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A Time To Every Purpose VIII
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter VIII

If anyone had told me at the start of my trip that I would be spending the first night of it on a pull out sofa in the residence of a woman who'd threatened to have me arrested, I'd have thought he was crazy. But I did spend the night on the sofa in the Privett living room, and it was as comfortable as Mrs. Privett had promised. The only problem was that I didn't get to go to sleep until well after midnight. First I had to call Betsy, and then I had to listen to Mr. Privett, Stan, as he indicated I was to call him, reminisce about his days working for the phone company.
Believe it or not, I'd almost forgotten about my promise to phone Betsy every night. I'd gotten so caught up in the excitement and frustrations of the day. But Anita reminded me just before we left the McManus' residence for the night. Not for the first time did I wish I had a cell phone, so I could hide in the bathroom and make my call in private. But I didn't, so I told Mrs. Privett that I was going to use the phone and vigorously waved my phone card in front of her nose. I hadn't forgotten that she'd called me a thief.
"Oh stop that," she grumbled at me, brushing my card aside. "Just make your call and get it over with, so we can go home."
"Is there another phone in the house besides this one?" I asked, jerking my head at the contraption hanging on the kitchen wall.
"In the big bedroom," she replied, pointing.
I disappeared into the bedroom, counting on Anita to keep Mrs. Privett, whom I took to be nosy and a gossip, from listening in. Betsy answered on the first ring and greeted me with, "I was worried about you, Bob. It's late. And Maggie is sleeping."
"Well, things have been kind of chaotic here," I began.
"Where is here?" Betsy demanded. I could tell that she was settling in for the story of my day.
"Here? Well, here is a small town in Illinois," I replied.
"In other words, you have no idea where you are. Did you let that old hag drive the whole time?"
"No, but you know how I get sleepy when I can't talk or listen to the radio in the car. Now don't interrupt."
I heard her laugh, and it made my heart sing. Since she'd gotten sick, Betsy's laughter had become a rare and, to me, precious occurrence.
"Well, Anita pulled over in front of an antique store and found a mother cat with a new litter. One of the kittens was mortally ill, so she decided to take the bunch to the local vet."
Betsy groaned in mock dismay. "Oh yes, I know how she is about cats. All animals actually. Do you remember when she went up the tree during the Easter Sunday service?"
"Of course," I replied. "It was only three years ago. I'll never forget the look on everyone's face when they came out of church and saw her balancing on a limb with the cat tucked under her arm."
"Well, they couldn't excommunicate her since she doesn't go to church," Betsy replied. "Though why she happened to be walking past there right then, I don't know."
"It's located in the middle of the only green space in town," I replied. "And it was good for Trapper that she was there to save him when the Rottweiler chased him up the tree. Trapper is an old cat, and I don't think his system could have stood much more stress."
"Right," Betsy said dismissively and immediately switched gears. "So why didn't the owner of the store take the cats to the vet?"
"She was visiting her mother who has cancer. Her husband was out hunting down antiques and probably visiting his mistress. Their only representative was a four and a half year old girl, their daughter."
"She left a four and half year old alone in a store?"
"Gee, I guess I'm not the only one who finds that strange. What a relief!"
I told Betsy the rest of the story of Needles, Mrs. Privett, and 'The Little Mermaid', not leaving out the alarming details of Needles' parents marital arrangement."
"Well, if she stays with him while he's running around on her, it's her own fault," Betsy said. "Some women are just doormats."
Nothing like Betsy for sympathy, I thought, but I said nothing. Like Ellen McManus, I knew what I was getting when I married her.
"So you're really staying overnight with that weird woman?"
"She's actually not… Well, I won't say she's not weird, but at least she's responsible. And a great cook."
Betsy laughed. "Sometimes I think you should have married Julia Child."
"Never!" I replied, and we ended our conversation with protestations of undying affection and my promise to phone again the next evening, but at an earlier hour.
