25 February, 2017

Memories of Bast

I knew it was love when she acted embarrassed for shitting on my leg. Little Bast hid in the closet for nearly an hour after that, impossible to cajole out even with canned tuna. It wasn't her fault she came from the shelter with an upper-respiratory infection and lower-intestinal parasite. Our first few weeks together, every time she sneezed — well I spare you the details. This affectionate six-month kitten was no less adorable for having a minor soiling issue. Even then, I could tell that she was the perfect cat for me.

Bast quickly learned that I sleep like a corpse, and took to sphinx-posing overnight in the furrow between my legs. (Fitting, since I named her after a gentle cat-goddess of ancient Egypt.) Often she was still there when I woke up. If not, no matter; we always met in the kitchen for coffee, kibble, and a brief chat. "Morning," I'd say. "Mrrrow," she'd reply.

She always met me at the door with that aloof gaze, chest puffed imperiously, but I knew she'd been sitting there for a while, awaiting my return from work. The whole thing was an act; my absences weren't actually held against me. She'd soon enough be perched on my lap, playing predator with the cursor on my computer monitor until I persuaded her to stow the killer instinct in favor of behind-the-ear rubs and — her favorite — under the chin nuzzles. We'd have been satisfied to sit like that for hours at a go, Bast's was the softest fur of any animal I've had the delight to pet.

After my abduction, Bast got another excellent, loving, attentive home with my godmother, Judy. Photos and regular updates on my velvety little darling (and she was always that — my cat — no matter how long we'd been apart) came in the mail like a time-lapse film of Bast's sleek black coat turning brown and discomposed. Increasingly, my knee hurt and her back legs wobbled. She needed shots every month, for a recently developed disorder. I took daily pills for chronic heartburn. Our bodies were betraying us. I wondered so many times whether or not she'd remember me if I got out of prison today. Those bittersweet reminders of passing time, of mortality. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss her terribly.

Judy wrote last week. My little Bast, at nineteen, has finally died. In truth, I'd been waiting to hear this for so many years, worrying how it might hit me when word came, that its sting was absent. There's only this fat, dull ache in my throat, this warm pressure behind my eyes. I remind myself that it's better to be a degree removed from grief, separated, like this, by time and physical distance, but memories and the foiled daydream allure of could-have-been adds back what detachment takes away. Grief's toll is always paid somehow.

23 February, 2017

Last Night on Earth

Why, still, the lifelike memory of that last night? It wasn't special, just a drive through town and a couple of hours with a friend. With renewed energy, at the conclusion of a long, violent week in bed (or, by appearances, in a grave), it was a kind of liberation: out of bed; black pants, black T-shirt, black Docs; earrings; concealer, power, eyeliner; away.

"Hey, you pale and sickly child," sang Martin Gore. "You're death and living reconciled." In the car, the new Depeche Mode album compelled me along the streets and terraces. I could've driven anywhere — dropped in on the Captain, rang up Brahm, invited out that girl from the art museum, stopped by the coffeehole — except I wasn't fit, not yet, for that level of interaction. My friend F.C. was chill. F.C. was unambitious. F.C. was the perfect person to hang out with while affecting a resurrection. Such was his ease, when I showed up on his porch, he gave no sign of noticing, until "Coffee?"

We watched Requiem for a Dream on rented VHS. Darren Aronofsky directing the adapted Hubert Selby Jr. novel. Everyone in it loses their mind (and body) to drugs. One character overdoses on diet pills and hallucinates what's likely cinema's only scene involving, according to the credits, a "refrigerator puppeteer." Some have called the film depressing. I recall it being wonderful — the last thing I watched as a free man.

No want of a cigarette afterward, which felt weird. Being sick had kicked the habit — two and a half packs (or more) a day, for longer than I kept track — right out of me. It was a conspicuous absence. I wasn't sure what to do with my hands, so I knifed them into my pockets and told F.C. I'd see him around.

The car, my enormous silver car, belched a plume of exhaust. I tingled with amusement at the absurdity of it, the stink of wasted gasoline (eleven miles to the gallon, new, in 1974), the engine's out-of-tune havoc. I left F.C.'s driveway without cueing up a different soundtrack than its mechanical one.

There was swirling fog when I plunged into a low section of the barren expressway. Here was where the night was at its most potent, across that span of solitude, unfettered by any more pain or fatigue from illness. Here came the full appreciation for my liberty. I was piloting into the night, waves of mist sweeping around my vessel, which bobbed along nautically, like a boat on dark seas through which I could travel in any direction — any direction at all.

Foot off the gas pedal, for the neighbors' benefit, it was 1:30 in the morning when I coasted down my street. Ever the insomniac, inside, I logged on the usual IM clients and my webmail: four unread e-mails waiting — a band's tour dates, pies from recent ex, adult-site spam, notice of a software update. I surfed art and humor sites until yawning.

I undressed. I slipped into bed. I slept dreamlessly. I woke up to guns. To shouting. To something altogether different from anything I'd known.

And that's where some think the writing ought to begin, yet here we are at an ending. Retrospect alone — the thereafter and the heretofore — are what give these paragraphs relevance. I'm haunted, as I have been for almost sixteen years, by that simple night. Worse is not knowing when, or if, the memory will ever leave me be.

14 February, 2017

An Occasional Poem, Unfortunately Relevant Again

Sick in Stir

Some chicken soup would be nice.
Also a capful of NyQuil. A better

Bed on which to sleep — not that sleep
Comes easily. Last night, flipping

This way and that in my stricken state,
Insomniac scrapings and thumps from

My cellmate not helping matters,
Scratchings in my throat, I wondered if it's

Feed a cold, starve a fever,
Or the other way around. No matter

The comfort-foodstuffs I have can be
Accounted thusly: four bricks of ramen soup,

Sugar cubes, saltines, instant coffee, nothing
Wholesome this worn-out body needs. I'm well-

To do by the standards of a few, "doin bad" by more.
No TLC from an attendant (those ministrations

Are a weaker man's refuge), bedside. So I hack
And spit, Ahem and sigh, too weary to keep

Up with the prison banter hurtling by, just
Making do, hanging on, being of

The moment as much as a windup mind
Like mine allows, sick and doing time.

* * * * *

Originally published in autumn 2014, in issue 9 of the literary magazine Trajectory, "Sick in Stir" is obviously my response to a nasty cold suffered in an even nastier place. A couple of nights ago I felt the familiar sinus pinch and slight itchiness, harbingers of the full-on festival of snot and fatigue that not even bingeing on seven oranges and taking several hour-long naps could stave off. Considering that everyone around me seemed to be infected, last year and the year before, I've been lucky to have kept my health. Now's just my time. Please excuse me while I go blow my brains out.