December 17, 2015: Sybil’s Christmas Box

~by Louis Templeman

“Oh, man! Mom, you should have seen Ol’ Mr. Grumpy just now.”

“Oh, Sybil. Don’t call him that.”

Sybil opened the recliner and turned backwards with her head on the foot rest and her feet angling towards the back. Her mother walked past, slapping at her feet to indicate she should sit upright in the chair. “You talked to Mr. Nemeth?”

“Yeah, his cat just died.” She felt the silent depth of her statement as she watched the dust mites dance in their slow float through the reflected light from the window. “I felt real bad for him. It looked like he was gonna cry when he told me.” She let that thought hang for a moment. Even for her that seemed like a stretch to paint Nemeth as a sympathetic figure. As far as she knew she was the only one who spoke to him except her Dad who, when he visited every other week, would talk to him about the Gators. “I guess he really loved Biscuit.”

“Well,” replied her mother, “you know, I think I heard he had a son. But, he’s been gone for years. And, his wife died just after we moved here. You wouldn’t remember. You were only three.”

“I remember her. I think” She listened to the quiet and waited for her mother to say something. No reply. Sybil heard dishes being washed in the sink. She grabbed her mother’s phone and began poking at the keyboard and staring at the screen.

After what seemed like a long stretch of time her mother called out, “Check on your cats.”

“How come every time there’s something to do they’re my cats?”

“That’s life. Get used to it.”

She dropped the phone on the couch and walked outside to the back porch. She rushed back in holding a kitten in her arm. In a voice edged in alarm she cried, “Mom! There’s only this one left. There were three yesterday.” Her mother did not turn around right away. Evidently not as big a deal to her. “Mom! Please!”

“What in the world do you want me to do about it? We’re not the only ones who use that porch. Someone helped themselves to a couple of cats. Saves us the trouble.” The girl kept frowning while cuddling the kitten which was snuggling into her fingers as she massaged behind its ears. “You need to rub that thing and its mother down with flea powder and look for someone to take it off our hands. And, we need to find some place to spay that prolific mama cat.” A short pause ensued as the child caressed the kitten. She brightened as if inventing a scheme. She was quickly interrupted, “No! Absolutely not. You cannot keep it.” The child’s bright eyes and affect immediately flattened. She turned. Walked outside and slumped on the back porch steps.

She spied Mr. Nemeth across the fence as he took his garbage out. She was feeling bad. For herself. For her kitten, who was now homeless. And for her neighbor who appeared so lonely. She wanted to lift his spirits but felt so impoverished in hope herself she didn’t know what to say. She would have lost the opportunity if he had not stopped to mess around in his little rosemary forest, his pet name for his herb garden. He was obviously enjoying a fleeting pleasure on this unseasonably warm day. Her Mom laid heavy rules on her social proclivities. Yet, she allowed her to talk to Mr. Nemeth, but only over the fence or in the front yard. “Want to see my kitten?” she offered with a smile in her voice.

He stood up and faced her. His face was sullen. He turned his head and walked towards his backdoor, “No! Tired . . . just tired of trying to love things.” He stopped briefly as he opened the door, “Maybe life itself is tiring.” He turned towards her. His sad face softened, “Sorry, honey. Merry Christmas.” He disappeared into the house. She was stunned. She’d never heard such a thing. On top of the garbage can she spied a litter box and a scratching post. She stiffened. She felt her insides go numb. Her kitten jumped from her lap and chased a leaf from a pecan tree as it flittered by her feet.

An hour later her mother passed the bathroom where Sybil was on her knees bent over the side of the tub. “What on earth?”

“I’m washing the kitten. I found some flea soap.”

“Sybil, that’s dog shampoo. You shouldn’t use that on cats. They lick themselves.”

“You never seen a dog lick himself? They don’t get sick. Why should a cat?”

“Well, you just don’t. Be sure you clean up this mess when you are done.”

“As always!”

”Yeah, right.”

Later, she was rooting around in her mother’s closet when she heard, “You better have a real good reason for being in there.”

“Yeah, I do. I need a box, a card and a marker. A kind’a big box.” A slight thoughtful pause and, “Like big enough to breathe in.”

The next day, after she and her mother opened their presents she took her box next door to Mr. Nemeth’s. She rang the bell and disappeared behind an oleander bush. Mr. Nemeth opened the door and looked around; spotted the box on his doorstep. He stooped down and pulled off the little envelope. He heard something shuffle around inside the box and so opened it before he opened the envelope. Inside he found the sweet smelling, fluffy kitten. The kitten was standing on a little sign which read, “I need a name.” He sat in a deck chair with the fur-ball in his lap opened the envelope. In it he found, “Please don’t get tired of love.”

He heard Sybil step out from the oleander. He looked at her. He cuddled the kitten and said to her, “How about, Lovey?”


Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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