A sassy aunt and a dead cat at the museum
Rain pattered down on the crown of Arlene’s clear umbrella. Little streams ran off of the spokes, creating a downpour around her. Her sneakers slapped on the cement stairs in a slow cadence. Gina, her niece, ran ahead, covering her long, curled hair with the flannel shirt she’d been wearing.
Arlene sighed and followed. By the time she got to the door, Gina had put her flannel shirt on over her tank top, tied the bottom corners together and was smiling broadly at a young man standing nearby. “What are you doing here today?” Gina asked.
The ginger boy, who smiled broadly, nodded. “I came to see the chandelier.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the twenty . I love musicals.”
Gina’s expression grew sour. “Oh.” She immediately moved to the door and opened it. “Come on, Aunt Arlene.”
The poor boy looked crestfallen, and Arlene leaned in as she went by him. “She hates anything that has to do with culture. Trust me, it’s better this way.”
The entryway to the museum rose before them, three stories high, open, and full of wonders cascading down from the ceiling and up from the floor.
Arlene waved at the man at the desk. “Morning, Gerry.”
He gave her a smile. “Morning, Arlene. Where are you off to today?”
“The botanical garden. Did you get your wife flowers, like I suggested?”
“Yes, ma’am. It worked like a charm.”
He waved Arlene and Gina in.
Gina had her phone out, taking pictures of herself with a dinosaur skeleton in the background.
“We talked about this,” Arlene said.
Gina sighed and typed on her screen for a moment before rolling her eyes and dramatically slipping her phone into the back pocket of her jeans. “Let’s get this over with.”
Arlene followed Gina as the teenager stomped off toward the gardens. “You brought your homework, didn’t you?” she asked in the girl’s wake.
“It’s on my phone,” Gina said without looking back.
“Good morning, Stan,” Arlene said to the old, skinny janitor. “How are your hands?”
He flexed them. “Not bad.”
“Have you been using that cream every night?”
“Nearly every night.”
Arlene held up a finger and waggled it back and forth. “Every night.”
“So you said.”
Gina was already inside when Arlene reached the door to the garden. She moved in through the first door, let it shut, then went in the second door.
Warm air caressed Arlene’s skin. The scent of dirt and plants filled her nostrils. Moisture hung in the air. She could see the clouds through the glass, domed ceiling.
“Which way to the herbs?” Gina, who stood with her arms folded across her stomach, asked.
Arlene narrowed her eyes as she saw a section of the gardens that had been closed. “Hold on a minute.”
Gina let out an exasperated groan. “Come on, Aunt Arlene, can we get this done?”
“In a minute, dear.” Arlene moved toward the portable white, picket fence that stopped her from going into the local flower section. The path curved, and Arlene could see three people standing over a prone cat.
“Whoa, is that cat dead?” Gina’s phone appeared in her hand, and she began taking pictures.
One of the museum employees noticed them and came over.
“Elyse,” Arlene said. “How’s your puppy? Still chewing everything?”
“Of course.” The tall, thin woman wore a blue staff uniform.
“What’s going on?” Arlene asked, pointing.
“Someone left a dead cat in here,” Elyse said. “We’re just cleaning it up.” She shot a frown at Gina. “Should only be a few minutes.”
“How did the cat die?” Arlene asked.
“No visible signs of distress, but who knows. People are sick.” Elyse gestured behind Arlene. “Please, explore the other side of the gardens.”
“Of course,” Arlene smiled. She and Gina turned and walked the other way. Something wasn’t right. Arlene could feel it.
“About time,” Gina said.
They made it halfway to the herbs, when Arlene stopped at a bench and sat.
“I’m going on ahead,” Gina said.
Arlene could almost tell what was wrong, but not quite. Her brain tugged at her. “Let me see your phone.”
“I’m not taking selfies.” Gina held the device close to her chest.
“I need to see something. Show me the pictures you just took.”
The whine in her words made Arlene sit up straighter. “Now.”
“Fine,” Gina huffed and handed her phone over.
Arlene began to scroll through the photos. When she got to the one she wanted, she tried to zoom in, but only succeeded in turning the picture on its side. She put her glasses on, and still couldn’t see what she wanted. “How do I zoom in?”
“Like this.” Gina did the right thing with her fingers, and the plants in the background of the photo came into focus.
Arlene eyed the pink flowers. “Ah, I thought so.”
“You thought what?” Gina asked.
Arlene handed Gina her phone, stood and walked back toward the dead cat.
“What did you see?” Gina ran to her side. “Tell me.”
Arlene held up a hand. When she got to the picket fence she waved Elyse over.
The woman pursed her lips and approached.
“No one murdered that cat. It ate some of the Azalea flowers.” Arlene pointed. “They’re poisonous to cats.”
Elyse frowned. “Are you sure?”
Gina held up her phone, which now displayed headings for at least ten articles about plants toxic to cats. “It says so right here.”
“Tell your people to keep the cats out of here.” Arlene gave Elyse a nod, then turned to Gina. “Come, let’s get your herb homework finished.”
This one turned out better than I anticipated!
Genre – Gardner Mystery
Character – An old wise aunt who lacks a filter and is always giving advice
Setting – A Natural History Museum’s botanical gardens
Random Object – Swinging chandelier that was used in the original performance of Phantom of the Opera