shortly after our conversation about Anita's plans to bid
on the Waterman 58 that I picked that fight with her about
Jason Hardy's Esterbrook. It was sheer stupidity on my part,
but as Anita pointed out, I was under a lot of stress. The
fight really started when I felt I had to let her know how
awful Maggie had been. I went on at great length about it,
and she listened patiently. Finally, when I'd run out of steam,
she took a deep breath and told me what she thought.
"You may not want to hear this, Bob," she began,
"but Maggie may well be right about Betsy's leaving her
job and she is most certainly right about your taking off
a semester from school. Betsy invalidism doesn't need encouragement."
Anita was right. I didn't want to hear it. So I pretended
I hadn't. So I started in on Jason Hardy's Esterbrook. It
was simply retaliation, I realize now, but I did it anyway.
"Tell, me," I said cheerfully, "have you heard
from your greatest admirer lately?"
This was how I always started in on Jason Hardy and his fountain
Anita just glared at me.
"I understand Jason believes aliens placed that pen clip
in with the pen fragments."
She said nothing.
"Anything so he doesn't have to believe his idol is human,"
I went on. Anita knew what was coming, and as soon as she
could, she put a halt to my monologue.
she took over the driving, we went along peacefully for a
couple of hours. Then I decided we needed to stop for something
"You're always hungry, Bob," Anita teased me as
she pulled off the highway and started looking for signs of
"I'm a growing boy," I replied. "A growing
boy who has no idea where his next meal is coming from."
Much to Anita's dismay, we had to eat at a fast food restaurant.
She grimaced her way through the meal, and when we returned
to the car, she took the driver's seat.
"What are you doing?" I asked. "I'm not too
tired to drive now."
"You," she replied, "still haven't gotten it
into your head that we're not in a rush. I will not submit
to being fed fast food all the way to Indiana. We have time,
Bob, so we're getting off the highway."
I grumbled a little, but I was secretly just as glad to be
riding through small towns and countryside. The scenery was
more interesting. Highway driving is mind-numbing, especially
when traveling with someone who doesn't believe in listening
to cassettes or the radio and doesn't talk much during a drive.
Anita belongs to an old school of drivers who believe one
needs to pay strict attention to the road. I can't really
argue since she's been driving since just after World War
II and has never yet gotten ticketed for a moving violation.
In fact, I can't recall her ever getting a parking ticket
either, but that's beside the point.
"You can talk while you're driving, if you want, Bob,"
she'd say to me, "but I try to keep pointless conversation
to a minimum when I'm behind the wheel."
I couldn't really object to that, but I could tell my talking
a lot while driving made her nervous, especially if I took
my eyes off the road or my hands off the wheel. So our trip
was mostly silent. Sitting in the passenger seat, I'd make
an occasional remark about something we'd just passed, and
Anita would mumble a non-committal response.
Silence makes me sleepy so I dozed for awhile, only to wake
up when I felt the car turn, slow, and come to a gentle stop.
I opened my eyes to find Anita looking over at me.
"Pit stop?" I asked uncertainly, not yet completely
She shook her head. "Antique store," she replied
with a big grin. "Your car doesn't need to refuel as
often as mine. And I didn't drink six glasses of water with
"Your car is a boat," I replied. "And you peeled
the coating off the chicken in your sandwich so you didn't
get most of the salt."
"I still think peeling your chicken was gross,"
I teased her.
"Eating that coating they put on it would have been much
worse," she replied. "Now, let's go look for pens."
"Do you think there's a bathroom in there?" I asked
as I opened the door and got out of the car.
"Probably not one for customers, but there's a public
library about a block up the street on the left."
I stared at her, wondering if she knew how to find antique
stories and libraries in every town we'd be driving through.
"We passed the library," she explained, reading
my perplexed expression.
"And this store?"
"There was a sign for it about two miles up the road."
I nodded and we walked into "Goodson's Antiques and Collectibles."
The store was small and cramped.
"Hello, anyone here?" I called out.
There was no answer at first. Then a soft meow came from behind
the desk situated directly across from the doorway.
"Did you hear that?" I asked Anita, who had already
started towards the desk.
"Here, kitty," she said softly, squatting down right
in front of the desk. I wanted to remind her that squatting
made her stiff, but didn't have a chance. A baggy calico cat
came out from under the desk and walked right up to Anita.
At first I thought the cat had a large rat in her mouth, but
when I looked more closely I saw that it was a kitten she
carried, a black kitten with white rings around its eyes.
"What's wrong?" Anita cooed at the cat, who deposited
the kitten at her feet and replied with a plaintive mew.
Anita picked up the kitten. "Its eyes are infected and
it's severely dehydrated," she informed me. "We
need to find a vet."
The mother cat mewed again and brushed up against Anita's
leg briefly before crawling back under the desk.
"Anita," I said, "I really don't think this
is our business."
"The kitten is very ill," she replied. "I can't
just let it suffer."
