Tom Darrell gazed up at the massive birch limb and shook his head. “No, I don’t think they do that in real life,” he said. “Only in the movies. Only on TV.”
     Sarah looked at him. “Sure they do, Honey. It’s a fireman’s job to rescue cats out of trees. When there aren’t any fires, of course. Why don’t I give them a call?”
     “I don’t know,” Tom said. “I don’t know.”
     “Come on, Tucker. Come to Mama, kitty,” Sarah called. “Look at the poor thing. He’s scared to death. Do something, Tom. Look at him. He’s just a baby. Come to Mama, kitty. Please come down. He doesn’t even know us yet. That stupid dog. Whose dog was that, anyway? There ought to be a law.”
     “Sarah, do you still have that old clothesline in the garage?” Tom asked, his dark-eyed gaze still fixed upward on the tree limbs.
     Uh-oh, Sarah thought. “I don’t know. I think so. What do you want that for?” Quick rememberings flashed through her mind: the time he set half the woods behind the house on fire with his “new system” of burning leaves, the time he decided to re-shingle the roof himself and fell off and broke his leg, the time he built an addition to their one-car garage, a carport that sagged and tilted for weeks, a neighborhood eyesore, before it crashed down on her brand new silver-gray Honda.
     “And I need something to tie it to. Something heavy. A pipe wrench. Or a big claw hammer, maybe. Get me one, please. And the clothesline. I’ll watch the cat.”
     “Honey, what in the world are you planning to do?” Sarah frowned. Strands of butterscotch blonde hair framed her face attractively.
     He looked at her then. “This is a birch tree, Sarah. And birch trees bend.”
     Oh, boy, Sarah thought as she jogged toward the garage. I guess he told me. This is a birch tree, Sarah, like you’d speak to a child or an idiot. And just like Tom to give orders without explanations. I’ll give him a son-of-a-bitching order of my own when I get the chance, but for right now, in an emergency, I’ll let it pass.
     An old ache touched her heart then, as she thought of her earlier life, the years before Tom, before she gave up freedom and career for the love of a man, like an innocent young girl in an old “B” movie, and moved back east from Phoenix here to Dunkirk, where everybody knows everybody else – from their love lives to their shopping habits – too well.
     Management fast track at Motorola. Gone in a flash! It had been so tough getting hired in the first place and so tough getting promoted. This marriage I’ll make work, though, she vowed, remembering that wonderful terrible rebellious delicious frightening earlier marriage at age nineteen that soared and crashed and left her shattered. This one I’ll make work, she said to herself as she entered the garage.
     Moments later Tom tied the rusty claw hammer Sarah had brought to one end of a fifty-foot length of ancient clothesline. He stared up at the half-grown black-and-white kitten clinging terrified to the tree limb twenty feet overhead, slacked out the line, picked up the hammer, and swung it back and forth, testing its heft, getting his rhythm. Then he hurled the hammer skyward in a sure, steep trajectory and watched it soar over the tree limb, wrap around twice, and tangle in the lesser branches. Tom pulled the clothesline taut and tested its strength. The birch limb swayed up and down at his command.
     “That should do it,” he said.
     “Honey, do you really think this will work?” Sarah couldn’t help hoping a little, despite his track record. Like all of his plans, this one looked good at first. But something always went wrong. The man was jinxed.
     Hand over hand and slowly, Tom gathered in the clothesline. The limb bent lower and soon the cat was only ten feet from reach. Then five.
     “Come to Mama, Tucker. We’ll save you, kitty,” Sarah called as she stretched her arms up toward cat and tree branch.
     Suddenly the old clothesline snapped, and the powerful birch limb swung back violently and flung the little cat upward and outward over the crown of the tree. Tom and Sarah watched in horror as their pet kitten soared over rooftops, shrank smaller in the distance, and disappeared into suburban neighborhood.
     They stood in shock for several seconds, gazing at the empty tree and empty sky. Sarah felt amazed, awed, furious, disbelieving, and helpless all at once. She stifled an urge to grab her husband by the neck and choke him and scream at him, and instead dashed off in the direction the cat had been thrown, calling out Tucker’s name again and again in desperation. Tom followed in thin-lipped silence.
