"Willow's Tail" 18
Willow had wanted to follow that meddlesome cat and find its lair and its human, but her human was making her enter this ridiculous contest, and she was not pleased with the process.
Willow sat on a scale as an annoying human marked her weight on a pad and another equally annoying human measured her from head to tail with a tape measure.
Willow was most uncomfortable and gave a low irritated meow as her tail itched to flick these humans away from her.
“I believe my cat is ready for a stretch,” Martha cautioned the two contest attendants, having felt Willow’s waning patience; she knew it was just a matter of seconds before Willow gave in to her need for freedom.
“We’re done; we've everything we need to enter your beautiful cat,” the women with the tape measure assured Martha, “and here are your course times,” she added handing Martha a short rectangular paper.
“Why do I need course times?”
“It’s so you can familiarize your cat with the obstacle course, but please be punctual; if you’re late you cannot make up the time. It’s a very tight schedule as there are over twenty entrants this year.”
“I understand,” Martha said accepting the paper, “and we will be punctual, or gladly forfeit.”
Willow shuddered at the thought of what these other cats had to endure. Training course indeed, forfeit would be the way of it for her. She gave a disgruntled meow to her human and jumped off the scale heading directly towards the door.
“You really need to keep your cat in a carrier,” the woman said to Martha.
“Whatever for; Willow is old enough to walk about on her own.”
“But it’s the rule…you can’t just…let her wander,” the woman sputtered.
“Of course I can; it’s actually what cats do best,” Martha informed her with a smile before following the intelligent being in black fur out of the building.
The woman clutched her tape measure and shook her head, wondering if she should do more to contain the cat, or educate the owner?
Willow stepped out into the late afternoon sunlight and assessed the crowd of festival attendees that had increased in size. She wasn’t comfortable with all the stepping feet around her but the aroma of something tantalizing caught her attention and she was compelled to find the source.
Willow followed the enticing aroma and thought about the unenlightened humans who thought she needed to be trained. Train her? Ridiculous; she’d just have to train them.
Martha stepped out from the building and didn’t see where Willow had gone off to but she wasn’t concerned; Willow was capable of finding her way from anywhere to anywhere. She walked on towards the festival tents and spied Perfidia by a chili dog stand and strode over to her.
“How’d Willow take it?” Perfidia asked as she accepted her order from the vendor, a chilidog with all the toppings.
“As you’d expect,” Martha chuckled then decided to order a chilidog with all the trimmings for herself too.
“So, not well,” Perfidia surmised with a knowing smile before taking a bite of the delicious, unhealthy, treat.
“Of course Willow wasn’t pleased but she did keep her annoyance in check.”
Perfidia was surprised the proud feline had allowed the intrusive measuring without a little havoc.
Martha chuckled and qualified her answer, “She did, but just barely, a few seconds more and I’m not sure what would have been.”
“Oh, I’m sure fur would have flown, and not Willow’s.”
Martha nodded at Perfidia's insightful deduction then took a bite of her tempting chilidog and sighed for a different reason.
“Oh my, this is amazing.”
“Yes it is,” Perfidia agreed, “and why is that? Why is everything unhealthy, so remarkably delicious?” Perfidia posed the question, taking another scrumptious bite.
Martha didn’t respond to her question; she’d caught sight of someone she didn’t want to see and her enjoyment of the chilidog had ceased at the knowledge he was walking over to her.
“What’s wrong?” Perfidia asked, “Did you get a bad taste?”
“No,” Martha managed to mumble as the person walked up behind Perfidia.
The deep voice came from behind her and Perfidia turned around with interest; she saw the man’s eyes were riveted on Martha and she stepped aside.
“Hello, Percival,” Martha mumbled, swallowing the now tasteless bite of chilidog that had stuck in her throat.
“What a surprise to see you,” Perfidia said to him with speculation, “How’ve you been?”
“And hello to you Perfidia,” Percival acknowledged her with a nod but before he could give a bland accounting of his state of being, Martha interrupted.
“Perfidia, would you mind if Percival and I had a moment alone?”
“No, of course not;” she agreed breezily, “I’ll go check out the tea brewing contest and let you know what I find out about the competition,” Perfidia said sotto voce and turned up the collar of her stylish summer jacket in spy fashion before walking away, but her laughter twinkled back to them.
