Write a story in which a character unexpectedly has to take care of another character's pet.
I don’t know why the last thing on my mind when I leave the house for Nina's is water. I drink constantly, and when I visit her, I drink more. She tells me that too much water will give me tired kidneys.
Like she knows.
So, I got into the old Datsun and made my way down the icy cobbled streets I still hadn’t gotten used to, and pulled up eventually to Nina’s house – guarded by her fat, mangy black cat with bad breath.
Nina loved the cat; the cat loved Nina. It should have been alright, except that the cat was every Halloween cliché that was ever invented. It looked like the host of a dozen different parasites, and had the halitosis of an eighty year old alcoholic.
It hated me.
As soon as I emerged from the Datsun, it stretched up its back and licked its lips. “Here she comes,” it thought, eyeing me with its one good green eye. The milky one never focused on anything. I could see it sizing me up, as if I were the entertainment portion of its day: the woman it could torment upon entry into its lair.
“Rhoda!” Nina greeted me as I opened the door. The cat crossed my path as I entered, then doubled back and crossed my path again. “Is it Sunday already?”
“It’s Wednesday, Nina,” I said. “I told you I would take you to the doctor’s today.”
“Oh!” Nina nodded her head as I came over to hug her. The cat hissed at me as I got close.
“Rudolph doesn’t like you much, does he?” she smiled, looking down at the cat instead of up at me.
“No, Nina, he doesn’t like me any better than last week.”
“Well, he is very protective of me,” she said, stroking his clumpy fur. “Do you know, I ordered the bus?”
I was confused at her comment. “What bus?”
“The minibus to come and take me to the doctor,” she said. I couldn’t believe it. I was irritated and disappointed.
“Are you serious, Nina?” I said, standing up straight and putting my hands on my hips. The cat smirked at me.
“I guess I forgot that you offered to take me,” she said, and I felt sorry for her and hated her at the same time.
“You were the one who asked me to take you last Sunday and I said yes, remember?”
She laughed, self-consciously. “No.”
I shook my head and sighed. “Alright, well, I’ll wait till the Senior Transport gets here and then I guess I’ll go home.”
“Oh, but who will look after Rudolph?” she said. I looked at the cat, who was perfectly capable of looking after himself as any cat would look after itself. What was she talking about?
“Nina, Rudolph is a cat, not a baby.”
“It’s snowy outside,” she began.
“Not anymore, and Rudolph loves the snow,” I had lost all of my manners. All that my mother ever put into me about helping the elderly neighbor or doing good expecting nothing in return went right out the window. I was mad that Nina would do this. Did she know what she was doing all along? Had she asked me over here to cat-sit?
“You will stay, won’t you?” she asked. I looked at her - weak and fragile with her lower lip trembling. I nodded and sat down on the couch.
Rudolph sat directly in front of me.
Outside of her bay window I saw the Senior Transport pull up, just in front of my car. A large woman got out and walked up to the door. I heard a knock on the screen door, and got up to answer it.
“Oh, Rudolph, they’re here,” I heard Nina say behind me.
“Hello!” the woman was too damn perky. “Nina Glasgow?”
“Yup,” I said, moving away from the door, and making way for Nina to walk slowly through it.
“Remember to give him his food at ten,” she said, and left with the woman assisting her.
I felt abandoned and used. I looked around at Nina’s outdated and dismal furniture, and in the middle of the room there was her decrepit cat, looking at me.
I refused to be a cat-sitter. I decided to make myself useful, and began to look for a vacuum. I found an old Kirby with a cloth bag and a two-pronged cord. Against my better judgement, I plugged it in. The motor was strong and sturdy, and I began to vacuum the carpet, which stood up beautifully after a few passes. Rudolph bolted into the kitchen.
After the carpet, I dusted the furniture, stacked her magazines and lifted up the TV to dust the inch deep sludge off of her TV stand. When had this last been done?
I made my way to the kitchen to find it tidy, but dirty. Everywhere I looked there was cat hair.
“Look at this!” I showed the pile of black filth to Rudolph once it was in a dust pan. “Look familiar?”
Rudolph looked at it and licked his lips. I looked up at the clock. It was ten thirty. I opened the cupboards looking for cat food, but none was in sight. I opened the refrigerator, and saw black mold all around the door. There, on a shelf was a dish, covered in cling wrap with a small label on it – written in pencil with frail cursive: “Rudolph”.
I lifted the cover off and looked at it. It looked like tuna and peas.
“Meoooww,” Rudolph was at my feet looking up at me. I set the plate down on the floor, in a corner where I had already swept.
I finished sweeping as I heard the grunting and chewing of the mangy animal, downing his gourmet food. After washing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom, I returned to find Rudolph with his front paw in the bowl, licking the edges for the last morsel of flavor.
He looked up at me, and in his whiskers were bits of tuna.
“No wonder you have bad breath,” I said. I put all of the cleaning items away, and remembered the fridge. I opened it and gave it a once-over with the cloth, now covered in bleach. Each shelf was a challenge, and I lifted old ketchup bottles, jam containers and old medicines from their secure rings that had held them in place. The top shelf of the door had recent medications. I recognized one as insulin.
