Friday 10 February 2023

The Cats Brought Guests by Peter Eckblad, champagne,

 I put the baseball game on the television, settled into the couch, and unrolled the paper. That’s when I 

heard the familiar wet convulsions followed by a cough and a plop. Link, our male black cat, had 

yakked up a hairball. I smiled and put down the paper.

“Sally!” I said. My wife stuck her head into the living room.

“We’d better get ready. People are coming over.”

This was routine at our house. When one of our cats coughed up a hairball, it was always followed by guests appearing. I am convinced that this was not a coincidence. I’m just wondering about the cats’ motives.

Just two weeks ago, Link had coughed up a hairball on Sunday afternoon. Sally and I had  sprung into action. We quickly mixed up some dips, put out crackers, and chilled some wine before the doorbell rang. I opened the door and a group of friends from church were standing outside, smiling broadly.

“Come in!” I said. “We’ve been expecting you.”

Karen and Will were the first to enter. They had just celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. They were a thoughtful couple who found beauty in things that others overlooked. 

“Thank you, Peter, for having us over,” said Karen. “We were just going to go home after our Sunday class but then Pastor Sue said we were all invited to your house. We were delighted because we just love coming here.”

“Ditto!” someone yelled out.

Pastor Sue nodded and said, “We feel so drawn here.” She and her husband Terry came in and were followed by others carrying folding chairs. Everyone shook our hands and exuberantly expressed greetings.

Our friends were setting up their chairs around the TV when we heard the wet convulsions, cough, and plop. There was a hairball in front of the bathroom door.

“OK,” I said to the group. “It’s a hairball. It doesn’t mean the party’s over.”

“It means the party’s just getting started!” yelled out Pastor Sue with her arms thrust into the air.

I placed the hairball gently in my hands and went to each guest to show them that the ingested hair, and whatever else, was not anything foul or disgusting. I placed it on a paper plate and people continued to pass it around as they snacked on cheese and crackers. I was pleased when they nodded approvingly before turning their attention back to the Brewers game. People left, feeling happy and satisfied.

            Now, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, Link had yakked up another one. 

            “Well,” I said to Sally. “I wonder who it will be today?”

            I took the hamburgers that I had ordered from Imperfect Foods out of the fridge and seasoned them. I turned on the TV and put on the Summer Olympics.

            Luckily, Link had thrown up early enough so that I had time to make tuna salad and deviled eggs. The anticipation was mounting. In the living room,  I worked off tension by mimicking the movements of the young lady on the uneven bars.

Soon, the doorbell rang. Our pastor was there and she had brought the Bible study group with her. Sally led them into the living room. Pastor Sue said, “I hate to barge in, but when we finished with Bible study we prayed for God’s guidance…and He led us here!”

            “That’s wonderful!” I said, climbing down from the uneven bars. “We had a heads up that you were coming. I’ll put the hamburgers on the grill. Who wants cheese?” All hands went up.

            After grilling, I took the cheeseburgers into the kitchen and that’s when I heard it. The familiar wet convulsions, cough, and plop. I ran into the living room.

            “Who threw up a hairball?” I asked.

            There was silence as everyone avoided eye contact. The only noise was from the gymnast finishing her performance.

            Karen finally said, “It was her.” She pointed at Hardees, our little black and white female tuxedo, who was looking pretty smug.

            Will said, “Just look at that vomit. I’m speechless!”

            I got on the floor and opened my magnifying glass.

            “Yeah, this one is special alright,” I said. “It seems to have several layers. Kind of a subtle complexity.”

“It’s a beauty that transcends words!” said Will, howling with delight and slapping his knee.

            I started to tear paper towels off the roll.

“*Don’t*!” said Karen. “Leave it. Will is right. That’s not just an amazing hairball, it’s…Olympic!” The rest of the group nodded in agreement and I left the hairball alone, the object of murmuring admiration and light applause.

The gymnast stuck her landing and gave a thumbs up.

            Will grinned and said, “It reminds me of the time I found that big ball of pee in the cat box when we were using that clumping cat litter.” He looked at Karen and said, “Remember? It was kind of art deco?”

            “Yes, we still have that one, Will,” said Karen, smiling.

            “Sounds like this hairball would go nicely with the urine ball,” said Pastor Sue. “I was going to ask if I could have it but you two should really take it home.”

            I felt a real connection to the group and said, “Seems everyone here is a hairball person.”

            Everyone nodded. Terry said, “Yes, I guess we are. I didn’t know that we all had that in common.” Terry thought some more and said, “You can feel that sense of community.”

            I went into the kitchen where both of my cats were waiting patiently for dinner. Neither one was throwing up as I heard convulsions, coughs, and plops coming from the living room. I smiled and gathered up some Tupperware. 

About the author

Peter Eckblad was a school social worker for nearly 30 years and has recently retired. Years ago, his poems appeared in Pudding Magazine, The Archer, Voices International, and Wind. He has decided to try writing again and recently published a piece of flash fiction in Flash Fiction Magazine. 

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