After Christmas Blues
(revision# 1) By Leigh Holman
"Your number cannot be completed as dialed."
A dripping Lee Crane slammed the phone receiver down on the hook. "Damn!"
"That's not nice!" Nickolas piped up from across the room as he watched his father holding the struggling Siamese cat. The cat was covered with black axle grease and was hissing and spitting at her captor. They were both wet from being out in the storm and the driving rain.
Lee looked across the room at his young son, but said nothing in reply. In his distraction, he loosened his hold on the cat, which shot out of his arms and zoomed across the kitchen, disappearing into the other room. Lee heard the animal on the steps going upstairs, before it grew quiet again.
Nickolas was looking at him with totally innocent eyes.
"That is why we do not let 'Kitty-cat' into the yard." Lee said, turning to his son. " 'Kitty-cat' gets under the cars and she gets dirty and it is hard to clean kitty-cat."
"Give 'Kitty-cat' a bath." Nickolas suggested.
"Bathing a cat isn't quite that easy." Lee answered, sighing. He dropped into a chair at the kitchen table.
He looked about the disarray in the kitchen, quite annoyed with himself. He had decided that he would spend Christmas with his children by himself. His mother had gone back East to visit friends and Lee would be with the children. What could possibly go wrong during his two-week vacation? It was more a question of what couldn't go wrong? It had all started with the flat tire he had when returning from the airport after seeing his mother off on her flight back East.
He could hear Molly screaming upstairs. Lee looked up at the ceiling, expecting to be able to see through the wood above him. That didn't work…
"Nicky, will you stay right here?"
He rose from the table as the phone rang. He snatched up the receiver, shouting into it. "I know, damn-it! I can't complete this number as dialed!" To his utter amazement it wasn't the mechanical voice that answered back, but a chuckle.
"Then why did you call me?" Chip Morton asked him innocently.
"Where have you been?" Lee asked.
"Well, it is Christmas! Am I accountable to you on my 'off' days too?"
Molly was still screaming upstairs. "Daddy! Daddy, I need you!"
"Are we having a bad day?" Chip asked, hearing all the commotion through the receiver.
"Sorry, Chip ... we are having a terrible day here ... I have a pounding headache ...I am sick of this rain ... is your Mom still there?" Lee blurted out.
"No, they left this morning." Chip answered.
"Oh ...wonderful..." Lee answered. It did not sound like he meant it.
"Anything I can help with?"
"You know anything about cleaning a cat?"
"Cats clean themselves."
"No...go away! Came the cry from upstairs. "Daddy, come get this creature!"
Nickolas got up from the table and walked over to the counter, dropping his bowl into the sink. The china bowl made a sickening sound as it crashed into place at the bottom of the sink.
"Ne'Ne doesn't let me use those bowls." The small boy announced, standing on his toes, trying to see into the sink.
"Oh, sorry, Chip. I was having a discussion with Nicky."
"Yes, of course you are."
"Do you need help?"
Lee's steady voice replied back, "I am an officer in the Navy ... I am Captain of the world's largest nuclear submarine ... I work for Harriman Nelson ... I answer to kings and presidents ... and this house is going to hell in a hand-basket."
There was no reply from the receiver ...any dial tone either. Lee shook the receiver and listened again ... there was nothing. He sighed and laid the receiver back on the phone cradle.
"Daddy! Daddy come up here now!"
Lee stood up from the table and started out of the kitchen. He turned back to Nickolas, "Please, just sit there for a minute or two. I'll be right back."
Lee's long legs carried him up the stairs in record time. He rushed to Molly's bedroom to catch her arm as she was trying to launch a teddy bear at the Siamese cowering in the corner of the bedroom. The cat had left greasy paw prints on the white bedspread in several places before hiding under the desk.
She turned to confront her father, tears streaming down her cheeks, "Look what she did to my bed!"
"It's okay, honey. We will get it cleaned up."
Molly crinkled her nose up at the mess, "What is that stuff?" As she turned to speak to Lee again, she looked him over, "And you're all wet and muddy! You and that cat are disgusting!"
Lee smiled at her reaction to him. "Well, excuse me! I was coming to your rescue. Are we going to be that picky about our knights in shining armor?"
Molly looked him over, pushing her glasses back up on her nose, "If they look the way you do, we are."
Lee smiled and walked over to the desk. He got down on the floor and peered under the desk at the Siamese cat, who greeted his appearance with a hiss.
"Come on, 'Kitty-cat'." He spoke gently to the large Siamese, who growled back at him. Avoiding her claws, he grabbed her by the collar and hauled her from under the desk. She tried to break away, but froze at the edge of the desk. Lee turned around to see what had frightened her, noting that Molly's ferret was advancing on the pair of them on the floor. "Molly, get Toby!"
Molly scooped up the ferret in her arms and walked away from the desk. "At least 'Toby' knows how to stay clean."
"Isn't that wonderful." Lee commented dryly, standing with the struggling cat in his arms.
"Why don't you clean her?" Molly asked.
"I was trying to call someone to see how to clean her without hurting her."
Molly shot her father 'that' look. Lee decided that he had to stop letting Molly associate with Uncle Chip. He didn't have to worry about Chip using the 'look' on him, at least not to his face, but Molly had perfected the skill quite well.
"Use the stuff that Ne'Ne uses." Molly suggested.
"Mom uses something?" Lee asked his daughter.
"Yeah, Nickolas lets the cat out all the time. She gets under the car and gets dirty so Ne'Ne got something at the Vet." Molly cuddled the ferret close, and 'Toby' snuggled in her neck, causing her to smile down at him. "I can even use it on 'Toby', if I want but he likes playing in the water too much, 'Kitty-cat' doesn't."