     The rest of that Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday, the Darrells spent cat-calling along neighborhood sidewalks, tacking posters on telephone poles, placing an ad in the local “Shopper,” and calling friends and neighbors, but no Tucker appeared. Sunday evening they pronounced the cat lost, probably dead.
     Sarah cried and worried and raged for four days, fighting grief over the death of the kitten and anger at Tom. It was not so much his faults, his dangerous sometime stupidity that made her hate him a little in spite of her love. It was his guilt. His silence and hangdog guilt.
     This incident was just one of a hundred small grudges that could add up to marital rift over the long haul, or be forgiven, forgotten, assimilated into understanding and love. She tried to put it behind her, to busy herself with paying bills, cleaning house, doing banking, planning investments, preparing meals, reading, writing letters, forgiving a husband.
     Tuesday afternoon Sarah was doing her regular grocery shopping when she noticed old Mrs. Weisenflugh, her eccentric neighbor from three doors down, in the pet food section, comparing prices between Friskies Cat Chow and Purina.
     “Mrs. Weisenflugh,” Sarah ventured as she pushed her shopping cart alongside the old woman’s. “I didn’t know you had a cat.”
     “Oh, hello, Deary,” Mrs. Weisenflugh said, and smiled her strange, long-toothed smile. “Oh my, no. Henry does. For the next three days, anyway. How are you, Deary? You haven’t gained a pound or two, have you? Such a lovely girl, and you must be thirty by now.”
     “Twenty-eight,” Sarah corrected, biting her lip. “About the cat, Mrs. Weisenflugh. You say it’s your husband’s?”
     “Oh my, yes, Deary. I’m so thrilled! After all these years. We’re going up to Polk State Hospital on Friday, between you and me and no one else, of course. I’ve talked and talked and talked to him about the evils of alcohol. And now he’s finally taking the cure!”
     “And the cat?”
     “Oh yes! The cat! In a way it’s all because of that silly cat. You know how Henry sits out in the sun for hours, cocktail glass in hand, he says ‘communing with nature,’ ‘waiting for a sign,’ a sign from who to do what, I’ll never know.”
     Sarah nodded. Okay, lady, she thought. Okay, okay. So what?
     “Well, last Saturday he’s out there sunning himself and working on his third vodka tonic. I’m inside doing laundry and such. All of a sudden I hear Henry yelling for me at the top of his lungs. I run out there absolutely scared to death. You know about Henry’s heart condition, I’m sure. I’m thinking, oh, this is the big one, my poor husband, and did I remember to pay that last life insurance premium? So I race out back and there he sits with a stupid little black-and-white cat on his lap. Can you believe it? ‘Where on earth did that come from?’ I ask. And you’ll never believe what he answers.”
     “Try me,” Sarah whispered, barely able to speak at all.
     “Well, he sits there with his eyes all wide open and wet and shining from, y’know, the drinking, and points up in the air. ‘I swear to God, Julia,’ he says. ‘This cat came right out of the sky!’ What’s the matter, Deary? You look a little flushed. Are you all right?”
     Sarah nodded, speechless.
     “So he says it’s some kind of sign and I say it’s a sign to stop drinking, if you ask me. And can you believe it? He agrees with me. ‘Apollo,’ he says – that’s what he named the cat – ‘Apollo, you’re a sign from heaven. You’re a miracle. I’ll never drink again.’ But now I have no idea what to do with the silly thing. I mean, y’know, after Henry goes up to Polk.”
     “We’ll take it,” Sarah said. “Tom and I. We’re planning children some day, but for now, we’d really like to have a cat. Really.”
     “You shouldn’t put off starting a family, Deary. Some day you’ll wake up and it’ll be too late. A woman almost thirty.”
     “Whatever. If you’re sure you’ll take the cat, I don’t know if I should bother buying cat food, then, for just the three days. We’ve been feeding him table scraps up till now.”
     “I’ll pay for it,” Sarah said.
     “Would you, Deary? That’s a nice gesture. Of course it’s only right, since it’ll be your cat, y’know.”
     “No problem, Mrs. Weisenflugh,” Sarah said. “No problem at all. Let’s see if I can pick out a brand he might like.”

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