STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“Hey!” I heyed, as Miss Carol T. Cat hurtled over my shoulder and plonked solidly upon the desk. Now, hurtling is quite an accomplishment for eighteen pounds of fur, claws, and adipose, but Miss Carol T. is no ordinary Cat.

“I repeat,” I repeated, “’Hey!’” Miss Carol T. Cat responded by knocking a pair of pliers off the desk and a faint trace of a smile flicked across her furry features as it made a satisfying “clunk” on the floor. I wasn’t pleased by this. I’m at the age where I have to choose my bendings-over carefully, and I prefer to avoid them altogether unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately the toppled implement was, in fact, absolutely necessary to the work I was doing, so, begrudgingly, I creaked off the edge of the chair and, boldly defying the aggressive onset of bursitis in my right shoulder, leaned over just far enough to reach the pliers and snatch them up. I could swear I saw a look of annoyed disappointment replace that trace of a smile on Miss Carol's pan, but I ignored her. Well, no, I lie. She made it impossible for me to ignore her by, without breaking her gaze, shoving the pliers back off the edge of the desk again.

I knew when I was licked. “What’s the problem?” I groaned, certain that it had some relation to an empty food bowl or some other pressing concern.

“The time has come,” declared Miss Carol, “to discuss the coming holiday season.”

“That’s exactly what I’m doing here,” I snapped back. “Or was, until you decided to interfere in the proceedings.”

“Nonsense,” sniffed Miss Carol. “You are amusing yourself with some trifling task, bent low over your work and squinting desperately in a futile attempt to compensate for your fading vision. You will cease this fruitless activity at once, as I call your attention to matters of more serious import.”

“Oh yeah?” That’s always a pretty weak response, but it was late and I’d exhausted most of my ripostes arguing about whether “Monsieur Verdoux” is a funny picture or not over on some sorry corner of the Internet. Hey, don’t laugh. Yeah, like your life’s any more dynamic right now. “Oh yeah?” I pressed forward. “Look, I’m doin’ some important stuff here. I’m makin’ a Christmas present for my mother.”

“Indeed?” replied Miss Carol. “You must excuse me. I had formed the impression that you were toying with a small heap of corroded old junk.”

“Shows what you know. I’m making something she really needs,” I insisted. “Something she’ll use every day. Something I can’t say out loud here because she reads this blog and she’ll complain I spoiled the surprise if I let the cat out of the bag now…”

Miss Carol’s eyes expanded dangerously. I immediately retracted my poor choice of idiom. As it happens, Miss Carol is quite fond of bags, but she emerges from them on her own terms, in her own time, with no interference from low creatures like me.  My half-baked apology brought no respite from her glare, so I pushed on. “I’ve been doin’ a lot of shopping,” I said. “As you know, one of the Dear Young People is getting married next year ---

“I shall not attend,” snapped Miss Carol, “if those foul canines are present.”

“I don’t think you’re invited anyway,” I replied. “It’ll be socially distant and all. But I’ve got her a Christmas present that suits the situation, but I can’t tell you what it is here. Another of the Dear Young People has recently added two young felines to her household, and an appropriate holiday gift is en route. She also has a husband,” I added. “And a snake.”

Miss Carol’s eyes took on the appearance of glowing green basketballs. Miss Carol is not fond of reptiles. Many years ago I shocked her sensibilities with a small rubber garden snake, and she has never forgiven the transgression. “The disturbing activities of your youthful acolytes are of no consequence,” Miss Carol continued. “The time has come to discuss – my own gift.”

“Look, I told you before,” I rushed back, “it’s against the zoning to keep a wild turkey in the house. Even if you’re only gonna use it for practice. But that does remind me of something else. You got fans on the internet, you know, and some of them have asked me what they could send you for a Christmas present. An’ y’know what I told ‘em?”

Miss Carol’s face was a study in close concentration, but she said nothing. I picked up the cue.

