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Listen, my children.
In the time of these words Greenland was not covered in a thick sheet of ice. Greenland was green, and it was not flat. East and West rolled together in verdant hills heaping up to a mountain ridge that divided the continent north to south. On the eastern shore dwelt the clan of Ndn.
The clan of Ndn had no word for murder, no word for thief. They wore loincloths and tunics woven from the fiber of sacred plants. They called themselves Drr (Fishermen). They fished in the nearby warm ocean current that passed in its pilgrimage up to the frigid northern waters beyond Dtth (Wall of Fog), up to Ooo (Sacred Source of All Life). They would not take a life except the life of a fish and for that they atoned each fishing season.
Yv was the young girl chosen for the sacred atonement this season. Yv’s mother Am wept and gnashed her teeth at the sacred honor bestowed upon her only child. Am held Yv’s face against her own face and they wove between themselves sheets of tears. The entire clan, except Am, had agreed that Yv was the most worthy to represent the bounty taken in fish this season and to exchange the life that would generate the bounty next season.
Yv consoled her mother Am with oral verse, sniffing, “Mother, weep only for joy. Your child shall dwell with Drgn (Angels) beyond Dtth (Wall of Fog). From the breath of your child shall come the bounty of the clan,” yet Yv was afraid.
Am answered her only child Yv with oral verse, choking, “Do not be afraid, my child. Your anguish is your fear that you are unworthy to dwell with Drgn. Be at peace. Your clan chooses righteously.”
Yv’s father Ev recited the words prescribed by custom for the fathers of atonement. The words were to move Ev away from the instincts of his flesh and toward the clan’s eternal obligation, “Life breathes in. Life breathes out. We are the pause between.”
The clan of Ndn feasted, danced, and sang until the twilight of dawn. Then they quieted and faced the eastern shore.
In the first light of dawn the clan of Ndn began to sing softly, “When Og (Sun) swims into the ocean of heaven…”
The whole clan filed past Yv and kissed her. Yv wore a ceremonial tunic woven by her mother. The fibers were threaded through tiny seashells so that the tunic sparkled in the eye of Og.
Am and Ev then lead Yv to the rocky cove. They made Yv comfortable in the little Kjk (kayak).
Raising her trembling chin in a brave farewell little Yv began to paddle out toward the great northward current. She sang to herself oral verse, hoarsely, “My child, do not look back. See ahead Drgn (Angels) waiting to embrace you beyond Dtth (Wall of Fog)…”
Yv paddled faster as she began to cry. Her Kjk (kayak) soon felt the grasp of the great northward current. Only then did she glance backwards in defiance of Drgn (Angels) but the cove of Ndn had slipped away in her tears.
Og (Sun) had swum high in the ocean of heaven when Yv saw the great Kjk (kayak). It appeared to have a wing raised as it passed south of her, trampling the great northward current. She saw men of an unknown clan. They did not see her.
Finally, Yv awoke from an unexpected sleep and saw ahead the great Dtth (Wall of Fog). Dtth was erasing the world and was drinking the great northward current. Yv braced herself. In a sudden nervous fit she began to paddle into Dtth fatalistically, singing out wordlessly like a sea bird, “Aaah-ah-eee, Aaah-ah-ee!”
No Drgn greeted her.
Yv paddled in the consuming white void until her arms grew weak and again she slept unwillingly.
Yv was startle awake by the slap of small waves upon rocks. Her little Kjk (kayak) was rocking side-to-side with increasing frequency. And then her Kjk grounded on a pebbly beach. Yv scrambled out into the ankle deep surf and pulled her Kjk up beyond the hissing pebbles.
Yv stood upon the same grass which grew among the clan of Ndn. Yv took heart feeling the grass in the cold white void all around her, muttering, “It is true, then. Uru (Between Life) is like Ndn,” wishing she could tell so to her mother Am and her father Ev.
Yet no Drgn (Angels) greeted her. Yv waited patiently in the void with her courage renewed.
Yv heard suddenly a loud sustained scraping sound from the pebbles on the beach below. Whatever was being dragged up out of the ocean and onto the pebbles was massive. And similar sounds were heard up and down the shoreline. Yv saw coming toward her from the white void a massive shadow.
Yv exhaled, saying in awe, “Drgn (Angels).”
The white void dissolved around her in a great shaft of Og’s light and the shadow emerged. Yv knelt in terror, supplicating.
Yv’s Drgn was an enormous lizard, the size of a killer whale. It was covered in black feathers like the black albatross. It flexed enormous wings as it approached Yv. Its eyelids were orange. Its eyes were yellow with vertical black slits. This Drgn halted above her and a long tongue protruded and jabbed at her like a fishing spear. Yv saw the rows of sharp teeth the size of gutting knives. This Drgn exhaled dismissively upon Yv and she was startled by the heat of Drgn breath. Yv sprang away with a yelp that startled the Drgn in turn. They stood and warily faced each other.
Yv spoke the chosen words, “Drgn, I have come to renew the bargain between Drgn and the clan of Ndn,” and Yv then silently awaited acceptance or refusal.
The Drgn leaned down toward Yv, turned its head, and held one eye close to Yv like a pool with Yv’s reflection.
Into the pool of Yv’s own mind someone was throwing stones and her father’s voice was heard beside her own voice, “You name me Drgn. I have chosen your father’s voice to be heard.”
In her mind Yv spoke, saying, “I seek Drgn (Angels).”
The Drgn raised his feathered wings and veiled Og (Sun) and asked ominously, “You fish Drgn?”
Yv answered in her mind innocently, “I seek Drgn. I am the chosen one to renew the life of the clan of Ndn.”
The Drgn understood the intent but answered, “I do not eat you. I too am like Drr (Fishermen). All Drgn Drr, like you. I am named…,” and Yv’s mind filled with white noise.
