Maxine rolled in the dirt.
Then she sat and scratched her ears. One of the cats, the grey one, came over to where Maxine sat, in a garden bed full of day lilies, to inspect. They touched noses, and the cat backed away.
Sorry, Maxine thought, and she was pretty sure the cat understood.
Finally, Bernard appeared at the back door with a metal bowl full of water. He spotted Maxine, covered in dirt, and scratching herself madly.
“Maxine!” he cried with delight, setting the water down on the porch. Then: “How’d you get into the yard?”
Maxine stood and shook, releasing most of the dirt, which flew out from her fur and settled again among the lilies. She had dug under the fence where it was furthest from the uneven ground.
Bernard didn’t mind. It wasn’t as if the cats wandered out of the yard. But his lily garden looked a little worse for wear.
“C’mere, girl,” Bernard called, and took a treat out of his pocket. Maxine bounded over to him, tongue lolling, and snatched the milkbone from his hand. He rubbed behind her ears. Maxine sat on the porch, scratched her neck with her back leg, and looked up at Bernard.
“Well, ok then,” Bernard said. “Do you mind a bath?”
She trotted behind him as he opened the door, walked through the kitchen, into the hallway and into the bathroom. He put a white rubber mat in the tub and gestured to Maxine, who jumped in.
One very sudsy bath later, Bernard relaxed on the back porch with the morning’s newspaper, the grey cat in his lap. Maxine lay stretched out on the lawn, her fur still damp, in the warm sunshine. The flea circus was gone.