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Comfort

bed of nails

I have a weird habit of sitting on the floor. I enjoy overstuffed recliners as much as the next American, but I’ve noticed that even if I’m the only person in the house, I’ll usually opt for sprawling across the carpet when I feel like getting comfortable. Walk into my place unannounced, and you’ll catch me stretched out across the living room, all three of my cats resting comfortably on the couch above my head. They’ll probably look at you and shrug. Hell, don’t look at us. We don’t know what his problem is either.

I once drunkenly missed a come-on because of this habit. Given the choice between a friend’s loveseat and the carpet after a night of drinking, I opted to pass out on the floor.

“You sure you’ll be comfortable down there?” the girl I was sharing the living room with asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

She propped herself up on the couch she’d taken and leaned over me, her face close to mine. Her breath still smelled of the moscato we’d passed between ourselves for an hour, after everyone else had gone to sleep. Moscato, and a few of the cigarettes she’d bummed from me. “This thing folds out into a bed, you know…”

Naaaah,” I said, like the drunken idiot I am. “I’m fiiiiiine.”

Annnd…sex didn’t happen. Suh-prize.

***

This habit of mine is so regular my longtime friends don’t bat an eye when I abandon my Laz-E-Boy to sit cross-legged for hours on the linoleum. Given the option between park benches and the ground, I’ll usually opt to saturate the ass of my jeans in grass stains.

At parties, if there’s a dog or cat in the room, I’ll drop to knee-level and sit until the little critter curls up beside me. Despite the risk, I’ve managed to avoid what would seem like the inevitable, punishing rain of beer slosh and cigarette ash this course of action would lead to. At a shindig in the woods once, I petted a fox after chilling in the dirt for half an hour. A toad the size of a thumbnail hopped on my knee and bellowed surprisingly deeply. A mantis crawled over one shoe, walked across some leaves, and crawled atop the other shoe. For a moment it looked at me, then seemed to turn its head to the circle of chairs by the fire. It looked at me, looked at the chairs.

Seats are over there, fella.

And then it was gone, its wings chopping the air like helicopter blades.

***

My cat’s a rescue, or at least seems like he should qualify as one. He was born feral, but at six months old he was hit by a car and suffered a broken hip. We saw him dragging his hind legs and brought him inside. The vet set the bone, gave him a shot or two, and told us all we could do was wait for him to heal.

He was wary of us, so we kept him in a little cat bed beside some food and water, and put a litter box in a close corner. Even with the injury he immediately took to the routine, and so he spent his convalescence hidden in a calm and quiet back room.

Sometimes when I’d pour food or water, or scoop his box, I’d reach out and let him sniff my fingers. Sometimes he’d lick me, or rub his nose against my knuckles. I started petting him on his head when I came and went, and it took a while for me to notice that he’d started to purr when I came into the room. I’d sit for longer periods of time, stroking his back, until he’d doze off or start cleaning himself. Then I’d leave for the day.

A few weeks into this routine, I was leaving the room when I heard a sudden thump behind me. I turned and there he was, following me, dragging his hind legs like luggage. I crouched down and stroked him behind the ears, and he lied down and started to purr.
He fell asleep, and eventually, sitting beside him in the hallway, leaning against the wall, so did I.

***

I spend many a weekend night at a married couple’s house, which sounds unsavory except that I’m friends with both of them. A few other friends are usually there too. There’s drinking and laughing, and somehow I always end up with food stains on my clothes, even if I never actually eat anything.

By two or three in the morning we begin to drop off. I usually volunteer to take the couch. It’s leather and cool to the touch, and shifting position on it is like adjusting a pair of silk boxers. By that I don’t mean to say it’s easy to masturbate with; I’m saying it’s comfortable.

Their dogs seem fond of me, too, so when I begin to sleep, they’ll hone in on me until their owner shoos them into her bedroom for the night. The little one will hop on top of me, but the big one, a German shepherd that a horse could ride like a horse, is somewhat hindered by his size. He’ll lick my face a couple times, then drop to the carpet. The Chihuahua, not willing to abandon him, will hop back and forth, torn in his loyalty, until exhaustion forces him to join his comrade on the floor.