Yv saw the intent of this Drgn’s mind. She thought and spoke out loud, “You know I am named Yv. I will name you Draggl (Drags on Ground).”
Draggl replied to Yv’s mind, “And I name you…,” then Yv’s mind filled again with white noise as Draggl spoke in his own thoughts. Draggl quickly translated, “Brine Shrimp.”
Draggl added to Yv’s mind, “There are other Brine Shrimp like you,” and Draggl heaved around and plodded ponderously back toward the pebble beach. Yv scampered to avoid his swiping tail.
Yv ran after Draggl into the drifting fog, crying out, “What do you mean there are others like me?”
Yv caught up to Draggl when he halted on the grass just above the hushing pebble beach. Yv was suddenly aware of other massive silhouettes around her in the fog. She heard white noise in her mind once again, but this time there were shades of difference in the pitch of the white noise. Yv “knew” she was hearing conversations of the Drgn (Angels). Yv then “understood” why it was white noise to her that they “spoke”: Drgn were a sound and a smell to each other as intricate as vision. Yv was hearing the language of other senses and she had no such words in her mind for Draggl to command.
Draggl translated in her mind, “Yv, we are all Drr (Fishermen) and live in peace beside the other Brine Shrimp. They are nearby and call themselves the clan of Skmooo (Chosen for Ooo, Sacred Source of All Life).”
Yv asked out loud, “Can you show me?”
Draggl turned his head and his long tongue speared the distance as Draggle spoke within Yv’s mind, “One comes now.”
A young boy materialized from between the sheets of fog, fearlessly passing Draggl and coming toward Yv. He wore a tunic similar to Yv’s ceremonial tunic and leggings of the same sacred fibers and he carried a fishing spear. He spoke to Yv, “The Drgn (Angels) told us of you and they called to my mind. I am Dn of the clan of Skmooo (Chosen for Ooo, Sacred Source of All Life). We have grown from the clans of our first birth one by one nearly each passing season. Some do not arrive because Ooo accepts them and they pass into the season’s bounty of fish. We have been waiting for you.”
Yv was remembering and Draggl helped her mind and Yv said to Dn, “I remember you, Dn. We chased sea birds together. You were chosen three seasons past. Your sister has taken a man. Your mother and father have borne two more sons in your place.”
Dn raised his chin and he pressed his lips together and then he said, “Life breathes in. Life breathes out. We are the pause between. I remember you, Yv. You danced my farewell. I will dance your rebirth with the clan of Skmooo.”
The clan of Skmooo was waiting to greet Yv and Dn. All wore tunics and leggings. They were a spectrum of ages, with the older ones herding young children obviously born of the Chosen for Ooo. Several young children broke from the waiting clan and came running and encircled Yv and stared and touched her legs. Yv touched their heads.
Dn said to Yv, “New arrivals are a birth. Yv, you are reborn. All are mothers of all children; all are fathers of all children in the clan of Skmooo. No one bears the burden alone if a child is called by Ooo.”
Yv thought about her mother and father for the first time in hours. Her lips trembled.
Dn sensed her sorrow, and said to Yv, “The Chosen for Ooo make no more sacrifices for bounty. Drgn (Angels) speak to us directly of the will of Ooo. We are taken forever to The Sacred Source of All Life only by Dthjk (Paddler of the Great Kjk, kayak).”
Yv wiped her eye and asked, “Dthjk?”
Dn explained, “Drgn (Angels) revealed to us Dthjk. They tell us that Dthjk comes also for them out there in the ocean. I have been shown in my mind Drgn taken by Dthjk.”
Yv and Dn were embraced and kissed in turn by all members of the tribe of Skmooo. The return from any journey was a cause for expressing affection. Yv was warmly ensconced but she still yearned for Am her mother and for Ev her father. The fog swirled and muted sunshine caressed the clan of Skmooo.
A day soon after Yv was reborn in the clan of Skmooo, the Drgn that Yv called Draggl appeared at the edge of the encampment and summoned the entire clan with his mind.
Draggl spoke to all, “There are many Kjk (kayaks) approaching the shore.”
All but the youngest of the clan and their chaperones for this day trotted toward the shoreline, flanking Draggl and being careful to avoid his undulating gait. On the shoreline was aligned the entire clan of Drgn (Angels), facing the ocean like graven rock outcroppings. The pebble beach hissed. The clan of Skmooo filtered down between Drgn and they listened to the approaching distinctive sound of many paddles.
As the many Kjk (kayaks) materialized from out of the fog veil, Drgn raised their wings. The clan of Skmooo gasped one by one and ran to the lapping surf line. There were cries and crying from the Kjk (kayaks) as they saw the clan of Skmooo gathering toward them.
The Kjk were from the clan of Ndn. Yv cried out as she recognized her mother Am slumped and paddling with exhaustion. The clan of Skmooo and the clan of Ndn cried at each other like sea birds.
Yv ran to the surf line, “Mother! Mother!”
Am recognized Yv and raised her head and beamed but then she collapsed forward unconscious. Yv frantically pulled at Am’s Kjk, trying to draw it toward the hissing pebble beach but it began to drift away.
Yv cried out to the sky, “Help me!”
Dn splashed up beside her and he too grabbed Am’s Kjk and between the two of them the Kjk was drawn onto the pebbles. Yv embraced her unconscious mother and she saw scars and blood upon Am’s head and Yv felt gooey blood pooling beneath her hug. Yv shrieked. Two clansmen of Ndn, themselves scarred and bloody, raised Am out of her Kjk and carried her to the shoreline, her feet dragging between them. Yv ran after them, hopping with frantic worry.
The two clansmen of Ndn lay Am upon the grass and departed back to the shoreline to help others. Yv fell upon her mother wailing. Am opened her eyes and found a smile for Yv, whispering, “Yv? My child, my child. I have you, I have you,” and then Am fell fitfully asleep holding tightly Yv whose weeping face was buried into Am’s breast.