"What does she use to clean the cat?"
"It's in the blue bottle under the sink." Molly answered, pointing to her Grandmother's bedroom.
Lee walked into his mother's bedroom, still holding on the squirming cat.
"Molly," he called out to the girl. "Could you please get the bottle for me?"
"Yeah." Molly answered as she joined her father in the bathroom.
While Lee waited for Molly to fish out the container from beneath the sink he happened to catch his reflection in the bathroom mirror. It was a rather pitiful reflection that looked back at him. He was soaked ...the shirt he was wearing was sticking to him, and his hair was in tight curls over his head. His chest was covered with mud where he had laid on the ground to drag the cat from under the car. Actually, the ferocious cat in his arms looked better than he did.
Molly looked up from her search and caught him looking into the mirror, "Scary, isn't it?"
Lee smiled at his daughter, "Do you know what to do to this thing to get her cleaned up?" He started the hand the cat to her as the doorbell sounded down stairs. "What now?"
He had no more turned to the bedroom when he heard Chip's voice on the landing.
"Lee, where are you?"
"In here, Chip." Lee called out.
Chip walked into the bathroom but stopped, catching the sight of his friend's ragged appearance with the squirming, spitting cat in his arms. "Good God, Lee! You are an absolute mess!"
Suddenly Chip laughed out loud, "I wish that I had brought my camera with me. This just might win the photo of the year."
Lee thrust the cat at Chip, "You clean her up and I'll clean myself up. Molly help Uncle Chip with cleaning up 'Kitty-cat', okay?" He walked from the bathroom.
"Okay, " Chip answered looking about the bathroom while holding the cat out in the air before him. "What do we do first?"
"You have to shut the door to the bathroom before you let go of the cat." Molly answered. She reached into the corner of the closet, bring out a pretty pink washcloth, "This belongs to 'Kitty-cat'." She explained, reaching over to turn on the hot water. "After the water gets warm, we have to wet the washcloth and just put some liquid on it and wipe her off."
== .. ==
It took several minutes of wiping before the cat was presentable again and could be released from the bathroom. Chip slowly opened the door as she flew across the bedroom and disappeared under the bed.
"She going to be okay there?" Chip asked Molly.
"Yeah, she always goes there when she's tired of 'Toby' or Nickolas."
"Nickolas. Where's Nickolas?"
"Probably still eating lunch. We had turkey sandwiches and soup. He eats slow." Molly volunteered.
Chip could hear water running down the hall. "Sounds like your Dad is getting a shower so I'll go check on your brother, okay?"
"Yeah. I have to get my bedspread off the bed...it has cat paws all over it."
Chip went back downstairs and entered the kitchen to find Nickolas still sitting at the table with part of a sandwich and a cup of milk. He had pulled the remains of the Christmas turkey over to his place and was stabbing it with a fork.
"Hi, Nick! What are you doing?"
The young boy looked up at Chip. Lee had not brushed his hair yet and his head was a mass of tangled blond curls. His green eyes flashed a smile at Chip. "I'm Nickolas." He announced. "You gots to call me Nickolas."
"Oh." He sat at the table beside the small boy. "Why are you stabbing the turkey?"
Nickolas stopped his activity and turned back to Chip, "I'm looking."
"Looking for what?"
"What bone?" Chip asked. 'Was this some strange Crane ritual for the holidays that he ought to know about?'
"The bone that breaks." The young boy explained.
'Bone that breaks...?' Chip was thinking until it dawned on him what Nickolas was talking about. "You mean the wishbone?"
"Yeah! The wishing bone."
Chip leaned over the table helping the small boy look over the turkey. He searched, not finding the wishbone for Nickolas. "I don't think that there is one." He reported as he searched the remains of the turkey.
"There was one yesterday!" the small boy announced.
"Oh? What did you do with the one yesterday?"
"A turkey only has one wish bone." Chip explained.
"A turkey is only good for one wish?"
Lee entered the kitchen as his son stabbed the turkey one last time. He picked up the turkey and stuffed it into the refrigerator.
"Aren't you going to cover it?"
"I will just cook off the rest of the meat for stew tonight." Lee answered. He helped the small boy down from the chair, "Nickolas, why don't you go check on 'Kitty-cat' while Uncle Chip and I talk."
"Sure." Nickolas walked out of the room, singing as loud as he could. "Ten lords a leaping."
"Nickolas! Please, be a bit quieter."
"Nine lords a leaping." the boy continued as he thumped up the stairs.
Lee shook his head, as they listened to Nickolas continue from upstairs. "I'm going to have to teach him the rest of that song." Lee walked back over to the stove, "You want some more coffee, Chip?"
"Eight lords a leaping..."
"So you survived Christmas, without your mother being here?"
"Yes, I think that we did rather well. I even roasted the turkey..."
"Seven lords a leaping..."
Lee was looking up at the ceiling, smiling to himself as he listened to his son shouting out the rest of the song. "So our next cruise is just surveying...?"
"Yeah." Chip agreed. "Something about some study of the Red Tide on the clam beds in the Pacific."
"Six lords a leaping..."
"Don't get me wrong, Chip, but I am looking forward to a small break from the storms and the children being inside all week."
"Five golden kings..."
Chip laughed, "Yes, I suppose that you are."
"Four collared birds..."
"Collared birds?" Chip asked
"Three benched tins...two turtle loves ...and a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"
Lee picked up his coffee cup and carefully clinked Chip's mug. "Happy New Year, Chip!"
"Same to you, Lee!"