Miss Jennie Skeel blended with the dusk the past seventy years to bury her 602 pets on her estate. She visited the burial grounds daily, and gave unusual attention to Rags and Big Ted. Rags the terrier passed on at eighteen. Big Ted the orange tom at twenty-two.
Rags kept an eye glued to his keeper from his wicker basket, as Miss Skeel worked her crossword puzzles at the kitchen table. He died resting his jaw on the basket's edge the morning Jennie's grandnieces, Gina and Jane got together for their monthly visit.
They gave Rags an affectionate scratch behind the ears, a pat on his head, before joining their Aunt for the day's crosswords.
Jane dashed out her cigarette. "Jennie, is something wrong with Rags?"
"Are you sure?"
"Old boy stares for the longest time."
"Rags enjoys our company."
"He's not moving," Jane said.
"He is resting."
"We should not disturb, though he seldom blinks."
Removed her bifocals and rubbed her eye lids. "He doesn't act himself."
"Let him be ... he is find."
Gina arose from her seat, stooped to stroke Rag's back. "... not breathing."
"Your friend is dead, Jennie."
"Took you long enough...."
"Jennie...." They scolded.
"He is with us in peace."
Gina put her glasses on. "When did he pass?"
"I am not sure? Remember giving him a treat before I began my crosswords. No ... expired listening to the piano...."
"Still one space," Gina said.
Adjusted her glasses. "Ten down, 'evaluate anew'."
"That fits Jennie."
"Jane, be a dear. Put on the kettle."
"So many choices. Do you prefer green or Earl Grey or?
"Earl Grey please."
"Where are you burying Rags?" Jane asked.
"Next to Muzzer."
"Muzzer will enjoy her son by her side."
Jane lit another cigarette. "After tea we'll help dig...."
"Evening is best...."
"Your front grass needs mowed."
"Randal will be by today."
The completion of several crossword puzzles followed by tea, they waited until Randal cut the lawn before her grandnieces carried Rags to an open trailer attached to a small tractor.
Jennie drove the tractor 100-yards from the house to Muzzer's unmarked plot. The three took turns digging next to Muzzer's grave.
Jane dug, as her aunt and sister rested on the rear of the trailer.
"Jennie," Gina hopped-off the back, "Stephen Jackson troubled you lately?"
"Come on Jennie, why hold on with his scams...."
"I'm afraid so...."
"Still propositioning to buy your property...."
"Sold him thirty acres ... meaning to tell you. He promised a bird sanctuary near the back of my home."
Jane stopped shoveling. "You should have let us known--we don't trust him--when did you sell?
"Last month when you and Gina vacationed in Switzerland. He has changed. Lost his stingy streak. Wants me to meet his lovable partner, Bonnie. Girls, I understand you cannot bear his past discretions ... everything will turn out...."
"I hope so. He's started trouble since we were kids."
Jennie in tears joined her nieces. "Goodbye old boy. I'll miss you...."
She drove with her grandnieces seated on the trailer. The stars reminded them when their young legs dangled from the trailer's edge.
Early on, Miss Skeel shared her land with the Jackson family. They lived in her guest house. She loved when the Jackson's three children played with her pets.
Years later, one misgiving, she signed an agreement. Forty-year-old Stephen Jackson, youngest sibling, purchased a section of her acreage.
Stephen and Bonnie Black, stopped over the following morning. "Aunt Jennie, meet my partner, Bonnie."
"Hello, your the florist in town."
Removed her coke like glasses, and exhaled sweet breath. "Why yes...."
Miss Skeel held a #2 pencil and seated herself at the kitchen table. "Stephen, I'm concerned about the sale...."
"We'll be subdividing the property,"
"Young man," pencil dropped to the floor, "I change my mind."
"Sorry," made time to scratch his huge back end, ignoring the pencil, "I'm holding you to our agreement."
"I wish you would reconsider."
"No--my objectives are in motion."
"Cripes," adjusted her white bun.
Stephen moved close to Bonnie. "I thought hard about the change. The yard still reminds me of a park--flower plots and all...."
"Nevertheless, when do you plan to start?"