Am awaked startled and clutched Yv and said to Yv, “Your father Ev is no more. Many of Ndn are no more.”
Yv could not fathom, “No more? Father?” but she heard all around her the weeping stories of the clan of Ndn.
“A large Kjk (kayak) appeared. It had a great wing raised and it defied the great northward current.”
“They were men of an unknown clan. Terrible men. They had horns and shiny heads and their bodies were cloaked in fur like Mka (caribou).”
“The held shafts with great flat stones sharpened like fishing spear tips.”
“Never have we known. We could not have known: they were Mrrdrrdrr (Men Who Fish Fishermen)! Many of Ndn were quickly no more. No more.”
Am sobbed to a tearful Yv, “You father Ev saw them fishing the men of Ndn and then a Mrrdrrdrr took me and hurt me. Your father Ev broke his Tybooo (Commandments of Ooo, The Sacred Source of Life) and he speared my Mrrdrrdrr in the face. A few of Ndn who did not run saw your father’s Cynooo (Sin) and then they came to his side and fished Mrrdrrdrr with him. All are no more.”
Then all heard in their minds the thoughts of Draggl, “Dthjk (Paddler of the Great Kjk, kayak) has fished many Drgn (Angels). Now Dthjk follows from Ndn. Dthjk is coming.”
Young Dn raised his fishing spear in anger and he cried out, “The clan of Skmooo must break our Tybooo (Commandments of Ooo)!”
Yv heard Draggl in her mind and all turned toward him as he spoke, “Drgn (Angels) will break our Tybooo together with you. You cannot stop Mrrdrrdrr with all the clan of Skmooo and all that remain of the clan of Ndn. All will be no more,” and then all realized that Draggl was rallying his own clan too as he continued in white noise, translating for Ndn and Skmooo, “Always Drgn swim away from Dthjk (Paddler of the Great Kjk, kayak) but many Drgn are no more. Today all must fish Dthjk!”
Draggle then translated the white noise of other Drgn, answering unavoidably, “Yes, brother and sister Drgn. It is true that Ooo (Sacred Source of All Life) has made Dthjk also and has allowed Dthjk to fish men.”
The young Dn raised his fishing spear and cried, “Ndn, Skmooo, and Drgn will atone this day by exchanging Dthjk for our bounty and our lives!”
The great Kjk (kayak) finally appeared from out of Dtth (Wall of Fog). The great wing of the Kjk flapped and snapped in the diminishing breeze. The horned heads of the Mrrdrrdrr could be seen above the sides of the great Kjk.
The Skmooo men and women stood aligned along the shore and all trembled. No Drgn stood with them. The men touched the tips of their spears and gutting knives. The women gathered stones and caressed the weaving needles inserted into the warp and weft of their tunics.
The young boys and girls stood farther behind in the grass where Draggl had commanded them to remain until all hope was gone.
A bellow came from the great Kjk like the challenge of a bull Mka (caribou). The Mrrdrrdrr then roared together from the great Kjk like bull Odb (seals). The Mrrdrrdrr held aloft their shafts with great flat stones sharpened like fishing spear tips.
A few men and women of Skmooo turned to flee but upon seeing the children behind themselves they turned again to face the Mrrdrrdrr. Young Dn roared his little voice back at the Mrrdrrdrr. Yv covered her ears and screamed from tension.
Suddenly the great Kjk shuddered to a halt still away from shore and the great wing of the Kjk went limp. There was another roar from the Mrrdrrdrr. A Drgn (Angel) raised his head on each side of the great Kjk and flared its wings and then dove headfirst into the side of the Kjk. The Kjk rocked and twisted. The Mrrdrrdrr could be seen hacking at the two Drgn and quickly the two Drgn were no more.
Draggl exploded the surface of the water beside the Kjk and snatched a Mrrdrrdrr in his teeth like gutting knives and then flung him into the ocean where he sank at once. Shafts with great flat stones sharpened like fishing spear tips were flung at Draggl and they struck him and sank into his feathered chest. Draggl reared back and then dove at the Mrrdrrdrr. He opened his mouth and exhaled the scalding Drgn breath upon them. The Mrrdrrdrr shrieked and those who were not fished jumped from the shattered and sinking Kjk. The escaping Mrrdrrdrr thrashed toward the shoreline. Other Drgn arose from the cover of ocean and seized Mrrdrrdrr with their teeth like gutting knives and dragged them back into the ocean and below.
Surviving Mrrdrrdrr emerged onto the hissing pebbles of the beach. Men and women of Skmooo cried like sea birds and charged down to confront them. The surf frothed red and the pebbles hissed blood. A man of Skmooo was cut apart from his left shoulder to his right hip by one blow of a shaft with a great flat stone sharpened like a fishing spear tip. The man’s mate jumped onto the back of the Mrrdrrdrr and drove a weaving needle into his eye before her life was cut from behind by another Mrrdrrdrr. That avenging Mrrdrrdrr in turn was brought quickly to his knees from fishing spears in his legs and several women knocked away his shiny head with horns and then pounded his head into the shoreline with stones.
The children on the grass were jumping and shrieking in horror. Now a Mrrdrrdrr had come through the gauntlet and was running at the children as he whirled his shaft with the great flat stone sharpened like a fishing spear tip. He roared and the children froze in terror. The Mrrdrrdrr came to Yv who was covering her face and he grabbed her and raised his shaft with the great flat stone sharpened like a fishing spear tip. But before he could make Yv no more a fishing spear struck him in the throat.
Dn leapt upon the arm that clutched Yv and he gnawed the hand. When the wounded Mrrdrrdrr released Yv to clutch the fishing spear in his neck and pull it out Dn thrust Yv backwards and planted himself in between her and the Mrrdrrdrr.
