said that life isn't a spectator sport never came to
After changing a light bulb in the hallway, I sat in the middle of the stairway. I had opened all of the windows earlier that day and the sun was beginning to cast its yellow and orange rays across the floor while the sheers on the living room window began throwing shadows on the opposite wall. I sat just to watch them and to enjoy the breezes in the hallway moving through my house as if it were breathing. I sat with Mangan's Sister, behaving like a spot of protein on a stairway of muscle between two giant lungs venting and breathing and venting and breathing.
A string had blown in through a tear in the screen and was caught on the leg of the couch. Sister tensed when she saw it, and within a few seconds, launched herself from the stair, rolled onto the hardwood floor and slid backwards beyond all reachable distance from the string. She righted herself with amazing swiftness, leaped again toward the couch and mounted the string with all four paws grouped tightly beneath her. She sat there for a moment on top of it, making sure it was dead. Eventually, she lifted a paw, licked the string and then bit into it, disabling it from further resistance. The string hadn't a chance against Sister; she was just too adept, just too aware of her feline compulsions. She was just too certain as to what she had seen waving from the leg of the couch, just too certain that the intruder must die and that she must be the one to kill it.
She treats wandering crickets no differently. There's something about them that she finds utterly delectable. It might be the crunch, or maybe the spongy filling, but it is clear that she prefers their flavor to their sport. Sister will not stalk a cricket as she will a butterfly, moth, junebug or mouse. Once she spies a cricket, she immediately licks it off the floor or snatches it in the air sometimes a foot above her, its legs like landing gear stretching forward. She lunges and snaps at the insect just after take off. And before she settles back down on the wooden floor, the bug has been swallowed, its aftertaste fresh on her palate.
I find a loose cricket, I'll play with it for a while testing its reflexes,
general health and feistiness, auditioning it for the next show; then I'll call
for Sister. Sometimes I surprise myself and I'll save a cricket by tossing it
back into the yard. I'm surprised at times by my macabre and sadistic
curiosity. Usually after the cricket is crushed between Sister's jaws, I feel
guilty. I see myself in those moments as
On the other hand, I occasionally see myself as the wandering one, the hunted victim, the enormously outclassed cricket. Watching the cricket die is like watching myself die, watching myself being pierced and crushed. I look for clues in the cricket telling me when death stops hurting, reminding me of my scientific detachment, telling me to stop over-reacting to nature. "So what," I tell myself, "it's just a bug...it's just a man, what's the difference. It's just me. So what, I'm dead and will miss the sunset tonight. So what, the light goes out; it is still; it is quiet; life is over."
I don't know how Sister's vision compares to the vision of her victims or how certain shapes in motion successfully misrepresent themselves as potential prey. I do know however, that the objects she sees are envisioned as something they may not truthfully be. But I cannot determine if she envisions a single feather as a whole bird or an eyelash as a twitching leg of a spider or cricket, nor can I clearly tell if what she sees incites within her a rationality that she can instinctively or intelligibly acknowledge. I wonder if she understands the breadth of her vision; if she understands it as either a playful sport or if its logic escapes her completely as an aspect of her uncontrollable instincts that define her more completely than science and more devoutly than art.
Last night after dinner, before the sunset, she chased the glare of my wristwatch against the wall. She tried pinning it behind a paw and biting it when she thought it was trapped. I turned my wrist enough to move the spot ahead of her, and she scurried like a badger into the corner, trying to overtake it. But she did not stalk the spot in the same manner that she did an eraser rolling along a sheet of newspaper that I rocked with my foot. She leaped at the eraser, bit it once and then lurched forward, grabbing my foot with her bared claws. She bit my toe just hard enough to disable it, to stun it, to suffocate it, to stop its tiny, imaginary heartbeat. She won, she tagged me, as I suspect was all she initially wanted. She seized her prey, and I could do nothing to shake her but wiggle my other foot behind her, trying to distract her, to convince her that the contest with one foot was over, and the other had come to play.
Even in the dark, Sister hunts. On days I work late at the library I take her with me. The artist does not haunt the library study and sometimes at night my study possesses me so completely that I cannot leave. I become too easily situated that escaping from my own seclusion is impossible. I expect this from time to time and depend on Sister's company to distract me from the silence.
