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BellaOnline Literary Review
Tampa Bay Sunset by Lisa Shea

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Yes or No

Ruth Z Deming

She watched the presidential debates with disbelief. She’d been working so hard on her novel that she hadn’t time to turn on her television. What a strange crew the Republicans were. The leader of the pack Donald Trump scared the other contenders away, like a Sonny Liston in the ring. And white-haired Bernie Sanders, somewhere in his seventies, had the energy of a twenty-year-old. She could imagine him jumping like a child on his bed.

"And, you, darling,” she said to her cat, “are losing energy every single day.”

She walked over to her beautiful rescued cat, knelt down, and met Bella’s black eyes. Bella was her closest confidante, but she certainly didn’t tell her everything. True, she had read Bella her entire novel – Five Smooth Stones – before sending it off to a New York agent – but what she didn’t discuss was Bella’s precarious state of health.

Ginny had found Bella wandering the streets of Burlington, Vermont, five winters ago. The cat was walking robotically, head down, tail down, covered with snow and ice. Ginny had jumped out of her car, swept up the little cat, and with the help of her savings account and a kind veterinarian, nursed the brindle cat back to health. All was well until eight months ago, when the cat refused to eat.

The veterinarian, Mary Jo, like Ginny, had graduated from Goddard College, down south in Plainfield, Vermont, and had fallen in love with the New England countryside and decided to move back after attending veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania. She had gifted hands that calmed all the creatures – whether dogs, cats, parakeets, goats or sheep – that dwelt in the college town. At semester’s end, graduating students tried to give away their pets, but were not always successful. Hence, the Bellas or, worse still, parrots and mynah birds, were set free to fly into the savage outdoors only their ancestors before them had known.

Bella, trembling, sat on Doctor Mary Jo’s table as the doctor tenderly felt her body with her blue-gloved hands. Ginny, her blue eyes wide with concern, watched from a nearby chair.

“The good news,” said the vet, “is that she’s fine. But from the symptoms you told me – intense thirst and refusal to eat – she most likely has diabetes.” Ginny knew that cats got leukemia but never knew about diabetes. Mary Jo gave her a prescription for diabetes medication, a liquid that could be poured over her food, and also wrote down the name of a special cat food bound to help the little brindle cat.

The medicine and the cat food were so expensive that Ginny’s savings account was rapidly depleted. If only Five Smooth Stones were accepted by the New York agent, who had written that three of the editors had read and liked it, but approval was needed by the other two.

On her morning bike rides where she veered off to a little gurgling brook, Ginny would rest her bike against a tree, sit down in the soft grass, do some yoga postures, then look up at the sky and pray. “Please, Lord, let them publish my book and let Bella live.” It was here, she believed, that God answered her prayers.

Bella ate twice a day. She was gaining weight nicely on her special cat food. But the diabetes pill was outrageously expensive. Nothing could be done about it. There were all sorts of programs for low-income human patients, but none for cats. Ginny had been taking Metformin for her own diabetes for more years than she could remember.

She inherited the disease from her grandfather, but unlike him, she kept to a strict diet. She became a vegetarian, which also agreed with her humanitarian views. In fact, Jim McKay, one of the characters in her novel, pleads the case of becoming a vegetarian to his family and hired hands on his small dairy farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Ginny would have to be clever about this. Bella watched nearly everything her mistress did and there was no doubt she would figure out what Ginny intended to do. Once when Ginny was working on her novel on her laptop, Bella was licking her toes as she wrote. Suddenly Bella jumped away as Ginny began to yell. “This is awful! Who said you could write Virginia Borders?” She printed out an entire chapter, twelve pages, scooped the paper in her hands, and ripped up every single page, then left the second-story apartment to throw the work in the Dumpster.

Turning her back to the cat, Ginny put her own tiny pink Metformin pill into a small bowl, melted it in Half-and Half that Ginny used for her coffee, and, keeping her back turned, poured it over the expensive cat food. Yes, Ginny would rather give some of her own medicine to the cat. To make up for this, Ginny would double-up on her bike riding. Exercise lowered a person’s blood sugar count.

The cure worked like a charm. Of course it was possible the little cat, with a black nose and black tail, and patches of white and black on her smooth fur, knew all along what her mistress was doing.

Ginny had hot oatmeal and honey for breakfast, while Bella nibbled on her own breakfast in her blue bowl. She was a fussy cat. The bowl had to be positioned exactly right, under the counter which held the Mister Coffeemaker. She seemed to love the sound of the drip drip drip of the machine. Who knows? She may even have enjoyed the smell. After all, her previous owner may have been a coffee-drinking student.

“I’ll bid you adieu for now,” said Ginny. “Your mama’s got to start looking for a job. The dreaded J O B. But we’ve all gotta work. Even you, my dear. Your job is to take care of me and enjoy the view from your place on the windowsill.”

Ginnny walked over to the window and saw autumn leaves waving in the breeze. “Look, my darling,” said Ginny. “They’re waving at you.”

Dressed in her good clothes, with her black dress boots, and her resume in a large white envelope, Ginny threw a kiss to the cat and walked toward the door.

The phone rang. Of course she was hoping it was the literary agent, but knew that a watched pot never boils. So she left the apartment and walked down the two flights of stairs, her boots clopping on the wooden floor. And began her foray into her job search.

What could be worse than offering yourself to perfect strangers as if they were a jigsaw puzzle looking for a missing piece, which may or may not be YOU!

Ginny was back home in two hours, having secured a job as a waitress in Aunt Bea’s Diner. The place smelled like hamburger grease and stale doughnuts, but she liked the people there and knew she could bring home scraps for Bella.

Her answering machine was blinking red when she walked into her apartment. Yes, it was the agent, she read on the Caller ID. She wasn’t ready to hear Yes or No just yet. After her dinner of home-made black bean soup, she ventured over to the telephone and dialed the code to retrieve the message.

She brought the phone over to the window and looked out on the street at a few dog-walkers who skirted the fallen leaves on the sidewalk. She knew that this would be a moment she would long remember and told herself there were other agents out there. A male voice she had never heard before – a good sign perhaps? - was speaking in a pleasant voice. “Ms. Borders,” he said. “We’d very much like to publish ...”

Her cries of joy startled Bella, who Ginny swooped up into her arms and kissed all over, especially her cute black nose.

“You know what, my darling kitty-cat? When they take my picture for the book jacket, I’ll be holding you in my arms. I couldn’t have written it without you.”

She laughed when she remembered Bella licking her toes.