STRAND spotlight

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.”
 
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“Mggpphhrrr!” I exclaimed, as Miss Carol T. Cat sunk her needle-like claws deep into my thigh. Miss Carol resists all attempts to trim her claws, viewing them as protected under the Second Amendment to the Constitution.  “Mgggrrrrph!” I repeated, as she slammed them in again, putting behind the attack the full force of her weight. Apparently she wanted my attention.
 
“I require social stimulation,” she declared, in a voice that to the uninitiated sounds like a freight train rattling thru the South End that you can hear all the way up in the North End. “I require at this time that you lie on the living room floor so that I may lie on my side and lightly paw you about the head and neck. You may, if you wish, refer to me at this time as ‘a good cat’ and as ‘a pretty cat.’ Do not, however, resort to infantile ‘baby talk’ in making these statements. I find such to be highly distasteful.”
 
“Mmgggrrph,” I repeated. I was seated at my desk, busy with matters of vital importance.
 
“You would communicate more effectively,” frowned Miss Carol, “if you were to remove that odd utensil from your mouth. It renders you even more unintelligible than usual.”
 
“It’s a thermometer,” I replied, removing it from under my tongue. “I’m takin’ my temperature.”
 
“You are hardly what anyone would consider ‘hot blooded,’” observed Miss Carol, turning to lick her furry flank. “No doubt your temperature is well within accepted parameters.”
 
“Yeah, well, I feel funny,” I snapped. “I felt funny when I woke up today and I feel even funnier now.”
 
“I have reviewed your comedy material,” she sneered. “I assure you that you are in no way funny.”
 
“That’s not what I mean,” I said, my irritation building. “I think I have – symptoms.”
 
“Nonsense,” declared Miss Carol. “You appear in every way to be asymptomatic.”
 
“I was cold when I got up this morning! I had the shivers.”
 
“If you heated this establishment sufficiently during the overnight hours, you would avoid such an outcome,” she countered. “I recommend a minimum temperature of 75 degrees Farenheit for best results.”
 
“I’d cook,” I protested. “Do you want to boil me alive?”

“I have no desire for such an outcome,” she said. “I merely call to your attention that ambient temperature is of considerable significance in determining personal comfort. If you have ‘the chills,’ consider this factor before drawing medical conclusions.’”
 
“I’ve been coughing,” I coughed. “See?”
 
“As you have often reminded me,” she replied, “you suffer from chronic bronchitis. You always cough. It is of no further significance.”
 
“I’m sneezing,” I sneezed.
 
“This structure is heavily laden with dust. You are a lackadaisical and indifferent housekeeper.”
 
“I had a sore throat yesterday!”
 
“A symptom caused by inappropriately raising your voice when I advised you that the hour for my morning meal had arrived.”
 
“It was 3:30 in the morning!”
 
“Ah,” she noted. “Again you raise your voice, thus irritating your larynx. Your symptoms will recur, but they do not denote a serious illness. I advise that you learn to restrain your emotions.”
 
“Look,” I said. “I been sittin’ here all day readin’ the internet. There’s all kinds of stuff on here about this virus, an’ it’s scary, okay? What if I *do* have it? What’ll happen? Who’s gonna take care of you?”
 
“A matter of legitimate concern,” she acknowledged. “I advise you to contact an attorney at once and draw up a power of attorney to see to my needs.”
 
“See,” I said, ignoring her usual lack of concern for my personal well-being. “Right here. This gal on this blog. She shows all these things you need to worry about. She’s got the truth about the virus!”
 
“Is this hew-mon a physician? Has she the necessary clinical training to diagnose illness and prescribe treatment?”
 
“How do I know?” I asked. “I come acrost her on this forum where I was lookin’ for advice on how to strip varnish.”
 
“Ah,” she nodded. “And there is your problem. You allow yourself to be agitated into a state of fear and panic by random hew-mons you encounter on the internet – persons no more qualified than you yourself to pass a medical judgement.”
 
“But the internet…”
 
“It has been my observation that ‘crowdsourced’ knowledge is generally of little value. A million hew-mons believing a fiction does not make that fiction a fact. Information gathered from improperly vetted, irresponsible sources and unaccredited, self-designated ‘experts’  is more dangerous even than no information at all.”
 
I thought about what she’d said, and I had to admit she was right. The deeper I plunged down the tunnel of Internet Self-Diagnosis the more I panicked – and the more confused I found myself. 

“You have taken your temperature,” said Miss Carol. “What is the result?”

 
I squinted at the thermometer. “Ninety five degrees,” I read. “See, I told you I was cold.”

“You have no fever, “ she stated with finality, “and you have no real cause for fear. Your temperature is, in fact, several degrees below normal. I suggest that you retire to bed at once, and I will join you there shortly. I shall sit on top of your chest and warm you with my body heat.”
 