Sometime last year I pilfered a huge, pumpkin-shaped candle from the rectory downstairs. I originally used it as a footstool that I would burn on nights I'd sleep over. Its core is too wide to use as a footstool anymore, and I can only light it by inserting a burning stick deep into its well. After putting away my work and brushing my teeth over the drinking fountain, I'd stretch out on the couch and tap my fingers on my chest, encouraging Sister to come and tuck me in. She'd faithfully curl up on my chest and stare at the candle's flickering shadows against the corner of the room. I'd scratch her neck and drag the flannel blanket up over my waist and stare at the same flickering shadows upon the ceiling. The wick would drown itself within an hour, about the time I'd doze off, and Sister would begin prowling around the study, roaming past every wall and corner like a security guard. She'd climb up bookshelves, skulk into cabinets and prod in partially opened desk drawers. Her clamber would incorporate my dreams with fitting images of a stranger poking around my room, searching for a pencil or a lost shoe or a hidden bottle of Dewars.
last time I spent the night there she woke me after midnight. The candle had
just burned out and I could hear her purring from the top of the bookcase. She
was lured there by a feather mask I brought home from
She eventually reached the edge of the bookshelf and I could hear her clawing desperately into a piece of tapestry on the wall as her hind end slid off the top shelf. She knocked over an iron railroad spike I use as a bookend that hit the floor just before she did. Both thuds were heavy; her's was proceeded by a meow as though she'd been hit in the chest with a soccer ball. She sneezed—her way of talking back, of having the last word—and then started sniffing around the edge of my desk.
She sharpened her claws on the rug, raked her front paws across its plush finish, and then sneezed again. I imagined her rubbing against the corner of the desk and beginning at last to settle down. Before long she jumped onto the arm of the couch and walked slowly across my feet and then up my leg before curling up on my rear end. It felt like she was a stranger's hand, and I couldn't relax until she moved up onto the middle of my back. It was harder to breathe but it felt good having her there. She purred loudly sending warm vibrations up my spine and toward the back of my neck. I can remember nodding off thinking that the lovely stranger was lightly scratching me, lightly lulling me to sleep.
woke again before dawn and opened the sliding-glass door so Sister could escape
into the gardens downstairs. The mornings in
I offered Sister the remains of a candy bar I found on my desk. She sniffed it, sneezed and ran off onto the balcony. I replaced it in my desk drawer, walked to the sliding-glass door and opened the sheers to the rising sun.
or twice a week Mr. Toulous, the secretary for the reading group and a retired
tile engraver from
Toulous sees me in the library in ways that Mangan's Sister might envision my
big toe or a cricket's quivering leg. I've wondered if correcting his
impression is really all that important. And if I tried, I wonder if he'd
believe my explanation anyway. So many things happen in
On his most recent visit, he entered the study, singing my name. I slid off the couch and began picking up Sister's mess from the floor. He carried a cup of coffee in one hand and Sister in the other, sliding uncomfortably to the floor. She rubbed her side against his leg and Mr. Toulous responded as warmly as he always had, talking to her, giving her messages meant for me, patronizing me as inoffensively as possible in that sappy tone adults reserve for children. "Is daddy still sweepy, kitty, kitty; go get �im Sissy, tell him to rise and shine; up and attem; it's going to be a glorious day."
For Mr. Toulous, the day's glorious events had already come to pass or had at least made themselves known to him. His imagination must promise a better future than mine. Based on days past, I couldn't envision how Wednesday was going to be any more or less glorious than Tuesday. But Mr. Toulous saw events unfold ahead of time, and I'm certain that as a result his days became progressively more glorious as the week advanced. Sister and I still lack this ability. What we see and how we envision ourselves and situations appear to us like photographs of a childhood picnic in which we recognize more fondly our company than ourselves. Independent of our attitudes and our conditions, we fail to change ourselves as change occurs in others. Day after day we fail to schedule the hours for memories, glorious or not, that we have yet to experience. Mr. Toulous cannot accept this resistance. I can discern his misgivings every morning that he sings my name and assists me to the bathroom; I can tell by the way he looks at me sprawled out on the couch and how he watches me chew his aspirin, drink his coffee and compliment his hearty stack of magazines. Someday we will accept one another and our own misunderstandings, and he will then stop coming. I wonder if his absence will be more insulting than his presumptions. But I wonder more earnestly if I will miss him.
