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Monthly Archives: January 2013

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Hold the cat like you did a baby the first time you picked one up, cradled belly-up between your arms. All four of the cat’s sherbet-striped paws will wave in the air, and he will twist his snaggle-toothed face upward, looking directly into your eyes. A perfect tabby, maybe obese, with green eyes and a smile. The sun itself on a winter day.

If someone like Zadie Smith, the one speaking in “Joy”, can talk like a dog with her husband and then write about it, then surely I can write unabashedly about the cats we keep. The one above, and two females, one tiny and black, the other fluffy and fast.

The black one, Boots, finds dark corners in which to disappear. She’ll stay there for hours watching you with a scornful look. It’s not that she’s shy, but rather that she demands privacy. She swishes her tail, a bony instrument, and meows loudly to announce her entry into a room, as though to warn you to clear a path. Boots never sprawls out on her side. A wound coil even when resting, hind legs tensed and prepared to launch her at the slightest disturbance.

A window chain snapped one day, releasing its pane like a guillotine rushing down on Dusty’s front paw. The window only caught her, and she dangled like that for three hours. By the time she was found, it was too late; the leg had to go. Now Dusty runs from room to room, proving she’s still nimble, impossible to catch, even with only three legs. Often she’ll dash toward one of the other cat’s food bowls, where she’ll nip up a quick bite before exiting the scene. When caught, her cloud of brown fur puffs out. She hisses, but just for show, since she doesn’t have standing to swat away her foe.

If you’re loud, you might never see Copernicus, the third cat. He’s skittish, and will only let himself be seen if the crowd seems right. Sharp noises and heavy steps send him skittering beneath the nearest bed frame, where he will sit until hours after the perceived threat has gone away. Those determined to make his acquaintance, however, will find the attentions of this cat worth waiting. When he finally decides that you’re safe, the tabby’s love will exceed all other felines’. Once he climbs your legs and flops over on your lap, you’re stuck. There’s no escaping his heft once he’s settled in: You will pet him. What do you want to touch? His fur is velvety behind the ears, soft and feathery on his belly. His purr grows as you stroke him, from a quiet gurgle toward a deep, gravelly grind. Sometimes, when he really wants to feel good, he’ll hold out his two arms in front of him until he catches them on your hand. Without opening his eyes, he’ll rub your hand against his nose til the urge is sated. Petting him, if you want to do it right, takes at least twenty minutes.

Cats only ever seem to have one or two personality traits, bundled alongside a handful of predictable behaviors. If you touch him there, he will bite your finger; if you move the string this way, he will bat at it; shake the treat jar just so, and he’ll run to you. Until I had three in my house, I never could sympathize with cat collectors. But if it’s so easy to understand a trio of them, why wouldn’t one want to add more to the brood? Five, six, ten padded-foot housemates, I can imagine, lining shelves like books and lazy-licking their paws or chasing clods of dirt, as it may go.

meteorite

When we walked in here the sun was still in the sky, but now it has fallen, or maybe retreated behind the roof above us, the smoke and sand, too. And you at my side with your arm outstretched, your longest finger tip an inch away from my pinkie, but with this board on me I’ll never move to reach.

When they told us the sky would fall, I didn’t believe it. Photographs lie, maybe, the meteorites made bigger by perspective. Did they hear my doubt? Come crashing from above into our barn, one meteorite, making what we do from here a lot easier.

If I had believed in this tragedy, it might have brought us together. Arms clasped around each other in fear, tension becoming huddled fear. What is infidelity at the site of cosmic annihilation? Nothing, nothing, a slip of the phallus just, in this larger scale, barely. Her and I being the same, when you put it that way (which you might have anyway). The roof’s wood has splintered into my side, and it hurts enough to make me feel forgiving.

But for you, something different. Heavy weighing on you, the meteorite itself. When you told me about her, you kept your lips straight, your eyes like a teacher’s educating me. This is how men work, this is how your life will be, and I couldn’t help but stay calm. Only small tears found their way down my cheek, and only my stomach rebelled, contracting and opening, tides of acidic protest; scraping myself against stone. Slow, reserved, accepting. Ready to enter, with you, the voided partnership we might tread from now. No tenderness, but sparse utility.

When I was ten I imagined dying for the first time. Mom told me Grandma was gone, would never come back. Died, a word I’d heard but never understood. Grandma had pressed so hard against herself she’d simply stopped being, like a marshmallow squeezed flat between your palms. And as all of her being collapsed into one point, an explosion of good. Memories and triumphs, we all have them, I think, exploding into fragments for the benefit of the living. But my death is just a collapse without a spring, and I can’t see anything beyond my pinkie anymore.

Black fading.