The Feline Osculator
Hattie Mae Jefferson got a phone call from her family physician, Doctor Ezekiel Loganberry, as she was sitting down to a fashionably late breakfast in the kitchen of the cramped, two-bedroom bungalow she shared with her husband, Carl, and their scrawny calico cat, Rascal, in the rural town of Pemberton, South Carolina. Doctor Zeke was responsible for the health and welfare of the entire civilian population of the five neighboring towns in the county. All five individual towns had once been part of the sprawling acreage of the old Winters Plantation. The bungalow where Hattie Mae and Carl lived was formerly a residence in the Winters Plantation slave quarters but that was before the Brief Unpleasantness had upset the local character of the community so many years ago.
Hattie Mae and Carl’s “bungalow” was more properly a ramshackle cabin. Hattie Mae had come upon the term “bungalow” in a dogeared issue of Southern Living magazine several years back and it sounded nice. Elegant, actually. The linoleum flooring in the kitchen was stained and curled at the edges where the quarter-round baseboard molding had come loose. But the bungalow had been home to Hattie Mae and Carl for forty years and they were accustomed to its idiosyncrasies. Hattie Mae got up from the table and shuffled to the yellow telephone that was hanging on the wall.
“Hattie Mae,” she said. “Who’s this?”
“It’s Doctor Zeke,” drawled a gentle voice at the other end of the line. “How’re y’all doing this lovely Wednesday morning?”
“We’re good, Doctor Zeke,” replied Hattie Mae. “Carl’s out back changing the oil in the Chevy. I was just fixing to eat my breakfast. What can I do for you?”
“When Carl gets the car back together, I was wondering if the two of you could come into my Pemberton office for a chat,” said Doctor Zeke. “The results came back from the blood work we did for your wellness exam on Monday. I wanted to discuss them with the both of you.”
“I hope they’s not a problem,” said Hattie Mae. “We don’t need no more expense for this month. That family what couldn’t afford a surprise bill of four hundred dollars? That’s me and Carl.”
“Oh no, Hattie Mae,” said Doctor Zeke enthusiastically. “Quite the contrary. This might turn out to be what you might call a tremendous opportunity. I’ll expect you directly after lunch.”
Doctor Zeke’s Pemberton office was located weekdays in the Wednesday night prayer meeting and Sunday school bible studies room down the hall from the vestibule of the Sweet Jesus Immanuel Baptist church, the right reverend Alvin Manderley in the pulpit. The deacons of the church had appropriated money from the collection to buy Doc Zeke a secondhand metal desk at a going out of business auction across the county line in Greenville, a brand-new high back leather chair and three extra comfy folding chairs for his patients. During prayer meetings and bible studies the metal desk was snugged up to the back wall. The extra comfy folding chairs were commandeered by the first folks into the room. They were an added incentive to show up early. First come, first served. Luke 15 verse 12.
After she finished breakfast Hattie Mae went out to the back yard where Carl was scooting out from underneath the Chevy.
“Fetch me those five cans of 5W-50 from the workbench,” said Carl, wiping his hands on a grease rag. “I squirted grease in all the zerks. Who was that on the phone?”
“Doc Zeke wants to talk to us in town,” said Hattie Mae. “You want the funnel too?”
“Yes, please,” replied Carl. “What does Doc Zeke need me to be there for? I ain’t seen him in a coon’s age.”
“Results come back from my blood work,” said Hattie, bringing a quart can of oil and the funnel back to Carl. “He wants to talk to us about ‘em. Said there might be cash involved. In our favor.”
“They gonna sell your story on Oprah?” grinned Carl. “Pemberton grandmother of five reveals secret plan. Dope tests come back negative. Now she’s fixing to compete in the Miss South Carolina beauty pageant come Fourth of July.”
“Oh, poo,” scoffed Hattie Mae. “That was a joke, and you know it. Nope. Something to do with my immune system. Whatever that means.”
“Jus’ means you’re immune to my joshing,” chortled Carl. “I’ll pour some oil in the engine and we’ll be on our way.”
Carl drove the freshly oiled and lubricated Chevy down the dirt track to the main road, bumped up onto the pavement and sped the fifteen miles into town. It was a hot and sultry day. Hattie Mae had her passenger-side window cranked open all the way. The breeze that ruffled her kinky gray hair felt wonderful. Carl pulled into the church parking lot and turned off the key. The Chevy shuddered to a halt.
“She’s good for another hundred thousand miles,” he grinned. “Let’s go talk to the doc.”
“Come on in, you two,” said Doctor Zeke. “You sit in that chair there, Carl. Miss Hattie Mae, you stay standing for a moment. I need to ask Carl something.”
He turned to Carl.
“Do you mind if I kiss your wife?” Doctor Zeke asked.
“This your idea of a joke, Doc?” asked Carl with a frown. “You gonna give me money to let you kiss my wife?”
