Bucks County Writers Workshop
They Don't Care by Jacqueline Callin
Being sick sucks. It doesn't matter what sort of illness it is, either. Usually, the worst thing I get is a cold. True, I have allergies, but they're like a cold. Totally annoying and gone within a couple of days to maybe a week.
This time, it was a little bit more serious. From my point of view, it was also a lot more irritating.
Of course, the most annoying part of having the flu is that my cousin, the infamous Monica Lewinsky wannabe better known as Briana Ronan, gets to play Nanny Hitler. She may be a munchkin, but she's got the will and heart of your average megalomaniac dictator.
"Lay down, Hunter." "Stay." "Watch TV, Hunter." "Eat your soup." "Sleep, Hunter."
See what I mean? This is Briana at her best while I'm too sick to do much more than obey. But there are occasions and causes that will drag me out, even with the flu. Briana has only lived with me for three or so months, ever since her parental units and siblings moved out to Chicago and she elected to remain behind to finish college„in another four years. That's not a lot of time to get to know someone's habits, even if you've known them (or thought you knew them) for most of your life.
Still, this was one thing she should have expected. The cats don't take kindly to having an unclean litter box. I knew it hadn't been cleaned„as Briana had promised she'd do while I was ill„because I could smell it even though I was upstairs and had a clogged up nose. With four cats in the house, a litter box will smell if it isn't cleaned in a matter of twelve hours.
I hadn't smelled a smell this bad since the one time I hadn't cleaned it for two days. I soon discovered that the litter box wasn't the only reason for the smell. Poking my head out of my blankets, I was met by four angry stares„and a pile full of smell at the end of the bed. This is my cats' way of saying 'Get the hell up, woman, and clean the damn box!'
It was also their way of tattling on my little cousin, who was about to find herself in a shit load of trouble (no pun intended). "Briana. Briana."
Normally, I can yell loud enough to wake up the dead in Croydon. With the flu, I'm lucky I have a voice. As such, it was no surprise when she didn't respond. It also meant that I'd either have to crawl out of bed, or face the wrath of four otherwise benevolent monarchs.
Considering what the second choice would likely meanš I'll take door number one, Alex. As I hauled myself up, I wondered what else hadn't been done. If the cats were bad enough to leave a token of protest upon my bed, did this mean the fish were as bad? The mice? The tortoise? What about my aviary of English and American budgerigars?
If they weren't done, Briana was going to die.
"C'mon, kids," I spoke (rasped) at the cats. "I'm up. I'll take care of it."
The response was immediate. Tails went from smacking the bed to up in royal satisfaction. The eyes no longer glared. Instead, they watched expectantly. They were getting their way and they knew it. I had no doubt whatsoever they also knew they were getting their temporary caretaker in more and more trouble.
Briana, it turned out, was nowhere within the house. Much to my relief, the birds„all eighty or so of them„had been fed and watered. The fish had also been fed. However, the lobster's tank hadn't been cleaned. The tortoise was missing his salad of the day. The mice were in want of fresh water. The cats not only needed their litter box changed, they wanted something other than dry food to nibble on.
Yes, there was no doubt about it. My blood pressure was rising and Briana's life expectancy was going down. I took a deep breath. This is a down side to having pets and working with animals. They don't care if you're sick or about to blow a gasket. All they really care about is having their caretaker care for them.
Well, here I was, in all my sweaty pajama-ed glory. Yippee.
It took the better part of two-and-a-half hours, which was one hour longer than usual. I'd just finished up, in fact, when the front door opened to reveal Briana, newly returned from her single class of the day. She only had to catch a single glimpse to know that Hurricane Hunter had blown into port.
Still, I have to give her credit. She had enough courage to demand, "What are you doing up?"
My eyes burned with a green fire that had nothing whatsoever to do with the flu. What was I doing up? "Oh, gee, Briana, I don't know. Could it possibly have something to do with a certain quartet of cats who didn't like the fact that their litter hadn't been changed and decided to complain„by unloading onto my bed?"
Uh-oh. I could see those words reflected upon her face and mirrored in her eyes. She'd been caught out, and she knew it. "Umš Hunterš"
"I may be sick, Briana Mildred Ronan, but I'm not blind. Nor are my olfactory senses dead. When was the last time you decided the cats' box needed doing? Or cleaned up Blue? When were you going to grace the tortoise with something to eat or give Prudence and Folly some water?"
I stood perfectly still as I spoke. Briana, on the other hand, was backing away from me with each word out of my mouth.
"I was going to do them," she tried in vain to assure me. "I was going to do everything when I got back home! I had to get to class andš"
"Briana, what time's the class?"
She blinked. "Uhš One."
"What time were you up this morning?"
"Oh, uh... oh."
She was quiet. She knew, just like I knew, what time she'd been up. Between nine in the morning and 11:30 (when she'd have to leave) are two-and-a-half hours. Plenty of time, in other words. From my point of view, at least. She still felt differently. "But I didn't have time! I had to finish my homework andš"
"Which you should have done last night," I informed her and then snapped my fingers, as if I'd just remembered something. "But that's right. You went to Payton's. And then over to I-suck's."
"Right now, girlie, he's I-suck. And you were over there until, what time? One or so? Doingš"
"Absolutely nothing," she muttered.
I nodded; then softened slightly. Before moving in with me to complete her education, Briana had never had much experience with pets. The two dogs and one cat her family had attempted to keep hadn't been astounding successes (both dogs had been given away after three months at the most and the cat was now living with yours truly after Briana's mother found out that cleaning the litter box once a week wasn't enough and decided she couldn't put up with such a 'dirty' animal). Now, not that long after moving in with me, I had to come down with the flu and stick her with my zoo-like menagerie.
"Brie, I know you've never done this before. I had to learn to put the animals ahead of almost everything, too. It isn't always fun, but it's the way things are." Especially if you don't want them to protest on your bed. "If you can't keep up or deal with it, then leave it all to me."
She stared at me. "But you've got the flu."
"Your point?" I shrugged. "They don't care, Brie. They don't expect me to care, about anything except their welfare."
"Won't it take you longer, then, to get better?" She shot me a withering look before adding, with a faint, but impish, grin, "And to take me shopping?"
I snorted/sniffled at her. "Better for me to be sick for two weeks than for us to come down with psittacosis, or toxoplasmosis, orš"
"I get the point!" Briana came over to gently smack meš only to sneeze instead.
I stared at her, then felt a smile start creeping across my face. Something told me that wasn't the only thing she'd gotten.