Monday, August 29, 2005

Saturday OCD - lunchtime update

A quick update on yesterday's post: my New Orleans friends are fine. I did finally call them, but of course the circuits were down by then. But before bugging out, they got out an email saying they were pointing their wheels out of town, and this morning they called. They're in Memphis, waiting it out, trying not to think too much about the home they'd made and left behind, walls painted, pictures hung and homey details settled in. The storm was not as bad as it could have been, so there might be something there when they return.

I'm hoping.

And for those of you who were wondering about the title from yesterday, about "OCD", and thinking, "This isn't about obsessive-compulsive disorder at all, just a rambling post about a wet cat," well, you're right. You see, I meant to write about how, now that the cats were clean, I had to clean everything the cats might possibly come in contact with. And then everything that might come in contact with anything that might come in contact with any of those things. And so on. But the post was already too long, and I realized nobody really wants to read about how many times I had to check to make sure I locked the door, I did lock the door, didn't I? Well, it wouldn't hurt to go back and check to make sure I locked the door, just one more time. And I know I went back and checked, but did I really check? Surely there's time for me to just go back and be absolutely sure....

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Saturday OCD

I should I really should be calling my friends in New Orleans, to see if they're okay. Are they bugging out, or staying put? I know they're the stay put type. But I just can't help these pictures in my head of them being tossed around, picked up and smashed down. Yes, I know tornadoes are not hurricanes, but I just can't reason with the pictures in my head.

But avoidance, really, that's my best feature. So instead of calling, to hear them say they're staying put, they're riding it out, to hear them not answer because cell towers are already down, or overloaded, to talk to them and not know anything more than I did before talking to them, instead of that, I do other things I'd been avoiding for months, things that really just needed a bigger avoidance to move me.

So, I bathed the cats. We, that is, Mr. Billy and I, bathed the cats. I had this idea it wouldn't be so difficult. I'd bathed them before. I don't remember it being so bad.

But then, every time I'd bathed them before, it had been immediately after a trip in their cat carriers. They were already traumatized, already freaky and submissive with fear. And, they'd soiled themselves in their carriers. So they were almost as eager as I for a little cleanliness.

But never before had I plucked them from a laze in the sun, comfortably curled in the papasan, looking up at me with trusting, lazily blinking eyes.

When I say them, I'm really referring to the Big Cat, Mario. Our Problem Child. He's a sweet kitty, really, but he was a rescued cat, a street kitty, a marauder in the rougher quarters of Honolulu, a killer of geckoes and dwarf pigeons, abused and abandoned. Stray cats are not loved in Hawaii, being overburdened with them, not being much a part of the culture as house pets. We can only imagine how he must have been treated before being scooped up by the Humane Society and handed over to us, big-eyed, skittish, ducking and flinching every time we lifted a hand to pet him.

Years of patience have mellowed Mario. He's handsome and loving, now, on his own terms. He never extends his claws (unlike Blanche, the little black cat, who doesn't seem to know how to retract hers), never bites. Never scratches, that is, until yesterday.

Mario must be edging up to twenty pounds, now. Not terribly fat, but long and tall and solid all over. I pick him up, and he curls his front paws up submissively. This will be easy, I think.

Mr. Billy has the sink ready, and I carry him over, lift him into the sink. He expands, twice, three times his original size, grows extra legs and paws, reaching out everywhere, bracing against the counter, I wrestle him into the sink and he explodes out, I hold on grimly, turning into my parents, "this is for your own good," I tell Mr. Billy to fill the cup with water, I have an idea of pouring it over him, so far only his paws are wet, and while Mr. Billy's hands are busy with the faucet and the cup, Mario's eyes are rolling madly, he spies an exit, he takes it, a wet, desperate cat - suddenly the size of a tiger - is climbing my chest, he's having flashbacks and just trying to get traction, he's up my chest and on my shoulders and thunk! onto the floor and gone.

Mr. Billy pulls my shirt away, his eyes big as he looks at my skin. Are you okay? he wants to know. I nod, quickly. Should we give up? I ask him.

Mr. Billy, I think, would love to call it off, but he's seen me like this before. He squeezes my hand and goes to find Mario.

This time Mr. Billy holds his front legs while I bathe him, Mario's whole body tense and shuddering, he yowls piteously, loudly, I'm killing him with all this water, but we get the job done, more or less, his tail like a bone, wet fur clinging, I wrap him up in a big towel and loose him to set to work on the other cat.

She struggles, but no yowling, no climbing my chest like a tree, and it's over soon enough. I stand at the counter, shaking and laughing.

My shirt is sticking to my chest. I'm bleeding right through it.