When I returned to the kitchen, Anita, apparently under the expert supervision of Mrs. Privett, who hadn't moved an inch since I left to phone Betsy but was loudly offering suggestions, was setting up a warm box for Fluffy and her offspring near the stove.
"Ah, there you are, Bob," Anita said, straightening up from her task. "Mrs. Privett told me that there is a young lady named Teresa who usually does some light housecleaning in here and looks after Anita when Ellen has to be out. Teresa was not feeling well today but expects to be back tomorrow. She'll return the cat carrier to Dr. Brown, so we can be on our way at a decent hour."
I nodded, wondering what Mrs. Privett herself did all day that made her too busy to run such an errand. "Well, Betsy is awake, but Maggie is asleep, and I have to remember to phone earlier tomorrow night," I announced. "We can go now."
Mrs. Privett grumbled something like, "Look who's giving orders," but she handed me the empty stew pot and the cake pan, gave Anita little Needles' pajamas, teddy bear, and toothbrush, and led the way out the door with keys in hand and the child draped over her shoulder.

Once I was finally allowed to go to sleep, I slept like the proverbial log, awakening only once, just as the sun was rising. I'm not sure I really did wake up. Perhaps what I experienced was a dream, and I only thought I was awakened by a thump on the sofa and a tugging on my blanket. I grunted and tried to turn over, but whoever or whatever it was had settled next to my shoulder, and I couldn't move. I felt another tug, then another, then thought or dreamed that I heard a child's voice murmuring, "Read to me! Read to me! Read to me!" I did not open my eyes. I just took a deep breath and began to produce snoring sounds, in the hopes of convincing my tormentor, if indeed there was one, that I was asleep. I heard a giggle, felt a few more tugs, and then heard the pattering of small feet. After than came silence.
It was nearly eight when I was awakened by the sound of the telephone and the smell of fresh coffee. I stretched, scratched, and stretched again, then stood up and wandered into the kitchen. Mrs. Privett was standing at the stove, wigless, and in a very tame pair of black pants and a light blue short-sleeved sweater. Her hair was very short but not at all grey. It was actually a natural, or at least very natural looking blonde. Her portable phone, however, was anything but tame. It was a hot pink plastic hippopotamus. I did a double take since I'd never seen anything like it. When I was finally able to tear my eyes away from the phone, I saw that Mrs. Privett's expression was very serious. She said, "Yes, I see," into the phone several times and then hung up.
"Coffee?" she asked, handing me a mug. "Help yourself. I'm cooking up some pancakes. Your friend is in there with Anita. The child doesn't feel well this morning. Too much excitement yesterday, no doubt," she add, looking at me accusingly.
I went over to the coffee-maker and poured myself a full mug.
"Milk's in the fridge and sugar's on the table," she said absentmindedly.
"Is Mr. Privett out this morning?" I asked, trying to make polite conversation.
"At the drugstore," she said shortly. "He needs to get his blood pressure medicine refilled. He'll be home soon."
I nodded. "What's the matter with Needles, uh, I mean, Anita?" I said after my first sip of coffee.
"I'm not sure, but if it's what I think it is, we're in for trouble."
I stared blankly at her.
"The child said she had a sore throat and felt hot. She was running a fever. Then Teresa phoned this morning and said she wouldn't be in today. She's been diagnosed with measles." Mrs. Privett snorted. "I'll just bet she gave them to Anita."
Mrs. Privett nodded and handed me a plate of pancakes. " Butter and syrup are on the table. I hope you had them as a child because they're hell for adults."
For a moment I thought she was asking if I'd had butter and syrup as a child, but the rest of the sentence didn't make sense, so I decided she was talking about measles. I'd had a whole array of childhood diseases, but I wasn't sure measles was one of them. I sat down at the table and shrugged. "No reason to assume that even if Needles catches it, I will too."
