Cathy Ferguson yawned widely as she walked down the nursing home corridor. After ten years as the nightshift nursing supervisor, it would take some time to adjust to the day shift. "Some promotion," she thought, "a few dollars more for twice the work." 

She entered the first room on the right, clipboard in hand. There was hardly any point in discussing menu preferences with a patient who barely knew where he was, but procedure was procedure.

"Good morning, Mr. Amato," she said cheerfully. "How are you this morning?"

"Dora?" he asked hesitantly, blinking as she drew back the curtain and opened the window a few inches.

"No ... Cathy," she replied. "I'm your new day nurse - remember? We met yesterday."

He stared back at her, but no comprehension showed in his eyes. She began busily tidying up, refilling his water pitcher and fluffing up the pillows.

"Am I interrupting?" a voice asked from behind her.

Cathy turned toward the well-dressed elderly woman standing in the doorway, holding a bouquet of roses.

"No, not at all. I was just about to go over next week's menu with him ... maybe you can help. He's not very lucid and I don't understand him when he speaks Italian. Are you a relative?"

"An old friend. I'm Mary Bessler. Mr. Amato has lived in the cottage on my property for over 35 years."

"I see. The flowers are beautiful. There are some vases in the cupboard next to the sink."

"Thank you. Yes, they are ... Mr. Amato's roses. He looked after my garden. I'm afraid it doesn't look the way it used to before he got sick."

Mr. Amato moaned softly and opened his eyes. "Dora?" he asked.

"She's well," Mrs. Bessler answered. "She misses you very much and I'm taking good care of her."

"Is Dora his wife?" Cathy asked in a whisper. "He keeps asking for her."

"No ... his cat. 'Dora' means 'gold.' He said she was his 'golden hope' - 'Speranza d'ora.'"

"Speranza d'ora," Mr. Amato repeated. "Dora."

Mary squeezed his hand as tears welled in her eyes, and she continued in a low voice. "He loved that cat more than anything in the world. His wife died a few years after they were married, of cancer ... no children. He never remarried. He doesn't have any other family - maybe some distant relatives in Milan, but I don't have any way of contacting them.

"He came over as an immigrant worker. My late husband had an interest in the steel mill and he hired Mr. Amato. There was an accident and Vittorio ... Mr. Amato, was injured. He couldn't return to the mill, so my husband gave him some light work around our place. I've got this big old house ... much too big for me now ... and after my husband died, I asked Mr. Amato to stay on and look after things."

"That was very kind and very important to him, I'm sure," Cathy said.

"He's been a good friend. It's not the same without him now. My children are grown and spread out. Mr. Amato and Dora were good company. I still expect to see him giving her a lecture in Italian out in the garden. He'd plant flower bulbs and she'd follow along behind him and dig them up! It gave me such pleasure watching the two of them.”

"Look ... I brought him something," she said as she laid the roses on the foot of the bed and undid the clasp on her purse. She withdrew a blue cat collar with a small bell. "Dora's collar. I thought it might bring him some comfort. I'm just sorry I don't have a photo of her."

"We do have a pet therapy program," Cathy started to explain until the hallway speaker called "Miss Ferguson, please come to the payroll office."

"Duty calls," Cathy said. "If you'll excuse me."

Mrs. Bessler nodded. She pushed the armchair closer to the bed and sat down, taking his hand in hers.

"Dora," he said.

"She's well, Mr. Amato. She's very well."

Part 2: 

One Cat is Company

"One cat is company.
Two cats are a conspiracy. 
Three cats is an attempted takeover.
Four or more cats is a complete coup!"

Shona Steele (Australia)

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