I pull it off in front of the mirror. Three long red lines running up my chest. Another grouping on my right breast, another on my left ribs. You can trace the shape of big paws on my back and shoulders. They're all raised and bleeding, welting up. I expect bruises to form around them soon.

I look like I've been in a bar fight. I consider swearing off open necklines while they heal, but a look at my wardrobe tells me that's impractical. I'm not wearing turtlenecks in August.

Instead, Mr. Billy and I are working on some good stories to explain the scratches. I welcome suggestions.

Meanwhile, I still haven't called our New Orleans friends.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Caution: My street is highly flammable

I want to clean my glasses again. There's something in the air, I can't place it, like someone dropped a box of face powder and it's still hanging there. I take off my glasses, rub them with my shirt, and put them on again.

We hear sirens coming up the street, at first distant enough to ignore, but then Mr. Billy is at the window, watching the lights flashing in the fog, watching them go by our flat, up the street, and stop. Two firetrucks disappear in what I'm thinking might not be just fog, an ambulance pulls around right outside our window, to block off the street.

"Another one," we say, pulling on our shoes.

This one is smaller, we don't see flames jumping out, can't trace its progression from the blackening walls at the front of the building. If it wasn't for the smoke - we're breathing it in now and it's smoke - and the firetrucks, nothing would look out of place.

Neighbors gathering on the street. We shake our heads at each other, "Again," we say.

The hippie guy with the moustache and long curly hair and his family are carting musical instruments - nine, ten guitars - and cats in carriers across the street.

"D'you need any help?" Asks Billy.

Hippie's eyes are big, but he shakes his head. "It's a, I think it's just a small, a small fire this time," tottering past, a cat carrier in each hand.

Pretty neighbor with the glittering diamond in her nose asks whose place it is.

"D'you know Rick, the guy with the -?" neighbor gestures in the region of his head.

"-the hair and moustache, yeah," the girl nods, recognizing the description of the hippie, "it's his place...?"

We look quietly at the firemen filing up the ladder, dropping through a newly-cut hole in the roof, appearing in the apartment window. It's another of those aggregate facade buildings.

"It's too bad" doesn't cover it, doesn't get to the nut of what we're feeling, looking, shamefacedly amused at the coincidence, at how it's only for a fire that we come out of our houses, expose our faces to one another. This one doesn't have that thrill of fear, of shooting flames, adventure! Glory! Heroism!

No, this one is just the quiet consumption of one family's structure, of the things they use to tell about and propel their lives. Their books and clothes and pictures of Sandy when she was four at her cousin's birthday party, Do you remember? - their recipes and plants and baby drawings and outdated calendars and tax forms from four years ago and I wonder what ever happened to that cute little skirt you used to wear? -and from now on everything will be changed because of the Fire back in 2005. Do you remember that? We lost everything.

Mr. Billy and I walk back down the street, into our own flat, vowing to move the cat carriers someplace more accessible, thinking again, What would I save? and in the dark, our living room blinks blue, then red from the whirling lights outside our window.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Storm in August

I've been trying to bring to mind some soft-focus, Hallmark Card memories of my mom. Or anything really, any specific moment. It all keeps getting lost in the narrative, told so often as to have lost its corners, its impact, its three-dimensional reality.

Except - I do remember she had long nails. She kept them perfectly manicured, though she never had them professionally done. At church on Sunday, we would lay our heads in her lap, and she would clean out our ears using the perfect scoops of her nails.

As I got older, I would ask for this, laying my head in her lap, a moment of blissful regression, but every time she would say, "Look at your perfect, pink little shell-like ears. They're just too clean, there's nothing for me to do..."

She was a poet.

While I was living at home, she would ask me to critique her poems. "Be brutal," she would say.

I could imagine nothing more terrifying. How could I possibly critique my mother's poetry? I did though, I tried. I have no idea what sort of half-assed or cruel or pointless things I said. It's all blocked out.

But after I'd been living away for several years, she sent me a volume of her poetry. It was beautiful.

At her funeral in January, I read a favorite poem from that book:

Storm in August
About the time we passed the Crosby House
the wind began to blow, sending whirlwinds
worrying red dirt. Through the haze
the sun burned ominous
behind the bee-bedeviled hollyhocks.

Mother's skirts filled up with gusts,
involving both her hands.
Squinching up our gritty eyes, we held together,
welded hand in hand; one on either side
of Baby Rae, nearly swept away, whimpering
into the tug of wind.

"I've left the windows open." Mother put it
in the wind. "...must go back...houses blow away.
Stay here at Sister Terry's; be good girls..."

