UNITED STATES—A phone call came at the least appropriate moment from Rhett Thornton. “Rats,” she gasped. She knew better than to take that call. Rhett would go off on some tangent or tirade. She would be stuck on the island of traffic, frantic over horn honks, being gifted the finger and besieged by mean sneers.

There could be no more enchanting story teller than Rhett—he had all the dish on the Brat Pack—but he just assumed that these other tangents about bowel movements, insomnia and bad haircuts were of utmost importance. And during his fame, he got just enough devotion from fans to guarantee that these topics were of vital interest. There from his place, ringed by tall spindly Italian laurels, with the travertine sunken living room with three channels on big screens going 24 hours a day.

One on an action movie and two on the news.

“How is it going, Sugar Pie?”

Because of an archival set of values, he was always in the neighborhood of #andmetoo violations. Rhett was both oblivious and mischievous.

“Beautiful, Rhett. I’m thinking about driving into traffic and ending it all.”

He was gasping, pre-emphesematic. Eliza cut in, “My phone’s about to die. . .” By some miracle it did the trick.

Eliza made it to the vet’s and parked herself in a waiting room chair. She picked up a house beautiful magazine and waited to pick up her cat Goldilocks. She was half-dazed, from the drive to the West Side. It was time to recover balance and meditate. She was losing focus quick. She half listened to two women of mid-age, talking in the veterinarian waiting room.

“She’s 16 and a half. Every time she gets sick she almost dies.”

It tugged on Eliza’s heartstrings to hear a mom talk about her sick teen. The woman went on:

“She spent the night in the hospital. They did an ultra-sound and all her organs are swollen from chemo.”

The other woman listening gave a somber nod. The woman with the sick 16-year-old continued:

“We decided to have a quinceaña for her. Why not, right? We try to make things as nice as possible. We gave her a little car for her birthday.”

“A car for when you’re sixteen. That’s cute.”

“She can look at it. Maybe it distracts her from the pain.”

The mother bravely smiled. Eliza felt a tear as well.

“They prescribed Prozac.”

“What for?” asked the second woman.

“For the stress of course. All she’s going through. . . They’re trying to strengthen her immune system.”

The mother showed phone pictures to the other woman, who nodded and said, “She’s so cute.”

The mother was really holding up well, Eliza thought, really for a mother in such an unbearably tragic situation. Eliza couldn’t even imagine how it might feel to have a teen undergoing chemo and whose organs were swollen. The woman took her smart phone, prior to plopping it into her handbag, and Eliza glimpsed an orange tiger-striped cat on the screen.

Eliza chuckled. The chuckle relieved the taut curves of her face. You have to loosen up, girl, or you are going to turn into a ghastly mask. In Eliza’s bosom a cat had unleashed compassion of Shakespearean proportions.

The phone rang. It was Rhett Thornton. . .

To be continued. . .

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)