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J.R. Hampton J.R. Hampton

Mrs. Putnam’s Cat


Mrs. Putnam's Cat

Helen counts her steps. Thirty-one. She pauses in front of the auditorium doors, anxious to enter but knowing the math is wrong. Three plus one is four: a bad number. The only number worse than four is two. She hurries to the end of the sidewalk and starts over, taking care to make her stride smaller this time. Thirty-five. Three and five are both acceptable. Better because together they make eight. Eight is an excellent number even though it contains 2 fours. Helen can't explain this; it's just how the math works.

She steps across the threshold and approaches a folding table manned by two women.

"Are you here for the reunion?" one of them asks. She waves a hand over the plastic badges arrayed on the table.

"Yes. I'm Helen Spode-Harris."

"Ten years go fast, don't they? Ah, here you are." The woman smiles and hands a badge to Helen. Helen lingers, runs her index finger down the line of names starting with the Ps until she hits the first Q.

"Looking for someone special?"

Helen's fingernail presses a half-moon dimple in the first Q badge. She clears her throat. "Kevin Putnam," she says. "Class of '81."

The second woman checks a clipboard. "Putnam ... yes, he's here."

Helen makes her way into the auditorium. It's loud she thinks, between the knots of people talking and the dance-pop sound track playing in the background. She continues inside until she reaches a bar against the far wall. "Water, no ice," she says. She accepts a plastic cup from the young bartender, adds a cocktail straw, and moves to the end of the bar.

Kevin Putnam spots her first. He approaches from a darkened corner, a heavyset woman in his wake.

"Helen Spode-Harris. How the hell are you? I saw your RSVP on Facebook, but I wasn't sure you'd show," he says as he reaches her. Kevin swivels to address the woman behind him. "Nancy, you remember Helen, don't you? We had study group together senior year."

Walk away. Walk away. Walk away. The Deriders urge her to flee. Helen considers taking a tranquilizer, but decides against it. The only medications that quiet the voices are the ones she no longer takes. Then the dance-pop organizes into a familiar chant.

"Eye Winker, Tom Tinker, Nose Dropper, Mouth Eater, Chin Chopper, Cat Dropper," says Yama.

This is not how the rhyme goes in real life, Helen thinks. Yama gets it wrong every time on purpose. A voice unlike the other voices Helen carried, Yama--with her staccato chirps and her oscillating vibrato, had shown up senior year. Helen had come right out and asked Yama if she were a cat.

"Yes," Yama had said.

"Stay," Yama tells her now.

© J.R. Hampton