“Oh no,” said Doctor Zeke, thoroughly embarrassed. “Here’s the situation. Hattie Mae’s immune system numbers are off the chart. I wanted you to come in so we could take some blood samples from you. Then we’ll check to see if your immune system numbers are similar. I suspect they will be. I also expect the elevated immune numbers are the result of some foreign element in her system that may have been transmitted through an exchange of bodily fluids. If that’s the case your immune system numbers should match hers. If I’m allowed to kiss your wife, then I’ll measure my own immune system numbers. If they’ve gone up, we can deduce that the elevation in my own immune system numbers was directly related to an exchange of bodily fluids, in this case saliva.”
“You saying my Hattie Mae is super immune?” asked Carl, raising his eyebrows.
“According to the blood tests,” nodded Doctor Zeke. “She could be put in a room full of people who had Bubonic Plague and she’d survive just fine.”
“What’s a Bourbonic Plague?” asked Hattie Mae. “I don’t drink myself.”
“Bubonic Plague,” explained Doctor Zeke. “It was a highly contagious pandemic that swept through Europe, Asia and Africa during the Middle Ages, killing seventy-five-million people.”
“You saying my Hattie Mae been exchanging bodily fluids with another man?” asked Carl, bunching up his seventy-three-year-old fists. “Them’s fighting words.”
“Oh no,” said Doctor Zeke, stepping back from Carl’s chair. “It could have been as innocent as drinking from the same glass of water, or even eating food off the same plate.”
“Oh, you men folk,” giggled Hattie Mae. “You settle down now. You should be ashamed of yourself, Carl. You know I ain’t never been unfaithful to you these past fifty years. Leastwise not with no man.”
“What’s so funny, Hattie Mae?” growled Carl. “And whatcha mean not with no man?”
“I kiss Rascal every night before I go to sleep,” grinned Hattie Mae. “Rascal ain’t no man. He’s a tomcat. Might could be a relationship to my immune system numbers?”
“I never thought of a non-human interaction,” admitted Doctor Zeke. “In any case if we determine the source of the elevated immune system numbers it may benefit the entire human race. Can you imagine a world free from disease?”
“You’d be out of a job for one thing,” said Carl, still not quite over his pout.
“Not to worry,” said Doctor Zeke. “There’d still be plenty of bones to set. And children to birth. So can I kiss your wife?”
“You go ahead,” snarled Carl. “I’ll turn my head. But don’t you go enjoying it none, hear?”
Hattie Mae puckered up and Doctor Zeke gave her a long, drawn out kiss. Tongues were involved. After all, it was scientific research, and the exchange of bodily fluids was an essential ingredient in the process. The kiss itself was surprisingly sweet. The aftertaste reminded Doctor Zeke of a yummy cherry pie he’d tasted long ago. To his dismay he found himself getting a little hard. Yikes! Hattie Mae was old enough to be his grandmother.
When they unclenched, Hatti Mae nudged Carl.
“All finished,” she said. “You can open your eyes. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“No matter what my blood test numbers say,” grumped Carl. “I ain’t kissing the Doc!”
They took blood samples from Doctor Zeke and Carl, wrapped them up and put them in his briefcase to send off to Greenville.
“The lab people should get back to me by Saturday afternoon,” said Doctor Zeke. “A pharmaceutical company up in New York City heard about your immune system numbers and they’re anxious to see what we come up with. That’s the big bucks I was talking about. I’ll meet you here at church Sunday morning to share the results of the tests. And anything else I find out. Thanks for coming.”
They shook hands all around. Doctor Zeke drove off to find a Fed Ex office where he could send off the blood samples. Carl and Hattie Mae stopped at the local Denny’s to grab a celebratory bite to eat. Carl found he wasn’t above loaning out his wife for a few kisses if there was gonna be big bucks involved.
On Sunday they all met in the parking lot of the church. Bible study class was in session, so they were obliged to sit at a picnic table on the lawn in back of the church. Doctor Zeke spread the lab results on the picnic table.
“It’s exactly what I suspected,” he began. “My immune system numbers were significantly elevated after I kissed Hattie Mae. Carl’s numbers are through the roof, just like Hattie Mae’s. I took the liberty of sending all three blood samples to that pharmaceutical company in New York City. They verified that the levels are elevated. But there is a problem. They were unable to simulate the elevation process inside the lab. In other words, they weren’t able to create a synthetic drug that duplicates our experience. At least not one that was delivered through inoculation. There’s something about the act of kissing that makes the whole thing viable.”
“So, my Hattie Mae got to kiss everybody in the whole damn world in order to do the trick?” fumed Carl. “That ain’t right. Not for any amount of money.”
“Not necessarily,” said Doctor Zeke. “I kissed my wife after I got home and sent her blood samples in. She’s got a terrific immune system now too. So, here’s the plan. I spoke to the reverend Al. He agreed to address the issue with the congregation during the sermon today. I suggested we could begin here at home. If the congregation agrees, Hattie Mae could elevate the immune systems of a selection of menfolk and Carl could elevate the immune systems of a selection of womenfolk. And they could each go forth and do likewise. Through a series of Christian kisses. After all, in his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul urged good Christians to greet one another with a holy kiss. I say let’s go inside and let the healing begin!”