• Contributing Author

A Change of Scenery

It was not an easy move or one she had anticipated, instead, it had been a necessary disruption to her life; one that she never saw coming. It was either lose her job or transfer to another company site in Chicago. She was a minimalist and that made the trip easier, but for Max it was terrifying. He did not like the car ride, nor the cage, nor the change of scenery. He had thrown up twice from anxiety and was not too fond of the elevator ride up to the top floor. When she finally located and unlocked the front door of her new residence, she was exhausted for the stress of having to put her 10-year old tabby cat through it all.


Cats did not like change; Mary did not like it either. She stepped into her new studio apartment in downtown Chicago and set Max's cage down near the door, while she scanned her surroundings, looking for a quiet corner to put his bed in. She removed her backpack and unloaded the portable cat bed, a food and water dish and a can of tuna. She filled the bowls with the food and some bottled water and set them near the far corner of the room and away from the front door. Then she set the tiny bed near the bowls. She left Max in his cage as she walked around the spacious studio and inspected the various boxes that had been delivered and dropped in the middle of the room yesterday. The movers had left the few pieces of furniture she had near the back of the apartment and against a wall of windows. She picked up Max's cage and put it near the corner where she set up his bed. She decided to leave him in the cage until she could unpack and fill his litter box. It wasn't hard to find since there was a total of only 8 boxes that held everything she owned. She opened the small refrigerator and found it was unplugged.


The apartment had been vacant for a few months and everything needed a good dusting. She

found the outlet for the refrigerator and plugged it in. She would need to shop for a few items

before she could settle in. There was a small market on the corner of her building that carried the bare necessities of what she would need to get through a couple of days. First, though, she would find the bedding and make up her bed and move it to a wall away from the windows and near Max's area. Then she would hang up a few of her clothes in the tiny closet and find the toiletries she had packed. When the bed was moved and ready, she sat on the floor near Max's cage and slowly open it for him. He was reluctant to come out of the cage and so Mary gently pulled him into her arms and held him close.


“What are we doing here, Max, she asks? Did I make the right decision for us? Did I have a

choice?”


The cat began to purr in her arms as she rubbed his belly and held him close until he could look around the room at his new surroundings before she let him go. When she did, she was not surprised that his first stop was the litter box. He used the box, sniffed the tuna, and then curled up in his bed. He did not immediately settle in, but instead, his eyes moved around the room and then focused on Mary. Deciding he was safe for the moment, he continued to watch as Mary moved her other few pieces of furniture about the room. After a few more boxes were emptied and their contents put in place, Mary began to feel the fatigue from their long journey and decided to way-lay the trip to the market until the morning. For now, she changed into her

pajamas and slippers and opened a can of SpaghettiOs’s and dumped them into a bowl and set the bowl in the microwave.


As she sat on the edge of her bed to eat, Max slowly made his way towards her and rubbed up against her legs. She could hear him softly purring and then he jumped up on to the bed and rolled to his side and watched as Mary finished eating.


“I'm glad you decided to join me,” she said as she gently stroked his back.


She kicked off her slippers and crawled into bed next to Max and they both fell fast asleep. It

was only a few weeks until Thanksgiving and the first one that she and Max would be spending alone.


In the days that followed, Mary got settled into her new office that was within walking distance

of her apartment building. She had stocked her pantry with groceries for her and Max and had met one or two of their neighbors in passing. She liked the new office that gave her a slight view of the Lake and overlooked a pretty park below. Max loved his new location in front of the sunny windows and Mary bought him a few new toys and a small cat tree to perch on. Now the only thing missing was to find a new church to attend. There were a couple of non- denominational parishes within walking distance and one was looking for volunteers for their upcoming free Thanksgiving dinner. Mary thought that it might be a good chance to meet people and help those in need at the same time. So, on Sunday, Mary attended the early morning service at the church and ask the Pastor if she might volunteer to help at the free dinner event.


Pastor Bill introduced her to some of the people that would be instrumental at the event and it

was agreed that Mary could help in the kitchen with the food preparation. Mary was delighted that she was accepted and warmly welcomed into the fold. She had made a few friends at work, but many more at her new church. She was also adjusting to life in Chicago and getting used to living in the city without a car. She had sold hers because there was no off-street parking available, and everything she needed was in walking distance or a short cab drive away. She even found a new Veterinary clinic for Max and a new doctor for herself.


