On the 25th Day of Christmas Roger McKnight gave to me…
“I’m only 22, but longing for home,” Vet Tech Cranny Barlow said uncertainly to a middle-aged customer across the counter. Both glanced out at a beginning snowstorm sweeping Minnesota’s stubble cornfields. “Me and Carlo here. We’re both good to go.”
Denise Mannery had emerged from the vet’s surgery behind Cranny and fondly caressed Carlo, her furry Bernaise Mountain Dog puppy, who gazed around the office with a neutral, unblinking expression. “You got it,” Denise joked. “Carlo’s already 20 pounds. Another week.”
“Then you won’t be carrying him like that any more,” a second customer added. Close to her chest she held a two-pound calico Cranny had just weighed, but the lady was studying Denise’s Carlo. The cat and dog brought the women together, even if the animals showed little awareness of each other. The kitten’s pre-occupation with its owner matched Carlo’s ability to roll up like a cozy ball in Denise’s arms. Only when he slobbered on her did she lower him to the floor, where he stood ready to make a move, even if indecision ruled. He stared at a pug outdoors who strained against a leash while its squat, pimply owner took final drags on a cigar.
“Cindy, that’ll be 85 for the rabies shot and checkup,” Cranny said to the cat lady. “Your Harlequin’s such a dear. Reminds me of my Muffins. See?” Cranny produced photos of her own calico. “I had nine pets—dogs, hamsters, cats. All gone now, just me and Muffins left. Plus my hubby, he’s such a dear.”
“So sad,” Denise interrupted with a kindly smile. “Intriguing names, Harlequin and you, Cranny. Is it short for something?”
“No, but my friends call me Granny.”
“Goodness, and you so young,” Cindy said in surprise.
“But how could you, like Cindy says?” Denise asked. “You a grandmother?”
Denise and Cindy waited for an answer and shivered as the pug owner strode in, held the door for his dog, and tossed the stub. “Merry Christmas!” he said and helped himself to free coffee from the reception desk. Meanwhile the pug nosed up to Carlo and sniffed. The ladies paused for the outcome.
“Six months but moving back. I’m married, from Duluth, not here,” Cranny explained. “Hubby Conny’s a paramedic. Lotsa jobs for him. Mom’s a widow and I’m an only child. She wept buckets when I left. Said she can’t live without me. Conny’s okay with it, so we’re going.”
“Yes, lovely country up north,” Denise agreed casting a disparaging glance at the flat snowy farmland.
“I’m a wimp about it,” Cranny admitted. Her voice grew shrill and her large brown eyes opened wider. “I found homes for my babies when landlords wouldn’t allow them in any apartments.”
“It’ll be good to see your mom,” Denise said.
“Don’t mind if I do,” the pug owner announced proudly to himself and filled another cup.
And so they waited as daylight increased. Pug and paunch eschewed the blustery sidewalk. Harlequin meowed softly at Cindy’s bosom. Carlo yawned to Denise’s touch. Cranny went about her work and thought how nice, finding where you belong. Being so lucky.
Roger McKnight hails from Little Egypt, a traditional farming and coal-mining region in downstate Illinois. He studied and taught English in Chicago, Sweden, and Puerto Rico. Swedes showed Roger the value of human fairness and gender equity, while Puerto Ricans displayed the dignity of their island culture before the tragedy of Hurricane Maria and the US government’s shameful post-disaster neglect of the island’s populace. Roger relocated to Minnesota and taught Swedish and Scandinavian Studies. He now lives in the North Star State.
Find out more about Roger’s debut collection of short stories; Hopeful Monsters below
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