"George, he's out there again, staring at the mailbox!"
"I don't see what you're all worried about!"
"Well, come take a look at him then. You'll see why!"
George slowly slumbers in, coffee mug in hand. He refills his mug with the standard high octane of the household, takes a sip, and slowly raises his head to look out the window. "So... he-'s waiting for a letter." He shrugs, "If you're talking about the way he's dressed, I don't see anything wrong."
"He's been wearing that same flannel shirt for the past two weeks. And, did you notice the bright shine of his greasy hair? I'd hate to have to smell him..." She pulls out a pan, some margarine, a few eggs, and some seasoning, beginning to prepare breakfast.
George gets an English muffin and begins toasting it. "If you're so worried about him, call the police. They'll possibly be able to help him out - not to mention us." He gets out the milk and pours himself a glass.
"Oh, I don't want to get that guy in trouble. It looks like he has enough problems as it is."
"Well, then what do you want, Jill?"
"I don't know." She looks blankly at the English muffin that just popped up out of the toaster. George takes the English muffin and butters it.
"Perhaps I should go talk to him," George says quietly, "I'll go see what I can find out after I get ready. The eggs done?"
"Yeah, here, have some." Jill places some eggs on his buttered English muffin and places the rest on a plate for herself. She looks out the window, sighs, takes her plate, and goes into the dining room to eat.
About forty minutes later, Jill is seated on the couch reading. George, with jeans on and ready to go outside, walks into the room. "Jill, any suggestions as to what to say to the guy?"
"You might start off by talking to him about those roses he recently planted. I never knew there was so much variety in roses."
"Have you seen him doing anything else lately?"
"He likes to feed Scritch when he's over in his yard. Perhaps he needs a cat of his own..."
"I won't be too long. Did you want to go see what's going on in the community center? I think there's an exhibition on quilting this weekend."
"Yeah, I'd love to." She looks at him wistfully. "See you in a few." George looks out the kitchen window. The man has apparently gone back to his house. George leaves, walks across the street to the man's house, and knocks on the door. He waits - - - he knocks again - - - the door opens a crack.
"What do you want," the man hastily billows in a low and rolling voice, all the time peering through the crack at George's eyes.
"I'm George Hensley from across the street. I felt it was about time that we should meet... being neighbors. The man looks down, then behind himself. "I could come back later if would like," says George.
The man opens the door and says in the same voice as before, "My name is Ted Prow. Come in if you would like. Just watch out for the cats."
"Don't worry about that. I'm used to cats. That white and almond colored long-hair that you sometimes feed belongs to us..."
"He's too skinny. You should give him more food."
"We let him eat as much as he wants. He's just a picky eater. I must admit - I've never seen this many cats in one house. How many do you have?"
"I don't know, they're all strays. I bring them in and look after them... it's a lot easier than kids. Catnip near the litter box seems to do the trick for house-training them."
"I'll have to try that next time. Scritch was a real pain when we first got him. Anyway, do you have a job in the area?"
"I work in the lumber yard down on Helm street. It's the only way I can manage to pay for all the food that these cats go through. It's not cheap, but it's less expensive than a kid, not to mention that cats give back a lot more love than kids do." The man looks down, turns away, goes over to the utility sink, which has a hose connected to it, and turns it on. "I've devised a way to keep the water full during the day. Do you see those two wires in the water... Those are sensors that turn on a magnetic switch, turning on the pump which takes water from this reservoir. The reservoir holds twenty gallons."
A grey cat jumps up onto George's shoulder and starts purring. "WHOA!"
"Yeah, they'll do that - him especially. I call him Jack, as in Jack-in-the-box."
"Do you name all of the cats?"
"Only the ones that stick around."
George gives Jack some good rubbing with a bit of coaxing from Jack. He walks towards the living room, looking at the magnitude of cats. "Ted..."
"He got run over last week," Ted says sternly.
"I'm sorry, I... was addressing you."
"Sorry, I'm a bit jumpy after he got hit. Oh, excuse me, Missy has herself tangled up again in the yarn. I used to think that no cat could possibly get itself tangled in yarn to the point of not being able to get out, until I found Missy."
"She sure is pretty. Why did you name her Missy?"
Ted sighs - "She reminds me of someone."
"Oh yeah? who?"
"You know George, I was once married, had a kid. It's great... But, it all came to end when we were driving home one night. I had drunk a bit of wine, but I didn't think it had affected me at all - - - They both died, and I was left living, suffering over what I've done." Ted walks into the living room to the old table against the wall, picks up a picture. It's of the three of them. His son looks to be about nine or ten years old. In the picture, Ted is clean shaven; now, well, un-kept seems to describe him well.
George looks at his watch. "I need to get going. Jill and I are going to go check out the quilting show down at the city commons"
"Missy loved that stuff. Oh well, it wouldn't do me much good now..."