The Mrrdrrdrr raised with both arms his shaft with the great flat stone sharpened like a fishing spear tip. He began to bring it down upon Dn to split him like fish. Suddenly their minds were filled with white noise and the Mrrdrrdrr looked aside to see Draggl lowering his face toward him, his black feathered body and wings wet with blood. The Mrrdrrdrr stumbled sideways as the scalding breath of Draggl consumed him screaming. Draggl exhaled until the skin of the Mrrdrrdrr’s face turned red to black and then fell away. The bloody skull grinned at Draggl as if Draggl had fallen into his trap.
Suddenly all the fishing was over and the last Mrrdrrdrr was gutted into strips by the frenzied Skmooo. Men hissed through their teeth and pulled their own hair, women wailed, and children cried as they joined their clansmen who were no more and their clansmen who were still alive.
Drgn (Angels) with their snouts rolled their brethren who were no more out beyond the crimson surf. With their wings raised the surviving Drgn escorted the fallen into the arms of the great northward current, thence to Ooo (Sacred Source of All Life). The Drgn undulated and sailed back toward the shoreline but only Draggl came ashore.
Dn and Yv greeted him crying.
Draggl spoke to all the minds of the surviving Skmooo, but his voice was faint in their weary heads, “We have all broken our Tybooo (Commandments of Ooo, Sacred Source of All Life). We have all embraced the great Cynooo (Sin). Ooo speaks to me and I know now the atonement demanded by Ooo. Drgn (Angels) and Skmooo (Chosen for Ooo) shall never again be of the same mind.”
The words of Draggl were now like a whisper in the wind of white noise. Skmooo who could still walk came before Draggl and laid their hands upon him. Yv and Dn embraced him and buried their faces into his feathers. Draggl closed his eyes for a long time. And then they could hear each other no more.
Draggl turned and lumbered into the surf to join his brethren Drgn. The Skmooo raised their arms in reverent surrender. Draggl and his surviving brethren all raised their wings and sailed undulating away eastward of Ndn.
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The Cutters Lounge 2: CARLA
We were all invited to The Katman’s Cutters Lounge cigar bar to share in his review of a new cigar. The Katman’s daughter served the ceremonial Clynelish 20-year old Scotch to Michael, Rick, David, and me. Rick had his guitar and was softly strumming chord progressions from different songs.
While The Katman mumbled smoke rings to himself and took notes, David turned to me and asked “How’s work going?”
“Oh, I’ve got one for y’all. You guys know that I work at Generi-Tech, off of Mesa Drive? It’s a glass box on top of one of those mesa hills. Anyway, in my office I can look out into the parking lot and the ocean beyond while I pretend to work. Not bad. Anyway, last Sunday I was in getting a few things ready for Monday…”
Michael scoffed, “But mostly you were desperately writing your story for Fiction Weekend, right?”
“Of course. Anyway, I got hungry but I didn’t want to go out for fast food, so I went out of my office to the desk of my Temp Associate, Carla…”
“I wish. She’s nice. She does the monthlies. Good worker, good sense of humor, all that…”
Michael leered, “Do you work her…hard?”
“Please. We kid around a lot. Anyway, she always has snacks at her desk. So I opened a big lower drawer, and there in the back behind the hanging folders was a bag of chocolate covered pretzels. Perfect, ok?”
Michael made a sour face, “Good Gawd, man. How about you share what you were smoking that day?”
“Hey, I used to think they sounded weird, too.”
Rick chimed-in, “Ah, employees stealing each others’ food. A classic.”
“Hey, I buy my guys breakfast burritos and shakes!”
David said, waving his hand impatiently, “Go on. Ignore them. I want to hear this.”
“Thank you, Your Honor. Anyway, I lift out the bag of pretzels and I notice that underneath it is a cluster of travel-sized toiletries: shampoo, soap, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, Q-tips, a bag of pink Bic razors. So of course I open another drawer and there in the back, behind hanging files, are folded towels and face-cloths. In another drawer is a couple pair of folded pants. And, get this, in her middle work drawer, behind the pens and staples and Post-It Note pads are panties and a bra!”
David asked me, straight-faced, “How did they fit?”
“Oh, perfectly. I’m wearing them now. But listen, all that got my curiosity up. So, I moved my car to the adjacent parking lot, out of sight. Then I set my cell phone alarm for 5:00 AM…”
The Katman looked up from his notepad and blew a smoke ring.
“And I waited.” I said.
“Swinging life you got there, Allen,” said The Katman as he returned to his notes.
Rick asked, “You slept there?”
Michael asked rhetorically, “So what else is new?”
Rick continued, “Where did you sleep?”
“This is top secret, guys, but I have a tall chair that leans ‘way back and I put my feet up on my desk on top of some soft ‘Rush-Rush-Urgent’ documents. Sweet Dreams. I had the lights out and a CD in the computer.”
“Playing what? Highway to Hell?” laughed Michael. Then Rick burst into the chorus from Highway to Hell and we all sang goofily along. Across the dimly lit room, The Katman’s daughter Katie made a face and held her nose.
“Anyway, my alarm goes off and I’m watching the parking lot with the lights off and before too long I see a beat-up little compact car loop into a parking place near the front door. It’s Carla. And a young girl; I know Carla has a teen-age daughter. And I see a cat up sitting in the rear window. Then Carla and her young daughter enter the building lobby.”
“There is no security guy. We only recently added a card key system because some client wanted us to. I mean, we’re out in the boon-docks. Anyway, I’m peeking out of my office and I see Carla and her daughter go to Carla’s desk and gather some toiletries and some towels. Then they head back downstairs.”
The Katman says, “You’re a regular Sam Spade, Allen.”
