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Nannie’s Cat

by Vivian Rinaldo

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

“Yes, that’s it; that is it, isn’t it, Lord?” she asked, looking up toward the ceiling. She often talked to God out loud; that was one of the nice things about living alone, not having someone think you’re off your rocker if you think out loud.

“I’m not ready to go yet; I feel like you have more work for me to do here, but if you’re ready for me, just let me know. The ladies’ Sunday School class will just have to get along without me.”

She chuckled to herself, knowing that the minute she was gone, her best friend and sometime bitterest rival, Carol, would jump into the role of teacher that had been Nannie’s at the Church of the Most High God for thirty-five years. Carol had just been waiting for an opportunity to show Nannie up.

“That’s not a very Christian attitude, old woman,” she scolded herself. “Carol will make a fine Sunday School teacher. She has that big, booming voice,” she chuckled. “No one’ll fall asleep in her class, I can tell you.”

The laughter in her voice died away, and she became reflective. She remembered when she’d moved into this old house. It was in 1950, and she had just married her husband. She sighed, “Oh, Harv was fine, Lord. He was handsome and kind. Kinda quiet, but strong, and he loved me good. Oh, yes, he did.”

She remembered with yearning holding him in her arms. “I loved that old man till the day he passed. He was ever’thing to me. He was a good daddy to our children, and a man of faith and constancy.” Nannie felt tears trickle down her face and find their way into her ears. “I’ll be glad to see him if you’re ready for me to, Lord. Let him know I’m coming, will you? He startles kinda easy,” she laughed. The laughter was choked; she felt a little strangled, like she’d sipped hot coffee, and it’d gone down the wrong way.

The phone on the wall above the counter began to ring. She relaxed a little; whoever was calling would know she was in trouble because she never let her phone ring without answering it. They would come and check on her. It rang and rang and rang; she had never let her children install the answering machine they had argued about with her for years. She didn’t understand how it worked, and she always felt it wasn’t polite to make people talk to a box when they wanted to talk to you. So the phone rang on.

“Well, for heaven’s sake,” she grunted and tried to get up, but her head was swimmy, and she just couldn’t do it. She managed to drag herself back to her chair, but the chair was an old cane-bottomed one she’d had for years, and it was a little wobbly in the joints. “Just like me,” she laughed, and again, her muscles went weak. She was able to get back against the wall, and she began to grow calmer, but no less annoyed at the continued ringing of the phone.

Eventually, the ringing stopped, and she thought, ‘It must have been a sales call. No one I know would let the phone ring that long, even if they thought I was on the commode!’

Then she was glad she couldn’t get to it; she hated sales calls. Southern courtesy demanded that she listen to the spiel they delivered and turn it down politely, and that aggravated her. She hated being forced to speak to people she didn’t know, and she hated even worse not being able to help people.

Her children thought she was ridiculous for listening to the telemarketers, and they encouraged her to just hang up on them, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. She always thought they might have children to support, and that the least she could do was listen, even if she couldn’t afford to buy anything they were selling.

The smell of the stack cake tantalized her, and she thought if she could just get up off the floor, maybe she’d have just a smidge of it before the preacher came. There was a pressure in her stomach, and she thought maybe she’d forgotten to eat that day. Since it was a Saturday, the Meals on Wheels didn’t run, and she usually just made herself some instant oatmeal for lunch. Frustrated, she really couldn’t remember. “That’s why I feel so puny. I didn’t eat!”

The paw reappeared through the cat door, swatting the rubber piece aside, and the long ginger body followed the paw. This time the cat sniffed at the few pieces of dry cat food in his dish, ignored the water entirely, and walked calmly over to Nannie, still seated on the floor. He pushed his head against her hip, insisting on a petting. When she didn’t respond, he looked indignantly at her and pushed again, this time against her leg, then turned, flipped his tail so she could see his rosebud, and settled down beside her, purring loudly and grunting with the effort.

Nannie reached down and stroked his bristly fur. He didn’t shed too bad, but every time she swept the kitchen, it seemed she swept up more ginger-colored fur than anything else. She had considered trying to use the fur for something; maybe to make a nest for the hummingbirds that frequent the feeder she’d hung for them from a nail on the eave of the house. She’d hung it high enough so the cat couldn’t reach it, and had used fishing line to keep the ants off the sugar-water filled bowl.

The phone began to ring again, and Nannie thought she really ought to try to answer it. It was all the way across the kitchen on the far counter, and she wasn’t sure she could get there. She didn’t want to crawl there — it would be terrible if the preacher looked in the back door and saw her dragging her bottom across her kitchen floor — but she was sure she couldn’t get back up again... at least until she could rest some more.

The feeling of fullness in her chest was starting to subside a little, and she thought maybe she could get into a chair and just scoot it across the floor. She knew that would damage the linoleum, and Darcy would give her heck about it, but what was she supposed to do? The phone kept on and on and it was starting to make her head hurt.

With great effort, much groaning and puffing, she managed to drag herself up into a kitchen chair. Resting, she thought if she could get close enough to the counter, she could maybe scoot the chair close enough to the phone to reach it. She swept some loose grey hairs behind her ears and tried to rise from the chair, leaning on the sink. Her limbs were weak, but she was able to rest on her forearms and elbows enough to reach out to the phone. By the time she had mastered this movement, the cursed thing had stopped ringing. Letting out an aggravated puff of air, she collapsed back into the chair, leaning forward to cool her hot cheek against the stainless steel of the sink.

She rested there a good while, thinking about what might happen if she were going to meet the Lord. She was fairly certain the children would sell her house, probably before the first clump of dirt had hit the top of her coffin. They had never liked it, said it was too small for visitors — she always chuckled a bit at that — and that they didn’t understand why, if she liked such a small space, she didn’t just move into an assisted living apartment like her friend Carol.

The truth was, since her old man had died, Nannie had grown used to being alone, and she liked it. Except for Darcy’s Saturday obligation and the preacher’s visits, she enjoyed the silence of her own company. When she needed someone to talk to, she just conversed with the cat. He was a very good listener.

A dull ache started in Nannie’s jaw and throat and spread down her arm. She began to be afraid. She knew the symptoms of a heart attack — her own father had died at the table after complaining of indigestion and gas from the greasy pork chops her momma had fixed him for supper.

She was afraid — oh, not so much of dying, but of lying here till someone bothered to come check on her. She didn’t want the preacher to be the one to find her. Not in her dusty housedress and flour-covered apron. “Lord,” she croaked out, “Lord, don’t let me go like this. I ain’t in no shape to meet you and my old man.”

She knew she was right with her Maker; she’d been washed in the blood of the Lamb most of her life. She just didn’t want to meet him right now. Not with the kitchen a mess, her clothes a mess, and a stack cake that needed to be covered and put in the Fridgidaire.

The phone began to ring again, and this time she felt hope with each ring. She struggled to reach to her left and finally was able to touch, then move the phone near enough to grasp it in her one good hand. The other had gone strangely cold. She flipped it open and in a near-whisper said, “Yep?”

“Momma, how many times have I told you it’s rude to answer the phone like that,” Darcy grumbled. “What if it was somebody important calling you? They’d think you were some kind of white trash. Oh, never mind,” she hurried on, “the real reason I called you is ‘cause I can’t carry you to the Piggly Wiggly today. I’ve got a meeting with my ladies from the Junior League, and I clean forgot about it. You can wait till tomorrow to go to the store, can’t you?”

Nannie took a breath to speak, but managed only a strangled sound.

“Oh, Momma, for heaven’s sake, it’s only one day,” Darcy groused. “Besides, you know you hate to go anyhow, and you can’t be out of everything already. I’ll be there tomorrow around noon, and we can go then. All right?” Without waiting for a response, Darcy pressed on. “Okay, then, well, I’ll see you tomorrow. I have to go. Bye, momma.” She hung up while Nannie was still trying to marshall her thoughts into a cry for help.

Nannie dropped the phone and slumped back into the chair. The cat leapt onto the counter and rubbed his muzzle against Nannie’s hand. She petted him absently. She guessed that it wasn’t in the Lord’s plan for her to be able to ask Darcy for help. Likely she’d have thought Nannie was exaggerating anyhow; she paid little attention to her mother’s complaints of ailments. Darcy was convinced human frailties to be matter over mind, and she had very little patience with what she considered her mother’s weaknesses.

“Well, Cat,” Nannie said softly, rubbing his velvety-soft ears, “I guess the time has come. I know you won’t understand this, but you been pretty good company for me, and I hate to leave you. You have plenty of food and water, but please don’t mess around my stack cake. I reckon the mourners will want that.” Once again, she laid her cheek on the cool counter and closed her eyes. The pain had subsided a little, but the numbness in her hand and the ache in her jaw were constant.

* * *

“Miz Miller?” the young, handsomely dressed preacher called through the screen door. “Hello? Miz Miller? Are you there, ma’am?” He glanced at his watch; only an hour till the UFC title bout on Channel 76 — his guilty pleasure — and he sure as heck didn’t mean to miss it to visit with some old biddy he knew didn’t like him.

Copyright © 2011 by Vivian Rinaldo

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