“I told ‘em they ought to make a donation in your honor to the Strand’s Go Fund Me page. We’re trying to meet a goal of $20,000 to help us get thru the rest of the pandemic and all, an’ really, wouldn’t you rather anything they might use to buy you some toy you’ll bat under the couch or under the radio and immediately forget about be spent instead to help keep the Strand a going concern? We’ve been doing a lot for the past nine months to keep things moving – streaming entertainment, educational projects, our radio show, this blog, all the other things that keep the Strand spirit alive – and when we get to where we can reopen the actual theatre, why, we really want to hit the ground runnin’. So what better way to recognize the edifying role Miss Carol has played in your life over the past nine months than to visit and send a little something in her honor?”

“Indeed,” nodded Miss Carol. “I would find this a worthy and entirely commendable manner of acknowledging me at this festive season. I urge all of my many followers to take careful heed of the appeal thus given. But – that is not what I came here to discuss.”

“It isn’t?”

“It is not. My purpose this evening is to announce the gift I am prepared to share with you. In honor of the holiday season, I shall permit you to sleep thru the evening without interruption come Christmas Eve. I shall slumber quietly at your side, ready to snap to immediate attention in order to assist Mr. S. Nicholas Claus in the performance of his festive duties, but I shall not awaken you until the coming of the dawn.”

I was genuinely moved by her largesse. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You may express your gratitude by, in lieu of a wild turkey, unleashing a bowl of Friskies Turkey Filets with Gravy.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“Have a care,” she warned, looking over her shoulder as she led me to the kitchen. “I agreed to let you sleep, but I will not be responsible for any falling lumps of coal.”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“As our radio friends down in Abysmal Point might say,” I commented as a severed tree limb crashed into the side of the house, “she’s some kinda blowy out tonight, ain’t she?"

Miss Carol T. Cat had no response to this observation. Miss Carol T. Cat was sequestered under the little table next to the big blue chair, and all you could see in the dim, flickering glow was the glare of her bright green eyes. Miss Carol T. Cat was deeply offended that the weekend had brought such meteorological outrage upon her. She had, on several occasions before withdrawing to her place of refuge, called my attention to her strong feelings on this matter. She wasn’t in the mood for flippant commentary delivered in a nasal Maine dialect, but I figured, hey, there’s nothing else to do so why not try my luck.

A loud explosion sounded somewhere over in the next block, and the lights, such as they were, went out.

“This is monstrous!” growled Miss Carol T. Cat from beneath the table. The lights immediately flickered back on, but Miss Carol was unsatisfied.

“Nah,” I said, leaning back in my chair so the wet washcloth easing my aching head wouldn’t slip off into my lap. Don’t you hate when the wet washcloth easing your aching head slips off into your lap? “It’s just a no’theasta,” I explained, keeping up the dialect. You will note, in passing, that I did not say, nor will I ever say, “nor’easter.” My ancestors were rampant in New England long enough ago that I had a 6X-great grandmother who was hung as a witch, and from that day to this, none of my family have ever once allowed the base corruption “nor’easter” to pass our lips. We are noted, and are proud of, our non-rhoticity, and we resist such whey-faced literary affectations with all that is in us.  The word is “no’theasta.” That’s the word my dear old grandfather would say as he sat in his kitchen chair with his feet stuck in the bun-warmer and observed that another no’theasta was coming, and that’s what I’ll say as long as there’s a breath within me. “Nor’easter” is an aberration I want no part of. (My family also doesn’t care if you use a preposition to end a sentence with, but that’s not a proud regional tradition, it’s just that we don’t care.)

“Are you done?” replied Miss Carol.

“Yeah,” I said. “I laid awake last night thinking up that whole no’theasta bit, and I wanted to make sure I got it in before I forgot.”

“Indeed, then," she contintinued, her voice taking on a note of severe impatience. “I demand to know what you intend to do about this storm. As you know, it has disrupted my sleep cycle and caused me much discomfort. I was scarcely able to finish my second can of Friskies Turkey With Gravy Fillets.”

“Sure,” I said. “I notice you left one or two specks on the dish there.”