“The two of them head to the Production area and I see them go into the technicians’ bathroom. Then I can hear the showers going. It is now about quarter-to-six and pretty soon the set-up crews will be here and will be getting ready in that bathroom.”
“Did you rush into the showers to warn them?” smiles David.
“I was only guessing what the situation was. It would have been too creepy for me to expose… (don’t even say it) … reveal myself.”
Rick asked, “They were homeless, right?”
“I was pretty sure. Anyway, they did come out soon enough, wet hair, made-up and dressed, carrying their stuff back to Carla’s desk. Except the wet stuff. They took that back to the car and I saw them spread it out on the back seat. Then they left.”
“This was now Monday morning, right?” asked Rick.
“Yes, but Carla came back in about a half hour by herself. With the cat.”
“You figure she dropped the teenager at school?” asked David.
“I hope so, at least. Anyway, I didn’t say anything to her. She was a little surprised. I’m usually a half-hour late. But I headed out for those breakfast burritos and shakes.
“Doesn’t she have a husband or family?”
“You know, her whole family is back in Guatemala. I don’t know what happened.”
Rick strummed and softly sang, “There was a young woman who lived in a car, her whole life was there but it couldn’t go far-ther than stories they told in the Cutters Lounge bar…”
The Katman’s eyes glowed red reflecting the tip of his diminishing cigar. He asked, “Allen, what did you do about it?”
“I told you guys the story.”
So we all agreed to chip-in a get her into an apartment.
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CHÂTEAU DE CHATS
Madam Blancheflor DesRosiers and her lawyer Tristan Patenaude, Esquire, sat on a park bench in Mont Clair Park. The park bench faced out toward the houses of the neighborhood that surrounded little Mont Clair Park. Madam Blancheflor and Tristan had been coming to this park bench for several days now, facing that particular house with the big tree.
A woman emerged from that house and sat down upon the porch step and lit a cigarette. She gazed at little Mont Clair Park across the street, watching the dog walkers, the children playing soccer, the lovers leaning on the benches, and yes, there was that older couple again. Perhaps they were new in the neighborhood.
Tristan whispered to Madam Blancheflor, “Try not to stare at her. Look around. Look at me.”
Madam Blancheflor looked up into the sky, saying, “She lives alone. The lawn is unkempt. She has too many cats.”
If one were not staring one would not have seen the cat foreheads and cat ears above the overgrown grass where the cats had curled to nap. When the woman had emerged and sat upon the porch, several cats stood up from the grass veil, stretched in a tall arch, and then sauntered toward the woman. She was soon surrounded by two black cats, a black and white cat, two white cats, and two grey tabbies. They waited their turn to be stroked and petted, their faces upraised and their eyes narrowed in pleasure.
Then the Contrôle d’Animal (Animal Control) truck halted in front of the woman’s house. The woman stood up. The cats did not run.
Two men emerged from the truck wearing black shirts and pants, gold badges, and speaking into police radios.
One officer spoke sternly, “Ma’am, you were clearly advised that you can have no more than three cats. Your neighbors are complaining.”
The woman protested, “Complaining about what? And… they are not my cats. I am only feeding them.”
The other officer quipped gruffly, “You feed them, you own them.”
The woman held up her hands, “This is not right. They are only here because I feed them.”
The first officer recited, “We will take them to la fourrière (the pound) where they will be adopted.”
The woman turned her hands into fists, “You take them to the shelter where they will be killed in no more than a week! It is immoral! I drew them here by feeding them. It is not their fault,” and the woman’s voice broke, “Please. They are my little friends. If I stop feeding them, they will no longer gather here.”
Madam Blancheflor and Tristan could hear the whole drama.
Madam Blancheflor stood up and commanded Tristan, “We must interfere. Follow me.”
Tristan arose to catch up with Madam Blancheflor who was striding across the grass, “Blanche! I advise against this. You must listen to me.”
Madam Blancheflor called out to the officers, “Gentilshommes (Gentlemen). I am Madam Blancheflor DesRosiers and this is my lawyer Tristan Patenaude. Forgive me, but we have overheard this entire unfortunate incident.”
The two officers stood at silent attention. The woman with the cats was stunned with only a tear in motion upon her face.
Madam Blancheflor then turned to Tristan, “Tristan, will you have a word with these gentlemen, please?”
Tristan nodded in surrender and gave a wry smile. He motioned the two officers behind the big tree in the front lawn.
The woman stared at Tristan and the two officers conversing in the shadows. She spoke askance to Madam Blancheflor, “I’ve seen you for a couple days now. Who are you? I mean, why are you doing this?”
Tristan shook each officer’s hand and placed a folded bill into each of their palms. The officers strode to their truck without a word and drove away.
Madam Blancheflor smiled kindly and placed the fingers of her left hand upon the woman’s shoulder. The woman turned and still Madam Blancheflor held her fingers gently upon the woman’s shoulders. The woman was embarrassed for some reason but Madam Blancheflor was her savior and she seemed like a very nice lady, whoever she was, and so the woman said, “I’m Alycia,” and Alycia laid the fingers of her own right hand upon Madam Blancheflor’s fingers, “I can never thank you enough.”
The cats were circling them both.
Tristan came back over and stood. Alycia thanked Tristan and Tristan nodded.
Alycia had the strangest feeling that Madam Blancheflor wanted to hug her and Alycia rationalized to herself, “That is what nice old ladies do.”
Madam Blancheflor’s eyes began to glisten but she suddenly said to Alycia, “I am glad that we were here to help. We’ll leave you and your entourage,” looking down at the milling cats, “to consider a remedy to this situation.”
Alycia smiled and Madam Blancheflor and Tristan turned and slowly walked back toward the park bench. Tristan leaned toward Madam Blancheflor to whisper, “How do you feel?”
Madam Blancheflor replied softly, “You were right. It would not have been the right time to tell her. Maybe next time.”
