After her retirement as professor of post-modern philosophy at the university, Clarice Tempest promised herself that when the tasks of daily maintenance caused too much physical pain to her arthritic hands and limbs, she’d seek a caretaker.
She put it off as long as she could.
When it hurt to use the manual can-opener, she bought an electric one. When she could no longer unscrew jars, she stopped eating processed foods–everything fresh was healthier, anyway. But when it began to hurt to hang the laundry on the clothesline, she realized that the time had probably come.
The forgetfulness didn’t help matters.
“What am I doing here, Wolfie?” She asked her Abyssinian when she found herself standing in the kitchen.
The electric tea maker beeped.
“What is that? What’s that noise?”
Wolfie meowed and pointed his nose towards the appliance.
“Tea, what a brilliant suggestion, cat!” She poured herself a steaming cup of green Darjeeling.
Tea helps everything, she thought. But it didn’t. It didn’t help her to remember, or if it did, not enough, and it didn’t make the pain go away, or if it did, not sufficiently. She needed more help than could be delivered by dried leaves steeped in hot water.
The boys, her neighbors, were glad to hear she’d come to her senses.
“About time,” said one of them. She could never remember their names.
Brant and Bradley. Brick and Breck. Brent and Brian. They had the same last name, though they weren’t brothers. She called them Sonny and Lad. Mr. Sonny. Mr. Lad. Nicknames were a face-saver, masking the repeated lapse.
At any rate, they were glad to hear she was ready to bring in help.
“Hallelujah!” applauded Mr. Sonny.
“We know just the person,” said Mr. Lad.
Clarice felt bashful. They were prepared for this? Had they been expecting it along? Was it that obvious that she couldn’t care for herself, her dog, and her cat any more?
“He’s one of Brant’s students,” said Lad. “Oh! You’ll like this! He’s a philosophy major!”
“I started asking around after we talked about this last,” Mr. Sonny said.
Wait. They’d talked about this? She’d asked him to help find someone? She played along.
“He’s a great kid,” Mr. Sonny continued. “Junior. Good student. I’m his adviser. Get this: when he was in my research practicum, he wrote his paper on your book.”
Did anyone even read The Paradox of Wittgenstein: Transcending the Limitations of the Dialectic? Apparently so. It was flattering and slightly worrying. Suppose the boy wanted to talk about her thesis. Could she even recall it?
They agreed that Mr. Sonny could arrange for the student to come by, if he were still interested.
“A short interview is all that’s needed,” Clarice said. “I’ll know right away. Either he’ll fit, or he won’t.”
When he showed up after classes two days later, with a white dog in an absurd red shark costume, Clarice wasn’t so sure. By appearances, this would definitely not work out. But still, appearances could be misleading sometimes. She had to concede that she didn’t know right away, but she was willing to give the boy, as ridiculous as he seemed, a chance.
The dog raced past her, through the open door and into the house, as she walked out to greet them. No matter. Her shepherd, Wittgenstein, would keep this rogue mutt in line.
It was his get-up that made the boy ridiculous–a clown-colored shirt on his body, baby blue Punjabi jutti on his feet, and cat’s ears on his head.
“I’m kinda excited to meet you, Dr. Tempest,” he said. “Like, as in, sorta thrilled!” He giggled.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, young man,” she said.
“Oh, you can call me–” and he said a name. Surely it was a good name, starting with a vowel. Not an A. Maybe an O. Or maybe an E. Yes, it was an E name. But Clarice couldn’t remember it for the life of her.
She called him Cat-ears.
“Might as well come inside, Cat-ears,” she said, “so we can figure out if this will work or not.”
When they got inside, they found that Sharkfin–he had another name, but she could never remember it–was charming Wolfie and Wittgenstein.
“Aw,” said Cat-ears. “You’ve got a really pretty dog. I’ve always loved Australian shepherds.”
And Sharkfin didn’t even get jealous when his master knelt down to share some love with the spotted dog.
He was sweet, she had to admit that, and she’d always had a soft spot for sweet boys.
Author’s note: What’s this? A new story? It’s another Bonus Short! I hope you enjoy it. The awesome Emery (Cat-Ears) and Dilbert (Sharkfin) were game-generated, in these lovely get-ups, as if the game knew what story it wanted me to write.