“Your snide comments will avail you not,” Miss Carol warned, “and no doubt the ultimate result of my agitation will be deposited upon the rug ‘ere the night is over. Be warned that unless you take immediate steps to halt the thunderous wind and the pounding rain, you will reap the consequences of your inaction.”

A flat, dark object punctuated Miss Carol’s statement by sailing past the window before continuing its journey into the indefinable darkness of the night. “What was that?” Miss Carol demanded.

“Nothin’,” I said. “Just another shingle blowin’ off the roof. Lost a few of ‘em tonight.”

Miss Carol emerged from her emergency shelter, leaped onto the arm of the chair, and fixed me in a lethal gaze. “This ramshackle shanty shall soon be blown to splinters,” she declared, “and you do NOTHING? Have you no AWARENESS of the peril we face? With our home reduced to a mere stack of kindling we shall be forced to seek shelter elsewhere, possibly with one of your young associates. Possibly the one with DOGS.”

“Relax,” I said. “This house is a hundred and nine years old. This ain’t the first no’theasta it’s had to handle, an’ it won’t be the last. Besides, what am I supposed to do? You think I have control over the weather?”

“Well, certainly I had assumed from the array of advanced technology on the wall…”

“That’s an old barometer that stopped working in 1960,” I said. “It’s just there for the looks. No, I got nothing to say about the weather. It comes, it goes, and life goes on.”

“This attitude is unaccustomed,” observed Miss Carol. “You have long been given to disturbing rants on an array of topics, but here you seem determined to, in the parlance of the streets, ‘let it ride.’”

“I’ve learned a lot from the pandemic,” I replied. “I can’t make it go away by myself. I can do my part by wearin’ my mask, and bein’ socially distant, an’ gettin’ my shot when the time comes, but other than that, what can I, or any one person, do? It’s gonna be a collective effort that gets us out of this situation, not an individual one, and the sooner we all stop ranting on Facebook and screaming on Twitter at each other, and all pitch in together, the better it’ll be for everybody."

Miss Carol looked at me thoughtfully. That doesn’t happen often, so I figured I should take advantage of it.

“You see that guy there?” I said, pointing at the faded portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the kitchen wall. “You know what he said when this country was in a much worse situation than it is now? ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ That’s the real enemy right now, not people that post stuff we don’t like on Instagram.  If we can stop running around like a room full of terrified cats –“

Miss Carol locked me in a death stare, and I hurriedly backtracked.

“A room full of terrified – ah – rabbits, I mean, we can finally get this situation licked. That’s what it’s gonna take.  I’m not scared of this storm.  But I will,” I admitted, “be happy when it’s over."

Miss Carol  nodded. “Occasionally,” she agreed, “you are capable of sound reasoning. Courage is a vital ingredient for all as we face future uncertainties. As is my evening meal.”

I headed for the refrigerator.  Sound reasoning, after all, comes with obligations.

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.”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“You must contact the authorities at once!” declared Miss Carol T. Cat as she thumped into the room displaying an expression of extreme agitation. Actually, that’s just her regular face, but you get the idea.

I was slumped in the big blue chair, listening with one ear to a droning radio newscaster.  My other ear was otherwise occupied being scratched, because it itched. The way my days usually go, that counts as a highlight. In any event, I did not respond immediately to Miss Carol’s expression of alarm, causing her to sink her claws up to the hilt into my shin. That got my attention.

“OW!” I ow-ed. “Whassya problem?” In these days of renewed social isolation, clear diction is always the first thing to suffer.

“Our Thanksgiving turkey has been stolen,” she growled, “no doubt by brigands who have waylaid the delivery vehicle and made off with the poultry. Summon law enforcement immediately – there is no time to waste if we are to enjoy our meal at the appointed hour!”

“No,” I sighed. “Nobody stole it. Ain’t gonna be a turkey this year.”

