May 1st was a warm spring day, with plenty of sunshine. With so many things having gone wrong in the previous 16 months, the day felt like maybe a harbinger of better things to come.
I was awake before dawn; my bout of COVID did not kill my circadian urges. I had not had much sleep anyway — too worried about what this day meant. I dragged myself out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom. A warm shower woke me up a bit and cleared away the cobwebs, but didn’t help me shake the worry.
What was it going to be like today?
I put on comfortable work clothes, as I always used to. Ate a little breakfast before taking my meds, and went through my daily post-COVID regimen. I was able to get off regular use of oxygen (finally!) so I didn’t have that to worry about. Dr. Rhode was very much against me going back to work, but I promised to keep the meds going, use oxygen if I had to, and to take it easy and to go home if I got too tired.
I waited an hour before driving to Aunt Grete’s place to pick up Boss; neither of them are early risers. I found Her (Boss) on the little wicker stool Grete keeps near the back glass doors. Boss likes watching Cat TV (the view into Grete’s backyard with the Bird High-Rise she keeps near the tree line).
“How are You doing, Phospher?”
I got a non-commital prrrrt.
“Well, good morning to YOU, Mikhel,” Grete said as she walked into the kitchen. I began giving Boss the Morning Ritual (lengthy head scritches followed by a very slight acknowledgement from Her).
“Morning, Auntie,” I replied as I sat in one of her bar-top chairs at the kitchen island. I sighed.
“Are you all right, Mikhel? You look very tired.”
“Today, Grete, wild zebras couldn’t drag me away. I’m just . . . worried.”
“The crew did a good job of preparing the place for today. I just don’t want you to overdo it.”
“No worries to that. Ret has told me they’ll tie me to the office sofa for a nap if they have to.”
“All right,” Grete sighed. “Coffee before you go.”
“No, thanks. No stimulants until I get off the oxygen for good. Gave up smoking, too.”
“Mikhel, you have never smoked.”
“See, it works.”
The drive to Flogging Brews was quiet. Boss sat in the passenger seat, studying me. I looked at her several times and said, “I’m FINE. Really. Say, how about we do our usual ritual?”
That consisted of parking several blocks from FB and walking the rest of the way, Boss beside me and getting a little fresh air. I never worried about Her getting into trouble or running off. Heavens help the dog that went after Her.
We parked, and I grabbed my cane and made sure my portable oxygen pouch was strapped in tight. I checked the time – it was almost 8 a.m. — and strapped my mask on. We climbed out of the car and took in a big lungful of Spring. “Smells nice, doesn’t it?” Boss’ nose was twitching slightly, the way it does when cats are favorably disposed and comfortable. “Let’s go set up.”
We began our walk to the pub. Boss seemed pretty anxious to move along,, but I was happy to keep a slower pace and not have to dip into the oxygen immediately.
About half a block from the pub, Boss broke into a run and ran around the corner of the building and out of sight. I knew in my heart She’d be okay, but it still worried me. We’d had enough tragedy in the last 16 months; I wasn’t sure I could cope with Boss getting hurt.
I finally got to the corner and turned it. For a long moment I couldn’t quite take in what I saw.
There were maybe two hundred people gathered near the front door of Flogging Brews. At 8 o’clock in the morning.
When I saw them, they all cheered. Every one of them. Then they moved forward, Ret in the lead and carrying Boss who very uncharacteristically had agreed to be carried.
I didn’t know what to say. I stood gawking, and then started to cry. Ret walked up, put Boss on the ground, and called out, “Welcome back to Flogging Brews, Mikhel Kivi., where everyone knows your name!” There was another cheer, and Boss stropped my ankles furiously.
It took a full minute for me to find my voice. “Well,” I finally got out, “I guess we should open up a little early.”