They’ll sit like that until they’re called away, occasionally whining for company. And hindered as I am by social norms, all I can do is drop my hand down to scratch their chins, an arrangement that satisfies no one involved.

***

When I go to bed, my cat and my sister’s cats will all hop in with me. There is little in life that delights me more than to have three plush boat motors rumbling around me as I nod off. Unfortunately, I sleep like a ninja with an inner ear problem, and the cats have learned to abandon ship as soon as I lose consciousness.

But sometimes my cat’s hip will fail him, and while Boots and Charlie snuggle in beside me, Magpie is relegated to sitting by my bed, looking up at me with the look that says he wants either attention or canned meat byproducts. Boots would yowl for attention, but Magpie sits quietly, gathering himself into a cat loaf as he settles in on the carpet.

While my sister’s cats doze like adorable alcoholics, I’ll carefully lower my pillow to the floor. Taking a loose blanket with me, I’ll slide off the bed, leaving it to the other felines, and stretch out beside Maggie. Thus situated, I’ll close my eyes and drift to sleep. I will feel my cat work his way beneath my arm and lay his head upon my chest. His purrs will then fill the dark, reciting the definition of comfort.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Dead Cat

cat carrier

I let myself into my parents’ house through the front door. Paper towels litter the carpet, sporting brown and yellow stains from hairballs my mother hasn’t gotten around to cleaning away yet. I count about ten before disgust compels me to just ignore it and step over.

Spotty is lying on the couch. She’s so thin I can see her skeleton in clear definition beneath her fur. The brilliant orange and white pattern of her coat contrasts less sharply than I remember it. The orange is dimmed, the white is yellowed. She’s growing more muted with each day.

Her breath rattles in her ribs. I pet her behind the ears and it’s a full minute before she acknowledges me. She strains to look up, with eyes clouded over with discharge. I stroke her softly, and she makes a hacking sound before lying her head back down.

My father’s cat leans beside her. She’s old too but not as old as Spotty. Every few moments she leans over and licks Spots behind the ear. Dad’s sitting on the couch beside her, sniffling.

“Is the carrier ready?” I ask him.

He takes off his glasses and makes a show of wiping at his eyes with his finger before answering. “No, not yet. I’m gonna grab a quick smoke before we head out. I’ll grab it when I’m done. Give ya some time to say goodbye.”

I don’t want to enable either addiction, so I just walk into the kitchen to the pantry. The cat carrier is tucked behind the trash can, and I grab some old newspapers to line it with.

“Oh, I can do that,” Mom says. She scurries over. “I think your daddy wants you to be able to say goodbye to Spots.”

“I know what he wants.” I stuff paper into the carrier. “But we can’t sit around. The vet closes in thirty minutes and it’s a holiday weekend. We have to get this done quick.”

“Yeah.” My mom pauses for a bit, then asks: “I just wish I knew we were doing the right thing.”

“We have to, Mom. Her kidneys are shutting down.”

“I know. I just wish we could know one way or the other if she was going to get better.”

“No, it’s old age, Mom. She’s not sick.”

“What about that medicine he gave us?”

“It didn’t work, remember? That’s how he knew it was old age. He can’t treat her. Her kidneys just don’t work anymore.”

“Didn’t you say something about him suggesting surgery?”

“There’s nothing to repair. They just don’t work anymore. The vet said outright it’s just old age. You can’t treat that.”

“I guess.”

“No, you know. She’s old.”

“Missy was twenty-one before she died.”

“Yeah. Missy was really fuckin’ old too, Mom. Cats get old.”

Oh, I wish you wouldn’t swear!” she whines, and I ignore her as I make my way back to the living room.

“You ready to go, Pop?”

“Don’t you want to hold her a little bit before we go?”

“We don’t have time.” I’m not joining his histrionic ensemble piece. I gently pull Spotty into my lap. When she was younger she would race across the house whenever I sat down and dive bomb me, before curling up to go to sleep. She’s completely limp when I lift her up. Limp, but breathing. I lean over and open the top of the carrier, and set a couch pillow inside. I carefully lift Spots and lie her on the pillow. She doesn’t change position the whole time.

