My siblings and I had a 'writing contest' today, based on prompts. (I got a "Writer's Toolbox" for Christmas and it is a.w.e.s.o.m.e.) I decided to share my story here. The first line had to be, "There were seventeen cats in Larry's basement." and I had to include "a weekend in Duluth" and "He was skating on thin ice- that's all I can say."
There were seventeen cats in Larry's basement. He took us down there one time while we were over to his house. Larry was the kind of person with slicked back hair and a razor sharp part. He was always wearing a bow tie. On the morning in question his bow tie was sky blue with pink polka-dots. Totally hideous. We had just finished off an entire bowl of popcorn while playing Scrabble, and we asked Larry if he had anything to drink. He smiled a full-tooth grin and beckoned us down into the basement. We crept down the steps, and Larry flicked the lights on. As our eyes adjusted we saw to our relief that it was a pretty normal basement. There was a fridge, some shelves, and a gallon of fruit punch sitting on the floor. My brother scampered towards the fruit punch, and, holding it above his head like a magnificent prize, scurried back up the steps. I turned to follow him when I noticed something. A shelf was hidden in the dark, almost behind the stairs, but light was reflecting off of something sitting on it. I took a few steps forward when Larry spoke.
“Ah, my dear, I was hoping you'd notice that! Would you like to see more?”
Not waiting for an answer, he flipped another switch, and the bookshelf was illuminated. But there were no books. Just three rows of ceramic cats. They were all identical in every way it seemed. One right after the other, equally spaced; and dispute being tucked away, perfectly clean of dust. They were quite small, I suppose, about 5 inches tall. I counted quickly: three rows of six cats each, minus one on the last row.
“What are they?” I asked.
“They were my late wife's. They look pretty ordinary, but looks can be deceiving. Each one holds a little secret. Here, I'll show you.” He flipped the first cat over, and revealed that it was hollow. Inside was a single, blue button. He handed it to me, flipped the next one over, and handed me a small screw. The third revealed a key; the forth, a piece of a shoelace; the fifth, a sewing thimble. By the time he reached the end, I had a whole handful of little articles. He turned around to face me and grinned broadly.
“Do you understand now?”
I looked up at him, deeply confused. “No.” I looked down at my hands, and back at him. “No, not at all.”
He laughed cheerfully. “I didn't expect you too. Now, I'll tell you.”
He took from my hands the little blue button from the first cat. He rubbed his fingers over it gently. “This was from Millie's jacket, I mean my wife, of course. She got this jacket for her eighth birthday. She lived in Vermont, you see, so getting a jacket was a big deal.” He replaced the button in the first cat, and then pulled the screw out of the pile in my palms. “This screw was from her first radio. That was her Christmas present the year she was fourteen. She loved listening to different bands and all sorts of music. She kept that radio until after we were married. At first almost every evening we would turn it on, push the couch out of way, and dance; just the two of us.”
He took the key from my hand, and held it up to the light. He chuckled softly. “When we got our first apartment; dear me was she bad at remembering things; she lost her key four times that first month. Finally I went to the store and had the man make me twenty keys to our front door, and then I placed them randomly around the house. I figured, that way, she was bound to find at least one of them in her search. We laughed about that for years.”
Next he grabbed the shoelace. The edge was frayed, but he smiled when he saw it. “This was part of the lace off of her ice skates. She ice skated as a child, but I had never been before. It was on a natural lake, and as I got more confident I skated farther from the bank. I guess I went too far, because I hit some weak ice and plunged right into the water. Millie and our friends scrambled over to me and I got out all right. When we got back to the lodge people asked if I was okay, and Millie just laughed and responded, “He was skating on thin ice- that's all I can say.” That was a joke in our house for many years.”
Slowly, piece by piece, he told me the story behind each article. A ticket to a theater from their weekend trip to Duluth; a piece of yarn from their favorite quilt; a scrap of a newspaper article on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Finally, all the memories were back safely inside the cats.
“There were only sixteen items, though. What is in the seventeenth cat?” I asked. Larry smiled warmly, and flipped the last cat over. It was empty.
“This,” he said. “Is for all the memories still yet to be. Because, you see, the importance is not in the things, but in the life behind the things. When Millie was dying, she made me promise that I wouldn't stop living and making new memories. That's the real lesson here, darling.”
Mr. Larry has long since passed away. My brother and I grew up, and moved. I don't know what ever happened to those seventeen cats in Larry's basement. But I know that I'll never forget to treasure the moments, and the little memories. Because in the end, those end up being what really matters.