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                           Dripping
                                           By C.D. Carter


   I’m trying to get the paper out before Thursday. I still have four pages to fill.  
King Pho Chinese Restaurant just yanked their ad.  I’m sitting here in my
underwear for reasons unknown and my cantankerous old cat won’t shut the
hell up.

   On top of all this undue stress, the town council is trying to run me out as
editor.  I won’t have it.  I told them precisely that as loudly as Tabitha – my
ancient half-senile feline – has meowed at the ceiling for the past thirty minutes.

   The elderly fur ball is enamored with something up there; can’t imagine
what.  

   At seventy-nine years young and taking not one, but two heart medications,
it’s a wonder I’m sitting here at my desk, jotting down my complaints as the
February issue comes to a merciful close.  Jody must have put in a good word
in Heaven; maybe she even mentioned the newspaper, and how without me to
run things, local news would be deader than a doornail.  I suppose God, if He’s
up there, isn’t one to censor information.  I like to think He’d take my side.

   I know Jody would argue a hell of a case in Heaven.

   They’ve wanted me out for years, I suppose, always talking about
modernizing and “keeping up” with newspapers that cater to that pitiful lot
glued to the Internet, refusing to look anywhere else for their news, unable to
even comprehend how every previous generation sought out news, didn’t have
it force fed to them through their telephones.  Well, to hell with them, I say.  I’d
tell them straight to their faces.  Sometimes, I do say it face to face.  The
forsaking of the printed word is an abomination of the modern age!

   That’s what I said to those yellow bellies and rubes from the town council
who came to my door a few hour ago and babbled on about how they would
help me put together February’s Beltsville Post.  Kate Ferrell, the
councilwoman who shaves her head and drives a car that you plug into the
wall, said the January issue had drawn a few complaints from the four
thousand Beltsville residents who get the paper on their doorstep on the first
of every month.  The councilman, Jamie Andersen (a man named Jamie,
imagine!), said pretty much the same thing when they all came to the door
smiling like nincompoops.

   Jamie said some people somewhere in Beltsville were upset by the article I
wrote about the Hispanics urinating on the soccer fields near Saint Ivy
Elementary School.  I told them I couldn’t help if they were Spanish!  I just
reported what I saw on my afternoon walk to Saint Ivy.  If those people can’t
keep from whipping out their naughty parts and watering the soccer field with
the contents of their bursting bladders, I say it’s news.  It’s disgusting, yes, but
it’s news, whether they like or whether they don’t.

   Jamie and Kate, those town council scoundrels, said that’s not what a
community paper was for.  Kate said I shouldn’t be writing stories based on
“half-cocked rumors and observations.”  If you ask me, Kate doesn’t know the
first thing about half-cocked anything. That’s what I think.

   The Beltsville Post surely would not operate without me.  I’ve been its
managing editor for twenty-one years next month, ever since my retirement
from the bank, and a nice bit of inheritance we got from Jody’s old man.  Jody’s
dead now – dead seven years, in fact.  Cancer got her – she called it lady
cancer.  It was breast cancer, but Jody always said that was a dirty word.  She
always said it would get her; I didn’t believe it until she was dead and buried.  I
miss her on nights like tonight, when she’d help me cut out articles, piece
together ads, and make copies before deadline.  It wasn’t the intimacy we
enjoyed in the first years of our marriage, but it was a certain kind of
closeness.  We’d sit here in my junked-up office for six or eight hours some
nights, working together.  We talked on those nights, not letting unsaid words
go unsaid like married couples do after ten thousand mornings next to each
other, ten thousand breakfasts alternating coffee sips, and ten thousand
dinners out at the same restaurants, eating and drinking the same things.

   God, what I’d give for Jody to be with me now, helping me with the February
issue.

   The only piece of Jody left in this quiet house is this cat, Tabitha, who’s still
looking up at something on the hallway ceiling and making that monstrous high-
pitched meowing sound. Deliver me, Jesus.  Deliver me now!

   Getting back to how I got here: The trio of old bats that ran the Beltsville
Post were stepping down after running the News since Guttenberg came out
with his printing trick, so at a town council meeting in 1981, I volunteered to run
the monthly paper.  By a vote of four to one, I was given the post (I know real
papers aren’t funded with town money, but the council always allowed a fair
amount of editorial freedom).  Rick Sylvania was the only council member who
voted against me because he was as sore a loser as they came back then,
and my bowling team had beaten his in the semifinal of that year’s Plump
Turtle tournament.  I wanted to drop my faithful old bowling ball on that sucker’
s casket as it was lowered into the dirt some years later. I should’ve.  Damn it.  
Why didn’t I?

   I’m three meows away from tossing the bowling ball at Tabitha if she doesn’t
leave me be to finish February’s Beltsville Post.  Or maybe I should give
Tabitha to the King Pho Chinese Restaurant in exchange for their full-page
advertisement.  What?  You think your sesame chicken is actual chicken?  
Think again, my friend.  Your sesame chicken is Tabitha.  Excuse my
jocularity.  It’s how I deal with unneeded stress – that’s what Jody used to say.

   The owner of King Pho called me this morning to tell me that December’s
article about Asian kids being so much better with computers than white and
black kids had offended their customers.  It was a compliment, I told him.

   The old man yelled about stereotypes – blah, blah, blah.  I told him it was
only a stereotype if it was negative.  It breezed right over his head.  He
disagreed because he’s a know-nothing, except for when it comes to turning
household pets into tomorrow’s dinner special.  I hung up on him.  I suspect
that’s what prompted the hostile takeover of the Beltsville Post, led by a woman
with a shaved head and a man named Jamie. God, save us all!