"Two weeks. Confirmed with the Contractor, August Wright. Next Wednesday, he'll be back for a final walk-a-round. Don't fret," continued to ignore the pencil under the table, "the bird sanctuary is ... noted near your house."
"Will you reconsider?"
"No way possible--plans are set."
"Miss Black, I want my yard not to change, from our original conversation. Talk to him...."
Her eyes enlarged from arranging her glasses to focus on the floor. She returned the pencil to Miss Skeel. "The property is his."
"I will consult with Godfrey."
Again, scratched his back-side. "Godfrey who?"
"He is much more, Stephen."
"Do understand, Aunt Jennie. Lots of money here...."
"Money? ...this is what you are...."
"Yes. Goodbye, the lovely Miss Black, and to you Stephen. "
"For sure." Shortened his scratch.
Godfrey came out of hiding, stretched, and leaped on the kitchen table.
"Needy boy, they made you wait for your cream. Excuse me? Yes, we will own our home and keep the North land. Oh Godfrey, they will be digging in our cemetery. On my lap for a hug. Time to visit.... Yes, I will talk to Big Ted. Godfrey, why the scowl? He grew into a wonderful tomcat. Yes, granted you are more helpful. No, until I question him, I'll find out if he still holds a grudge. What? No, you were not around when Stephen kicked him. No--Godfrey, away from the door. I don't want you near his grave. Pardon ... don't be coy--think back what you did ... bad Godfrey."
Hours later, Godfrey meowed welcoming Miss Skeel at the back door.
"Godfrey, what plan have you devised? Nothing...? We must change Stephen's mind. Big Ted is working on a solution. He'll be satisfied when Mr. Jackson remains with him. No Godfrey, not Miss Black, Stephen is our problem."
The following week, Stephen introduced August Wright, before they viewed the land. Miss Skeel said, "When you're finished, please come in for homemade lemonade and cookies."
"Sorry," August said, "Another commitment."
Picked at the back of his pants."You don't know what you're missing," turned to Miss Skeel. "I'll be in soon."
She steered her tractor to a bed of lilies of the valley, cropped a dozen before returning to the kitchen. Jennie prepared lemonade, quart bowl of salad, and set the oven timer for oatmeal cookies. She walked back to the tractor and drove.
Stephen and August talked nonstop at the far end of her property. Switched off the engine. "Am I interrupting...?"
"Not at all," Stephen said. "We've decided where to put the lake and sanctuary."
"Yes, my birds...."
August pointed. "Fantastic view, birds flying from here to the pond near your--"
"Mr. Wright, let's not bore Aunt Jennie with all the details."
"From here? Our current agreement, the sanctuary is to be behind my fruit trees."
"Plan change. We'll dredge closer in," Stephen said.
"Yes, twelve to fifteen feet...."
"By my home?"
"Trouble with the land samples."
"Miss Skeel, "August walked to the trailer. "May I use your shovel?"
August picked out one of the three spades, dug in the ground, and held up a shovel full.... "The soil."
"Nearer to your house, the Perk Test indicates an adequate mixture of clay to hold water.
"Thank you Mr. Wright. I am not surprised of the change. I'll leave you men to your work. I will be expecting you in my kitchen for goodies."
Scratched his back end. "Be a second...."
Minutes later, Stephen trudged through the house, and deposited a dirt trail to the kitchen. "Aunt Jennie, the flowers, so many flowers...."
"You're a gentleman. Lilies of the valley are my favorite. Now for a fresh glass of lemonade and--no, no, young man. Eat your salad before the dessert."
"Will do you good."
"Still watching over us...."
"All my children plus one marks you ... 603...."
"Forgive me, I am thinking ahead."
"This is how I remember the kitchen table, food and the Times Puzzle ... except all these legal papers...."
"Wonderful boy--devoured most of your greens."
"Salad has a different flavor--tasty...."
"Yes, all for Stephen...."
"What are these orange no red berries?"
"The lilies bare the orange-red berries--will give you the boost you need...."
"I read somewhere the berries aren't healthy."
"The berries are fresh and safe as they benefited my loving pets."
