"Ahchooo," she sneezed.
"Ahchooo," I sneezed.
"We'll have to move fast," she said.
"Hold your nose."
"That'll look funny," she said.
"Do you want the fabric?" I asked.
"I need the fabric," she said.
"So we need to hold our noses and stop breathing."
"I have to breathe," she said.
"Well, breathe very slowly."
"Are you ready?" I asked.
"Take a deep breath before we go in."
"All right. Let's go."
So we moved through the opened the door to the quilt shop and dashed in, breath held, noses held, nostrils closed. As we entered the store, the eight women who surrounded the cutting table all looked at us and gasped. We must have looked very odd to them, like living gargoyles, but DW needed the fabric that day, and this was the only we would could get it.
The women separated from each other and the pathway to the fabric was clear. We hurried to the shelf of bolts of various blue fabrics, each bolt standing tall on the shelf in front of us.
"Are you all right?" the clerk asked. She had been standing by the cutting table, but now she was next to us. I didn't know what she might have been making of us, a strange man and a strange woman acting even stranger. I knew she was expecting some kind of answer from us to explain our expanded chests, our nose holding.
"Cats," I said, letting out my breath, forcing me to take another breath, this one from air saturated with cat dander. "Allergic," I said.
Darling wife let out her breath with a whoosh. "Cats make us sneeze and cough and turn our eyes inside out," she said as she sneezed and gasped and rubbed her eyes.
"Oh," said the clerk.
"We need three yards of achooo," my wife said pointing to the bolt of fabric she needed.
"Fast," I said, turning to look at the crowd of shoppers who were in line ahead of us. But they were not sneezing. Their eyes were not running. How long would it take to let us go ahead? It was their chance to save a quilter and her spouse.
"I see," said the clerk.
"Achooo," I said as a calico cat started to rub up against my ankle.
"This is Calico Cat," said the clerk as she bent over and swooped the cat up in one motion and brought it up for us to see. "She's my favorite." I backed away. Darling Wife backed away. We backed into two Siamese which sat like Egyptian statues guarding a rack of quilting books.
I twisted. DW turned. "Three yards," Darling Wife said to the clerk.
"And no cat hairs," I said, wondering if the cat had ever climbed the shelves and rubbed against the bolt. Across the room a plump tabby sat on a display of fat quarters, the coordinated prints making a nice bed for the cat.
"Our cats are clean," the clerk said, following my gaze to the feline polluter.
"Clean cats make us sneeze," I said. All cats made us sneeze. Even though we had both taken our allergy pills an hour before in preparation for this trip, we were overwhelmed. "And wheeze," I wheezed.
"I'll make it quick," the clerk said. She lowered her arms and dropped the cat and took the bolt of fabric down. Of course she held the fabric with the hands that held the cat that dropped cat dandruff like the sky drops rain during a tropical storm.
"I, achooo, appreciate, wheeze, that," I said.
"Me too," sniffed my stuffed up Darling Wife.
"Thank you," I coughed to the shoppers who had backed away from the quilting table as the clerk measured the fabric and began to cut.
"Are you allergic to cats," one of the women asked.
"Yesh," I said.
"That must be difficult," another woman said.
"It ish," DW said.
"Cats are lovely," a second women said. "I just love coming in here."
"Did you see all the cats they have here?" a third woman asked. She pointed toward a door led into the classroom where a cat the size of a tiger sat on a sewing machine table playing with a scrap of fabric. The woman sitting at the sewing machine was sewing while she petted the cat.
"Nish," I said. I was all choked up at the beauty of the cats.
"Here you go," said the clerk, handing me the fabric, the three yards neatly folded. As I took the fabric she picked off a cat hair and she smiled.
"Thanxsh," I said. I took the fabric and ran to the cash register at the entrance to the store. Darling Wife was already out the door, gulping in deep breaths of fresh air. I ran after her.
"Put it in the trunk," she said. "I'll wash it as soon as we get home."
"You really needed this fabric today?" I asked, wondering why I had driven across town to this little shop of cat horrors for three yards of tightly woven colored threads.
"I need it for the border," she said. "I need to finish the quilt . You don't want me to leave the quilt unfinished, do you? Achooo."
"No, of course not," I said, but I thought that the next time, and there would be a next time, I would order the fabric over the Internet. It might take a few extra days, and if she became impatient, if she started screaming that she had to finish some quilt, well, wasn't waiting a few days better than going to a cat B&B that pretended to be a quilt shop?
Required Disclosure: We love Cats. We had cats early in our marriage before we developed our severe allergies, and no cats were harmed in any way in the quilt shop or in the writing of this story.
Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver
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