temperature must have dropped ten degrees within twenty minutes. The wind came
out of the south, bearing an uncommon humidity perhaps originating hundreds of
miles down the coastline, maybe as far south as
The sun had fallen behind Mare's Point and storm clouds diffused the last few bands of light into yellow-green splinters linking the earth and sky like a fiber-optic tetherball. The view, I thought, must have captured the attention of the entire valley and showed them a sight more pressing than the need to take cover. I stood in my yard, holding back my hair and looking at the sky. It seemed like the storm was trying to distract me, trying to show me the sunset, trying to explain why it follows the horizon. I understood that the storm had created the light, and yet it seemed to be trying to capture it, trying to blow it out, to tamp out the sun by its own hand, with its own wind and rain. The storm's very nature was to hide the light that beautified it and to blur itself by its own black darkness.
The first flash of lightning came as I yanked my lawn chair from the hawthorn stand. A few twigs snapped and my momentum turned me against the wind and almost swung me into the same spiny branches that grabbed my chair. Leaves blew about; and those still attached to trees turned downward. The sky darkened and changed colors from seawater green to tombstone gray. Then came the thunder. I felt it coming before it arrived and smiled as it rolled overhead divulging nature's most resonate voice.
thunder is the earth's first language, it is God's diction, it is the
Shakespeare of the elements, the sky's pulse, the timbre of all the oceans'
waves; and it came to all of us here in
The storm's acoustics seemed to enhance the sunset as though I were viewing it through 3-D glasses. It was the best time for storms, the best time to enjoy them that is. I opened the back door to blow out the stale air inside and sat on the stoop while the temperature fell and the lightning echoed off the clouds like cannonfire off ramparts. The thunder split into several distinct voices: banging, ripping, sawing, thumping and growling. Mangan's Sister hid beneath the telephone stand, her eyes alert, tail stiff and claws undoubtedly clutched into the floor. I sat on the stoop and watched. Then came the rain. It came in slow, heavy drops that splattered against the back door and slapped the nasturtium and daisies growing in a barrel near the stoop's corner. The dirt in the barrel turned muddy before the rainfall steadied and forced me inside. The mud and rain splattered against the flowers, weighing down the lower leaves, forcing them into the mud. The plants soaked up as much water as they could, but the rain grew in strength and mass and soon drowned the drooping leaves.
Hailstones eventually fell. Like miniature bombs, they pelted the flowers and snapped the thinnest stems like dry sticks. Some blossoms frayed in the wind and dropped onto the soil. They floated over the edge of the barrel while other leaves and petals were pinned beneath dirt clods not dissolved by the fall. At last I imagined a surge of bubbles rising from the puddle, carrying the plants' last breath up and out of the mud, into the open air. The punishment was obscene and relentless, and I instinctively checked to see if Sister was still indoors, still safely crouched beneath the telephone stand.
I shut and locked the screen but left the glass door open just enough to let some outside air whistle into the kitchen. The house was dark, lit only by the light above the stove. The ceiling fan above the table hummed and ticked rhythmically as the blades spun overhead. Mangan's Sister still hid under the telephone stand, her eyes just as wide and alert as when the thunder started. She reacted to this storm no differently than she had to others until a thunder clap knocked out a power line. The stove light blinked once and went out. The hum from the ceiling fan stopped—only the ticking remained, one tick following more slowly another and another until the ticking skipped a beat and then another and then stopped eventually altogether. And then it returned: the jarring silence, the sibilant static of nothing. So I sat at the table stuck in the kitchen's bizarre vacuum, waiting for the hum of the refrigerator to convince me that my house was still living.