"You smoke Aunt Jennie? Fancy gold cigarette case ... gold lighter...."
Held the cigarette like a dart. "On occasion."
"Pass the--pass the...."
" ...the cookies?"
"You always impressed me with your wonderful appetite eating twice more than anyone. You realize, when my angels aged and in pain, I helped my children along with orange-red berries ... acted like you ... gasping for air. They're waiting Stephen. Remember when you played behind the apple trees? No clue of my angels' graves. Pushed your siblings, my grandnieces, and kicked my pets to be first in the kitchen."
"You will join them. Big Ted's anticipating your stay--all is forgiven. Done with the lilies, I counted on your appetite...."
"My head's killing me."
"Try to relax."
"Eat before the cookies go cold."
"Not like you, and you left two berries in the salad bowl. Here, let's make a happy face, one orange eye and one red eye on the cookie...."
"My ... eyes."
"Give yourself a moment. The bleariness will pass. Hurry, sign the paper."
"Stephen, listen to Aunt Jennie. Sign your name on this line ... oh my, a gentleman to donate my property back...."
"Where are you?"
"Told you your bleariness will pass--when my angels come visit."
"We shouldn't disturb nor repeat...."
"Your chest understands the sluggish heart beat...."
"I'm getting ... out of here...."
"Would be of help, can you walk?"
"To the trailer."
"Quit repeating--you're irritating. Better to walk or I'll hitch your ankle to the tractor."
"My stomach ... the pain...."
"Try not to be nauseated. Your skin is clammy."
"My darlings' legs went heavy. Like you, they fell to the floor and rolled on their backs."
"They're waiting. Big Ted will invite and number you...."
"Remember you're 603, Stephen."
"You are a headache taking up my piano time...."
"You improved to enlarged pupils."
"Don't talk to--me."
"As you wish."
"Stop drooling on my floor--Godfrey, stay...."
"Godfrey ... help...."
"Your cheeks grow red. What child of mine is your favorite?"
"You mentioned that. Next to Big Ted, Okay?"
"He is excited to greet his new roommate."
"... help me."
"I am.... Careful Stephen, shouldn't slam your head beneath the table. You must hurry, you do remember my piano time, and Randal is due to landscape an extra hole. Oh, I'll ask Big Ted to forgive you for never offering to cut my lawn."
Phone interrupted their talk. "Hello?"
"Jane and I are planning to stop by to trim the front bushes."
"Thank you, Randal's on his way to mow the grass."
"I don't think so, Stephen is here...."
"Is he a problem?"
"No. He is quiet for a change."
"Ever a wonder...."
"Godfrey is pleased. Stephen let him rest on his chest, acting silly on the floor."
"I don't trust him."
"Rags' doesn't trust him by his basket."
"Well, Godfrey loves you. What's Stephen up to?"
"Finished the layout of my or for the moment, his property."
"Hope his promise works out, Jennie."
"He stayed for lunch."
"He's a mooch."
"In fairness, I invited him."
"Anything for a freebie."
"Didn't touch his cookies."
"What? That's a first...."
"He ate the salad. Come visit tomorrow, lot's of cookies."
"Alright, good-bye Jennie."
"Godfrey, you mustn't disturb him. Stephen, meet my confidant.... Godfrey, come off his chest. Pardon...? Big Ted is waiting ... also my music and crosswords.... No.... I will not call Gina and Jane--I'm aware where the spades are.... No, we'll wait until Randal trims the shrubs, and I'll show him where to start the burial site--he'll be happy to earn the extra money. Too early for your cream. Excuse me? Don't concern yourself. Stephen's backside will not fit in your basket. I told you to come away from him. No...? Be stubborn. What? He is not staying, Stephen overstayed his welcome. All right, until nightfall.... Godfrey, my piano waits. Be patient, so behave and stop demanding answers until Randal digs the grave. Yes, I'll allow you to help me bury Stephen--only then, you're permitted to visit Big Ted for a short while. What? Alright, you may nap on his chest until Stephen goes cold...."
Author Notes: Sole property of John Sanders: All rights reserved