“Ryan, did the vet think about her gingivitis?” Mom asks suddenly, bolting into the living room. Her eyes are wide, like something huge has just occurred to her.

“No. Why?”

“Maybe she’s just not eating because her gums are bothering her. I think that’s why she’s so weak. Ask the vet about her gingivitis when you get there!”

“It’s not gingivitis, it’s her kidneys.”

“No, Ryan. Her gingivitis could affect her kidneys.” She affects the idiot note of condescension, the way people do when they have nothing else to stand on. “Gum disease causes a lot of problems.”

“I’ll run the AC in the car a bit.” My dad fumbles with his cane and his keys.

“Dad, I’ll just take her. My car’s right outside.”

“No, no. I…I want to be there.” He forces his voice to crack. My own prescription of antidepressants is nearing his in dosage size. Will I need to supplement them the way he does, with liberal doses of melodrama?

“You’re just going to let them kill her, aren’t you?” My mother’s eyes flash, the way I remember them flashing when I lived here. The cold gray rage she can only briefly mask. I was always guilty of something. Once she told me I rustled my comic book so I wouldn’t have to hear her yell at me. She had to keep me out of school for a week while the bruises faded. “You little bastard.”

I keep myself from laughing so as to avoid a spittle-flecked tantrum from her. She’s 5’1 and stooped. I could probably lift her with one hand and put her on a shelf if I wanted to. It wasn’t bastard that surprised me. It was little.

“You little brat!” Her lips are peeled back, showing yellowed teeth. Half of them are implants. The strays they’ve collected since my sister and I left home scatter to hide. “You never even took care of her! What gives you the right?”

They’ve gathered about twelve strays since I moved out. None of them are sterilized or inoculated. They scratch constantly at fleas. It would have been eighteen cats if not for me and Aggie. Spotty would have been mauled by the strays each of us adopted if we’d taken her out of the house. Aggie’s wrapping up her Master’s, so I foot the bill for her three’s vaccines each year.

“Please!” my father moans. He covers his face with both hands. “Please, let’s not make this any harder…!”

“He’s always criticizing!” Mom snaps to him. “Have you gotten them their shots?” She uses a bizarre, high-pitched tone to mock me, even though my voice is pretty deep. “Like we don’t know how to take care of our animals. We can’t afford to get all of them shots, Ryan.”

That affected condescension again.

“That’s right. You can’t afford to get them shots.”

“Do you see how he does?” my mother screams to my dad. My father wails behind his hands, to hide the fact that he’s not actually weeping. My parents bicker. I quickly slip outside and take Spotty to my car.

***

The vet gives Spotty the phenobarbital and throws the needle into the sanitizing bin. “I’m sorry for your kitty,” he says, and I can tell he means it. He leaves right after. The place is packed and they close the doors in five minutes.

Spotty’s breathing slows. I feel her heart stop. The vet’s aid cries a little. I don’t mind. I wrap Spotty in a towel, set her in the carrier, and walk out.

“Oh no,” one of the patrons moans, when she gets a look inside the carrier. She’s pale, wrinkled, her gray hair tied back but still somehow messy and everywhere.

“I’m so sorry.” She reaches out to grab my arm. “Can I get a look at your kitty?”

She grabs my elbow, and I swat at her hand. Not hard. I swing the way I did when I housebroke Spotty, when I’d pat her on the rump with a newspaper if she peed outside the litter box. My fingertips barely touch her knuckles, but I get the desired result. She yanks her hand back, shocked. I go out into the hot, noisy day with my dead cat. I was fourteen when I first took her to this place. I carried her in wrapped in a towel. When I handed her to the aid to get her fixed, she hooked her claws into the collar of my shirt, and mewled when they finally carried her into the kennels.

