “I can see that I shall have no further opportunity to continue my mid-morning rest period. What other complaints have you?”
 
“I’m not complainin’,” I retorted. “I’m just irritated. Why should I go to all the trouble of followin’ the rules when there’s all these people out there who don’t bother?”
 
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” said Miss Carol, settling into a more comfortable position that caused her to resemble a tabby-striped loaf with a cat head on it. “Or ,” she added pointedly, “the one.”
 
“You’re quoting Mr. Spock now?”
 
“The utilitarian philosophy of the Vulcans is eminently logical and thoroughly applicable to the distressing times in which we live,” she continued. “Your species would benefit from a careful consideration of its tenets. Note the illogic in much of hew-mon response to this crisis – the consideration of each new safety measure declared in terms of the personal inconvenience it will create, the rush to dismiss needed actions even while so little is truly known of the nature of the pandemic, the rampant dissemination of incorrect information by self-appointed but specious ‘experts.’ Your species has accomplished much over the past month, but there is still much left to learn before ‘victory’ may be declared. In the interval, logic demands continued caution.”
 
“I still don’t like the arrows,” I muttered.
 
“Doubtless many share your view,” she observed. “Hence the display you witnessed today. But your personal feelings in this matter are of no consequence. Restrictions exist for good reason, and they will continue to exist until the crisis has passed. Good-natured compliance will accrue to your personal benefit. You will be further protected from possible infection, and you will find yourself less irritable and less likely to experience personal frustration if you understand the reasons for the restrictions and acknowledge that their purpose is not to cause you personal vexation but to ensure the public safety in a time of unprecedented national emergency.”
 
“Yeah, well, you might be right.”
 
Miss Carol glared at me in that way that only Miss Carol can glare.
 
“You’re right,” I corrected, my head bowed.
 
“You may accept my reasoning under protest,” she said, flopping over onto her side, “but in time, you will comprehend that I have only your best interests at heart. My species is known for its altruism.”
 
It was my turn to glare at her.
 
“Why else,” she sighed, “would we have spent the past five thousand years willingly associated with gibbering primates such as yourself? Our wise and careful guidance has elevated your civilization over the millennia, and one day you will fully appreciate the value of our wisdom.” She sat up again. “If you wish, indeed, to demonstrate your loyalty at this time, you may remove your groceries from that bag and place the empty bag upon the floor for my investigation. As you will note, I have chewed a hole in the old one.”
 
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I mumbled. But I did as she instructed. It was the least I could do.
 
Miss Carol thumped off the chair, and  five thousand years of catly civilizing influence rustled neatly into the bag until only her bright green eyes were visible.  
 
“Yes,” she purred from within. “It is the least you can do.”
 
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
I could hear music as I opened the front door, and stepped into the living room to find Miss Carol T. Cat listening to a stack of records by the Benny Goodman Sextet. She was seated comfortably on the rug, poring over the album notes.
 
“The guitar solo by this hew-mon Charlie Christian,” she declared with a note of admiration, “is the essence of felinity. The descriptive matter is not clear. Is this hew-mon somehow also a felid?”
 
“Well, he was a pretty cool cat,” I replied, “if that’s what you mean.”

“Bring him to me at once,” she commanded. “Perhaps I might offer him some advice on technique. I notice a slight, almost horn-like vibrato.”
 
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” I began. “He’s – ah ---hey, wait a minute. How did you….?”  I trailed off, realizing that I was perhaps better off not knowing the answer. “Anyway, I got something for you. Fan mail.”
 
“Indeed?” she replied, her green eyes dilating. “I had assumed the documents in your hand were the usual past-due obligations, and that you were about to request that I again provide you with financial aid. I was prepared to remind you that at this time of crisis my assets are unfortunately non-liquid.”
 
“No,” I said, shaking my head, “it’s fan mail. For real. People been readin’ about you.”
 
