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Monday, December 7, 2009

Let Me Help You With That


by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

THE fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

It comes as sort of an epiphany, at four thirty am, when my mind is open to epiphanies. My cat is using me.

Her name is Fog because she is grey and she has little cat's feet just like the poem, and she does spend a lot of time just looking at me and figuring out how to make me understand what she needs. She believes I am trainable. And sometimes, when she can't figure out how to convey her wishes and needs to me, she just moves on with no hard feelings and kills something to slack her appetites. Mice are so convenient, really: little packages of hydration, protein and pre-digested vegetable matter that reproduce themselves in climate controlled corners of the attic and basement and pantry. The fact that cats eat mice we view as a benefit to us. However, I can tell you that your cat will never hunt your house mice to extinction. They will always leave a few for that rainy day when you run out of cat food and try to substitute something lame like scrambled eggs. That MIGHT work for your dog.

Fog will occasionally make the grand gesture. Once she brought a newly killed mouse into the living room and plopped it down in front of the old, brain damaged Jack russell. He was so startled that poop shot out his butt like a cannon. In disgust she smacked him on the head, picked up her mouse and left the room with her tail straight up in an exclamation point.

Fog owns places in my house I will never visit. My family laughs at my efforts to keep her from slipping out the kitchen door to the yard because they say they routinely see her on the lawn in the moonlight. I have seen her footprints in the dust on my car. I think the sounds I have attributed to the "ghost in the attic" are actually her using the old coats and Christmas wrap. She gets up there by jumping first on to the fridge in the kitchen. From there, she leaps at a 45 degree angle up to where the cabinets meet the ceiling. There is a hole up there through to the unfinished room above. She might actually climb up the inside of the wall to get into the attic. I am afraid that some day she might get stuck. I am afraid of that because I am human, not a cat, with a cat's confidence.

Fog greets every guest to the house, after the dogs are finished their hysterical STRANGER DANGER WHAT FUN slobbering, barking and jumping. She assesses visitors for usefulness by presenting her rear for scratching. She is happiest with a sort of unconscious stroking. If you get enthusiastic and try to place her on your lap, she assertively wiggles out of your grasp and calmly moves beyond reach, sending an unmistakeable message of NO THANKS - a move all young women should learn. No hard feelings, just NO.

On cool nights when I have the fire going, she will sit next to me on the sofa - once the dogs are settled. Her gorgeous, long, white whiskers enchant me as do the perfectly symmetrical swirls of dark among light of her fur. And then she purrs and all is right with the world.

The other day, I was doing chores and she came to fetch me - very declarative meows and short running bursts toward the kitchen. I put down my dust cloth (OH SERIOUSLY - do you think I was dusting? I was staring into space in the living room with the TV on, holding the dust cloth, in a Law and Order Stupor.) Anyhow, I put the dust cloth down, followed her into the kitchen while she frantically jumped on to the table where I keep her food and water out of reach of rude, opportunistic dogs. She stood next to her water and HOWLED - A gut wrenching, operatic mournful sound that caused people in three counties to stop what they were doing and glance toward heaven and cross themselves.

There was a moth, flapping in the water. I flicked it out, she elegantly stretched, dipped down to the bowl and sniffed. Turned her back to it and stared at the kitchen sink. I picked up the bowl, carried it to the sink, emptied it out, swished it with dishwashing liquid, filled it with fresh water, placed it back on the table. Stretching again, she sniffed the water again, found it satisfactory and began to lap with her perfect pink tongue.

Not til 18 hours later, in the middle of another sleepless night, did the full impact of this hit me. If my cat can work me like this, how well trained am I? My CAT has my number. My cat, simply by observing me on a daily basis, knows she can work me. Not only work me, but get me to perform. Tricks. Had I ignored her, she could have gotten that moth out, or she would have sipped that moth water, all the same. Perhaps she would have eaten the moth. Maybe it could have become Moth Broth. I've seen her catch them while they were beating themselves to death against the window, and then crunch them like potato chips.

And because it is an epiphany, and the middle of the night and my mind is free to wander, and because it is close to the third anniversary of his death, I am thinking about the time Charles told me he knew he would marry me. I had asked - and he said, "it was because of the movies, that time." "That time?" He says, "yes, that time at the movies. I think it was our third date or so. There was something gross happening on screen, I turned to you and pretended to gag. And you put your hands up toward me, cupping them."

I don't remember this, and it stuns me. "Like I was going to catch your..."

He says, "Yes. At that moment, I knew you would be my wife."

This was not the romantic declaration I was looking for. But he goes on, "I figured that a girl who would do that, well, would be a woman that I could count on."

So. I think about how angry I have been, for so long. I was a woman he could count on, many many many times, and a lot of the times I resented being counted on. Sometimes I was tired and sometimes I did not want to be the one cleaning up the mess. Sometimes I felt my good nature was used and abused. And then, he died and I was angry. SO angry. He died alone in that truck, and I remember thinking, that bastard. He was not sick, I could not hold his head. He was not in pain, and I could not make it better by fetching something or offering a glass of water. I did not get to pound his chest or press my lips to his to force air down his throat. I did not call the ambulance. Instead, I sit and listen, numb on my sofa, to two cops tell me the story of how he was found. When I ask, they say, the body was identified by the customer who found him. No need to go to the morgue. They hand me a slip of paper with a phone number on it, but tell me I really don't have to call. I will get a report when the coroner is through. They tell me that I don't need to do anything. My job as wife is over.