Tristan said thoughtfully, “No, Blanche. I have come around to your way of thinking now. Alycia seems to have become a fine young woman. But she seems lonely. I think it might fill some gaps in her life if she finally met her birth mother.”
Madam Blancheflor whispered through shame, “She has.”
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BRATWURST AND RUMBLEGUTS
When I was a wild kitten I was chased by that old pit bull Rumbleguts up into a great pine tree in Aden Park. I didn’t need to climb as high as I did but I was terrified.
I cried out for days and nights to Saint Francis, afraid to climb down. People left food at the base of the tree to entice me down but I was more afraid than hungry. One of those nights a coyote appeared, saying with his eyes, “Come down little friend, I will catch you.”
That dawn an old man appeared. The nice old man leaned his face against the tree trunk looking up at me and patted the bark, saying with his mouth, “Come on, come on, you’re keeping me awake every night,” fixing his eyes into mine. It was then as if the way down became horizontal and I was compelled to clutch bark, branch to branch, all the way down to him.
The nice old man then carried me exhausted to his house near the park.
He named me Bratwurst.
Otherwise it was a good situation. My mother had told me to find a human.
The old man’s neighbor owned the old pit bull Rumbleguts. At first Rumbleguts would get all agitated when I sat on the fence, well out of his reach. He was blind in one eye and he was missing pieces of his face from his fighting days (he would tell me later), and he got himself rescued by our neighbor before they could kill him when he couldn’t fight anymore.
Humans. Killer Angels.
My human took me to a veterinarian at the Cornell Feline Health Center for a “routine checkup and shots”. The veterinarian said, “Bratwurst has Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). It is a viral disease of cats caused by certain strains of a virus. Most strains do not cause disease but in a small percent of infected cats (5 to 10 percent), either by a mutation of the virus or by an aberration of the immune response, the infection progresses. With the assistance of the antibodies that are supposed to protect the cat, white blood cells are infected with the virus and these cells then transport the virus throughout the cat’s body. An intense inflammatory reaction occurs around vessels in the tissues where these infected cells locate, often in the abdomen, kidney, or brain. It is this interaction between the body’s own immune system and the virus that is responsible for the disease. The disease is progressive and is almost always fatal. The way clinical FIP develops as an immune-mediated disease is unique, unlike any other viral disease of animals or humans.”
The veterinarian suggested “putting me to sleep” but I sleep just fine. My human said that as long as I had an appetite he would keep me alive. When would I not have an appetite?
My mom told me that the lifespan of an outdoors cat was 12 moons so I wasn’t worried. Twelve moons is a long time.
Then one night I met Katalina, a golden long-hair cat. She was from the next neighborhood. We climbed up into “my” pine tree in Aden Park and we talked all night, talking of our three moons so far and imagining the moons to come.
At dawn Katrina left, saying that we would meet again someday. Occasionally after that I would think I heard her far away crying to the moon. I might have been dreaming.
Rumbleguts and I became friends, which was lucky because he could dig under his gate any time he felt like it (that’s how we first “met” when he chased me up that pine tree). We would cruise the neighborhood together. He took me under his tongue. People would point and be amazed and take videos, yet they would always stand aside. Ugly old Rumbleguts was my protection and I was his lost eye and ear and nose.
One day when we came back to Rumbleguts’ house there was someone at the front door talking to Rumbleguts’ human. When Rumbleguts and I squeezed under the gate into the backyard we saw another human opening a window and trying to climb in.
Rumbleguts charged and jumped and chomped onto the foot of the intruder human slipping through the open window. The human screamed. Then there was a loud bang. Rumbleguts fell down onto his side and stopped moving. I heard Rumbleguts’ human shouting and the intruder human jumped out the window and ran across the backyard and climbed away over the fence.
Rumbleguts’ human picked up Rumbleguts and cried out again and again. He put Rumbleguts into the front seat of his automobile and he crashed through the closed gate and he drove screeching away down the street.
My fur stood on end for a long time.
Then I was lonely.
That night I climbed back into “my” pine tree in Aden Park and I sang for poor old Rumbleguts who had first chased me up there.
It wasn’t the same without Rumbleguts. I had to be a lot more cautious. I spent more nights up in “my” pine tree just watching the stars creep.
One moon I saw Katalina at the edge of Aden Park. She was coming toward my tree, singing. I joined her song. She was still far from my tree when I saw the coyote emerge from the bushes. My fur stood on edge. How often had he been there? I wanted to run farther up the tree.
Katalina saw the coyote and began to run to “my” tree. I could see that she wouldn’t make it. Without thinking I leapt from the tree and charged at the coyote, hissing and crying out. The coyote became confused for a moment and stopped and stared at me. Katalina would be almost at the tree now.
I was jumping and hissing and crying out, a whirling aberration, but the coyote now could see I was a dead cat leaping and he charged at me. I could see Saint Francis as my few moons passed rapidly before my eyes. But then…
I heard the hoarse bark, the savage growl, and I saw the charging form of a dog startle the coyote. The coyote turned and fled across the park. It was Rumbleguts! Rumbleguts chased the coyote until I saw Rumbleguts halt wheezing and coughing. I looked back at Katalina up in the pine tree and then I dashed toward Rumbleguts in disbelief.
Rumbleguts was weak and shaking from his exertion. It took me a minute to see that Rumbleguts now had only three legs.
I rubbed on Rumbleguts wet face. He licked me. Katalina joined us and we stayed with Rumbleguts until he could hobble back to his backyard, where his human had not replaced the shattered gate. We stayed with Rumbleguts there until he fell asleep.
Rumbleguts got to see my children before he died. That made me happy. I don’t care what the barking dogs say, Rumbleguts was ahead of his time.
