The Man from Malta

Last Saturday a tall, serious-looking guy walked into the bookstore with his wife and introduced himself as a criminal lawyer. Then he said, in an ominous tone, “I’ve been here before, and I’ve been meaning to get back to see you for awhile.”


It turns out he had been in the bookstore a couple of years ago, while conducting a case in the federal courthouse across the street. He had been so caught up in the case, he said, that he’d gone through our store in a daze and hadn’t been back since.

He also said that he wrote a weekly column for our biggest local newspaper and that was what had brought him back. In fact he is a member of the Quality Paperback Club, so had gotten a copy of Wendy’s book in the mail as QPC’s July selection–and loved it, so much so that he’d contacted his editor at The Kingsport Times-News to ask if they’d reviewed the book.

“We don’t do book reviews” came the reply. So D. Bruce Shine, criminal attorney, who “doesn’t normally write this kind of column,” decided that the time had come to change all that. He got some facts from me, sat with a kitten on his knee while his wife browsed, and said the column would be in next week.

I am currently teach a class every Tuesday morning at the Higher Ed Center in Abingdon, and Tuesday past I was met with a barrage of “have you seen the column about you?” from just about everyone in the class. Later we had loads of folk bring copies of the paper to us at the bookstore just in case we hadn’t gotten one.

Tuesday and Wednesday we were inundated with customers from the readership area  (three of whom were able to check out our disabled ramp and reported no difficulty– woohoo!). The customers, intrigued by our story as described by Mr. Shine, felt they just had to come and see for the themselves. Despite a miserable rainy day they drove for over an hour to get here and then spent lots of time exploring every nook and cranny of the store, all the time plying me with questions – “how long have you been here, what brought you here, where are you from originally?” And, of course, “where’s Wendy?”

Just when I think that the shine may be about to wear off this magical, fun experience that Wendy’s book has catapulted us into, someone else comes along and burnishes it again – Mr. Shine, the man from Malta.


Mr. Shine is also the Honorary Consul General for Malta in the Commonwealth of Virginia. How cool is that?!

Thank you Honorary Consul General.


HazelThe response to Wednesday’s blog on Hazel, the 20-year-old cat who bounced from the shelter to us, was overwhelming. Wednesday evening, I took my laptop into Hazel’s resting room to read her some of the emails and comments, but she was afraid of the laptop so I left. When I visited her a bit later, some of her food was missing.

I put out more food, and contacted Beth, our vet, and our friends David and Susan Hamrick, cat rescuers from way back. Both had suggested on Tuesday that Hazel be given Laxitome, in case her condition was trauma rather than tumor.

This involved dosing Hazel’s paw with the caramel-like stuff. I did. She gave me an incredulous look and limped stickily away. But when she reappeared that night, her feet were clean, so I knew she’d licked it off. No poop–then, or later on Wednesday, when I went back in sans laptop and told Hazel about all the well-wishes and prayers going up for her. She glared at me. I sat with her until her guard was down, blobbed her foot again, and left, feeling that I might be torturing rather than helping the old girl.

Next morning, her food bowl was empty. I put out more, again mixed with the Laxitome and sweet potato baby puree per Susan’s instructions, while Hazel glared from behind a pile of books. Jack, catching sight of her face, laughed.

“If she’s got that much piss and vinegar, she can’t be so close to death’s door any more,” he said.

“It’s not piss we’re looking for,” I riposted, but yes, we were both feeling the wee bit hopeful.

Because we had debated what every responsible pet owner does at these moments: what quality of life could Hazel, so clearly confused and sad and missing her family, reasonably get from our house? She doesn’t know us, and the bookstore is a bustling, barking-dogs, running-kids, Pony Express Outpost #6 kind of place. There are no quiet rooms with soft beds and familiar voices. Just us, well-meaning love at its most bungled and inept. Was it time to put her down, on the purple rug she’d claimed as hers, with a house call from our very compassionate vet (who’d already visited the bookshop to examine Hazel so she wouldn’t have to travel)?

No, said Susan, the cat whisperer. If she’s not in real pain, give the Laxitome a few days, and if Hazel is still alive Monday, David and I will come get her to live with us.

Normally I wouldn’t rehome a 20-year-old cat twice, but Susan’s house is a cat sanctuary. A haven. A refuge. Susan knows more about cats than just about anyone on the planet. Plus she sent a picture of Hazel’s new room.hazel's room

Bit of all right, in’it? There’s a window ledge with a low chair to help her reach it, so she can sit and look out at the garden.

We figured Hazel might have some QOL (quality of life) left if we could just get her to poop. Too much new, too little security, she was simply doing what cats do: protesting. And dying from it.

So her paws got gooped and her food got doctored (but she wouldn’t eat it) and well wishes got sent (and sweet-hearted Joe Lewis, my friend Elissa-the-photographer’s partner brought her a catnip fish and sat rubbing her chin until she purred) and on Thursday morning all her food was gone. I put out more. She ate it. By afternoon she was as cranky as… well, a constipated old lady. Brows furrowed, eyes squinted, you could just see she was working up to something big.

And Friday morning, I heard a meow from her room that turned the heads of all our dogs and cats. I raced down the stairs… and found a poop twice the length of Hazel’s body sitting on the pad next to the litter box.

The cat shat on the mat.

Hazel stood nearby, looking relieved. Heck, she practically looked postpartum. And when I turned to her, all praise and tears, she trotted away with a gait that said, “Put food in that bowl and get out. I know your tricks.”

I complied. And then I got on Facebook and shouted the good news. The only thing that stopped me photographing the evidence was my phone battery being dead.

Hazel will be taken by station wagon, in a mesh cat tent, with food and water dishes, a soft pillow, and a litter box, back to the Hamrick home, aka the Shady Rest Hospice for Distressed Gentlecats, where her quality of life in the weeks, months, or years remaining to her will be nothing short of splendiferous. We don’t know how long she has left, but we know she’ll be loved and looked after for all of it.

Yes, we’re all crazy. We should care half so much about social justice, about what happened with George Zimmerman and the Indian school poisonings, as we do about this “stupid cat.” Okay, sure.

But Hazel is doing much better. One starfish flung back into the ocean. It makes a difference.