Monday, April 9, 2012

A Day in the Life

The cat was bored. She lay in front of the window, not looking out, not caring if a squirrel patroled the sill inches from her face. They were old enemies, and she wouldn’t let a mottled rodent distract her.

She’d ruffled the throw rug, turned up the corner so her people would know her displeasure or depression . . . angst . . . profound ennui. What was it exactly? Those tiny yarn balls they were forever rolling in front of her had no appeal. The catnip toy? Well, yuck was the only word for it. Just a marketing ploy. She’d never met a cat who liked catnip.

She stood up at that thought—leapt up actually. She’d never met a cat who . . . When was the last time she’d met a cat at all? There was that pitiful black thing in a collar with a bell that sometimes hung around the back door when her people went out—trying to get in—but it had never made it and never would. She was proud of her people—too smart for a collared cat—the collar a sign of its dog-like intelligence. Nobody would ever collar her or even try. Her people respected her too much.

But to know a real cat, somebody more substantial that that ephemeral apparition that appeared in the mirror when she patrolled the tops of the dressers—a handsome feline for sure, but without true originality—always copying her. Imitation the sincerest form of flattery, but still.

No. When had she known a real cat? She paced at the thought, walked through the kitchen, licked the corner of her dish, jumped on the counter—nobody was home so she could explore on her own—wiped clean with an offensive chemical smell—nothing of interest—jumped down, went into the bathroom also smelling faintly of some soap or poison, peered into the toilet. At least that was pure. She hated it when it turned blue. She continued her survey of the house: rearranged the balls of yarn in the knitting basket, teased out her favorite big red one, batted it around until the unraveling started, then expertly propelled it to the exact center of the room where it belonged. Where she could find it when she needed the exercise. She was forever tidying up after the people. They hid things: the balls, the bits of string she favored, the kibble. What kind of person would ration food? Smoothing the rugs, patting down the bed they shared until it was flat and hard—gave her purpose in life—yes—but she was bored with that too. Same thing day after day. She needed a companion.

A familiar sound stopped her pacing. She would never admit it, not even to herself, but she didn’t know what that sound was—something mechanical, outside the house, where she’d never been, but she knew she’d hear a far away door open and close, footsteps, the house door open and her people, one or both, would be there.

She walked, not ran—didn’t want to appear too eager—and was at the door when it opened and the woman—it was the woman, oh happy day—stepped in, “Oh, Lizzie,” the woman said and stretched out her hand.

The cat lay down, then rolled over so the woman could caress her. The woman needed to do that, and the cat was all about accommodation where her people were concerned. It was enough. Another cat would just complicate things. The boredom fled as that sound she called her internal motor started up—purr contentment.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Boat Dreams

The old boat banging against the dock woke her. A dream, she thought—the old nightmare, somebody at the door or the window, battering it down, Naomi, it’s me. Let me in.

It’s I, she corrected automatically and woke up, smiling to herself. Saved again by grammatical correctness. She made a mental note to tell her students—perhaps another reason for them to think her odd, but remarkably correct. The teacher they’d tell stories about when they were 40. Precise. Careful. Deliberate.

The boat hit the dock again, broadside, more crash than thump, a sound that splintered something and broke. She got up then—not a dream—and pulled her robe closer, cold for May—and stood at the cloudy window at the front of the cabin.

The boat rocked and scraped in the waves. The last crash had wedged it under the dock so with every incoming wave, it rose and fell against the pylons. She could see that the paint was gone, and the dock was eating into the bare wood of the boat. A shame, really, but not her problem. Not her boat. She had refused the boat, wasn’t planning on using it or the lake or even going outside, but the boat came with the weekend rental according to Jill, the rental agent, Jill who gushed, Jill who was a waterfall of superlatives without antecedent or noun—best on the lake, quaintest, coziest, most fabulosis.—fabulosis? Cheapest was the draw and loneliest the consolation.

She got dressed. She ate breakfast: steel-cut oatmeal with toasted almonds, shredded organic apple on top, green tea, two cups, her weekend indulgence. She took the second cup of tea out to the square of deck tacked on to the front of the cabin like an architectural post-it. She smiled at her wit—the word architecture was unknown to the local handyman who had hammered the stumpy, squat building together.

The wind lifted her sweater, went right to her skin. She shivered.

The boat scraped against the dock with a sharpness that forced her to look at it. The boat that wasn’t her boat was tearing itself apart, self-destructing blow by blow. Perhaps she should do something. Free it. Or protect it—which might be the same thing. She put her cup on the floor of the deck and walked through the wet grass to the dock.

The wind blew. She looked back at the bare little cabin, then stepped onto the dock. It shimmied under the regular impact of the boat, and she could see chips of rotten wood—boat wood and dock wood—washing up on shore. Nothing she could do. It didn’t need her.

She stepped down into the grass and headed back to the cabin and to her tea. She needed a third cup today. Her hand trembled as she filled the cup—a teabag of green tea really didn’t stretch to a third cup—and tried to block out the battering that was starting to haunt her as powerfully as a nightmare. Maybe she was dreaming, after all, somebody trying to get in—or to get out. Maybe that was it—something wedged in tightly, held too close, too carefully.

She set her cup down and walked, then ran back to the edge of the lake, slipped out of her shoes, and waded in. The water was colder than she expected, but shallow enough that she could maintain her footing even in the wind and the waves. She sloshed around to the far side of the boat and pulled and pulled and pulled until it gave suddenly and propelled her backwards into the lake. The boat floated over her, free of the dock, and carried by the wind.

Her eyes were open. She watched the long ridge of the rudder pass over her. It took forever, but she had forever. She held her breath, waited as the boat passed over her, then rose just as slowly, rose from the water, wet, cold, trembling, and alive.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran