Today’s Story A Day in May story features Mr. Sugar and Mrs. DiMarco. They don’t have a novel, but I’ve written about them before, in my first collection of short stories, LONNIE, ME AND THE HOUND OF HELL, and in Mystery and Horror, LLC’s anthology, MARDI GRAS MURDER.
Mr. Sugar vs. the Gigolo
by Marian Allen
The first thing learned by a cat worthy of the name (and I’m eminently worthy of the name, if I do say so myself) is how to avoid trouble. Sometimes, however, curiosity overcomes this natural caution. I tell you this as one who has learned valuable lessons, but yet succumbs.
Every month of my seven years, our neighbor from the less refined end of the street, the widowed Mrs. DiMarco, had been picked up in the early evening by a car bearing three other women of “a certain age,” and had been dropped off in the late evening by that same car and those same women. Every month, one of them – all of them laughing and joking – had helped her stagger up her sidewalk and onto her porch although, God knows, Mrs. DiMarco could stagger a straighter line than most humans could walk sober. Practice makes perfect. Sometimes, on moonlit summer nights after the car had left, Mrs. DiMarco would come back onto the porch to seranade the neighborhood with a chorus of, say, “Jambalaya,” and would count the syllables she managed to drag out of that one word. The current record stood at ten.
This night, though, when she exited the car, her merriment was no more raucous than that of her friends, and she needed no help to reach her door. This night, she waved until the car was out of sight, then sank onto one of her porch chairs and sat silently.
I ask you, in all fairness, how could I fail to turn my fluffy white tail toward my cat door and my glistening pink nose toward my (let it be admitted) friend, the DiMarco woman?
Absently, as if only from habit, she greeted me with a half-hearted,”Well, look what the cat dragged in. Ragmop, as I live and breathe.” My name is Mr. Sugar, but Mrs. DiMarco has chosen to pay tribute to my luxurious Persian pelt by referring to me as a common household cleaning implement. I rise above it.
Again absently, she did something she had never done before: she dropped a hand to my head and scratched me behind the ears, her gaze on mine, the way Sweetheart, my female human, does when she scratches me in order to comfort herself.
“Bessie’s getting married,” she said. “Ain’t that a kick in the head? After all these years? Why not, I guess. But I got a kind of a bad feeling about it.” She sighed deeply, shook her head, and rubbed her thumb in that space between my eyes. I couldn’t help it; I purred. “You like that, huh? Good old Ragmop. Bessie’s bringing her beau over for lunch on Saturday. I hope you come so she can see you. I tell them about you every month.”
“Naturally,” I said. “I tell all my friends about you, too. Of course, my stories about you are bound to be more amusing than yours about me.”
Mrs. DiMarco doesn’t understand my speech, but she understands me.
“What’s that, Ragmop? ‘Will there be chicken?’ You bet your boodle there will be. Agnes DiMarco’s world-famous …. No, Bessie’s on a diet, so no fried chicken. Guess I’ll roast it, like the mister used to like.”
When I met Bessie and her beau, John, I understood Mrs. DiMarco’s reservations.
I’m not one to judge a catnip mouse by its packaging, but I’ve been around humans long enough to know this: when a handsome young man proposes marriage to an older woman who weighs at least twice as much as he does, something besides romantic chemistry is involved.
Bessie squeezed John’s hand and said, “We met when John came to Oakwood to talk to the kids about overcoming adversity.” Bessie, it seems worked at a residential facility for at-risk children. “John had polio as a child – his parents didn’t believe in vaccines.”
“In the end,” John said, “they paid a higher price than I did. They died of flu while I was out of town on a business conference. All that happened to me was a partial paralysis that I’ve all but recovered from.” He patted the carved wooden cane he used to help his balance. “I’m the lucky one.” He cast a syrupy glance at Bessie. “Especially now.”
I followed Mrs. DiMarco into the kitchen when she cleared away the dishes. As I hoped and, I’ll be honest, expected, she had a dish of delicious skin and gristle for me.
“Don’t really need to serve dessert,” she grumbled. “I’m about to get diabetes, just watching them make goo-goo eyes at each other.” Nevertheless, she split a can of tropical fruit cocktail between three dishes, topped it with scoops of mango sherbert, and tucked rings of vanilla wafers around the edges. Mrs. DiMarco’s version of elegance.
“He’s a phony,” she said. “I know it. I got that gut instinct. But he’s a polio. Polios don’t con people.”
I don’t know where she acquired that quaint notion. Sweetheart’s sister had a cat with a broken tail, and he would rather steal your squeaky toy than play with his own.
Mrs. DiMarco’s concern and her odd innocence touched me. So I ate more quickly than is my wont and rejoined the humans in the dining area.
“John loves cats,” Bessie was saying. “How many do you have, darling?”
“None, at the moment,” he said. “I live in an apartment. They aren’t allowed.”
Bessie said, “But when we’re married, we’ll buy a house together, and then we’ll have at least one cat and at least one dog.”
“Now, Bess,” John said, patting her hand, “I told you I can’t manage half a house until I get enough money together to buy into that secret investment.”
“I can give you the money.” This was obviously something they’d been over, a loving dispute they’d repeated until it was part of their courtship. “My money is our money.”
“Uh-oh,” I said.
“Ragmop says I forgot to give him water,” said Mrs. DiMarco. In the kitchen, where she put down a bowl of cold tap water, she said, “Makes you sick, don’t it? You can see where this thing is headed, and it won’t be pretty. And there ain’t a thing in the world I can do about it.”
Perhaps there was something I could do, though. I owed Mrs. DiMarco the attempt, in payment for all the chicken, fish, and entertainment.
So I drank deeply, sloshed into the dining area, and coughed up a nicely balanced admixture of scraps, water, and fluffy white hair all over John’s socks and loafers.
Such are the times that bring out humans’ true selves.
Mrs. DiMarco, for instance, laughed like a loon.
Bessie, dear woman, cried, “Oh! The poor kitty!”
John cursed, leaped to his feet, and went for me with his cane.
“Hey!” Mrs. DiMarco got entangled in her chair in her rush to come to my defense. I backed at top speed through the living room, John pursing me on miraculously cured legs, distributing my semi-digested leavings as he came.
Bessie sat as if stunned, jaw unhinged in shock, as the metaphorical scales fell from her eyes.
Too late, John recovered himself, but it was obvious the charm was broken. He didn’t say a word, but simply walked out, started his car, and drove off.
Bessie, to her credit, didn’t indulge in hysterics, although tears washed her face. She wiped them off occasionally, and told Mrs. DiMarco, “These aren’t mad or sad, they’re just the foolishness coming out.”
She helped Mrs. DiMarco clean up the mess John and I had made of the carpet, and she helped put away the leftovers and wash the dishes. The women talkedquietly about news of other friends, soap operas, popular novels – anything but John.
Mrs. DiMarco invited her to sleep over, but Bessie called herself a cab. As she left, she said, “They say that, before you find your handsome prince, you have to kiss a few frogs. I guess he was one of the frogs. See you next month.”
The cab pulled away. Mrs. DiMarco brought a beer onto the front porch and put a Hank Williams CD on, just loud enough to hear but not loud enough for the whole neighborhood to enjoy.
“Ragmop,” she said, “a fool’s paradise is a great place to live, but it’s hell to visit.” She raised the can in a toast. “Here’s mud in yer eye.”
MY PROMPTS TODAY: polio, residential facility, A Diet Guide for Restaurant Lovers, the Colonel