I looked at her and from the stubborn set of her mouth I knew
I didn't have a choice in the matter.
"Okay, how do we find a vet?" I asked with a sigh.
"We find a phone book first," she said. "There
should be one in here someplace.
"We could ask someone," I suggested.
"I don't see anyone here besides the two of us, do you?"
she replied shortly and started to push around the piles of
papers on the large metal desk.
"I'm here," I heard a very small voice say.
I whirled around to see a child standing in a doorway at the
opposite end of the store from the door through which we had
entered. She was a little girl with red pigtails, a turned
up nose, and very large green eyes. She could have been much
more than four years old.
"My mom had to go to grammy's," she told us, "and
I was watching the store, but I felled asleep."
Anita glanced over at me and then walked over to the little
"Are you all alone here?" she asked.
The child nodded her. "Yes, mommy's at grammy's and daddy's
away getting imvemtoys for the store. He'll be back Saturday."
"Does your mother often leave you alone here?" I
asked, horrified at the idea.
Anita stared at me for a second and shook her head.
"Yes. No." The child started to look scared. "It
was a mergemcy. Grammy got sick. I didn't do nothing bad.
I just felled asleep."
Anita dropped down into a squat again and made eye contact
with the child at her own level. "Of course, not. You
were very good, not bad at all."
The child brightened at Anita's remark. "Why are you
holding the kitty?" she asked. "It's Fluffy's baby,
and mommy said not to touch them."
"This kitty is sick," Anita explained. "See
how its eyes are all messy?"
The girl nodded. "Sick kitty needs to go to the vetamim
"Veterinarian," I said, trying to be helpful.
The girl stared at me and tried again. "Vetamimam
"Yes," Anita said, giving me an exasperated look,
"we have to take the sick kitty to the cat doctor."
The child nodded. "Dr. Brown."
"Do you know where Dr. Brown's office is?" I asked
The child shook her head. "Mommy knows. She doesn't let
me come. I stay with grammy."
"Do you have a telephone?" Anita asked her.
The child nodded. "In the house."
Anita smiled at her. "Is there a book your mother looks
in before she calls on the telephone?"
The child smiled back. "In the house," she repeated.
I was about to ask her if it was okay for us to come into
the house when she turned and went back through the doorway
though which she'd entered the store. We followed her, the
kitten still in Anita's arms.
took us through a tiny living room piled high with old newspapers
and magazines into a small kitchen with mustard colored walls.
Dishes were piled high in the sink, and a stack of tabloid
newspapers lay on the table. Fortunately we didn't need to
find a telephone directory in all the clutter. Dr. Brown's
phone number was written clearly under the word "vet"
in black magic marker on a marker board hanging on the refrigerator.
Anita phoned while I, once I'd returned from a stop in the
bathroom, tried to clean the kitten's eyes with a damp paper
towel. When she got off the phone, she turned to me and said,
"One of us has to take in the mother cat and the entire
litter of kittens. Doctor's orders. The other should stay
" She turned to the little girl who was
standing in front of the stove chewing her fingernails. "I
don't even know your name, sweetheart," she said to the
The girl replied, "Needles."
"Hello, Needles," I said brightly. "My name
The girl looked offended and repeated, "Needles,"
in a louder voice. "My name isn't Needles, it's NEEdles."
I repeated the word, giving the first syllable extra emphasis
exactly as the child had done. Her expression, however, only
grew more exasperated.
Clueless, I glanced over at Anita who was grinning from ear
to ear. "Want to try again, Bob?" she asked. "What
name sounds like needles but isn't?"
I hadn't the faintest idea, but obviously Anita knew. She
leaned over and extended her hand to the child who solemnly
shook it. Then she turned to me and said, "Bob, I'd like
to introduce you to Anita."
Anita the child wanted Anita the adult to stay with her while
I took the mother cat and kittens to the vet, it didn't work
out that way, mostly because the cat refused to cooperate.
We managed to collect her and her young in a large cardboard
box, and she remained fairly quiet as long as Anita, adult
Anita, that is, was holding the box. But as soon as she handed
it to me, the mother cat began to yowl and thrash around.
"Why don't you take the box out to the car?" I suggested
to Anita, "and I'll take it from there?"
However, no sooner did Anita place the box full of felines
on the back seat, then the mother cat managed to tear through
the lid and attack me as I sat in the driver's seat and attempted
to start the car. I must have looked pitiful because Anita,
after pulling the spitting cat off my back, returning her
to the box, and pulling it shut again,, extricated me from
the driver's seat and took my place.
"It's better this way," she said. "You stay
with Anita. Make sure she gets something to eat if I'm not
back by dinner time." And with that, she pulled onto
the road, leaving me alone with the child.
"Don't be sad, Bob," the girl said, putting her
hand in mine. "Kitty will get better." With those
words she led me back into the kitchen.
"Read to me," she ordered, handing me a grimy book
of fairy tales.
She climbed up on a chair at the kitchen table, and I sat
down and began to read "The Little Mermaid" out