Sister Terry did her best.
portioned songs and stories anxiously,
tea party's propitiation, paper dolls to hold
against the winding wind around the house,
filling up the periled afternoon.
The clock said five, but black had blotted up the sky
Lightning panicked when it struck
the pole across the lawn, splintering
and thundering. Lights went out up and down
the street. We groped toward each other;
Sister Terry lit the candles
in a trembling flame, then held us awkwardly.
We soothed each other, holding rocking in her lap.

The storm ran down just before dusk.
She loosed us, blinking in an altered world.
Power poles hung broken, strung among
their lines, limbs of stricken trees
blocked off the roads, littered lawns.
The cottonwood we couldn't span with our linked arms
now lay yanked on its side, roots extracted,
still gesticulating to the sky.

How washed the air! How bright the light
the sun put down behind the hills.

And, mounted on his stallion, Golden Racket,
cantering along the street, sharing shadows
cantering; our father came, wearing
his white Stetson, reining in,
looking like a god.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Remember this when surgery is months in the past, body again elastic, stitches irritating memories, doctor visits rare:

How delicious, walking to the corner store for milk at dusk.

Eating sausage in an outdoor amphitheater, laughing and crying at Cyrano de Bergerac.

Splashing bleach and water across the tiles of our tiny deck.

Sleep, with ordinary dreams - or, with my dreams, not demons out of a prescription bottle.

Walking, hips moving freely, skirt swinging, shoulders loose and open. Those muscles clenched tight for so long softening, letting go. Shifting in bed without anything hurting, or hurting much. This is luxury, this is pleasure.

In two, maybe three weeks, I'm going dancing.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Kitten heels and prayer candles, part 3

Mikhail was face down on the street, watching Saint Joseph, Sacred Heart, the Virgin rolling around, his jaw numb, trying to put it together. That Pedro guy was just a guy at first, just like a million other guys looking at his stuff like it was contaminated, like it was garbage, there with his girlfriend, it was nothing new, nothing different, and the Pedro guy sniffed like he was the King of Siam, he was better than this shit, and he was walking away, but it looked like he dropped something, Mik thought he'd dropped this paper when he turned to go, but all it said was "LOOK RIGHT," and Mik looked right, lifitng the paper and yelling after the guy, but when this Pedro turned to look back he was Mikhail, he wasn't some random guy anymore, he was Mik, but still Pedro - Mik had heard of people like that, his grandmother told him about people who could shift, but he didn't think he would find one on the street in L.A.

Mik was thinking too slow when the guy just walked quick up to him and now he was on the street, the asphalt pebbles sticking to his face.

He heard the Pedro guy walking away, but the footsteps stopped, and another pair of feet came into view, right in front of Mik. The girlfriend.

She knelt down in front of him and and looked in his face.

She was beautiful. Blue-black skin, long lashes, opening her mouth to yell, red tongue, white teeth, "He's hurt!"

She smelled of lavender. Mikhail closed his eyes and breathed her in. He could lie here forever.

Pedro's feet started moving back in his direction. Mik started to get up, pushing up with his hands, the street rocking underneath him, he could see Pedro now, his bottom half, one hand pulling out of the pocket.

A knife snicking open.

Mik stopped, on his hands and knees.

"Not hurt enough," muttered Pedro, lifting the knife, and Mik raised one arm, trying to get to his feet, but something hot pink flashed in the side of his vision, Pedro falling back onto the street, holding onto his face and howling.

"Come on," the girl helped Mik to his feet, holding a hot pink sandal in her other hand, her breath warm on his face.

"Bitch you bitch you bitch my face" Pedro was howling in the street, Mik looking back at him, prayer candles rolling around, his hands covering his face, the girl pulling him away.

Her hand was warm in his, running down the street, her breath pulling out of her, blocks and blocks before they slowed down enough to talk, their voices coming in harsh around their breath.

"You okay?"

"I think so, thank you...?"


"Thank you, Nichelle. I'm - "

"Pedro," she said, brushing his hair from his eyes, "You're Pedro."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Kitten heels and prayer candles, part 2

Nichelle walked fast down the street, gripping her shopping bag. Enough of Pedro, enough of both Pedros, she thought, hanging with him was like hanging with a prince or something. Everyone looked at him, knew him, talked to him - he was so pretty - Nichelle, just for being with him, would get the leftovers, people's faces all soft after talking to him, she'd get the last part of a smile, the second half of a How's it going, and that wasn't so bad.

But two of them, Nichelle would disappear completely, like falling into a hole.

Two Pedros. Nichelle wondered if she was cracking up, like her aunt up in Pomona who just sat in her living room all day, her hair going everywhere, talking about how God would tell her when to move.

