“He has fleas”, Emily stated with confidence.

“Uh” I recoiled as she took her fingers and spread the infested hairs behind Milo’s ears.

“This cat is infested.” she said as though she was a minor in the Yukon who had just struck gold.

As horrified as a parent just told by the school nurse that her child had head lice, I shook my head in denial. Not one who avoids confrontation, Emily again said with even greater gusto,

”Yeah, this cat is infested,” adding,

“The poor thing must be so uncomfortable.”

Ignoring my shameful expression, she asked for a comb.

“You know,” she said, “one of those cheap plastic combs.”

I rummaged through the bathroom looking for a comb. The best I could do was a brush.

“What about a brush?” I asked.

She looked skeptically at the brush and then attempted to explain the fundamental differences between brushes and combs, thus further shaming me. She then took the pink girly looking brush and ran it through the flea infested coat that was my cat.

“See this?” she said as she pointed to some small black flecks.

“Oh this poor cat” she went on, “he’s covered”.

Now talking only to the cat, as if I was not even there,

“You poor thing, you must be miserable, (neglected by your owner) you must be so uncomfortable, (how could your owner not notice) you’re just infested” (this would never happen if you were my cat).

Then, like a General taking charge of a hapless band of soldiers, she stood up, looked me in the eyes and said

“You have to get this cat a flee comb and that flee stuff at the store to kill the fleas.

She then stood up to leave calling back to me as she walked away,

“You better go and get it now. I’ll call you later to see how the cat is.”

I was trapped, trapped at home. My world is getting smaller and smaller. I have no boss wondering where I am, no work piling up on a desk, to important calls to return, not even a co-worker to call my own.

I had nothing more important to do then buy a flee comb for my cat.

Upon entering the store, my senses were assaulted by the smell of dog food and hamsters. I scanned the store for cat supplies, but after 15 minutes of walking up and down aisles of parakeet food and dog treats, I surrendered to a bored looking teenager wearing a red Petco apron.

“I’m looking for flea stuff for a cat” I said, as if I were doing it as a favor for someone else. She chewed on the end of her finger nail for what seemed like minutes so I repeated myself, slightly less confident

“I’m looking for flee stuff?

“Dog or Cat”, said the nail chewing teen.

“Cat” I said triumphantly.

“Aisle 6a, left side.” She said never missing a chew.

Shampoo, ticks, toys, fleas! I reached for the first item that said fleas. I looked for some key words, Flea, Egg, Larvae, cats. Confident that I had the right stuff, I moved on to the combs. The cheapest comb I found was over 4 dollars. After considering the cost benefit ratio of my purchase, it occurred to me that I didn’t spend four dollars on a comb for myself, why should my cat have a better comb than me. Instead, I paid for my Control Pet Care System and drove to the local drug store to buy a 99 cent human comb for Milo.

These are now the tasks that define my days.

The phone rang shortly after I put my kids to bed.

“So how’s the cat?” said Emily.

Ashamed that I had put my kids dinner and bedtime ahead of the needs of my flea ridden cat, I reassured her that I was just about to do it.

“Let me know how it goes, I’ll talk to you later” she said

Feeling pressured to deal with the flea situation before she called back, I found the cat and took him and my newly acquired Control Pet Care System and comb outside to begin the dreaded procedure. I carefully read the Hartz package and applied the “One Spot treatment as directed. I then took out my 99 cent plastic comb and as best I could, combed the fleas, their eggs, their off spring and neighbors out of my cats coat.

Ring, Ring.

“How’s the cat?” said Emily. No hello, no how are you, no nothing.

“I did it.” I said with confidence.

“Did you comb out the fleas, did you do the whole body? Did you see the fleas jumping? Did you squash the eggs?”

“Yes of course” I responded not even knowing what an egg looked like.

“I’m coming over tomorrow after school to check.” said Emily.

Emily works at my kid’s school. Emily works across the street from my house. Emily parks her car outside my bedroom window. Emily will be coming to check. Squashed eggs or not. This is my new job. I better get it right.

The clock strikes 3:00pm and soon I hear “Mom I’m home,” followed by “Mom where are you?” followed by “I’m here, where’s the cat?”

I find the cat and am reminded by Emily to bring the comb. I feel like a detective from the flea police is here, checking for proof that a comb was actually purchased. I grab the cat, comb, and the pillow case that has been designated as the “flea” pillow case used solely for the purpose of seeing the fleas, eggs and such as they are, combed out of Milo.

“This comb is no good.” Emily shakes her head disapprovingly. My son betrays me by saying,

“My mom didn’t want to spend four dollars on a flea comb so she bought that cheap comb instead.”

“You need a metal comb.” Emily scolds me as she demonstrates the uselessness of the comb I bought.

“Go today and get a metal comb. I’ll come back tomorrow and show you how to get the eggs out.” Before leaving she offers Milo a sympathetic look.

Nervous that Emily might do a surprise inspection before I get a new comb, I immediately go to the local Walgreens and I get a flea comb. They of course don’t have a 4 dollar comb and I am now forced to buy a 6 dollar comb, nearly 3x the amount I paid for my own comb, but then I don’t have fleas. I wonder to myself. How much would I pay for a comb if I had fleas? Would Emily comb the fleas out of my hair with the same care and concern that she does Milo?

Alas, Emily arrives at 3:00pm the following afternoon and meets my new flea comb with approval but not before giving me a full home study on flea larvae, egg squashing, and the proper technique on combing fleas from a cat. This is the only job performance review that I am getting this year.

She uses the word infested at least 4x during the entire 20 minute operation. I feel as though I might faint or worse throw up but fain interest as I do not want to appear ungrateful for Emily’s efforts.

The phone rings. “Does the cat seem better?” asks Emily .

Although I had not even given the cat a second thought since the afternoon, I reassure her that he appears much more comfortable.

“Good, I’ll need to do it every afternoon until I get all the fleas out.”

I wonder about the whole Control Pet Care System thing but am too embarrassed to ask.

The next afternoon, I hear the familiar greetings

“Hi mom. Hi mom. Where’s the cat?”

“I need someone to hold the cat down while I do the tail” says Emily, more like a command then a request.

I reluctantly hold the cat as she combs out the fleas with a joy typically reserved for opening birthday presents.

As the cat bites and claws me, she directs me to hold the cat better so she can get the tail. With each stroke of the comb, Emily enthusiastically points out the flea eggs that she squashes with her fingers. She uses the word infested at least seven times but reassures me that the cat is looking so much better. Pointing to the now black speckled pillow case, she looks at me reassuringly and proudly proclaims,

“See how much better he looks?”

I feel a wave nausea pass over me as I glance at the pillow case.

“Yes, much better.” I say in agreement.

“Ok, we’re done for now, I’ll be back tomorrow.”

The stress of having to match Emily’s level of enthusiasm about the flea infestation is taking its toll on me. With each passing day, she reveals more details about the plight of the fleas she is combing from the very cat that shares my pillow every night.

I am relieved when she attempts to engage my son in the process, temporarily relieving me of the job of holding down the infested cat.

My son quickly loses interest however; I am expected to resume my job of holding the cat down for his daily combing. At least, it’s a job.

As the weeks pass, Emily becomes increasingly invested in her flea mission and it occurs to me that there may be a plus side to this flea thing. Like a neighbor who decided one day to start doing all my laundry, Emily has decided to do all my fleas, and while I might not be that interested in talking about the merits of Cheer verses Tide, I could learn to tolerate the merits of squashing of flea. Now I have to figure out how to get Emily to find me a job.

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