   The meowing won’t stop.  I can only hope that old Tabitha is looking up at
the ghost of my long-dead bride, Jody.  Maybe the damn cat sees Jody up
there, ready to take her into celestial wonderment.  I should tell Tabitha to
meow at Rick Sylvania from his hot spot in Hell, and to tell Rick that my bowling
team won last year’s Plump Turtle tournament – our fifth in the past decade.  
That’ll be worse than the hot pokers being shoved in his eyes down there in
the Devil’s lair.  

   When Jamie, Kate, and a man and a woman I didn’t know – but who claimed
they had written for the Beltsville Post for many years – came to my door, I did
my darndest to keep my wits about me.  Even when they went on and on about
how the community had turned against me, and said many Beltsville residents
refused to even read their own local newspaper – just imagine! – I kept it
together, although my cheeks felt hot and my fingers hurt when they curled up
into angry, fidgety fists.

   It was when Jamie Andersen said they wanted to help me start an Internet
website for the Beltsville Post that I blew my top.  I could keep it together no
more.  These people who spent their entire lives in front of a rectangular
screen – whether it was their computers, TVs or phones – wanted to take the
Beltsville Post from me and put it in a place where I couldn’t access it.  I’m no
computer whiz kid.  How in bloody hell am I supposed to get on the Internet?

   They said no, don’t worry.  They said the paper edition wouldn’t go away.  
Jamie and Kate and those two other people who swore up and down and
sideways that I had assigned them stories for years said Beltsville could still
fund the paper issue as long as I secured a few ads every month.  But they
said it was long past time to get the paper “online,” whatever that means. I
suppose it means on someone’s computer screen.

   I told them I’m perfectly fine with my Blickensderfer typewriter, my scissors,
my glue, and my copy machine.  They had served their purpose all these
years.  Why end a good thing, I asked?  That’s when the man named Jamie
made the comment that really lit my match.

   “It’s not a good thing anymore,” he said.  The others nodded their heads in
agreement.  I had never been so insulted my entire life.  And that included
when that rat bastard Rick Sylvania voted against me in my bid to run the
Beltsville Post.

   I thought Tabitha was done with the histrionics, but once more, the old girl
has proven me wrong.  I realized a few minutes ago that the damn cat was
sitting right under our attic entrance, which hasn’t been open since the kids
moved out thirty years ago.  Maybe even longer.  Well, it must be damp up
there – a hole in the roof, or in the tiny window in the attic – because a drop of
water hit Tabitha smack in the face.  She refused to move for a moment before
another drop fell on her back.  Then the crazy fiend scampered away.

   I suppose I’m just pissing away the time now.  I have only a few hours left to
punch out three or four stories for February’s issue, or my neighbors won’t
have a god-blessed clue what’s going on in town, especially for Valentine’s
Day.  They need to know about the V-Day restaurant deals and flower
discounts.  It’s my responsibility to spread this information. How else will they
know?!

   That’s exactly what I told Jamie and Kate, those power-starved monsters on
the Beltsville Town Council, and those other two buffoons when they came to
ruin me and take my newspaper.  The hatred in their eyes was as clear as the
full-faced moon on a frozen cloudless night; it scared me, I’m man enough to
admit that.  I remember getting weepy and emotional.  But I don’t recall a whole
lot after that.  Just the hostility I felt emanating from the foursome that stood
shoulder to shoulder in my living room.  I felt cornered.  Never felt quite like
that in all my seventy-nine years.  There they stood, making an old widower
cower in his own home, where he had once had his life and his wife and his
kids.  They came here to take my newspaper for sure, but if they could pocket
my dignity while they were at it, all the better.

   I can tell you now that my crumbling body feels like it was put through the
ringer, my hands ache, my head throbs, I’m exhausted, I’m sweatier than a
whore in church, I’m sitting here in my skivvies, and I’m not entirely sure why.  I
was a touch hot, I guess; the gas heat can really turn this office into a sauna in
the winter.

   Still, I’m in nothing but my underwear, which probably means I have a touch
of the Alzheimer’s or some other nonsense.  I suppose it’s time for that.  I’m
old.  When it comes down to it, that’s why those people came here tonight.  Not
much comes to mind when I think back to when they finally left my house and
let me be with the Beltsville Post’s February edition.  I don’t even remember
making a crack about Kate’s plug-in car.

   A good chunk of time has passed too.  Four hours, in fact, all unaccounted
for.  It’s three minutes past midnight – a very late hour indeed.  Two hours past
my bedtime.  Bed.  That sounds nice.  Nothing good has ever happened after
midnight.  That’s what Jody always said.

   Someone a long while back said age is just a number.  I disagree a
thousand times over.  Age – old age, that is – is an affliction, and Kate and
Jamie and the rest came to put me out of my misery tonight.  Well, to hell with
them.  That’s what I say.

   Before I sit down at my Blickensderfer and finish off this February issue, I
have to find out why the attic is leaking on Jody’s old cat.  The meowing has
ceased, thank the good Lord, but Tabitha is just sitting there now, watching the
drops plop on the hardwood and collect in an oval puddle.  From here, in fact,
it doesn’t appear to be water at all.  Not entirely sure how I ever mistook it for
water.

   From my office cluttered with pieces of February’s Beltsville Post spread
from wall to wall, those drips from the square attic entrance and that puddle
below look red, almost crimson.  And the pace of that dripping has picked up.  I
might have a serious problem up there in the old attic.

   I’m going to take a look.

                                                           ***