***

My mother is silent when I get back, and after a few moments of scowling in the kitchen she scurries down the hall to her bedroom and slams the door. Twice. My father has finally managed to produce actual tears, and he tries to pull me into a hug as I pass. I work my way out of his arms and go out to the back stoop for a smoke.

Mosquitoes buzz just out of reach of my cigarette. Two houses down, I can hear an old woman bellowing about the “Arabs” that live between her and my parents. Her adult son is trying to calm her down. The neighbors she’s complaining about are actually Pakistani, but I doubt she’d appreciate the difference. They live in a house that was only built two years ago, but it looks every bit the same age as my parent’s home. Everything ages fast in this part of town.

The carrier with Spotty’s carcass sits on the bottom step. Tree frogs duel cicadas in the trees. My clothes stick to me. I decide I won’t tell my parents I’ve left when I’m finished. I stub my smoke and grab a shovel from the garden shed. I don’t cry while I bury my cat. I do that later, in the privacy of my apartment. There, the memories of my childhood pet are felt in service to no one but myself. My cats sit in a ring around my ankles while I grieve. Later, when I go to bed, they all hop onto the comforter, and lie across my legs while I sleep.

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Little Family

My friend isn’t very fond of cats, for understandable reasons. He doesn’t dislike them, but give him a dog over a cat any day. I’m the exact opposite. I love dogs, but I’m not much of a fan of dependency. I’ve always preferred cats.

So it was surprising when one day he texted me saying he had a cat now. She’s adorable, an almost freakishly tiny stray he saved from the front yard of his apartment building. She’s very affectionate, and it makes us laugh to no end when she breaks into a run, and slides three feet on the hardwood floor when she tries to stop.

It turned out she was pregnant, but she’s really young so she only had one kitten. Eventually he decided to keep this one too, as two cats wouldn’t break him. They’ll both be sterilized once the kitten is old enough.

He still prefers dogs. Cats freak him out when they stare at him, and he hates their habit of tackling people’s ankles. But the new cat is having known of his sassafras.

“Stop melting my heart!!!” he mock demands of the four-pound kitty, wrapping his hands gently around its neck and pretending to choke it. She just purrs and nips at his thumb.

***

Childhood neighbors of mine had a golden retriever they never played with. The dog was starved for attention, so my sister and I would play with it through the fence all the time. One time it broke loose while the family was away, and we spent a great afternoon petting it and playing fetch. It actually made me cry when she was taken back into the yard, and locked back up behind the fence. She was eventually adopted out, hopefully to someone who knew what kind of treasure she was.

The police loved few things more than stealing the pets of black citizens and taking them to the pound. My general distrust of the police began when I found out another neighbor’s dogs, three dalmatians I liked playing with, were mistakenly seized. The animals that were supposed to be taken lived on another street with a similar name, but in their haste to destroy precious things that were loved by a non-white family, the police in my town had them put down almost immediately. This was against pretty clear policy, and the police were actually pretty hostile when the family complained. A few town hall meetings later, and the officers involved in the incident were fired and fined. It’s almost worthless compensation, compared to losing those three babies so cruelly, but it was at least an acknowledgement.

There are a lot of pit bulls in my hometown. Occasionally a couple of assholes will try to start up some kind of dog fighting ring, but it’s never more than a handful of people out of the nearly 80,000 that live here. If you see a pit bull around here, you can usually assume it’s as beloved a family pet as a miniature poodle. There are plenty of idiots around here who buy into the vicious myths about the breed. They do so out of a misguided notion of pity, not realizing that they’re perpetuating the cycle of animal cruelty they believe they’re opposing. I once saw a pit bull lick and nuzzle an injured kitten a family on my street had rescued. Nowadays dog and cat spend plenty of afternoons napping, wrapped around one another, on front porch and back. It’s important to realize this is neither the exception nor the rule. Animals, like people, come in all shades.

aww

***

When I was twelve, we took in a cat that was over twenty years old, because its owner, the mother of a friend of my father’s, couldn’t care for her anymore. The cat lived another year and a half, and she slept in my bed every night. She got sick eventually, and one day I heard her begging desperately behind the hallway door we used to keep her and the other cat from fighting. I tried to let her out, since the other cat was outside, but Missy would only walk in quick circles, begging. I went in and sat down, and she hustled to curl up in my lap. She fell asleep, purring, and about ten minutes later she died.

