“Acme Grommets and Gravel, Pearl speaking.”
“I hear you’ve taken up smoking again.”
“What?” I switch the phone from one ear to the other. “Liza Bean, is that you?”
I’m shocked, not so much that the cat has called me at work, but that she’s heard that I’ve been smoking.
I thought I’d kept that under wraps.
“Of course it’s Liza Bean,” she purrs. “You silly, silly human.”
I smile, weakly. I’ve not been myself lately, and I assume that Liza Bean Bitey, of the Minneapolis Biteys, is softening the yelling-at I am about to receive with the pre-dressing-down assertion that I am a “silly, silly human”.
Liza Bean Bitey, a small-pawed, symmetrically striped cat, world record holder in the standing gerbil jump (612, laid end to end) and bloodline heir to the Spanish throne, clears her throat. “Now this smoking –“
“Look,” I say. “I know it’s bad for me. I know I shouldn’t. I mean, I’ve seen the pictures of the lungs and –“
“- oh, shush,” the cat says, softly.
Liza Bean Bitey shakes her head, an action made clear by the sound of the tiny gold bells on her collar. “I just thought I’d call to let you know how cool I think it looks.”
I smile. “What are you up to?”
I can hear her smiling, diamonds by moonlight. “Sometimes one needs to take care of one thing at a time,” she says. “Sometimes, the best thing one can do, when faced with so many delightfully destructive options, is a small control burn, if you take my meaning.”
I nod. I’m on the phone, yet still I nod.
“You’re not allowed to do it for long,” her purr dropping in tone just a bit to show she’s serious. “That would be passé, don’t you think? Nothing gets older faster than a middle-aged woman drowning her sorrows in smoke.”
“Hmm,” I say.
The cat smiles over the line. “Look. Pearl. I’m a fan of crutches in all shapes and sizes, but that’s all they are: crutches. No point in crutches becoming handicaps.” The cat cups the phone’s mouthpiece briefly, she says something and what follows is the sound of several cats in the background laughing.
I frown. “What’s going on?”
“We’re loading up the car,” she says.
“Not your car, Pearl,” she says, smiling. There is the briefest of pauses. “You know,” she says, “I’ve seen you smoke, and I daresay you have quite a look about you when you do.”
I smile. Just a little. “I do?”
“Just like Bette Davis,” she says. “Elegant and dangerous. A little minx of a smoker.”
“Oh, yes, my dear. If I run across my old cigarette holder, I’m giving it to you, family heirloom be damned.”
“Of course, you’ll want to take up wines next,” she says, the words spilling out from her gently smiling lips. “Nothing says ‘I’m in the midst of a trauma’ quite like wine.”
I nod. “It’s been a difficult summer.”
There is silence for just a moment.
“Anyway,” Liza Bean says, yawning, “The smoking. It will need to stop soon, yes?”
I nod. “Yes.”
Liza Bean Bitey, of the Minneapolis Biteys, chuckles indulgently. “Good girl,” she says. “OK, well, I’ve got to run – some friends and I are popping in for the last few days of Burning Man -- I mean, technically, I was never here, you understand? I’ve been at Burning Man the whole time, yes?”
When confused by a cat, it’s best to agree. “You were at Burning Man the whole time.”
“Good girl,” the cat says.
And she hangs up.