Flash Fiction: The Gift

There were 17 cats in Dr. Fredericks’s basement and it was bad down there. Not just bad down there, but even upstairs where the faint stench of cat urine and feces seem to envelop the whole house. This might not have bothered anybody but the dear old doctor, but he was a violin teacher of the first order and had students coming in day after day, year after year for their hour-long lessons. This is where Naomi Johnson entered the story. She was one of those students, a typical one who began at 4 years old and would stay until she was 18 before heading off the a conservatory of music with her superlative skills as a violinist, all thanks to Dr. Cecil Daniel Fredericks, III, who had been, before damaging his hand in a car accident, the first violinist for the Boston Philharmonic. Currently, Naomi was 15 and she had vowed to herself and to her best friend, Cory, who she was enlisting to help her, to take matters (or cats) into her own hands and rid Dr. Harrison’s place, where she was forced to spend more time than was normal for a girl of her age, of its smelly scourge. Cory was happy to help. He was not only a cat lover, but also a little bit sweet on Naomi.

The first order of business was to get Dr. Fredericks out of his house for at least 4 hours. Naomi had come up with the idea after hearing her dad say the prophetic words to her mother, “You know, Tom lost $25 bucks at the races, but I won $400.” Naomi instantly knew that getting her dad to invite Dr. Fredericks to the horse races in Santa Anita would work absolutely perfectly. It was even easy since her dad and Dr. Fredericks had had several short conversations about how much fun horse racing was and her dad had even invited Dr. Fredericks to go sometime. The time just needed to be soon, Naomi decided, so she didn’t die of asphyxiation because of all that cat smell.

At dinner that night, Naomi laid the groundwork. “Dad, poor Dr. Fredericks looks so gloomy these days. I think he needs a little fun in his life.”

Her dad took the bait. Immediately after the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, he was on the phone making a date with Dr. Fredericks – or his friend, Cecil, as he liked to call him – for that upcoming Saturday.

The next plan was to gather up all the needed equipment. Cory and Naomi managed to get several of their friends to join in and also volunteer brooms, mops, mop buckets and lots and lots of Simple Green. Also, one mother whose child went to Dr. Fredericks too and who somehow heard about the plan, went out and bought 17 brand new cat boxes and 17 bags of cat litter. Before it was over, she had contacted other mothers and they were armed and ready with their personal innovations to get as much done in as short a time as possible to rid the house of its biohazard conditions. The whole plan jelled into an expedition of sorts. One mother even decided that everyone involved needed special throwaway suits to wear, masks and even little booties on their feet.

On that appointed day and time, Naomi’s dad picked up Dr. Fredericks and whisked him off to the races. Five minutes later, a virtual army arrived, including one parent who happened to know where the spare key was hidden. Down they descended into the depths of the basement, and the horror that met their eyes would fuel stories for years to come. Many surfaces in that basement were covered in unsightly cat deposits, which made those suits and booties helpful, and the stench was so strong that the masks were indeed necessary. The 17 cats were all crowded on one sofa at one end of the basement, looking surprisingly content and happy. Within a matter of minutes, everyone went into action. They swept up all the cat feces, then scrubbed the floors, baseboards, walls and ceiling. One person even set up a bathing station for the cats in a nearby bathroom and though there were many high-pitched meows, every cat was washed, dried and groomed. A vet assistant even volunteered her services and updated every animal’s shots. Finally, a pile of trash bags plus the old couch were hauled up to a waiting truck, which whisked away all the offending material. The room was fresh and clean, the cats were clean, the litter boxes were filled with clean cat litter and the new used sofa didn’t have one suggestion of smell in its fabric. Upstairs, all the windows were opened and the rooms aired out. Luckily, there was a brisk spring breeze blowing, which aided in purging all remaining odor. In short, the house was transformed and Cory and Naomi were very pleased, as were all the other volunteers.

Exactly four hours later, Dr. Harrison returned home. Everything looked exactly as he had left it upstairs, but when he ventured downstairs to feed his beloved cats, he stopped short. How had this transformation taken place? He was overwhelmed with shock and confusion. Who could have done this? He was so grateful since he had simply felt too frail to tackle the obvious problem that had been growing for quite some time in his basement.

Dr. Harrison saw a note on the table next to the cat’s couch. He picked it up and read:

Dear Dr. Harrison,

Please consider this a gift from us to you for your long hours of help and your ever kind attitude.

Every Saturday morning at 9 am, someone will arrive to clean the cat boxes and help keep everything tidy.

This is the least we can do after all you have done for us.

Sincerely,

Your Students

Dr. Harrison sank down on the new sofa and wept. He felt as if he were the luckiest man in the world. Not only did he have 17 wonderful feline friends, but also a clean and wonderful space in which to enjoy them. Also, he clearly had a whole host of people who loved him. What more could a person ask?

Naomi smiled with satisfaction when she arrived for her lesson on Monday at 4 pm. Not one hint of a cat smell and Dr. Harrison himself looked ten years younger. She called Cory as soon as she left and said, “We have done a great thing. I am very happy.” Cory responded with a shout followed by the suggestion they meet for pizza. His own life felt as if it were on the upswing as well.

Dr. Harrison lived another 10 years and every Saturday at 9, someone promptly arrived to tend to the cats.

As for Naomi, she went on to follow in her teacher’s footsteps as the 1st chair violin with the Boston Philharmonic. She visited him religiously when she returned home and loved him until the day he died.

Good ole Dr. Harrison and his 17 cats. They were lovingly remembered by almost everyone in town for years to come after the good doctor and even his cats passed away. Helping an old man brought a huge amount of satisfaction. Helping his cats, even more. But ultimately it was the sound of sweet music that made anyone remember the good old doctor. Naomi was only one of his many students who went on to illustrious music careers and every year, just to remember their beloved teacher, they all gathered on the lawn of his old home and played a concert for the town’s people. What a lovely sound for a lovely man. Some people even said they could hear distant meows during the performance. No one was surprised. The cats – past, present and future – seemed happy to lend their support to honor the man loved by all.

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2 thoughts on “Flash Fiction: The Gift”

  1. Who moved my Kleenex?
    I love cats but they sure need looking after. ❤
    I guess the good doctor made sure all the cats were fixed or he'd really be in a pinch. I love a community that sticks together to help each other. A feel-good story, Len. Made me smile into my coffee mug.

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