***

We had one cat, Gray Baby, who would follow me everywhere, even to the shower, as soon as I came home. Spotty wanted me to carry her 24/7, and had a habit of hugging me with her front legs. Princess could somehow sense, no matter where in the house she was, that I had just sat down, and she would run at full speed until she dived onto me, full force, before curling up and going to sleep.

***

I had three gerbils: Karma, Dharma, and Samsara.

I had Samsara first. He was kind of old by gerbil standards, and the pet store I got him from wasn’t very diligent about keeping him safe from the other gerbils. It was shut down and forced to make upgrades a few months later. He only had half a tail, but he was friendly enough. He liked to ride around in the crook of my elbow while I fed him sunflower seeds.

He died of natural causes, and a friend of mine gave me a little black gerbil I called Karma. Karma was a vicious little bitch, and would leap to bite me whenever I fed her. I was resigned to just having a shitty gerbil until someone reminded me that gerbils live in colonies. I adopted another gerbil, Dharma, and put her beside Karma’s cage. Karma immediately become fascinated, and followed her down the length of the cages as she moved around. I moved them in with each other, and afterward I could pick them both up with no problems. Karma developed a habit of licking the end of my nose if I held her close enough. When they slept, they made a little yin yang with their bodies.

***

Magpie was a rescue. He was born feral, but he and his brother seemed way more at ease around me than their mother did. We fed them a little but generally left them alone. One day he was dragging his hind legs behind him. The vet said he’d broken his hip, probably from being hit by a car. We took him in and fed him. I would sit with him some mornings and pet him. Even with his hurt hip he would climb out of the cat bed and follow me. When he healed up and could walk normally, he decided he didn’t want to go back outside.

Boots literally demanded adoption. When he was little he’d race inside at every opportunity, amusing my late grandmother to no end with his persistence. He was an adorable, almost freakishly sociable ball of fluff, and he was already allowed in by the time we took in Magpie. He isn’t as inside-oriented as Magpie. He spends all day, every day lounging in the boat outside, or sunning in the grass, only coming inside to eat and drink. We keep him in at night, and though he loves us he’s never okay with this. He’s like a puppy, mewling for attention and prancing when he gets it.

Their mother had another litter of kittens, but all but one died. The little black kitten would come inside, curl up, and purr for hours when he stroked it. We stopped seeing it for awhile, and were afraid a nearby owl had gotten it. Eventually I saw one of the neighbors had a new black cat, with little white spots exactly like the kitten’s. The mother, feral to her bones, is probably long gone.

We also have Charlie. We love him and he loves us. He’s the only cat I’ve ever had declawed. He’d be a nightmare to deal with otherwise. Nowadays instead of wincing at random pinpricks in our ankles, we feel as though we’re being batted by tiny clusters of pillows. Charlie’s a bit murderous. We love him and he loves us, but he would probably try to eat us if we slept just a little too long.

***

One drunken night I had to sleep at an unfamiliar house. I didn’t feel unsafe at all – the people who lived there were close friends of mine – but I very much crave the security of a familiar place when I sleep. I lied in the dark, wide awake on the pleather sofa. Eventually their little rat terrier hopped onto the cushion I was lying on and snuggled up under my arm. I was out in five minutes, the rat terrier’s cold little nose pressed against my chin, his body a furry little furnace warming me against the air conditioner’s chill.

***

When I sit around my friend’s apartment, his cat likes to hop up and head butt me. She’s the kind of cat who just keeps her head pressed against your face, and it’s hard to resist to urge to just indulge and kiss her forehead. It’s a painfully effeminate mannerism my friend only mildly shames me for.

We’ll sit and drink beer and make bawdy jokes we will never repeat when female friends of ours are around. His cat will sit on my leg and I’ll start to pet her, and in a stern tone, my friend will command me to stop stroking his pussy.

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Filed under Non-Fiction