THE VISITORS

Of late, she preferred Wednesdays more than any other day. Like most people, the week’s end was, as her husband liked to say, ‘Our sweet treat.  Sat and Sundae,’ the dessert concluding another work week consumed. But now, widowed and in the quiet and still pace of life, she found Wednesdays to be the time she looked forward to the most. It was because that was the day when he came calling.

Her name was Edith, although most of her life those who knew and loved her called her Edie. She didn’t know his name. She called him Mister. He didn’t mind and readily answered to the moniker. He was a cat, after all.

Why Mister came and went only on Wednesdays was a mystery. But that mystique only made the tawny little orange tabby all the more appealing. If it was a Wednesday morning—any time after ten-ish—he could be counted on to be lounging in the dapple of the potted ficus and immature banana trees of Edith’s back patio. She would greet him with her coffee and his white china saucer of tuna. It didn’t concern Edith one iota that it might be the free meal that induced her only companion to come around.

We’ve all motives. Some are at least honest and laid plain.’

Most visits lasted an hour or two. She read the paper and the flitting birds were scrutinized. The news of the day was all too often a source of irritation while those feathered friends were the colorful and pleasant distraction.

In time, after Mister became her regular Wednesday morning caller, Edith had the foresight to relocate her two bird feeders to the farthest corners of her backyard.

Lest the temptation to lunch on more than tuna proves too much for that feline appetite.’

He noticed.

“Now then, Mister,” she reprimanded, “put away your hungry gaze. You’ll have your fish.”

He did, and all went well as time wormed on its way. And then….

The first Wednesday that Mister failed to make an appearance gave Edith pause. Still, she kept her routine. Coffee and the daily paper. The pair of nesting blue jays who had become her newest regulars almost managed to keep her concerns for Mister’s whereabouts at bay. Edith steeled herself.  ‘Nothing to write home.’ Hollow assurance. Shortly after three in the afternoon she carried the untouched saucer of tuna back inside. She told herself the lie that she wasn’t the least bit put off.

Later that evening, fussing as she postponed going to bed, Edie rebuked the nagging voice in her head. ‘Oh, enough already. He’s a cat; that’s what they do.’ The do in this case being the fact that felines—much like her late husband—all too often did as they pleased, and just as often did so with little to no concern for others.

The week-long wait for the next Wednesday proved a loneliness. By the end of Mister’s consecutive failed appearance, neither the blue jay love birds’ flirtatious cavorting nor the scandals to be found in the daily paper could keep Edith’s mind from anything other than her worry.

That night the doorbell rang.

She was in her kitchen, staring out the window while drying off a china saucer that had long been in no need of a towel. The doorbell chime was so unexpected, and Edith so lost in thought, that she nearly let the saucer slip. She came to the door dish towel still in hand. She turned the lock and opened the door without a moment’s consideration through the peep hole; an act that was nothing like her. She realized as much too late and after the fact just as the deed was done.

Her name was Justine and despite the many attempts by friends and family to call her by something other, she answered to only Justine. She was eleven years old and would have nothing to do with ‘cutie’ nicknames.

Justine was accompanied by her father, a man who could be passed on any street or in any room without notice. He stood beside his daughter and was comfortable letting his little girl take the lead.

“Hello. My name is Justine. This is my cat,” the girl said, presenting a sheet from her stack of flyers. There was no mistaking the photo of Mister. “His name is Harold and he’s missing and so we’re canvassing the neighborhood to find him. Search and rescue. This is my dad.”

“Hi, we’re sorry to bother you,” the man added. “We’re just a few houses down. One fifty-three…the green house,” he said with a nod towards the end of the street. “I’m Mitch Abernathy and this is—”

“Justine,” Edith said to finish the introduction. “My name is Edie and, well, I have to say, it feels as though we’re family.” Edith’s gaze went just past them. “Oh, and who is this? Hello, Mister.” She couldn’t hide the relief in her voice.

The cat had sauntered up and was sprawled now just behind them as though reclining pool-side. He considered the porch light with a squint of disdain and gave a small turn of his neck when Justine discovered him with a squeal of jubilation.

Cat firmly in Justine’s lap, the four were soon sitting in Edith’s living room where she explained the shared connection alluded to on the doorstep.

“Harold? I call him Mister. He always comes on Wednesdays. Or, that is to say, usually. Cats.”

“Wednesdays?” Justine looked to her father. “That’s when you work from home.”

The Abernathys stayed for longer than Mitch would have preferred but not nearly as long as Justine or Edith would have liked. Following that night’s long visit, Justine and Mister Harold—as they called their elusive friend now—were Edie’s regular visitors on Saturdays…and quite often on Sunday as well. Mister Harold kept to his Wednesday visits.

The blue jays’ chicks hatched a few weeks later in the waning days of May.

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