A soft meow came from the corner and blew into the kitchen, interrupting the stillness. Suddenly I was hungry and remembered that a half pint of strawberry ice cream remained in the back of the freezer. It had just began to soften and so I hoped to seduce Mangan's Sister out from under the telephone stand by waving a spoonful in front of her. It didn't work. After the first attempt, I sat at the table and mashed up the ice cream with a soup spoon, slurping the mush straight from the carton like it were a milkshake still in its stainless steel fratcan.
Now and then lightning glared through the windows, and within each flash, I could see the sallow glow of the toaster oven, the pitcher of dried chrysanthemums, the postcards on the freezer door, the half-empty spice rack, my juice glass from breakfast and the cereal box still opened beside the sink. Each flash drained everything of color and gave everything in exchange an eerie shadow. The gray light made the room look pale and frozen. Fixtures throughout the house had the same pale and frozen expression as the victims of Pompeii: frozen instantly in death; dying within the space of a flash, passing away between strides to the market, between spoonfulls of supper and sips of cool water, between sentences, phrases and pauses. Everything in my kitchen was caught in a chilling tableau, stuck within my mind like some strange, subliminal therapy meant only to excite and surprise.
The wind blew harder through the sliding-glass door and rain made its way through the screen, spraying the floor and the edge of the kitchen table. But I paid it no attention. I sat instead at the table, still sipping my ice cream and watching within the lightning the pale apparitions of my kitchen's furnishings. The mimosa had been knocking at the upstairs window for some time but I ignored it until I heard the window pop open and felt the wind rushing down the stairs, through the living room and into the kitchen. Curtains in front of the bay window flapped; a time or two the hem snapped like a wet sail. I bumped against the table when I finally stood up and slipped on the wet floor. I skidded along the wall past Mangan's Sister, nearly derailing on her tail waving from under the telephone stand. I grabbed the back of the couch, regained some balance and then dried my feet on the rug by skipping past the living room and up the stairs to the studio. Once I reached the top, lightning projected ghoulish patterns against the props and fixtures unique to the studio.
Familiar objects cloaked in black sheets and covers looked taller and more human every time the lightning flashed. The easel in the center of the room stood just a little taller than the average female. The muslin sheet hung over the top like hair and blew in the rainy wind as though it had just been washed; as though a luminous lover had just stepped out of the shower and stood naked in front of me. And every time the lightning strobed, the apparition appeared to move closer. But I just stood there pressed into the doorway, unable or unwilling to move. I searched for an outline or dimension by which I could gauge the apparition's movement and distance. I searched in the darkness for some outstanding feature, wanting to recognize who I wanted to see.
The mimosa's perfume drifted into the room like smoke while the rain sprayed through the window, spinning into tiny twisters and framing the apparition in a glowing mist. I wanted to step forward, to raise my arm and to touch it, but, no longer fearing its presence, I feared instead that the figure would disappear once I extended my hand.
that night, my visions of the artist occurred in a place or dimension that
couldn't detect me, a place where I wasn't seen or known. But for that moment
in the storm I was recognized. I was as familiar to her as were the fixtures in
her room. But I was unable to touch her. I was frozen somewhere I didn't belong
as if I were standing on my porch in
night for part of an hour time expanded. All references to reality changed in
the storm. I had almost believed in immortality, almost trusted its promises no
matter how peripheral its possibilities affected me or any of us still living
The figure in the center of the studio lost its ethereal charm when I finally moved and turned around to close the window. The storm was its power; it was the apparition's authority, and when it passed I knew the vision's significance to reality had changed and I was no longer a part of the artist's existence—an existence no more or less capricious than the weather.
The house was still without power so I sat on the steps still stuck in the night's queer vacuum. One by one I could hear the crickets beginning to speak and feel the wind gusting through the sliding-glass door still ajar in the kitchen. Sister mewed softly and I walked over to the telephone stand, stretched out on the living room floor and responded just as softly. I rubbed her chin with a finger and then rolled onto my back and whispered a few remembered lines from an O'Neill one-act—the one about solitude and sky, sea and rain. The thunder faded away and the rain eased up, dribbling in rhyme from the roof. Mangan's Sister eased up a bit too and walked over to me in the living room. She curled up between my neck and shoulder and purred just a little louder than the wind.