“What was that about?” Percival asked, giving Perfidia’s retreating back a bewildered look.
“Don’t try to figure her out it would take up too much of your life,” Martha warned.
Percival turned back to Martha and smiled. “Perfidia is a unique person but…I must say I am surprised to see you here Martha.”
“Why would you be surprised?”
“Because you haven’t attended this festival since you left…should I be heartened to see you here; perhaps you’ve read my letters and forgiven me. Did you come here to seek me out?”
Martha stepped back at his assessment. She hadn’t been prepared to see him or answer his questions, but if their paths had to cross now, she’d deal with it.
“Yes, I’ve read your letters but they’re not the reason I’m here.”
“Oh I see; can I at least hope you’ve forgiven me?”
Martha’s eyes softened, she had cared for him once.
“Your letters were a comfort Percival but only in imparting the fact that we were not meant to be a couple, so there is nothing to forgive.”
Percival nodded at her acceptance but he still felt a bothersome guilt over the years of silence between.
“I know we cannot return to those days but...what of friendship? Can you see a path to being friends again?”
Martha’s eyes clouded with memories as she tossed the half eaten chilidog into the waste container.
“It’s murky but...maybe…it's not impossible.”
Percival grinned at her words and his dark blue eyes lit with hope.
“I’m pleased to hear it Martha. I do miss us; I miss you in my life.”
Martha turned away and began to walk.
Percival double stepped to catch up to her.
She didn’t look at him as she clarified her statement.
“Percival, I said it’s murky not inevitable; even if we weren’t meant to be; I’m not ready to revisit our past.”
Percival’s brow furrowed with curiosity and he queried, “Then why are you here Martha? I wouldn’t think you’d come to the festival if you weren’t ready to accept this place, and all of its occupants again; you do remember…the last time we were together…was here.”
Martha didn’t need the reminder of their last happy day together and if Willow were here, she might have allowed her to let her escape, but she didn’t see Willow anywhere. And yes, she knew she’d have to face curious interrogations from most of the town’s occupants by coming back, not just Percival’s curiosity, but she’d hoped at least for her first day to be uneventful, apparently that was not to be.
“I can’t give you the reason why I’m here Percival; I’m not even sure what will come of it.”
“That doesn’t sound like you Martha; you always have a plan, in fact nothing you do has ever been unplanned.”
“Are you saying I’m not spontaneous?”
“I’m saying I’d never seen you be.”
“Well that’s a bit insulting. Maybe you’re forgetting I did leave here without a plan.”
“Oh…well yes, I suppose that’s true. And I’m sorr-”
“No, no more apologies Percy;” Martha stopped his words, using her shortened version of his name from their days of dating, “Your letters were filled with regret and it isn’t necessary to regret the truth.”
Percival’s eyes turned sad. He’d never wanted to hurt Martha; he’d cared deeply for her but that last summer, something had come between them and he couldn’t truly say what it was. They may not have been meant for each other, but the event with the letters had hurt her and he felt responsible for that hurt, even if he hadn’t perpetrated the switch.
His eyes grew pensive. “I wish you could have read the letters when I wrote them; maybe you wouldn’t have left.”
Martha gave a cursory thought to his assumption before she denied it.
“I still would have left, maybe not in such a huff…but I would have left.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because that last summer, even before we argued, I’d felt restless, missing something or maybe looking to escape. I’m not sure which it was but staying here wouldn’t have been an option, not for long.”
“But we might have stayed in touch, stayed friends.”
“No, we wouldn’t have Percy. Don’t you realize what your letters admitted to?”
“Yes, that I was a fool and said things I regretted, and that I wanted your forgiveness.”
“You may have wanted to apologize for how we broke up, but you weren’t looking to reunite us. Your letters weren't love letters; they were reasons for your behavior, lots of reasons for ending our relationship, and that’s what you were asking my forgiveness for.
He gave her an adamant look. “I never wrote that we should break up.”
“Maybe not in those words but it was there in the shadows of your arguments, in the defense of how you’d been acting Percy. You did like Miriam, even then, and you were guilty about that fact, but you were also thrilled at how happy she was to receive those letters from you, whether you’d sent them or not.”
He looked away unable to negate her words.