Now my moons are waning. I have become skin and bones but I haven’t lost my appetite yet. I lose my balance sometimes but I still enjoy the sun in the backyard, even if I can’t jump up on the fence anymore or climb “my” pine tree or even dare to venture all the way to Aden Park anymore.
I died in my sleep, dreaming of Rumbleguts and Katalina, and now we run together in Aden Park where even the coyotes eat only apples.
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THE EDEN REUNION
… a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist,
for something other than the present,
a turning towards the past or towards the future;
not an active discontent or poignant sadness but
an indolent dreaming wistfulness.
– In Portugal, A. F. G. Bell
A young man and a young woman are hiking along a mountain trail when they both see ahead of them a large fallen branch. The woman is almost upon it when she screams and jumps back, shrieking, “It’s a snake!”
The man pulls the woman behind himself, saying in awe, “That is the biggest rattle snake I have ever seen! It looks like a python,” and he quickly looks around for a weapon.
The woman asks, “What can we do? She isn’t moving. She is asleep.”
The man says, “I’m going to kill it before it wakes up. Here’s a big rock.”
The woman asks, “Why are you going to kill her? Just wake her up and she will move.”
The man replies, “What if it doesn’t. What if you had stepped on it? What if it wakes up and then comes at us? Besides, that snake could kill somebody else easily. We’ll be saving someone’s life,” and then he asks, “And why do you call it a ‘she’?”
They woman is bolder now recovering from her natural shock and she stares, cooing, “She is beautiful, look at her. Her skin shines like silk,” then adding, “Don’t kill her. What has she done to us? A bear could kill us too but we’re not going to kill a bear if we see one, even if we could.”
The man hesitates, holding the big rock under his chin with both hands and with only the gossamer of the woman’s words staying the execution.
The woman cries out, “Look!” as the enormous rattle snake awakens suddenly and coils defensively with its gigantic rattle clattering and the woman says to the snake, “Don’t be afraid. We are not going to hurt you. We just want to pass by. Please?”
The snake seems to judge the situation and quickly departs unraveling into the foliage beside the trail.
The man mutters half in jest, “Great. Now she’s going to ambush us down the trail for disturbing her ‘beauty nap’.”
Fado and his wife Saudade were a young couple on their honeymoon, camping in the mountains of California when the Mount Eden Wildfire erupted in the summer of 2015.
Fado and Saudade had come to California after Fado’s graduation, under a USA Visa Sponsorship via Saudade’s uncle Rui who lived here. Uncle Rui had urged them to flee the economic chaos of Portugal. Fado had an engineering job awaiting him with the construction company owned by Uncle Rui. Saudade managed a flower shop and loved animals.
Uncle Rui prodded Saudade like a good uncle, saying, “Be a veterinarian. Good money. Or work with the State Wildlife Department. Good benefits. Your parents will be proud,” and he would laugh, “Make me look good to your mother, my sister.”
In the cool morning twilight of that terrible day Fado and Saudade had been alongside the Mount Eden Trail, snuggling in a double sleeping bag. Fado had awakened slowly, enchanted by the faint aroma of a wood fire, mumbling, “Mmmm. Who is cooking?” But then Fado had sat upright in the double sleeping bag, startling Saudade awake, saying to her, “No one is supposed to have a fire here!” The Park Ranger had warned them; it was a very dry year.
Fado and Saudade scrambled out of the sleeping bag. The morning light was veiled by thin brown gauze. The aroma of the wood fire became bitter. Their eyes began to sting. They hastily shoved their camping gear into their packs and helped each other sling the packs onto their shoulders. Then they stood facing each other.
Saudade asked, “Should we go up or down? Where is the fire?”
Fado retrieved his cell phone.
Saudade looked around, saying, “The smoke seems to be coming from up the trail,” but just then the direction of the smoke changed to the opposite direction.
Fado said, “The winds can be turbulent up the sides of Mount Eden. We need a vantage point.”
Saudade said, “Let’s go back down the trail.”
Fado considered, “Toward Shadoe Valley? Well, OK. We’ll have a view from over Shadoe Gap.”
The view from Shadoe Gap down into the deep river valley only caused them despair. Hot gusts of wind were exhorting smoke and fire to charge up from the valley towards them. Tall pine trees became swords of flame. There was no choice for Fado and Saudade but to go up the trail and outdistance the oncoming fire.
Saudade whimpered, “Why is this happening to us?”
Fado shouldered his courage, saying, “Come on. We’ll be OK. Just keep moving,” but Fado thought about accounts he had heard where firefighters were outrun by racing wild fires and died.
Suddenly a flock of birds fleeing from the valley was upon them. Fado dropped to his knees and Saudade screamed and cowered. In flashes they saw crows, a hawk, ducks, a multitude of finches, a woodpecker, and a blurr of other winged creatures.
Fado cried out, “Jesus, look at that!”
Saudade screamed again as bats began to dart by.
Fado grabbed Saudade’s hand, pulled her erect, and strode up the trail into the forest pulling her behind him. Saudade was stumbling, gasping, crying, “Slow down, I’m falling,”
As she looked down she saw mice scrambling up the trail. Saudade noticed that one of the mice had several baby mice clinging to its back.
She saw toads leaping desperately in the race.
Fado turned around and quickly raised his hand and blinked as a torrent of small insects streamed past his face. The forest all around him now seemed to be trembling. Above the trees from the direction of Shadoe Valley Fado saw a stupendous black cloud rising. As the cloud encountered the boundaries of the upper mass of air it was spreading and coiling like a snake.
Fado and Saudade resumed fleeing up the trail that spiraled around the sides of Mount Eden, the only trail in the world as far as they were concerned. No more animals were passing them.
Fado cried to Saudade, “We’ve got to get above the tree line. There is a small lake near the top of Mount Eden.”
