On the farm where Morty and Myrtle grew up, there was an old farmer who lived in a one room house. It had no inner supporting walls, not even for a toilet which stood bare in the corner of the room. There were two windows (both were very small and had a tendency to squint with sunlight rather than shine with sunlight), a musty, puke green shag carpet and dirty olive wall paper with tarnished, faux gold stripes. There was a kitchenette along the west wall and a fire stove in the northeast corner. It could’ve been a sunshine yellow at some point, but the dust and the soot made it look like a burnt corn-on-the-cob. In the living room, there was: a fraying, embroidered foot stool, a cherry wood desk covered with crusty old letters, a single bed neatly made with a thin homemade burgundy quilt and lastly, an old worn down chair with greasy spots on the arms where the farmer would wipe his fingers after eating supper. The springs in the chair were so broken that when the farmer sat, he sunk, and it was one of his favourite things. For there is nothing more comforting then sinking into the arms of something or someone you love. The farmer was a simple man and all he needed was his dog, his farm and his corn-on-the-cob wood stove. He spent his days and nights in the company of all three.
Once, he received a phone call from a salesman to ask if he had a t.v. and of course, he did not. A fire is all you need. A fire, a dog and a deep arm chair to sink in. The salesman tried to win the old farmer over to his campaign to entertain every farm in southern Saskatchewan with televisions. But the man was pushy and the farmer did not like being pushed so he hung up on the man and went back to his greasy armchair to watch his fire. It wasn’t until he went into town to drop off some mail (the mail on his cherry wood desk) at the post office, he overheard a woman telling her coworker about the family movies CBC plays on Sunday evenings.
Fam-i-ly. What a foreign word, thunk the farmer. I haven’t heard it in so long.
The old man tried to forget it because what’s the use of trying to remember something that isn’t yours. But the word stuck to him like charred cod on a cookie sheet. Stinky and stubbornly.
He’d be out in the field chasing the cattle with his old truck, yelling at the cow to moo-ve and mid-sentence, he’d remember, “Fam-i-ly.” Shake it from his head and yell some more. He’d be out by the fallen wooden post where that damn cow got out. He’d cuss and spit as he fought with that stupid post to get it back where it belonged, when he heard it again, “Fam-i-ly.” He’d blink, breathe and slide the post back into place. But the last and final time he heard it was when his beloved, old farm dog got ran over at the edge of his property. The ground was too frozen to dig a hole so he cremated the dog behind the barn and spread his ashes near his favourite tree where the two of them — the old dog and his farmer– would nap in the summer.
Fam-i-ly, whispered the winter wind that licked the rolling tear off the old man’s face.
After the cremation, the farmer couldn’t look at any sort of fire without thinking of fur. So he turned his chair to the wall and stared at it instead. But that was very “into-the-abyss-y” so he caved, called the lady at the post office and asked where he could buy a television so he could watch family movies on CBC. He went to Regina, bought it for two hundred dollars and set it up on the abyss-y wall. Most evenings but especially on Sundays, he’d grab Morty and Myrtle from the barn, bring them into the house, scratch their ears and watch the family movies on CBC just like that lady in the post office said. Myrtle remembers watching a movie about a lady who was trapped in a castle with a beast and the beast was very mean to her but then he was trying to be nice and led her to his big library. There were books and books and books and books and it took away Myrtle’s breath just like it did to the lady in the movie. And ever since then, Myrtle has wanted to live in a castle with a big library.
And this dream became a reality when Myrtle was taken in — along with her uncle Morty — to The Castle, a cat cafe in Regina.
After Heggy, the Castle’s part-time manager and full-time stylist, finished introducing himself, he appointed one of his servants to show Myrtle where she’d be staying. They said good night and Morty followed Heggy to the quarters where all the male cats slept. Heggy’s servant took Myrtle into the drawing room (which was really just a common area) that had library shelves which lined almost all of the walls.
“Pick a cubby, any cubby,” welcomed the blotchy ginger, “You can have any cubby you like except for that one.”
She pointed up and up to a cozy little cubby by the mantle of the fireplace.
“That’s the Royal Cubby and it’s reserved for the queen. It’s empty right now because we’re looking for a new queen but when the king finds her that’s where she’ll live, ” said Blotchy.
Myrtle found a spot on the top shelf, bid Blotchy adieu and retired to her cozy cubby on the top shelf. The books smelled musty like the farmer’s green shag carpet. Myrtle sighed and fell asleep with her nose stuck in the spine of a stale book.
At some point in the middle of the night, Myrtle heard the jingle of the door open and the light in the corridor shone dimly. Something was hiccuping and sniffling in the front porch. It was Susan Pettigrew, the intake volunteer of the Castle and resident cat cuddler.
A cat on the mantle saw Susan, jumped delicately down and landed softly on the carpet. He met her at the door where she promptly picked him up and snuggled him close.
“Oh Zirk, I’m so happy it’s you. I know I’m not supposed to be here in the middle of the night but, but– Eric just broke up with me!”
[TO BE CONTINUED]
Author’s Note: In the last check-in, I mentioned that the Christian writer’s job is to learn to let go and NOT manipulate the story. Just wanted to take a minute to clarify what I meant. The story I’m telling is not exactly like the King James version. I’m taking some creative liberties here so obvi the story is being manipulated. However, my goal is to touch on a couple of important themes and one is the concept of being ‘chosen.’ In order to understand the ‘specialness’ of being chosen, you kind of have to understand the opposite of it, too. Hence, the necessity of Susan’s rejection. There needs to be a contrast. The bible doesn’t need my help in telling a compelling story but I do hope these meandering backstories will help illustrate a couple of the themes I feel are important to understand Esther/Myrtle’s story better.
I’m mostly telling you this because I’m terrified of teaching this wrong and people misunderstanding what I was trying to do. Not every piece of writing demands an explanation but when it comes to the bible, I do believe being as clear as possible is important.