Captain’s Christmas: Chapter Two

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She woke to music. She hadn’t heard music like this except once, when her mom took her to the concert hall with the golden chandelier in the city.

The room she slept in had a tall window, all the way up to the ceiling. It looked out on a jungle, with flowers and ferns and a wild white panther with a black tail racing down the path.

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She supposed she might as well go find some food. She’d skipped supper the night before, and she felt so hungry that she thought maybe she was ill.

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She followed the music, thinking it would take her to Great Uncle Jacob.

A fluffy white cat with a raccoon tail sat on the edge of the couch, glaring at her as she walked past.

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A fluffy orange cat, with an orange raccoon tail, sat guarding the fridge, giving her the stink-eye.

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The black-tailed panther sat on the kitchen high-back, looking at her with curiosity.

“I’m just a girl!” she said. “No need to stare.”

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Great Uncle Jacob sat at the piano in the front parlor. Sarah knelt on the high-back sofa and peered over the back at him.

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She didn’t know what fancy music it was that he played, but it did funny things to her ears. If ears could taste, then this would be sweeter than the sweetest salt-water taffy.  She closed her eyes to see the swirling colors: pink, purple, green, blue, with starbursts of yellow and red.

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He stopped when he saw her peeking above the sofa back.

“Hungry, Captain?” he asked.

She nodded. She wanted to ask him about the music, but he was already making his way to the cupboard.

“Go sit,” he said.

She sat on the couch, and the panther followed her and jumped up beside her.

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“Hi, cat,” she said. “I don’t know your name. I am Sarah Seriph.”

The panther growled.

“I didn’t mean to make you mad,” she said. “I’m trying to be friendly.”

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The panther hissed.

“OK, OK!” Sarah said. “I won’t try to be your friend! Geez!”

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“Pippa,” Great Uncle Jacob said when he brought in Sarah’s breakfast, “settle.”

The panther grumbled and lay down.

“Not used to company,” he said.

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When Sarah finished her cereal and washed her bowl, she asked Great Uncle Jacob, “What are my rules?”

“Rules?”

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“Like, where can I go, where can I not go?”

“Captain, we’re on an island. No other people around. Anywhere you can go, you can go. ”

“Aren’t you scared I’ll fall and break my leg?”

“Nope,” he said. “You’ll take care.”

She breathed it in for a moment: No rules.

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That meant, she was free!

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The panther and the white raccoon pounced on each other in the kitchen. They didn’t seem quite so frightening when they played like kittens.

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Then Pippa turned and hissed at her.

“All right! I was just leaving!” Sarah ran through the front parlor and into the jungle.

The fountain roared like a waterfall, and the air was warm, heavy, and moist.

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It smelled like candy left overnight in a wet pocket: sweet and musty all at once.

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Crickets chirped, even though it was winter outside.

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She followed a red brick path around and between the flower beds. Fairy lanterns lighted the way.

One path led to a long room, lined with work tables and all sorts of potted plants.

“This must be the plant hospital,” she said. She walked to each, offering some a sip of water, others a kind word, and still others a song.

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A funny green dwarf looked at her bossily. “Don’t worry!” she said. “I’m not breaking any rules, for I haven’t got any to break!”

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When she left the room, Pippa stood guarding the door leading back to their living area.

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“Shoo, cat!” Sarah whispered. The panther sat down in the middle of the path.

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A tall madrona grew in the center of the tower, its limbs spaced like ladder rungs.

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Sarah climbed easily, step after step.

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Soon she was up in the tree’s crown, higher than the neighboring hemlock,  where the hot air smelled like dried apples and cinnamon, and when she looked down, the panther was no bigger than a mouse.

“Ha!” Sarah called down. “I am not afraid of you!”

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She climbed until she could climb no higher, and she looked out the tower windows, out past the dock, past the breakwaters, across the straights to the mainland then over the hills, imagining that she could see the city beyond, and out past the city, down a quiet road, where the white hospice stood under the beech trees, and where her Gran lay beneath a log cabin quilt, while her mother sat beside her, singing softly and talking.

