Maybe Next Year – Short Story
By: Rebecca Yuncken
Sammie really did look extraordinary. Ruth laid down her grooming comb and leant back on her metal stool, using her hands to fluff his splendid, grey ruff which billowed from either side of his majestic face. Sampson Prince Wetherly III, Sammie for short, had hit his peak. She glanced up at the glossy timber honour boards that hung on the far wall of the large exhibition space and zeroed in on the section entitled ‘South Eastern Regional Cat Fanciers Association’. The blank space against 2013 in the ‘Medium Hair Persian, Full Breed’ section gleamed down at her alluringly.
Ruth turned back to Sammie, who sat obediently on his orange display towel, his topaz eyes peering out through layers of primped and preened fur. Those few crumbs of Valium she’d sprinkled over his Fancy Feast this morning were a stroke of genius, she smiled to herself, reaching once again for the comb. Enough to take the edge off, but not enough to dull his gaze. Bright eyes were a very important segment in the judging, and often underestimated by the novice.
Around her, the room bustled with cat fanciers from around the city, and the state. First timers could be discerned not only by their cheery faces and their cheap plastic cat carriers, but their propensity for civility. The serious contenders concentrated on their business and did not allow themselves to be distracted by small talk. One short conversation over a Burmese could cost you the title. They’d learn.
Ruth’s comb unexpectedly caught on a knot under Sammie’s undercarriage, breaking him out of his stupor. He turned and tried to sink his pearly fangs into her hand, but she was too quick for his sedated reflexes. She did take the opportunity, however, to pull up his lip and inspect his front incisors for any plaque. That kind of detail could make the difference between blue ribbon and wooden spoon. She knew it only too well.
A flash of pink to the right caught Ruth’s eye. She turned to see Betsy, her one time best friend, coaxing Tinkerbell out of her diamante-encrusted, fuchsia cat carrier. Betsy waved and Ruth feigned a greeting, her eyes narrowing sharply on Sammy’s nemesis. Tinkerbell crept slowly out from her fairy like enclosure but, unfortunately for Betsy, her mood was no tribute to her namesake. Ears flattened, her growls travelled through the octaves as Betsy fruitlessly waved a tuna treat in front of her nose. Oh dear, Ruth smiled to herself, Tinkerbell is having an off day. She looked down at Sammy’s docile figure. That etcher better start learning how to spell ‘Wetherly’, because she had it in the bag.
* * * * * *
Ruth fiddled with her pearls and smoothed her sweaty hands over her tweed skirt. The judges were only two tables away now and her nerves were really jangling. She looked around. Several of the contestants were already packing away their cats, having determined from the judges’ pursed lips that this was not their year at the South Eastern Regional Cat Fanciers Show. Most of the newcomers had had the smiles wiped from their hopeful faces at the curt and forthright comments of the panel as they cut their little Lucy or Mumu to shreds. This was not a gig for the faint-hearted.
The judges were now approaching archrival Betsy and her Tinkerbell, the latter finally calmed into some semblance of respectability. In fact, the charcoal Persian seemed to be pleasing the judges, to Ruth’s immense aggravation. They nodded to each other and murmured appreciatively as Betsy lifted Tinkerbell’s tail to display her from nose to tip. “She’s already a three time winner,” Betsy simpered. Ruth resisted the urge to fly over the tables and drop her diamante cat carrier over her tightly permed head.
After a long discourse on Tinkerbell’s merits, the panel moved on. Ruth felt something brush against her abdomen and, glancing down, reeled back in horror. Sammie had flopped on his side, a small trail of drool oozing from the corner of his slackened mouth. “Sammie!” she shrieked. She scooped her hands underneath his shoulders and shook him softly. He twitched an eyelid, then returned to his slumber.
Well at least he isn’t dead, Ruth realised. Just comatose. The Valium! She picked Sammie up again and shook him harder. Betsy looked over at the commotion and Ruth was sure she saw the briefest of smiles. “Come on Sammie, come on,” Ruth franticly tried to coax the limp animal. She lifted one eyelid and then the other, but they slid straight back over his glazed yellow irises.
Oh god, the judges were approaching. They were upon her! “Good afternoon,” Ruth valiantly attempted a recovery. “And who do we have here?” asked the tall man in the grey suit, presumably the head judge. “Sampson Prince Wetherly III, Sir” she replied, propping the Persian up under each end of his belly. His frame drooped between each hand like the San Francisco bridge.
There was a long pause. “Excellent grooming,” the woman with the blue clipboard finally offered. “Hmmm… And marvellous colouring,” suggested another, in questioning tone. Ruth’s smile was frozen on her face, the dead weight of Sammie’s eight kilo frame causing her biceps to tremble.
“He seems a little, ah, quiet,” commented the head judge, his eyes resting on Sammie’s fat head which lolled from side to side as Ruth’s arms wobbled under the weight. “Oh, Sir, he’s just very… ah, very… reserved,” Ruth finished. “Indeed,” the judge replied dryly. Ruth was sure she heard a titter from Betsy’s direction.
The judge scribbled something in his pad before turning away. Ruth dropped both the desperate grimace along with the cat, who slithered silently back onto the table. She made sure she had her back turned to Betsy as she maneouvred the unconscious cat into his carrier.
Maybe a Prozac next year.