Molly & Dylan Sleeping photo by Bill Fletcher
From TODD WALTON
Under The Table
An Inter-Species Holiday Fable
Myra Eberhardt is a self-avowed cat person—the kind of cat person who finds dogs and most of their people wanting in grace and civility. A stickler for neatness and punctuality, always up-to-date on the latest fashions, and something of a snob, Myra is forty-four, attractive, bright, and successful in all things save marriage. Men are attracted to Myra like bees to maple syrup, but the apparent faults of these fellows inevitably transcend their charms, and Myra despairs of ever finding her match. Thus her three cats, Bingo, Butch, and Groucho are more than pets to Myra, they are her children andSignificant Other(s).
As one of the top wedding facilitators in the greater Bay Area, Myra frequently auditions musicians seeking work in that relatively lucrative field, and in mid-November, a slow time for weddings before the usual outburst of Christmas nuptials, Myra has the extreme pleasure of auditioning an accordion player named Michael O’Reilly with whom she falls head over heels in love.
Michael is a loose-limbed easygoing fellow of fifty-four with an uncouth head of wavy brown hair, his parents born in Ireland, he in San Francisco, his brogue slight but charming, and he is an absolute wizard on his squeeze box, his vast repertoire of songs spanning every known genre and then some.
“I used to say I could play anything from Bach to the Beatles,” Michael explains to Myra after wowing her with a medley beginning with Mendelssohn’s wedding march, climaxing with a Piazzolla tango, and finishing with an irresistible hip hop version of The Girl From Ipanema, “but we’ve entered an era when both Bach and the Beatles are considered classical music, so I’ve had to expand my genre base, as it were.”
“I’m sold,” says Myra, struggling to keep her professional persona distinct from that of a deeply smitten woman. “I’m sure I can come up with plenty for you to do. Weddings, I mean.”
“Great,” says Michael, returning his accordion to its case. “To that end, here is my brand new business card.”
With a graceful bow, Michael hands Myra an obviously homemade card featuring the faces of two smiling dogs.
Myra stiffens. “What…why dogs?”
“Oh, that’s Rex and Ziggy,” says Michael, gazing fondly at the likenesses of his beloved pooches. “I have a show for children, too, with Rex and Ziggy as my co-stars.”
“I see,” says Myra, commanding her frontal lobe to terminate infatuation. “I trust that for weddings…”
“I hope you won’t think me impetuous,” says Michael, impetuously interrupting her, “but would you like to go out with me? Food and jazz at Yoshi’s? I’m rather taken with you, and that’s a colossal understatement.”
And the sweet musicality of his voice and the electricity flowing back and forth between them like a sideways Niagara makes Myra blurt, “Yes!”
Two evenings after their initial meeting, Michael arrives at Myra’s impeccable Berkeley bungalow driving an old station wagon outfitted for canine transport, and Myra invites him in for a drink before they zip off to Yoshi’s.
“I have three cats,” says Myra, sitting not too far from Michael on her brown leather sofa and wondering if he’d be open to suggestions regarding his hopelessly outdated wardrobe. “But you won’t see them. They hide whenever anyone comes over.” She laughs. “Your classic scaredy cats.”
“I love cats,” says Michael, sighing in admiration of Myra. “You are one beautiful woman.”
“Thank you.” She blushes. “Wine? I have an excellent pinot.”
“I’d love a beer,” says Michael, nodding hopefully. “I’m not much of a wine drinker, but I love beer. Dark if you have it.”
“Sorry,” says Myra, her hopes of a wine connoisseur dashed. “No beer.”
“Tea?” suggests Michael, grinning at the approach of three big kitty cats, Bingo appropriating Michael’s lap, Butch and Groucho rubbing and snuffling against Michael’s shoes and pants, the doggy scents irresistible to their inquisitive noses.
“This is unprecedented,” says Myra, dazzled by the sight of her cats fawning over Michael. “They always hide when I have guests.”
“Oh, if I had half the way with women I have with animals,” says Michael, petting the adoring felines, “I’d probably, oh God…”
“Yes?” says Myra, laughing in delight as she forgets again that Michael features dogs on his business card. “You’d probably oh God what?”
On Christmas day, Myra goes to Michael’s house for the first time. Having fulfilled their separate obligations to friends and relations that morning, and with their romance now well into the kissing phase, Myra braces herself for a front yard akin to certain unfortunate dog parks, rutted and muddy. But as she nears his house, she is stunned to see a Shangri-la of rose bushes and fruit trees with nary a sign of canine trampling.
“Must have sacrificed the backyard,” she murmurs, hurrying through the rain to the front door and wondering why she doesn’t smell anything particularly gross and doggy about the place.
The front door is ajar, the house resounding to Nat King Cole singing Christmas songs, the scents of freshly baked gingerbread and bubbling spaghetti sauce mingling surprisingly well.
“Hello?” says Myra, stepping into the piano-dominated living room with her big box of gifts for Michael, knowing she’s probably gone overboard on the shirts, but what the hell. “Anybody home?”
In response to her question, an enormous hound of complex origins appears on the threshold of the kitchen, wags his colossal tail, gives Myra a goofy smile, and sits. This is Rex, and he knows very well that his great size gives any human pause, but that he is especially frightening to people with an aversion to his kind.
A moment passes, Myra frozen in fear, and now Ziggy, a Lab Collie Whippet Poodle, joins Rex on the threshold, wags his tail, smiles, and sits, too.
This can’t possibly work thinks Myra, admitting to herself for the first time in her life that what she fears most about dogs is they are so much like people, and people have never been her forte, whereas cats…
At which moment, a third being appears on the threshold, this one a feline of many hues, a gorgeous calico named Miro who does not tarry with the dogs but approaches Myra without a whisker of trepidation, swirls about the woman’s legs, and communicates loud and clear (on the psychic plane) Pick me up, honey. I love women.
And as she cradles the sonorously purring Miro against her bosom, Myra’s heart breaks open, as healthy hearts are made to do, and Rex and Ziggy feel Myra’s heart opening as their cue to cross the room and greet their master’s beloved—Michael recording the sweet miracle with his camera.