“And you still like Miriam, don’t you?” Martha added softly, nudging his arm with her elbow.
“I…I…,” he stammered; he couldn’t bring himself to admit it, but he couldn’t deny it either, and maybe she knew that too.
“You can be honest with me,” Martha coaxed, “I won’t think you lied about those letters. I believe someone else switched them; someone who knew your heart better than you did and made sure you had no choice in the matter…or me either,” Martha said the last word as chills raced through her.
She’d just realized someone had been manipulating their lives back then too; was it the same someone who was interfering in her life now? If it was, then they’d been doing it since the day Percival’s letters had been switched? But why, and who’d want to do that, for what purpose?
Martha grew quiet as she reflected on those questions.
Percival didn’t notice Martha’s preoccupation he was focused on forming his response to her perception of his feelings for Miriam.
He decided on his words but didn’t look her in the eyes as he admitted, “I do like Miriam and to be honest we've been seeing each other, for a few years now, but I truly don’t know who switched those letters, or why.”
Martha stared into the darkening sky considering the same question.
“I don’t know that either but maybe that’s the reason I’m here…to find out their identity.”
“If I can help you uncover this interfering person, I'd want to do that.”
“No, I’ll be better on my own but if I find out anything, I’ll let you know.”
“I’d appreciate that Martha,” he said, then grew quiet. He knew their conversation was ending, and he still hadn’t bridged the gap between them.
“If you ever want to talk, meet up for a movie, or a coffee…,” he trailed off.
Martha stared into those dark eyes and or a moment it was summer, five years ago, and the sky was blue and the air was alive with flowers, and he had been the center of that day.
Martha shook the memory away.
“Maybe, but I’d prefer tea over coffee,” she corrected with a smile, it was bittersweet because she wouldn’t be calling him and they both knew that.
They’ stood silent, focused on each other. They had shared sweet memories and the positivity of this encounter could let them surface, without regret.
“How could I forget your love of tea,” he said with a self mocking chuckle.
“How indeed,” she teased him, “Good bye Percy,” she whispered and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.
His eyes blurred at the touch of her lips and from the connection it opened to all those shared moments of tenderness. He smiled down at her.
“Good bye Martha. I do wish you everything you’re looking for, and more.”
“I wish it right back at you,” she said with a tremulous smile.
Percival walked away just as Willow sauntered over to Martha and gave a sour meow.
Martha looked down at the feline and brushed away the unshed tears that had formed. “It’s okay Willow; he isn’t someone we dislike…not anymore.”
Martha and Willow walked together, back into the lights of the festival.
Perfidia waved to Martha from the ice cream, concession stand and walked over to her, carrying a double scoop of pistachio ice cream on a waffle cone and smiling widely.
“You’re enjoying yourself,” Martha teased her.
“I am…and it’s a surprise to me too because my memories of the festival have been difficult to get over.”
“Your dad…?” Martha whispered.
Perfidia nodded. “He would bring me here every year, let me fill up on all the junk food I desired and he’d play the games of chance until he won me a stuffed animal; we’d have so much fun, all day…,” her words trailed off and she turned away before continuing in a softer, sadder tone, “I haven’t been back here since he died.," she swallowed her tears before continuing, “but today, I feel him here with me, and it’s been a good feeling,” she confided the last, turning back to Martha; her tear filled eyes filled with surprise and joy.
“I’m glad you’re accepting those memories and allowing them to be happy ones again,” Martha said kindly.
“I am too, but enough about me,” she said self consciously wiping away the tears, “What about you?”
“Me? I’m doing fine.”
“What about you and Percival,” she clarified, “Are you two back together?”
“That was never a possibility.”
“So then he’s still a suspect?”
“No, I never thought Percival was a suspect but, talking to him did open up a whole other concern about how long this manipulator of ours has been around.”
“Oh? Do tell…but first let’s get one of those funnel cakes to share,” Perfidia said taking Martha’s arm and marching her in that vendor’s direction.
Martha’s eyes widened. “You’re going to roll home tonight if you’re not careful Perfidia.”
“You’re absolutely right but oddly…I don’t care,” Perfidia said with a burst of laughter.
Willow looked up at Perfidia with a questioning look; she wasn’t sure what had happened to the troublesome, red headed human but it appeared she was actually happy.