Hello, Dolly

They play it indoors using a small wooden bat and a wrist band as the ball, and they call it wrist band baseball. They used to play it in the living room when they lived in San Antonio. If you hit the wrist band into the lowest basket of the hanging fruit basket, you got a double; the middle basket was a triple; the top basket was a home run. If you hit the door to the garage on the other side of a kitchen in the air, that was also a home run.

In their new house in Corpus Christi, they have new furniture and Mom has banned wrist band baseball in the front room–they are only allowed to play in the garage. It’s a three-car garage, and they keep no cars in there. Rather, they have laid down carpet leftover from its removal in the front room (they installed new carpet in the house). At the back of the garage is a wet bar that the previous owners had in the dining room, but since they don’t drink, they had it pulled out and stored at the back. Their mother sewed bases for them to practice at the park, and the garage is so large that they can use those. They also have a home plate from a local sporting goods store.

There are two downsides to the garage–it has no air conditioning and gets absurdly hot during the day, and an odd smell started shortly after they moved in and has gotten gradually worse. Sometimes, they open one or both of the big doors to help with both problems, but then the dogs come in and steal the wrist band while they are playing.

Today, they are playing with the door shut. They are a couple of innings in when the boy comes to the plate, Stephen serves up a meatball, and the boy rips a bullet. It soars the length of the garage, lands on the wet bar, then slides over the side and disappears behind it.

“Home run!” the boy shouts, and he rounds the bases while Stephen trots over to grab the wrist band. As he gets there, Stephen hollers, “Dude, Gordon, I think you better come see this.”

The boy touches home plate, then walks over. “What’s up?”

“Check it out,” says Stephen, standing back up after looking behind the wet bar. “I can’t tell where the wrist band is cuz there’s, like, stuff back there.”

The young man squats and looks under the wet bar counter. The area is dark, and the boy squints. A powerful smell reaches him, and he mutters, “Dude, what’s that smell? It freaking reeks. And what are those piles?”

As his eyes adjust, it hits him. “Ah, dude. Those are piles of poop.”

“What?” says Stephen.

“That’s why Panther’s litter box is never dirty. She’s not pooping outside. She’s pooping out here.”

“You sure it’s not Blackie?”

“No way. His litter box gets used, and we see him using it.” The boy steps back. “We better go tell Mom.”

A few minutes later, they are standing at the wet bar. Mom moves it away from the wall, and now the light pours in on what have to be at least thirty piles of cat poop.

“Damnation!” Mom hisses. “That damn cat.”

She turns and storms toward the indoors. “Come on, you two! I’ll get rolls of paper towels, the scrubber brush, and the cleaner. You two get that damn cat and meet me back here. And get the spray bottle!”

The latest fad in cat training is to punish by spraying with a water bottle. Cats hate water, and it’s supposed to be harmless.

They all converge back at the wet bar. Stephen has Panther, and the boy has the water bottle. Mom has the cleaning supplies.

“Come here, Panther,” Mom says. Stephen hands her over, and Mom lowers her to the ground, takes her by the scruff of the neck, points her nose to the first pile, and sprays her.

“No!” she hollers.

Then to the next pile. Then then next pile. And the next. And the next. Panther is dripping water, hissing, and scratching Mom’s arm trying to get away. Mom is impervious until, after seven or eight piles, Panther frees her head enough to bite her.

“Dammit!” Mom hollers, and Panther bolts.

“Come on,” Mom growls. “Let’s get started cleaning.”

“Should I get Panther again?” Stephen says.

“No,” says Mom. “Go put her out front. She’ll be lucky if I let her back in for a week.”

Stephen disappears for a few minutes and then returns. Almost all of the mess is old, so it is practically cooked into the carpet. Clumps come up easily, but each pile has something that sticks and requires a scrubber to try to get out. They all sweat like crazy, and they quickly go through a full roll of paper towels and start on another. As they make headway, the area begins to smell less like cat poop and more like carpet cleaner. Mom mutters and swears with each new pile that is twisted into the carpet or leaves a stain. It takes at least an hour to get the piles off the floor and at least some level of cleaner on each.

“The carpet isn’t a big deal,” Mom says. “But we don’t want to leave her smell out here so that she does it again.”

“We’re still gonna keep her?” Stephen says.

“I’m tempted not to,” Mom says. She looks at him. “And don’t let her out in the garage if you can help it at all. That means, stop leaving the door open when you come out to the freezer to get stuff. She’s quiet and crafty. She sneaks out.”

“Okay, Mom,” Stephen says.

Stephen spends the remainder of the day worried about Panther’s fate and wandering around the front yard to figure out where she is and when she will be home. She returns in the late evening, and she goes quickly to his bedroom to hide under the bed.

That night, the boy is in bed, and Dad comes in to wish him goodnight. They say a few things to each other about the day, and then Dad says, “Well, goodnight, Son.”

As he turns to leave, the boy says, “Hey, Dad?”

Dad stops and turns around. “Yeah?”

“Did you hear about Panther pooping in the garage?”

“Yep.”

The boy takes a deep breath. “Is Mom gonna get rid of Panther? Stephen really loves her.”

Dad steps back toward him. He sits down on the bed at the boy’s feet. “Let me tell you something about Panther. I never thought much of her. She hides a lot. She obviously has the litter box problem. But think about this.” He pats the boy’s leg. “A few weeks ago on a Saturday, your sister came strolling into the front room. And she was pushing a stroller. I thought she had a dolly in it. But she gets it close to me, and it’s not a dolly–it’s Panther. And your sister has Panther dressed head to toe in a doll’s outfit–dress, booties, a little cap, the whole kit and kaboodle. And I saw that and thought, ‘Any cat that will let a girl dress her up in a doll’s outfit and push her around in a stroller without clawing, biting, or even trying to run away is okay with me.'”

“Oh wow,” says the boy. “I didn’t know that.”

Dad pats his leg again, stands up, and says, “Love you, Son. Goodnight.”

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