Mrs. Privett just laughed at me. "Anita," she said, pronouncing the name distinctly, "drools on that book. She falls asleep with it on her face. She looks at the pictures in it while sitting on the toilet. You spent the whole afternoon with that book in your hands, Mister. If she's got measles, you've certainly been exposed." She smirked at me. "You don't know if you had them as a child, do you?"
I smiled as I ate my pancakes. "I had most of the childhood diseases."
"I'm not talking about most; I'm talking about measles," she said emphatically. "M-E-A-S-L-E-S."
"I really don't need a spelling lesson," I replied, wishing that the adult Anita would come into the kitchen and rescue me.
"No, but you might just need a lesson in common sense," Mrs. Privett barked at me. "You're going to visit a friend, Miss Carswell told me. Do you know or even care if he's had the measles? And then you're off to a pen show where hundreds and maybe thousands of people will be exposed to any infectious diseases you carry. Mister, that is neither responsible not ethical."
I rolled my eyes, wishing she's stop addressing me as "mister,", and for once all my wishes came true. Anita walked into the room, and Mrs. Privett stopped talking.
"She's sleeping," Anita said. "I think we should take her to the doctor."
Mrs. Privett nodded. "I agree."
Anita looked over at me. "Why don't you call Stew and ask him if he's had the measles?"
I rolled my eyes again. "We don't know that the child has measles," I protested. "Does she have spots?"
Anita smiled sadly. "No, we're not positive yet, but she won't break out in a rash for about three days after the first symptoms. Still, I'd say the chances are pretty good."
"Jesus H. Christ!" I bellowed, heartily wishing I had something to kick. I ignored Mrs. Privett's appalled expression and continued to blaspheme, rather amusingly, I thought, though neither woman appeared at all amused. "Christ in a shitty pigsty! Can't anything ever be simple? You had to take the goddamned cats to the vet and leave me with that…that…lunatic of a child," I ranted. "And now we may not get to see Stew, and this creature is telling me that going to the pen show wouldn't be responsible or ethical." I took a deep breath and was about to continue, but Anita reached out at put her hand on my arm.
"You've said enough, Bob," she reprimanded me. "Mrs. Privett has been very hospitable. There's no need to be rude."
I glared at Anita for a minute and then looked away. She was always able to stare me down.
"I'll get Stew's number," I mumbled and slunk out into the living room.

When I returned to the kitchen Mrs. Privett had gone. "I don't want to use this ridiculous pink hippo!" I snarled at Anita.
"Use the one in the bedroom then, Bob," she replied calmly enough, but I could tell she thought I was overreacting.
"I'm not overreacting," I snarled at her. "This was supposed to be a nice, relaxing break for me. Instead I'm taking a kid with measles to the doctor."
Anita sighed. "It will be a new experience for you, Bob."
"And for you?" I challenged her.
She smiled. "I have, as you know, two nieces and I nursed them both through chicken pox and measles. Dora's brothers sent their kids to us when they had mumps, measles, German measles, and chicken pox. I've done my share of taking care of sick children. Among the four of them they had ten kids, and all of the kids had most of the childhood diseases. Fortunately the grandchildren were all immunized. I'm surprised," she continued, "that Anita wasn't."
"So you've been exposed to them before," I stated, though I really meant to ask.
"Yes," she replied. "But I'd had all of them as a child. Except for mumps. For some reason I never caught the mumps."
I shuddered. "I don't remember what I had as a child," I admitted. "To be honest, my biggest worry is the chance of bringing some disease back to Betsy. That's all she'd need."
"Well," Anita said quietly, "one of the reasons I offered to take our little friend to the doctor is so that I could ask a few questions about the length of time one has to wait after exposure to know if one will or will not come down with measles. I seem to remember that it was slightly over a week, but I'm not certain."
I nodded. "Okay," I said. "I'm sorry I'm being such a pain. It's just that Mrs. P. really rubs me the wrong way."
Anita laughed. "But, Bob," she teased, "don't you just love the wig and that exquisite telephone?
I shook my head and headed over to the hippo as she left to get Needles ready to go out, laughing all the while.

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