Or should she feel bad, leaving her man alone with something scary like that? Hell, they'd probably make friends, the whole world can revolve around the both of them, just like it always did around Pedro, maybe sometimes he got lonely, the whole world looking in at him and nobody to look out with. Maybe it would be good for him to share a little.

Nichelle put on the brakes all of a sudden, if she'd been a car, her tires would've squealed.

No way Pedro would share. One of them would kill the other one, and then where would he be. The cops sure as hell wouldn't get it - Nichelle didn't even get it herself.

But she knew this for sure - Pedro was her man, and she couldn't just leave him. She turned around fast, shopping bag banging against her legs, and ran back to the prayer candle stand.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Scratch fiction deconstructed

I've found a few different ways to approach scratch fiction since monkey 0 introduced the meme back in March.

Sometimes I'll be thinking about a topic for a little while, and then an image or a situation will trigger a story relating to it. This story was an example of that: Sylvana had requested a Curious George story, but it wasn't until I saw a dog trotting down the street with a toy monkey in its mouth that the story was born.

Other times, I'll sit down at the computer with no idea at all, nothing, and just start typing. The night this story came about, we had a houseguest. We were expecting a few other friends to arrive in a few minutes, but I really wanted to get something posted, and my guest was curious about the whole scratch fiction thing. So I typed. A few minutes earlier, she had been showing me a picture of a girl she had a crush on, who was involved with someone else, so I pictured that girl. I made the person with the crush into a guy, because I've been working on a male perspective lately (my novel is entirely from a girl's point of view, so I make every attempt to take a break from that), and the story just fell out from there.

The interesting thing to me is that when I write so fast like that, often without any idea where it's going, little things I've read or seen or been thinking about lately will pop up all over the place. It's like recording a dream while it's happening.

Kitten heels is a pretty good example of that. All I had in my head when I sat down was the name Pedro, someone saying the name. So that's what I opened with. I had no idea who was saying it, or why. But as I wrote, it became obvious to me that it was happening in Southern California, somewhere not far from L.A. Nichelle was the name of a friend of mine from Compton - I knew her when we were teenagers, and I was living not far from there - and she seemed to belong in the scene. The dashboard Jesus vendor clearly carried things like the angel with no hands, back when she was new. And, it seems everyone I know has a pair of kitten heels, except me, dammit.

Some readers have asked me to write sequels to some of my scratch fiction, but I appear to have a hard time with that. Often enough, the universe of the story feels hermetically sealed to me; there's nothing more than what happens on the page, that's it. But maybe it's time to exercise that muscle a bit. I'll try first with a "Kitten heels..." sequel, and we'll see where it takes us.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Kitten heels and prayer candles

"Pedro, Pedro!"

They were already halfway down the block, what did this guy think? Pedro wasn't about to change his mind, turn around and buy his lame-ass dashboard Jesus or whatever, and Nichelle just had to whine at him, "Pedro, this one would look so cute in the living room," so now the guy knew his name, didn't he know enough when to give up?

"Pedro, wait!"

Nichelle had stopped and was looking back. She wasn't moving or talking or anything, which was weird enough all by itself, she was just staring, gone all rigid.

"What the fuck, Nichelle?"

Nichelle just slid her eyes slowly over to Pedro, her mouth hanging open, then looked back to where the guy was holding something, something like a paper he was waving back and forth. She dropped the plastic bag she'd been holding like life, the one with her new shoes in them, the hot pink sandals with the kitten heels, she'd been going on about how cute they were, like her whole life was gonna change 'cause she put on some slutty new shoes. But she was too busy now staring at the guy, the plastic-Jesus-and-prayer-candle vendor guy, her lashes so thick with mascara they cast a shadow on her cheeks, her lashes shaking, just a little bit.

Now Pedro saw it, there was something funny about the guy, something familiar - of course it was familiar, he'd just been talking to him a minute ago, it was the same guy - but now he looked different, something about how he stood was creeping Pedro out, something bugged him about it, crawling up from the base of his spine, what was it what was it, Pedro started walking back, the sidewalk so bright and hard in the sun he couldn't see all that good, but something was making him sick right into his stomach, even before the front of his brain knew it, the back of his brain was saying Bad Bad Bad Bad.

But then he was close enough to see. Not like looking in a mirror, 'cause things are reversed, which made the whole thing even more wrong, all the hairs on Pedro's head standing up and pricking into him, this guy was him, Pedro.

The guy opened his mouth and Pedro knew he didn't want to hear his own voice coming out of someone else, that would be too much, worse than hearing it on a tape recorder, so he didn't even stop to think, he just wound up and knocked his jaw sideways, Fucker can land on his ass for all I care, thought Pedro, walking away.