“Oh, come back!” Sarah prayed. “Come back before Christmas, with Gran, too, all well again!”

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Captain’s Christmas: Chapter One

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“There’s the island,” Sarah’s mother said, as they stood on the prow of the trawler. “You can see the lighthouse.”

“But I don’t want to be on the island,” said Sarah, “not without you. Can’t I stay with you?”

“We’ve been through this so many times,” her mother said. “A hospice is no place for a child.”

“I’d rather be there, with you and Gran, than stuck out here with Great Uncle Jacob. I don’t even know him,” she whispered.

Sarah glanced behind her at the old man at the captain’s wheel.

“But I know him,” said Sarah’s mother. “I spent one long summer with him on the island, when I was not much older than you, and it was–”

“–the best summer of your life,” said Sarah. “I know. I heard the story before.” Only a million times.

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They pulled away from shore, heading to the straights. Sarah looked back, wishing the mainland wouldn’t recede, wishing she could stay, wishing that Gran were well, like every other year, so they could spend the Christmastime at her house, with the tree, the stockings, the roast beef, and the tiny Cornish game hens, all golden and stuffed with chestnuts and raisins.

“Does he know how to cook?” Sarah whispered. They’d probably be eating out of cans.

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“Hey, there,” said a gruff voice. “Will ya steer the ship?”

The island hovered in the mist like a home for forgotten selkies.

“He’s talking to you,” said Sarah’s mother. “Go on, you can drive the boat!”

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“All right,” said Sarah. “What do I do?”

He showed her where to place her hands.

“That way,” he said, pointing to a cove behind the breakwater.

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Steering the ship was easy. Sarah leaned into the wheel. Now and then a wave or current moved the wheel, and she had to push against it with all her weight.

Her mother talked softly with Great Uncle Jacob.

Sarah tried not to listen, for it was about Gran and how even the cheerful nurse didn’t hold out hope anymore. But Sarah could still hope, if she didn’t hear what they said.

Seagulls called.

“Easy now,” Great Uncle Jacob said, standing behind her. “Steady round the rocks.”

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She guided the boat into the cove.

“Mighty well done, Captain,” he said. “I’ll take her into the dock, then.”

Sarah stood beside her mother in the bow. “There’s the conservatory! Your room will be in the back, with the living area.”

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If staying there hadn’t meant being apart from her mom, Sarah would have been jumping with excitement. The conservatory rose like a palace tower, with cheerful fairy windows looking out upon the bay.

As it was, she swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked away a few tears.

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She kept her head down as she shuffled up the path. Maybe if she walked slowly enough, her mother would miss the mailboat and have to stay the night.

When her mother showed her her room, she sat on the bed. She wouldn’t say goodbye.

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Her mother and Great Uncle Jacob shared a pot of tea in the kitchen. And then the mailboat blew its horn and there were hurried kisses and promises of phone calls.

“Come get me before Christmas!” Sarah said, between sobs.

“If I’m able,” said her mom. “If I can.”

Then she was gone, and the house was quiet.

Sarah got into her PJs and crawled under the quilt. Time would pass faster, if she were asleep.

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Puppy Love 4

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Mochi sat in the tall grasses at the edge of the field waiting. For what? For Nibbler and Babe to come romping up the hill? For Majora to flush out a mouse? Whomever she waited for never came.

She had the saddest eyes I’d ever seen.

We had to do something. So when Tanvi took Bosko for his evening walk, I rode along on the breeze.

You’ve always wanted a cat, I whispered to her. We have room now!

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When we spied a fine tuxedoed Tom following her, I whispered to Bosko, Kitty! Go make friends!

He stopped and turned towards the Tom.

“What’s this now, Boskie? You like that cat?”

Bosko woofed.

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I liked the cat, too. He had a long tale to tell of fishing boats and salmon heads, lobster traps and bait, wharf mice and cans of beer.

“Would you like to come home with us?” Tanvi asked, but he turned and trotted off, too fond of his scavenging days to trade them in for a full dinner bowl and a quilted bed.

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Head on down to the wharf, I whispered to Tanvi.

Near the fishmonger’s stall, she met a white Cornish Rex.