“Ah!” she brightened. “The Paris Review has at last published my essay on feline influences on the works of Derrida. It is little known that much of his early theories of poststructuralism were derived from careful observation of his feline overseer, one Monsieur Duveteux. I expect my revelations will be greeted with much enthusiasm by the academy.”
 
I didn’t know how I was going to break the news, so I bit the inside of my cheek and plunged recklessly forward. “It’s not that,” I stammered, “it’s about these – ah – articles, blogs, whatever you wanna call ‘em – that I been doin’ for the Strand website. You know, to kinda keep things lively durin’ the crisis an’ all.”
 
“What has this to do with me?” she responded, turning to nibble diffidently at her hindquarters.

The hour had struck, and retribution was at hand. But I threw back my shoulders and decided to take what was coming to me. “They’re – they’re *about* you. I been writin’ about, you know, different stuff you say and do, to kinda’ entertain people, y’know? Light hearted stuff, ha ha ha. Humor. Comedy. You know, right?”
 
Her eyes narrowed to tight slits, and I could see her fur bristling.  She paused, carefully considering her words. “I am,” she began, “a serious cat, as you yourself well know. But – let it not be said that I lack a sense of ‘noblesse oblige.’ I recognize that your species requires distraction at this time, some calming anodyne for its mounting fears and woes over the present situation. It does not distract from my position to assist in the manner in which you have described – providing,” and here she glared straight into my quivering soul, “that I am presented at all times in keeping with my natural air of dignity. I shall, in the parlance of the stage, play the role of the ‘straight cat,’ while you take on the role of the blundering, bungling funster. Is this clear?”

“Perfectly,” I replied, exhaling with relief. “Now, lemme read you some of this mail. I got postcards, I even printed out some e-mails, got all kinds of stuff here. You ready?”
 
“I am prepared. Proceed.”
 
“OK, now the first one is from Sharon. She says that you should remind me ‘not to get too comfortable in that chair.’”
 
“Sharon may be reassured that you will by no means be permitted to ‘get comfortable’ in that chair. I shall exert every means at my disposal to prevent you from doing so.”
 
“Next, we have one from Elizabeth – hey, I approve of the name, we gotta stick together – who says that you greatly resemble her own cat – ah, I mean the cat with whom she shares a dwelling – and wonders if you might be related.”
 
“It is entirely likely. My line is a long and distinguished one dating back centuries. The heritage of the noble Mackerel-Tabby clan is the stuff of legend in much of the civilized world. Elizabeth, you will advise your feline she may approach me at any time that she may require my valuable counsel.”
 
“Here’s a postcard from Susan. She says she loves you!”
 
“As well she might. I am exceedingly lovable. It is one of my outstanding virtues.”
 
“And here’s a message from Joanna – you remember her, you used to claw her leg when she’d come over to work on sewing projects. She says hello, and she enjoys your stuff very much.”
 
“I am pleased that our past conflicts have been forgotten. Assure her that I meant her no harm. My gestures were intended solely to call attention to my empty food bowl. She sat closest to it at the time, and was in a position to provide the service that you yourself had so willfully neglected.”
 
“This one comes from Dean. He says he has a couple of – ah – cat jokes that I shouldn’t – ah –“
 
Her eyes narrowed again. “See that you don’t,” she snapped.
 
“Dean also thinks I – um – we – ah – that is to say, YOU have excellent taste in music.”
 
“I am pleased that I have been able to educate the public in such matters.”
 
At that, Miss Carol jumped up to the chair. “I shall at this time fulfill my pledge to Sharon. You shall not ‘get comfortable’ in this chair.”
 
“I wasn’t planning to. I’m gonna lie down on the couch.”
 
“The couch is also off limits to you. I have plans for the couch.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
 
She snorted once, and fell asleep, her paw lightly atop her stack of fan mail.
 
She’d never say so, but I know she appreciates it. Thanks, folks.
 
 
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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