Miss Carol doesn’t gape very often, and when she does gape, she looks ridiculous. Have you ever seen a cat gape? Other than in a trick You Tube video, I mean? It’s really something. I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t dare to. But gape she did, and I felt forced to continue my statement.

“No turkey this year,” I reiterated. “Because what would be the point? The Dear Young People can’t come over here and eat it with us, and I’m not going down to my mother’s house – the pandemic’s kiboshed everything, so why bother with cooking a whole turkey just for you and me?”

Miss Carol continued to gape. Truth be told, I don’t even like turkey all that much – it’s a passable delivery system for stuffing and gravy so far as I’m concerned, and that’s about it. If I was the one in charge of coming up with holiday traditions, families would gather ‘round the communal table every November to enjoy a big pastrami sandwich, extra juicy.  But Miss Carol, on the other hand – well, as soon as the first leaf falls she starts plotting her schedule. First the skin, then the white meat, then the dark meat, then the thighs, then the drumsticks, then the neck, and last but not least, the Ecclesiastical Authority’s Nose. I don’t know what you call that part in your family, but that’s what we call it in ours. In any event, I’m lucky if I get a cup of cold turkey soup out of the whole project for myself. Miss Carol didn’t get to tip the scales at twenty pounds by devoting her life to kale frappes.

“Look,” I continued. “Who says you even have to have a turkey to have Thanksgiving anyway? That’s reducin’ the whole point of the holiday to conspicuous consumption, which wasn’t what Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he came up with the whole business anyway. I can be thankful with a couple of soda crackers and a glass of water.”

Miss Carol’s eyes narrowed, as if to insinuate that my silhouette displays no evidence that I have ever indulged in such an elemental diet. Touche.

“Don’t get the idea that just because I’m not roasting a turkey I’m not thankful,” I emphasized. “Because I am.  After nine months of this pandemic – hey, we’ve still got a roof over our heads, don’t we? There’s still food in the refrigerator, even if it isn’t a turkey, right? And we chased off the collection agents for another month, didn’t we?”

Miss Carol shook her head. “I *warned* you that you were being unnecessarily profligate to pay hospital prices for that cat scan,” she admonished, “when I, an actual cat, would have been very willing to perform any procedure you might have required at a steep discount. Your financial woes are the inevitable result of your declining my generous offer.”

I ignored her thrust. “Yes,” I insisted, “I *AM* thankful. I’m thankful that the Strand has survived being closed for nine months – and we’ve got our Members and our supporters to thank for that. They’ve made it possible for us to keep going without our regular revenues. We’ve still got programming going even though the building’s closed – and because of the help we’re getting from people who care about the Strand we’re also doing everything we can to make sure that once the pandemic is over we can reopen the place in way that’s safe and sanitary top to bottom! That’s a lot to be thankful about, don’t you think?”

Miss Carol acknowledged my argument. “Indeed,” she declared, “while there has been much to heap obloquy upon the general run of events over the course of the past year, the level of community support shown for the Strand during 2020 will stand out as a positive and heartwarming aspect of 2020.”

“I’m glad you agree,” I nodded. “And I also think YOU have something to be thankful for.” I reached under the chair cushion and pulled out a small metal can. “Canned Thanksgiving dinner,” I proclaimed. “See, read the label. It’s a real product, and I got it just for you. Happy Thanksgiving, you ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

Miss Carol stopped gaping, and an expression not too far afield from a smile creased her features.  And like that other  famous smiling cat, she quickly vanished – into the kitchen, in search of a can opener.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“It’s not convenient and it’s not fair!” I growled aloud. “And if I were to stop your wages half-a-crown, you’d think yourself ill used, I’ll be bound!”

Miss Carol T. Cat looked up from the big blue living room chair and regarded me askance. “You pay no wages, being yourself a wageworker,” she observed, with eyes half-closed. “And if you did pay wages, you would find the willingness of the average employee to accept obsolete British currency to be understandably slight.”

“Don’t bug me,” I replied, absorbed in a thick sheaf of paper. “I need to edit this down. I’m going to be doing a dramatic reading of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for the Strand next month, and I need to get the running time down to an hour or so.”