“You’re beautiful,” she said.

But the Rex hissed at her and arched his back at Bosko before dashing under the stacked crab pots.

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A beautiful Himalayan trotted by.

Quick! Introduce yourself! I whispered, but it was too late. She’d passed us by.

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Beside a pile of yesterday’s bait sat a white-faced Maine coon cat.

Oh, he’s lovely, I whispered to Tanvi.

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Bosko seemed to like him, but the cat gave Bosko the stink-eye.

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Look, trash! I whispered to Bosko, to distract him from the cat.

“Oh, aren’t you something!” Tanvi said. “Yes, you like me, too, don’t you!”

And the coon cat did seem to like Tanvi, unlike the Rex, who had come up behind Tanvi, growling quietly under his breath.

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But the coon cat, too, trotted off before Tanvi could suggest that he might follow them home for a proper meal and a fur-brushing.

I blew home before them to do some thinking. There’s nothing like slipping inside of an object, especially one that carries symbolic significance, like a supper bowl, to do some serious pondering.

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She would just have to try again. It was that simple.  I realized that this would take an actual conversation, not just my subtle whispers.

By the time I slid out of the bowl, Tanvi had already gone to sleep.

But Lucas was awake. He would deliver my message. I joined him for a midnight snack in the front garden.

“How is Tanvi?” I asked.

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“She’s all right?” he said. “Well, not really? The doctor says she’s got something with her heart?”

“Oh, but she seems so strong!”

“She is!” Lucas said. “I think she’s OK really? What do doctors know.”

“Did she tell you she always wanted another cat?” I said. “But we didn’t have room. We have room now.”

Lucas brightened at that.

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“I’d love another cat!” he said.

“You know,” I prompted, “she might not feel like she should get one, if she’s worried about her health. But, personally, I think a household cat would be the best medicine!”

“Of course it would!” Lucas said. “And Mochi’s lonely, too? And I miss Majora? If we got a new cat, we’d all be happy! Bosko and Bartie, too!”

“There are so many cats down at the wharf,” I said. “Maybe you should suggest to her that she take a walk down there tomorrow.”

“That’s a great idea!” Lucas said.

“And maybe,” I suggested, “this time Bosko should stay home.”

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When the sun came up, I hovered, formless and unseen, at the edge of the breakfast table.

“Mochi is lonely,” Lucas said. “She misses Majora.”

“I do, too,” said Tanvi.

“Maybe we could get another cat.”

“Really?” Tanvi perked up. “I’ve always wanted another cat.”

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So after breakfast, leaving Bosko, Bartholomew, and Mochi at home with Lucas, Tanvi walked back down to the wharf, and I followed on the breeze.

We found a beautiful spotted cat. I fell in love. But she trotted off before agreeing to come home with Tanvi.

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I suppose some cats like their freedom. They may like pets and kind words, but they also like the big sky, the sea breeze, the seagulls’ call. They like the tall scaffolding and the empty crates, the moonlight and the night prowls.

But some cats like a warm bed and a dry house.

A beautiful cat, with the face of an otter and the thick fur of a coatimundi, slowly approached Tanvi.

“Aren’t you sweet?” Tanvi said.

And the cat mewed back in echo.

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Oh, Tanvi, she loves you! I whispered.

And it did indeed seem that she did.

“Would you like to belong with us?” Tanvi asked. “That is, we would belong to you!”

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The otter-cat mewed back and pawed at Tanvi’s knee.

“You want to be picked up, do you?” Tanvi asked.

Otter snuggled into the crook of her arm and batted at her hair.

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“Then it’s a deal!” Tanvi said.

Before turning back home, I saw sorrow’s shadow behind Tanvi’s eyes. It’s a look I know well. She’d be joining me soon, and right then, she was taking it all in, believing it possible that this might be the last time she would see the wharf with her own two eyes.

We have different eyes, in the After, eyes not of the body but of the soul. And they see even more true. They see through it all to beauty. Tanvi didn’t know that yet, but she would soon.

And Otter? Otter had eyes of love, the happy eyes of a cat who has finally found a home.

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