I was touched. She was rarely so altruistic. 
 
“After, of course, you prepare my evening meal. And I recommend you prepare my morning meal in advance to avoid wasted time on the morrow. I am, as you are well aware, an early riser.”
 
So what did I do? Well, I did what you would.
 
I shut off the computer and I went to bed.
 
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“A bandit!” exclaimed Miss Carol T. Cat as she beheld the figure standing before her. “You will depart at once. Your attempt to rob this establishment will come to naught. The hew-mon who resides here is of the proletariat, and possesses no goods of significant material value. You will find no cash, nor gems, nor negotiable securities upon the premises. If you have come here to steal prescription drugs, be advised that the only medication in situ is a small bottle of tablets generally prescribed to reduce the incidence of so-called ‘hot flashes.’ If you are troubled by this complaint I shall direct you to the place where the medication is stored.  Otherwise, I advise you to depart at once and leave us in peace. I shall not trouble the authorities to dispose of you – you will please note” – and here she unsheathed her claws – “that I am sufficiently armed to repel any attack upon my person.”
 
“Settle down,” I chuckled, pulling down the bandana that covered the lower half of my face. “It’s just me.”
 
Miss Carol was nonplussed. “What is the purpose of this preposterous disguise?” she demanded. “Has your mind finally shattered under the strain of forced confinement? Have you realized the desperation of your current situation and made the decision to turn to crime?  Do you now also harbor delusions?  Have you assumed the criminal persona of a hard-riding 19th Century pistolero?”
 
“This,” I said, with a touch of pride, ”is a mask.”
 
“Indeed,” replied Miss Carol. “Thank you for sharing this information. Now please leave me.” She rolled over on her side. “I have a great deal to do today.”
 
I ignored her dismissal. “A lot of people are wearing these now, you know,” I continued. “It’s one more way to fight the pandemic.”
 
“Is that so?” she replied. “How embarrassing for you.”
 
“They say the virus can be spread by breathing,” I explained. “Or you can catch it by inhaling particles someone else has exhaled.”
 
“I advise that you cease respiration at once.”
 
“Yeah, well, if that happened, who’d open the cans for you?” I was feeling sassier than advisible, but went ahead anyway. “Remember who’s got the opposable thumbs.”
 
“A fluke of genetics that will one day be corrected,” she sneered. You’ve never been sneered at until you’ve been sneered at by Miss Carol. She sat up, regarding me with her usual skepticism. “Why do you wear this contrivance inside our dwelling? Do you suspect *ME* of harboring disease?”
 
“Oh, no, no,” I assured her. “Nothin’ like that. But the CDC recommends that people wear some kind of face covering when they go to the grocery store, for example, as an added margin of safety in case it’s not always possible to stay six feet away from other people.”
 
“If I were so unfortunate as to possess a face like your own,” Miss Carol declared with a smirk, “I should welcome any opportunity to conceal it. Fortunately, of course, felines are immune to the current pathogen.”
 
“Don’t be so sure,” I replied. “Didn’t you hear about that tiger who lives in the Bronx? She tested positive for the virus, and apparently caught it from a human.”
 
Miss Carol snapped upright, and her blazing green eyes bored a hole right thru me. “You lie,” she hissed. “A GREAT CAT could not possibly be infected by a trivial hew-mon disease.”
 
I held up a newspaper. “Read it an’ weep,” I said, laying the sheet before her. She scanned the page and her usual stony calm began to crack.
 
“This tiger has no business living in the Bronx!” she exclaimed, in a voice that to the uninitiated might sound like Johnny One-Note over in the next block practicing his trombone at 2 in the morning. “She has reaped the consequences of her own folly.”
 
“Well, I don’t think she exactly moved there of her own volition.”
 
Miss Carol’s eyes narrowed. “You hew-mons will pay a great price for interfering in the affairs of GREAT CATS. I am certain that when this tiger regains her health she will wreak a terrible vengeance.”
 
“She’ll be fine,” I assured her. “They say she’ll make a full recovery. But with people, you never know. That’s why it’s important to take whatever precautions you can now to keep the virus from spreading. And if wearing a mask when you go to the store can make even a small difference, it’s worth the sacrifice and the inconvenience.”
 
Miss Carol pondered for a long moment. “If donning such a ridiculous contrivance when you venture abroad to purchase supplies means I am protected from possible infection,” she said, “then you have my permission to do so.”
 
“I’m glad you agree,” I replied, reaching out to give her neck a skritch.
 
She recoiled. “Here!” she snapped. “None of that. For the duration of this pandemic, I require that you observe ‘social distancing.’”
 
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
 
“Your gibes are of no consequence. You will keep your distance. Now, please find pen and paper. I wish to correspond with this tiger in the Bronx. We have much to discuss.”
 
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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