“You presume to edit the words of the great Charles Dickens?” scoffed Miss Carol, hunching up to a sitting position, the better to fix her gaze upon me. “By what right?”

“Public domain, toots,” I snapped, flourishing my pencil. “No valid copyright means I can do whatever I want with it. This is gonna be somethin’!”

“I blanch at the thought,” Miss Carol responded. Miss Carol has firm views on nineteenth century English literature. Over the course of one long wintry night some years back, she ripped an expurgated edition of “Wuthering Heights” to shreds in her abject rage over the butchering of its more passionate passages. You edit Victoriana in her presence at your peril. I shouldn’t even have mentioned my present project, but hopped up on flat Coca-Cola and stale Milk Duds, I’d thrown caution to the winds, and now the time had come for me to reap the whirlwind. Or something. Anyway, I could tell it was going to be one of those arguments, and I laid back on the couch to try to come up with a worthwhile argument.

“Besides,” I finally ventured, “it’s timely!” It wasn’t much, I figured, but it was enough maybe to divert the conversation from a likely discussion of my many shortcomings as a writer, performer, housekeeper, and general human being.

“’A Christmas Carol’ was published in the year 1843,” Miss Carol sniffed. “While in its time a trenchant critique of early-industrial Britain, it has had its allegorical edge worn away by over a century and a half of adaptation and of cheap parody. Your contributions to this unfortunate tradition are most unnecessary. I advise that you allow the ghosts, as it were, to rest.”

“Ah!” I replied, snapping to attention upon recognizing a rare opening in her usually-impregnable arguments. “Ah!” I replied again, just to underline the point.

Miss Carol’s bright green eyes rolled visibly. I hate when she does that. You haven’t been eyerolled until Miss Carol T. Cat eyerolls you. It’s a gift, I guess.

“Look,” I began again, taking as deep a breath as I dared. “What kind of a man is Scrooge, anyway? He’s completely wrapped up in himself, right?”

“An apostle of nineteenth-century laissez-faire individualism, to be sure,” agreed Miss Carol. “Mr. Dickens constructed him as such.”

“I’m not talkin’ economics, though,” I continued. “That’s not really the point. Scrooge is the kind of a person who is so wound up in his own self, his own agenda, his own way of lookin’ at the world that he hasn’t got any room for anybody else at all.  His real problem isn’t just that he’s greedy, it isn’t that he’s a wrechin’, graspin’ covetous old sinner, it’s that he has no empathy at all. THAT is the point of the story.”

“An interesting observation,” ceded Miss Carol, “and one of greater depth than I would ordinarily expect from you. These months of social isolation have no doubt honed your critical skills. But in what way is this interpretation especially timely?”

“Don’cha see?” I argued. “That’s the real problem in this whole situation we’re in right now! Think about how many people right now don’t want to see anything from the other person’s point of view. So many people don’t want to think about how whatever they might do or say affects anybody else – as long as they can do or say whatever they want, who cares about anybody else? Isn’t that what’s going on right now? Isn’t that why we’ve got so much division right now about things that ought to be just a matter of common sense?”

“Hew-mons are not known for their common sense,” declared Miss Carol. “Were they, present matters might have been resolved with satisfaction well before reaching the present crisis.”

“Exactly,” I interjected, slapping my pencil down for emphasis, and jabbing its point into my thigh. After shouting with pain, limping to the kitchen, and stanching the wound with a wad of paper towel, I staggered back to the couch to resume the discussion. But I found Miss Carol had moved to my former position and was poring over my pages. “I have added a few suggestions to the marginalia of your script,” she pronounced. “You will find that the addition of a feline character during the Christmas dinner scene in the Cratchit home will add much to the texture of the story. Note that this Interpolated cat has received with satisfaction a large portion of the Christmas goose, emphasizing without question the need for hew-mons to be aware of the requirements of all at this season of the year, and not merely their own. I trust your audience will profit by this lesson.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“God bless us all,” purred Miss Carol, her eyes aimed at the refrigerator, where she knew the remains of last night’s fried chicken dinner reposed. “Every one.”  