“Glasgow, R” it read. Who was “R?” I looked again at the label, and saw “Westside Veterinarian Group” above the name. “R” was for Rudolph. Rudolph had canine diabetes. I looked over at him, still by the bowl, now licking his paw and wiping his face with it. I was moved with compassion, until he looked back at me with his one good eye.
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he seemed to say. I went to take the bowl from the floor, and wash it in the sink. It was then I got my brilliant idea.
I would give Rudolph a bath.
He seemed to hear my thought, and darted under the couch. I put all of the dishes away in the cupboards and cleaned off the counters to remove any items that could be broken or splashed. Then, I began to fill the sink with warm water, only about halfway before I stopped.
“Rudolph...” I called. I went back into the bathroom to look for shampoo. There was none. I remembered Nina bathed regularly, but had her hair washed and set only once a week at Glowing Cupid, a salon downtown. I looked for the dishwashing liquid, wondering if it would be too strong. I poured a small capful into the water and then stirred it up. Soap bubbles formed and popped, promising a warm reception for a dirty cat.
“Rudolph?” I said, in a sticky-sweet voice, walking into the front room. I looked under the couch to see an eye glaring back at me. He let out a predictable hiss.
“Come on, you dirty thing,” I said, reaching for him. I felt for the scruff of his neck and pulled him out. He protested, and then strangely relaxed in my arms.
I walked over to the sink, and showed him the water. He began to claw at me to get free, but I set him down gently into the bath. Almost immediately, he began to growl lowly at me, and I stroked his fur, now under the water. I still had control, and he knew it. At one point he looked up at me, helplessly as I stroked off his fur with a comb underwater. His green eye pleaded with me to let him go. He was old, he had no control and the wicked outsider had invaded his home and forced him to get wet.
I reached for the dishtowel and wrapped him up as I lifted him from the sink. Again, he growled lowly, making his voice impossible to misunderstand.
“We’re almost done,” I said. I walked us both into the bathroom, where I reached for a bath towel and wrapped him again. He was dying to get away, but I couldn’t let him. One false move and I would have a wet, crazy cat running around the house.
I patted him dry with the towel, which became covered in black and grey hair. He seemed to relax on the counter of the bathroom, looking at his reflection in the mirror. Then, as I started to clean his ears, he scratched my hand and bolted out of the towel, through the door and under the couch again.
I walked over to the sofa, knelt down, and looked underneath seeing him licking his paw again, his ears the only recognizable thing about him. He looked clean, but he was still wet. It was cold outside and Nina would be home any minute.
I took the towel I had dried him with and went back into the kitchen to tidy up. The sink, filled with muddy water, stood stagnant. I grabbed a sieve and lifted out a good pound of hair before I pulled the plug to let the water out. As it drained, there was sediment that made the pink porcelain look like a beach. I turned the tap on and washed it down the drain.
I heard the Senior Transport pull up in the driveway, and the chatter of the perky woman with Nina outside. I panicked. The floor got a quick wipe with the towel before I threw it into the laundry basket on top of the washing machine.
I looked around again. It looked better than when I got there, but I knew what had taken place in that kitchen just before she came home.
“Hello?” Nina’s voice was hopeful and pleasant as she walked in. I saw her look around for me.
“Hi, Nina!” I said from the kitchen. “How was the doctor?”
“Oh, well, you know,” she answered. I had no idea what she meant. “How was Rudolph?”
“Where is he?” she sat down in her chair with a slight thud. “Rudy-off!?” she called. In no time, the wiry apparition came from under the couch and hopped up on her lap.
“We-hell...look at you!” she laughed. She was not upset, and she stroked his wet fur. “Did you get a bath, Rudolph?”
Rudolph glared at me, and looked back at Nina. I sat down on the couch. “He was pretty dirty,” I said.
“Yeah, he gets dirty.” She continued to stroke him, and look into his face.
“I also cleaned up a little.” I said. Nina lifted her head and looked around.
“Oh, you didn’t need to do all that,” she said, carefully looking around. “You didn’t throw anything away did you?”
“No,” I said. I was suddenly embarrassed. Why did I feel like I needed to clean up after Nina? Some misguided sense of philanthropy? This was her house, and I hadn’t even asked if I could clean, let alone wash her cat.
“Did he eat at ten?” she asked, looking up at me.
“Yes.” I smiled.
“You found his food?” she seemed genuinely grateful.
“Yes,” I said. “He eats better than I do.”
Nina laughed. “That’s his diet! He has cat diabetes, you know.”
“Oh,” I blushed. She went back to stroking his fur; I watched them. “Well, Nina, I guess I better go,” I said.
“Oh really?” she looked up at me as I stood. “Won’t you stay for tea?” I looked into her eyes, and saw she was serious.
“I’d love to,” I said, sitting back down.
Rudolph glared at me. To punctuate his disapproval, he hissed.
“He doesn’t like you,” she said. “Now he likes you even less!” She laughed.
I didn’t care.
We understood each other now.