Bella rarely did as she was told. She was a cat, after all.
The children saw her as a plaything. They couldn’t stop themselves from picking her up and parading her around the house, or putting her in doll’s clothes. Bella was de-clawed before the family adopted her, so she couldn’t really fight back, which was okay with Marilyn, even though she felt more than a little sorry for the old girl.
You could say that everyone loved Bella. In fact, everyone loved Bella too much. This somewhat chaotic family dynamic was the reason why Bella rarely came out from underneath Marilyn’s bed, at least not while the children were at home.
But things were different, at least on school days, once the front door closed on the youngest of the three Grace children. Bella seemed to know when the last one had left. Marilyn theorized this was because, more often than not, she closed that door a little too hard, then fell against it, panting. Marilyn had yet to get used to the single mother thing. Consequently, mornings in the Grace household were trying at best.
But at some point between when Marilyn’s youngest left for school, usually with crumbs on her skirt and jelly in her hair, and when the noisy brakes on the school bus hissed, signaling its imminent departure from the neighborhood, Bella would appear.
She moved like a dancer, slinking down the upstairs hall, methodically checking every bedroom to ensure the brood was gone. Then she’d drop down the stairs lazily, one at a time. At last she’d appear, liquid and purring, at the door to Marilyn’s office.
By that point, Marilyn was already in her chair with her headset plugged in. She didn’t love her telemarketing job, but the hours were flexible, she could work from home, and frankly she wasn’t qualified for anything else once Dan left.
School days at the Grace house went more or less according to plan once the kids were gone. Marilyn would drop into her desk chair and pull up her telemarketing software, then Bella would appear. Without fail, the cat would walk three times around Marilyn’s chair, counter clockwise, then wait.
“You have my permission,” Marilyn would say. Then Bella would jump onto the desk and settle just to the right of the purple mouse pad. Between calls, Marilyn would pet her and say, “Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good puddy?”
Bella seemed to enjoy the gentle attention Marilyn gave her. Sometimes she even let Marilyn rub her belly, but only for a minute or two.
By 3:30, chaos descended once again, and Bella retreated to her sanctuary under Marilyn’s bed.
Everything changed at 3:21 a.m. on December 12. Marilyn woke up as she always did, oddly, at that exact time. She checked the alarm clock, even though she already knew precisely what time it was. Then she rolled over to go back to sleep.
But that night, something was different. It was a vibration, maybe, or an odor. Yes, it was an odor. It smelled like cat pee.
Groggily, Marilyn sat up in bed, half expecting to place her foot in a puddle at the side of the bed. “Bella?” she whispered. But she got no answer.
Marilyn heaved herself out of bed and padded down the hall to the bathroom. That smell…what was it? She got herself a glass of water and, as she brought it to her lips, her eyes grew wide.
The glass clinked around the bathroom sink. Marilyn was a whirlwind, gathering up children and blankets and teddies and pushing everyone by the shoulders as they rubbed their eyes and protested that it was too early – way too early mama – to get out of bed. Why is it so dark, mama? NO! Don’t turn on the light.
Four Graces stood in the dew on the front lawn, waiting. They heard the sirens before they saw the engines, and when they saw them, they were blinding. But right before all that, the littlest Grace mumbled, “Where’s Bella?”
Marilyn looked at the house, then down the street toward the wailing sirens and the engines that carried them, which were still too far to see.
She did not say the thing that was in her heart. She did not say, “How could I forget Bella?”
Instead, she said, “Don’t worry, honey. Cats know how to get away from danger.”
Even as she said it she wondered if it was true.
When the fire engines arrived, the men in their bright yellow fire suits spilled out. One of them approached Marilyn. “You did the right thing, ma’am. Can’t be too careful with a gas leak.”
The girls were busy playing together on the lawn. They didn’t see their mother grasp the sleeve of the fireman’s coat. “Please,” she said. “My cat. She’s under my bed.”
The fireman nodded and said, “You and your girls move further from the house. All the way to the street please.” And then he strode up the front walk and disappeared into the open doorway.
Marilyn marveled at that, the way he walked right in after telling her and her children to move further away. How do you train a man to have courage like that?
A little while later – it could have been two minutes or ten – the fireman reappeared. His coat bulged a little, and from inside, two green eyeballs peered out.
“Oh, Bella,” Marilyn sighed. The girls leapt to their feet and reached out their arms and called “Bella Bella Bella!” But the fireman knew better. Ever so gently, he placed Bella in Marilyn’s arms.
“Everything’s okay now,” he said. There was a leak in the gas line to the oven. It’s a good thing you got out when you did. The house was really filling up. Anything – even a tiny spark – and things could have gone much differently.”
“I think we’ll go stay at my sister’s,” Marilyn said. But what she meant was, “Thank your for saving my friend.”
The fireman smiled and said, “Anytime.”
About Prompt-A-Day: The rules are simple. Every day, I generate a prompt using Story Shack’s awesome writing prompt generator. Then I set a timer for one hour. At the end of the hour, I post what I’ve got. Sometimes it’s decent. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes I fail at the prompt. Sometimes I do okay. I do not edit, unless I find a typo, because I can’t help fixing those. Feel free to join in and post a link to your writing in the comments.