George makes eye contact with Ted, with an expression of worry and sympathy. "I'll try to stop by later." Ted nods, and George leaves, headed back across the street to go home.
When he arrives home, Jill greets him, coming from the kitchen, "SO?"
"He seems like a nice guy. His place has an okay smell to it. He has tons and tons of cats in that place. Any cat lover would love it in there... They're really friendly too... I found out that he killed his wife and son because he had drunk too much wine and got in a wreck. I can only imagine the guilt that he must feel now. Anyway, I said I would try and stop by later. Perhaps, you should come take a look for yourself.... I saw a cat in there that looks like Pinky, long hair and all..."
Maybe. Let's go look at the quilts." Jill puts on her coat and heads for the door. George follows, and they leave. The traffic is light, and it is a nice sunny day. Kids are playing in yards, some in the sprinkler - and it is quiet. They arrive shortly at the quilt show.
Jill spots an intriguing quilt down the aisle a ways.
"George, look." She points and begins to pull him towards the quilt.
"I bet Ted would love this, with all of these cats on it," George says to Jill. He promptly asks the person behind the table, "How much for this quilt?"
"I usually sell quilts for about $150, depending on the quilt, but today everything is 10% off, so I could give it to you for $135," responds the person behind the table.
Jill and George look at each other. Jill nods at George. George looks at the quilt, thinks of Ted, looks back at Jill, looks at the person behind the table, back to the quilt, back to Jill, he nods at Jill. Jill gets out the checkbook. "Who do I make this out to," she asks the person behind the table.
"Quilting Creations," responds the person behind the table.
Jill very kindly answers back, "Thank you." All three are smiling: the person behind the table having sold a quilt; Jill and George knowing that it will make Ted a bit happier. To the person behind the table, Jill hands the check, George takes the quilt and receipt, and Jill and George move on. "You really think he'll like this quilt eh," states Jill to George.
"YES. He's mad about cats. You know, now you'll have to go with me to give it to him, since you spotted it."
Jill stops, glares at him, chuckles a bit, and declares, "Okay."
They leisurely spend the afternoon looking at all of the quilts, examining the fine detail of some; a few of which were priced at about $400... too much for Jill and George. They finally leave, with only the one quilt.
"Let's go give Ted his quilt," Jill suggests.
"Yeah, sounds good. I'll grab some of those chocolate chip cookies you made yesterday."
They arrive at Ted's front door: knock once, no answer; twice, no response; thrice, "Coming," comes the voice of Ted. The door opens a crack, and then all of the way, "this must be Jill - come in."
They enter the living room, clear the cats off of the couch and one of the chairs, and sit down. "So, where's Missy," Jill asks - with a smile on her face. "I think I saw her in the bedroom. I'll go get her."
He gets up, goes to the bedroom, and comes back quickly - Missy in his embrace. He hands Missy to Jill, "here.. she's real friendly." Missy quickly settles in Jill's lap, purring rather audibly.
"Thank you Ted," comes the courtesy of Jill, "she's gorgeous. We once had a long-haired cat like this one... She got ran over shortly after we got her. Her name was Pinky. Though we only had her for a short time, she meant a lot to me. Ted was away for a week on business, and she made perfect company --- always loyal --- always independent. I still miss her quite a bit."
"I know what it's like to miss loved ones," says Ted, "I once had loved ones.... now - - I just have my cats. About a year ago, I lost my wife and son in a car crash. I'm left with friends who come and go at will through the back door, only a few who stick around long. Missy is the only one who has truly stayed with me and kept me company. I tell ya, life has no rules." He gazes at Missy and the gentle caress of Jill's hand on Missy's long fur. His face scrunches as if there's a tear that wants to get out, but doesn't make it.
Jill looks at George, then quickly down at the bag he was holding, then back at his eyes. "OH yeah," blurts George, "we got something for you Ted." He pulls out the twin size quilt with cats all over it.
This time, the tears manage to escape from Ted's eyes.
"I love it," he cries, "you don't know how much this means to me." Ted goes over to George, holds up the quilt, looking at all of the cats. He folds it nicely, sets it down on his chair, walks back to George, and hugs him. George hugs Ted back, being careful to stay away from Ted's hair.....
"Hey look," says Jill. Missy heads over to the chair to inspect the quilt. She jumps up onto the chair with grace, lays on the quilt, closes her eyes, purring.
"Looks like Missy likes it too." Jill looks up at Ted, who is concentrating on Missy, "Would you like to have dinner at our place tonight, Ted? I have some steak in the fridge - we'd love to have you."
"I'd love to," says Ted, as he walks to Jill and hugs her.
"How'bout if I give you a haircut too," Jill states.
Ted picks up Missy, turns around, walks to the window, looking out into the emptiness of his back yard. He kisses Missy on her head while rubbing her neck. Ted turns back around, sits on the windowsill. "God bless both of you," he says - with the biggest smile that George and Jill have seen yet.
(-copyright Brian David Smith All Rights Reserved)