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ABBY'S SCREAM OF rage snaps Mama’s head up and she nearly impales an eye with her scissors. She drops them quickly next to the mailer, alongside the packaging tape that lay on the table.

“Abby, what’s wrong?”

“Mama, Fluff ate my sandwich!”

Mama peeks into the living room and sees the cat on his rump cleaning his paws. He looks satisfied and distant from the commotion. Similar things have happened before and neither “child” seems to have learned from the past.

In the past she’d said, “Fluff! Bad cat!” picked him by the scruff and put him out gently, but firmly. After all, Fluff is one of her kids.

Mama looks at Abby and then at Fluff. Maybe at three or even four Mama could understand Abby’s failure to realize the propensities of the household cat, but at seven? This time it’s Abby that needs a lesson. The gift box she is preparing for shipment is suddenly less important than this “situation.”

“Where was your sandwich?” she asks pointedly.

“On the coffee table in the living room…” Abby suddenly realizes she’s been told not to eat in the living room numerous times before, a concept that gets repeatedly lost in day-to-day living. She draws a breath and looks at Mama a little fearfully.

Undeterred and deliberate, Mama proceeds. “And how tall is the table?”

“I don’t know, Mama,” she says, not understanding.

“How high?” Mama isn’t dismissive like she usually is. She is ominous.

She stands facing her daughter, hands on hips, waiting.

“About this high.” She holds her hand about two inches above her knee, a little uncertainly.

Not rushing it, Mama says, “And how tall is Fluff?”

Not wanting Mama to be any madder than she appears to be, she says, “About this tall.” Her hand goes up another six inches.

“Now, what were you eating?”

“A tuna fish sandwich.”

“Tell me, Abby, do cats like fish?”

“Yes, Mama, but…”

“But what?”

“But I only went into the library to get some drawing paper and came right back.” Abby’s mouth goes into a little letter “O,” like a light went on over her head.“

"Now, I want you to understand this. Where was Fluff when you went into the library?”

“In the big chair?”

You’re not sure?”

“I think…yes, the big chair. And he was asleep…I think.”

“And you know cats love fish?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“And you know cats have very good sniffers?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“So you know where this is going, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mama. I don’t get my sandwich back.”

“And what are you going to do about it?”

“I have to go without anything until supper? But, Mama, I’m hungry.”

“When little girls need to learn something, don’t you think they need something to remind them not to do it again?”

With the horrible fact confronting her, Abby’s stomach growls. Mama can hear it. The dilemma surfaces. Mama can’t refuse her daughter food. She’s a growing child. It’s not right and she anticipates what she hears next.

“But Mama, I’m hungry.”

“And you want another sandwich?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Abby,” Mama looks sharply at her daughter and rubs her chin, “no more chances! You need to learn to take care of what’s yours. I’ll give you a choice. Sit down at the kitchen table after I finish my project here, and I’ll give you another sandwich. After that you will go to your room, sit at your desk and write, 'Cat’s get hungry, too!' fifty times, in your best penmanship. Otherwise, you go without until supper.” Without another word, Mama turns to the table, picks up the tape and the scissors and resumes her work.

Facing her own dilemma, Abby ponders. Mama hasn’t done this before. Always before she would put the cat out. She must be really mad. Maybe she ought to think about it. She stands, indecisive, but finally decides Fluff’s not going out this time. Abby grabs Mama’s arm for attention. Mama turns around, tape and scissors in hand.

“Yes, Abby?”

“Mama, will you feed me? I’m hungry.”

Mama gazes at Abby and waits.

“I’ll go to my room after.”

Mama waits.

“And I’ll write what you said fifty times.”

Mama waits.

“And use my best penmanship.”

"Okay.”

A couple of pieces of tape finishes Mama’s project. She sets it on the counter, goes to the refrigerator and gets the fixings, makes Abby a sandwich and sets it at Abby’s place at the table. Soon Abby’s stomach stops rumbling and, curiously changed, she gets away from the table and starts upstairs, but hesitates.

She turns and says, “Mama, you always said Fluff and I were your two kids. Why don’t you punish Fluff?”

Well, Abby,” Mama says, “it’s because today you proved that you are smarter than the cat.”

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