Charlotte couldn’t believe it, but why should today be any different than every day of her married life?
Bob, her husband of six (was it only six?) interminable years had left his miserable coffee cup in the sink for her to wash.
Washing it was no big deal. It took only a moment to rinse. But why did she have to do it? And why this beat-up old cup? There were so many dents she was surprised it held coffee anymore. The enamel had chipped off in places exposing the toxic metallic wonders beneath.
But it was Bob’s cup. It was a memento of some camping trip or war, a trophy of conquests long past.
She’d bought him plenty of cups, pretty cups, masculine mugs and cups with funny slogans. They populated the top shelf of the cupboard, never, ever used.
‘Someday soon, the thrift store will make a killing with those cups.’ Charlotte smiled grimly. ‘Let him have his cup. He’s earned it,’ she thought. ‘But I’m done with washing it.’
Charlotte had better things to do. She looked at herself in the mirror, adjusted her collar and picked up her briefcase. Her lawyer waited.
In the mirror, over her shoulder, Charlotte saw her painting on the wall. Bob didn’t like it. Or at least, he had dared to criticize it. She hung it over the fireplace out of spite.
He said he was joking but his comment was so… Bob. She felt her blood pressure rise every time it came to mind.
Bob made an off-hand comment about her style and attention to detail. If she sold it for a thousand dollars, she’d be making about two and a half cents per brush stroke. It reminded her of the Emperor telling Mozart, “Too many notes,” in the movie Amadeus.
Not that she considered herself the Mozart of painting. But she worked hard on it. And she liked it. Regardless, even at one cent per stroke (or less!), Charlotte considered it her best work.
Maybe if they had tried harder to have children. She had a closet full of maybes, neglected or forgotten.
Time to return to painting. Time for a lot of things now.
Charlotte stepped out. Bob puttered in the front garden on his knees. He worked hard, she’d give him that.
“Bo…” She almost called him ‘boy’. “Bob. I’ll be back after lunch.”
He shaded his eyes. “Okay. You sure about this?” Looking up at her, he waited for the answer.
Bob returned to his weeding. They each heard the cry and looked around.
Bob pointed at the pine tree shading the yard. Far up in the branches, a kitten could not find its way down.
“Oh, no! A kitten…”
When Charlotte spoke, Bob had already started scaling the tree. He didn’t think about it. He didn’t weigh options. In his element, he jumped into the fray and always seemed to land on his feet.
She set her briefcase down and watched from a distance. Charlotte realized she had nothing to offer but anxiety.
‘What? I’m going to catch him?’
The kitten clung to the whisper of a branch which drooped under its weight. It knew it was in trouble but didn’t understand the concept of reverse. It felt the vibration of Bob’s climbing and cried out. The branch shook at every movement.
The young branch would not hold Bob’s weight. He spoke to the kitten trying to coax it toward him but it misunderstood and moved further out.
He waved distractedly. We’ll talk later. Can’t you see I’m busy?
Bob didn’t speak, but she’d heard it.
He could see the rooftops as he tried to lift the branch to angle it toward him, but the kitten would not understand.
The tree swayed in the gentle breeze. The kitten squalled.
Standing on a lower branch and holding to the base of the kitten’s branch, Bob leaned out but came up short.
Charlotte held her breath.
She heard the crackle as the branch Bob stood on gave way. Charlotte screamed.
Bob hung onto the branch base with his right as his feet dangled crazily about. He flailed about with his left arm trying to find anything solid to grab.
His weight was more than the branch could withstand. It slowly angled down.
Feeling its tenuous perch shifting, the kitten howled in panic. It slipped and scrambled frantically trying to regain traction.
Just as the branch gave way and the kitten went airborne, Bob kicked out and the kitten sunk its claws into Bob’s leg. Trying not to shake the kitten loose, he slammed into the tree trunk. He found another handhold and then a place to stand.
The terrified kitten worked its way up Bob’s pants leg and onto his back. Blood soaked through the fabric marking the kitten’s passage.
Despite herself, Charlotte laughed, more due to nerves than amusement. She stifled it lest anyone, or her conscience, think otherwise. There was no one else around but Bob and the cat. And they were occupied.
The intricate choreography of this slow-motion dance between Bob, the cat, and the tree took on the absurd grace of a Buster Keaton film. Only there would be no way to rehearse this. Someone would have bled to death after about three run-throughs. If they didn’t break their necks in a fall.
Bob didn’t waste time getting down the tree. By the time he set foot on the ground, the terrified kitten was clinging to the back of his head.
Charlotte ran to Bob. He wasn’t yelling. But an unearthly sound came from him Charlotte had never heard. His face distorted beyond recognition. She had never seen so much blood.
He sunk to his knees and pleaded with Charlotte to get the kitten off him. She stroked the kitten and cooed to relax it and get it to retract its claws.
It finally let her lift it away from Bob. She petted it and then put it on the ground where it looked around in amazement that it had miraculously descended from the tree. It scampered off.
Bob stood and walked toward the house.
Charlotte followed him in. “Let me help you, Bob.”
“I’m okay, Char. Just a few scratches.”
“I know, just a flesh wound.” He laughed.
Charlotte wet a cloth and tried to wipe the blood off him. “Take off your clothes, Bob.”
Bob looked at her and smiled. “Not now, Hon. I have a headache.”
“No. You dope. You’re a mess. You can’t see where you’re hurt.”
“I’ll be okay. Don’t you have an appointment?”
“No. I’m just where I need to be.”