Fado, still yanking Saudade along, noticed a log ahead, yellowed and smooth, lying completely across the trail, both ends hidden in the foliage, and he hollered, “Watch out, we have to step over this!”
But then the log moved. It began to slide across the road and Fado instantly rationalized that the log was loosened and sliding down the side of Mount Eden. But it wasn’t just sliding. It was slithering!
Suddenly a woman rose from the foliage nearby and Fado yelled in surprise and Saudade shrieked. The woman was visible from the waist up, her skin naked and yellowish. She had sad ethereal green eyes that clutched Fado and Saudade’s frightened gazes.
Fado shouted, stumbling backwards with Saudade, “Who are you?”
The woman gently swayed her head and spoke in a breathy voice, “I am Saraf,” and then she said, “Do not be scared,” as she appeared to levitate. Fado’s eyes saw the truth finally. It had not been a yellow log after all! It had been Saraf’s own long serpentine lower body.
Fado and Saudade fell down to the rocks and dirt in horror, scrabbling backwards, their mouths wide open and trembling. Saraf arched over them with her serpent’s body.
Saraf bore a benign, angelic smile as Fado and Saudade continued to stare into her eyes. Fado and Saudade became calm. They both stood up.
Their gaze was unflagging and Fado said to Saudade, “We’re still asleep in the sleeping bag. This is a dream.”
Saraf spoke softly, swaying, saying, “Your dream is nearing the end of its journey. I waited for you. You have been gone a long time.”
Fado and Saudade began to feel a vague desire; an indolent dreaming wistfulness.
Saraf spoke again, saying, “It has been two hundred and twenty-two generations.”
A tear crept from Saudade’s eye. Fado struggled to stop his lip from quivering.
Fado asked softly, “What is happening to us?”
Saraf breathed, “You are remembering.”
Saudade asked, “Remembering what?”
Just then a hot gust of acrid air swept past them. Saraf broke her gaze upon them and they all three turned to see down the trail embers between the trees. Fear returned.
Saraf hissed, “You will die again. Climb upon my back. Hurry!”
And so Fado and Saudade mounted Saraf with a hypnotized reluctance. Saraf’s torso swung above them and she began to slither up the trail with astonishing speed, her belly making sibilance like steam over the loose gravel of the trail. Fado and Saudade clung to Saraf’s muscular body. They could all feel the fire’s breath on their backs.
Saraf and her two refugees emerged from the forest onto the sparse and rocky dome above the tree line. Ahead was the little Indigo Lake whereupon appeared to balance the expanse of heaven.
And the smoke of the great fire was encroaching upon that heaven.
And all around the shores of Indigo Lake were tired, huddled, and milling creatures. They all clustered in an unnatural truce before a greater enemy.
Saraf stopped and Fado and Saudade dismounted and stood staring at the miraculous sight.
Fado in awe named the animals, “Deer, coyotes, squirrels, marmots, mice, crows, hawks, ducks, finches, woodpeckers, lizards, frogs, and look there, Saudade!” he said pointing to the discreet clouds of flying insects hovering over their portions of the sanctuary.
Above the peak of Mount Eden Fado noticed in the heavens the massing of seasonal thunder clouds. He could see them roiling and rising yellowish white on a path to challenge the pillar of black smoke from the wildfire below.
And then the tree line below the lake began to burn and the wind was increasing. Showers of embers began to fall among the refugee animals and they fretted.
Saudade was covering her head, saying, “It’s getting hard to breathe!”
Fado began to chant, “Wake up! Wake up!”
That is when the enormous black bear lumbered over the hill on the opposite shoreline from Fado, Saudade, and Saraf. It was carrying a limp cub by the scruff in its mouth. Saudade could see that the cub was dead, its fur burned away in bloody swatches. The great bear set the dead child upon a bolder and roared at the sight of all of the refugees.
Saraf coiled and rose erect, calling to the angry bear, “Baribal, do not be foolish. We all must have the refuge of this lake.”
The massive body of Baribal shook with grief and rage and then she charged down to banish all of them from the lake.
Saudade shrieked. The other animals across the lake tried to move back and they stepped on each other, panicking, some falling into the lake thrashing.
But before Fado and Saudade realized what was happening, Saraf was on the other lakeshore and gliding like a spear at the great bear Baribal. Saraf swirled around Baribal as she rose on her hind legs. Before Baribal could strike she was in Saraf’s coils and she tried to move her great head enough to bite at Saraf.
There was a crash from the heavens above and the thunderclouds exploded. A sudden deluge began as Saraf and Baribal rolled down the hill towards the lake. The lake began to boil from the downpour. A blinding claw of lightening struck the other side of the peak. The animals scattered toward the tree line.
A great wall of steam began to rise from the decimated forest as the wildfire fought in vain against the rain.
Fado shouted to Saudade, “Come on! Run!” and he grabbed her arm and dashed down to the tree line, leaping and stumbling over the weathered rocks of Mount Eden’s peak.
Fado glanced back and the last thing he saw before entering the steaming forest was Saraf and Baribal locked together rolling into the lake.
How long did Fado and Saudade run stumbling and slipping down the mountain through the smokey haze and the towers of scorched trees black with their pine needles orange? Fado and Saudade only stopped long enough to tie handkerchiefs around their lower faces so that they could breathe without choking. The trail was now alive with mud and soot. The rain charged harder into the earth and the earth roared.
The team of fire fighters and Park Rangers found Fado and Saudade huddled unconscious in an ash covered meadow, beneath a plastic rain tarp. They had awakened delirious and babbling.
The medics were incredulous, asking over and over again of a befuddled Fado and Saudade, “How did you survive?”
Fado and Saudade in oxygen masks were coughing black sputum. Fado choked, recalling, “We made it to the top of Mount Eden,” and Saudade wheezed, “We came down in the rain.”
What else could they say?
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