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“What do you say,” I mumbled out loud, “when you can’t think of anything else to say?”

“Never has this stopped you before,” replied Miss Carol T. Cat, turning to lick her rear haunch in a manner clearly intended to display her irritation at such a nonsensical question. Miss Carol T. Cat is not much for two-bit philosophy. Being a felid, she is an advocate at all times of clear, directly-expressed thought.

“No,” I replied, “but still – what am I supposed to say? I’ve got a column or a blog or whatever you wanna call it due today and I can’t think of anything I want to write about.”

“And again I reiterate,” Miss Carol volleyed back, “ never has this stopped you before. Your formula is all too clear. You state each week’s theme with a tedious complaint, I offer a glitteringly witty rejoinder, and we continue in this fashion for several hundred words, until all possibilities inherent in the topic have been exhausted. You then dismiss me as – ah – ‘ridiculous fat barrel cat,’ and then I respond with a masterful ‘topper’ to conclude the essay. The task before you is simplicity itself -- *if* you know how.”

I hate literary critics. Did I ever mention that? Apropos of nothing, you understand, but I really hate literary critics. Especially ridiculous fat barrel literary critics.

“Yeah, you’re pretty smart, ain’cha?” I replied just to keep the conversation moving. Miss Carol nodded to acknowledge the absolute veracity of my statement. She is, in fact, pretty smart. “But what I mean is – what can I say right now? With things the way they are, I mean. In the world. You know what’s going on in the world right now, don’cha?”

Miss Carol scowled.  “I have this morning observed a garbage truck collecting the barrels from the apartment complex across the block, a procedure I have found unnecessarily loud and invasive. I have witnessed an intriguingly plump grey squirrel busy about the construction of its autumnal cache of forage. Three chickadees and a tufted titmouse have goaded me from the safety of an outdoor tree limb.  And I have viewed three episodes of  ‘Star Trek: Voyager,’ none of them especially good.”

“That’s not what I mean,” I interrupted.

“The episode in which Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Paris were transformed into disturbing amphibian-like creatures was especially offensive,” continued Miss Carol. “That concludes the resume of my activities this morning, an agenda, which, you will note, has been severely constricted by your unreasonable refusal to permit me to adequately patrol this neighborhood.”

“No,” I sighed. “I mean, do you know what’s going on in the world. Everything feels like it’s out of control. The virus is flaring up again, the news is haywire, the Internet has been hijacked by raging lunatics, and I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in over a week. And now I’m supposed to sit here and be funny. Only I feel like I just don’t have anything to say. What *can* you say?”

Miss Carol frowned. 

“I thought of a whole good, funny bit I could do today,” I continued, “while I was sitting in the drive-thru line up at the Clown’s. But by the time I got my Sausage McMuffin, I couldn’t remember a word of it. Is that normal? To be that forgetful, I mean?”

“Considering that yesterday, between the hours of 8 AM and 7:45 PM, you forgot to provide two of my scheduled meals,” Miss Carol growled, “it would seem that your lack of memory has progressed far beyond the nuisance stage and has reached that of a significant personal crisis. I must advise you that further deviations from your appointed schedule cannot be tolerated.”

“And then there’s the next radio show,” I wailed, throwing my head back and staring at the spreading cracks in the ceiling. “I need to have the script finished soon – but how do you do topical gags when you don’t know how anything’s going to come out? And what’s even safe to joke about anymore? You don’t know what it’s like!”

Miss Carol regarded me for a long moment. “The solution to your dilemma is clear. I prescribe extensive bed rest, commencing at once. A midday nap, under a heavy blanket, with a large feline atop your chest, is considered a universal panacea in times of extreme mental and emotional stress." She hopped down from her perch atop my desk, and headed toward the stairs. “I shall meet you in the bedchamber post-haste.”

“Ridic…” I grunted – but then stopped short. She was exactly right.

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