Even though most of her time was spent in her apartment with Max, she made a point of taking a few hours each Saturday to explore the city. She had been to the museums near the lake and visited an inner-city mall and found a small cafe where she could stop for lunch. She would always bring a treat back for Max when she returned from her adventures. He seemed quite content to watch the occasional bird activity on the window ledges and loved basking in the bright sun that came in from the windows.


Mary began to feel comfortable in her new surroundings and was looking forward to helping at the church. The following Sunday after services, her and the other members of the church met to discuss the upcoming free dinner that Thursday. It was decided that the newest member of the church would be helping Pastor Bill and others in the serving line rather than working in the kitchen. It would give Mary a chance to meet other people in the community who, in many

instances, would be spending Thanksgiving Day alone, if not for this annual event.


Thursday came quickly and before Mary left for church, she opened a can of Little Friskies

Turkey Delight for Max and gave him a quick hug and kiss and then was on her way. The church was buzzing with activity when Mary arrived. It was a perfect day, with Indian Summer temperatures and bright sunshine. She put on her apron and went to the kitchen for her instructions. When she pushed the door open to enter, a rather tall, good-looking man was

exiting, carrying a tray full of home-made slices of pumpkin pie.


“Here, let me get that for you,” said Mary. The man handed the tray to her and turned to pick up another one.


“Thanks, they go at the end of the table near the coffee pot,” he replied.


The two of them made their way to the end of the table and began to distribute the individual

pieces of pie on the designated spot. The man set the trays down on a back table, wiped his hands on his apron and held out his right hand to her.


“Hi, I'm Jack Rippon, happy to meet you,” he replied.


“Excuse me, did you say,” Ripper, she asked?


“No, Rippon... Jack Rippon, easily confused with Jack the Ripper, but I assure you I am quite

safe,” he said.


“Oh no, what a dumb thing to ask, she said... sorry, I'm just a bit new here and well, you just never know” she replied with a giggle. “I'm Mary Poplin,” she added.


“Did you say Poppins,” he asked with a mischievous smile on his face?


“Okay, I get it... payback, right?”


“Well, you do have umbrellas printed on your apron,” he added.


“Oh that, yes, a joke of my mother's, she said; she was a very funny lady at times.”


“Was,” he asked?


“Yes, I lost her two years ago today in fact, heart attack,” she replied.


“Oh, so sorry for your loss... I think I would have liked your mother,” he added.


Mary and Jack worked side by side at the serving table, both of them sharing occasional glances at each other and making small talk with the diners passing by. An hour and a half later, when the line slowed down to a few people, Jack began to walk around the room with what was left of the pumpkin pie, offering second helpings to the elderly people that had a hard time standing in the line again. Take-out orders were being prepared and delivered by some of the men of the congregation, as the women began to clear the tables.


By the end of the day, Mary was exhausted and just wanted to go home and take off her shoes and sit down. She had never worked so hard in her life. But it was very fulfilling and made her feel good to know that she made a difference today in the lives of the people of the church and the ones attending the special dinner. None of them had to spend the holiday alone, she thought, and that was the best part of it all.


When the last of the diners left and the to-go orders were on their way to the shut-ins that were

unable to come to the church, Mary and Jack found themselves in the kitchen on clean-up duty.

They worked side by side in silence until all the dishes and pots and pans were washed, dried,

and put away. By that time, it was late and starting to get dark. Mary had never ventured out into the city streets alone at nighttime yet. She was a bit leery of walking back to her apartment building alone until Jack approached her, apron over his shoulder and sleeves rolled up over his elbows.


“Can I call you a cab, or better yet, can I walk you to your building, he asks her? I promise, I

have given up my Ripper days and am completely harmless,” he added with a sly grin on his

face.


Mary thought a bit before answering and decided she would love to have him accompany her to her building. He was tall and strong, and she felt safe in his presence.


“Well, I would really appreciate the company, she replied, because I've never walked the streets of Chicago in the dark and without my signature umbrella yet,” she said. “But, she added, there is one condition?”


“And what is that Ms. Poplin,” he asks?


“That you come in for a cup of coffee and check for real stalkers, she replied... and by the way, I hope you like cats!”



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