Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rodentia Is Seventeen

Today tastes of sentiment. Of candied violets, of wine left in the bottle till it turns to syrup, of Halloween candy the day before Thanksgiving. Dry, dusty, bittersweet.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

Rodentia is the elder of the two cats who share my life. She was a kitten when I moved to Phoenix. She was a hand-me-down cat--a friend of one of my roommates had acquired her from a shelter with an eye to looks rather than personality. She was beautiful--a fine-boned, long-haired, green-eyed tortoiseshell.

However, she was antisocial. She was very nearly feral when I met her first, unwilling to be touched at all. So Rodentia was dropped on the roommates with a request to "take care of kitty" for a week or two. So far as I know, her original owner has never asked after her.

I found her a charming and independent cat. A fierce little thing, seven pounds of cattitude. I talked to her, moved slow and easy, and gradually taught her to trust, a little. As a kitten, she'd play fetch with a jingle ball--I'd toss it over the couch that we used to divide the great room, and she'd leap and leap and leap to get it, then come trotting back to lay it at my feet for another go.

But that was years ago.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

When I found the man who would be my husband, and we finally decided to get our own place so he could walk around naked, I was packing my stuff. My bed and dresser and bookshelf had been moved, I had most of my non-work clothes packed away, and I was stuffing the last T-shirt in a box when one of my roomies, Captain Vectril, knocked for entry and asked if we could chat.

"Sure," I said, "so long as you sit on this box so I can close it."

"Are you taking Rodentia with you?" he asked.

"Wasn't planning to . . ."

"But she's your cat. Or rather, you're her human." I looked at him skeptically. Rodentia would turn into six pounds of hissing flying feline fury if anyone tried to pick her up, and she would rather have her tail braided than sit next to a human.

I said as much.

Vectril answered, "When you're gone for the weekend, she sits outside your door and cries. When we let her into your room, she wanders around for a bit, then comes back out and wanders through the house yowling because she can't find you."

So, Rodentia was the last thing I packed out of that house to take with me to the new place. She was three then, just all the way out of kittenhood and turning the corner to full-fledged adult cat.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

It wasn't hard to move from a house to a condo. So far as Rodentia was concerned she was trading one interior for another. We made sure she had balls with bells inside them, especially the fragile caged kind she was fondest of. Even though we stepped on them in the middle of the night and they splintered under our feet.

Rodentia began warming up to the idea of being owned by humans. She would sit in the same room, just sit and watch until she fell asleep. She was friendliest when we were lying down, because then she was bigger than we were. She would climb up on the headboard of the waterbed, look down like a little fuzzy tin god, and purr, and purr. She'd get up on the back of the couch against the western wall, where it was warm and secure, and read over your shoulder. She'd rub up against the soles of your feet when you lay on your back, sharp canines digging softly into your big toes.

She'd jump up onto bookshelves and nap. She'd lay her chin on a book on the floor and go to sleep. We'd ask if she wanted a Japanese wooden pillow for Christmas, and she'd look back, cooly, inscrutably.

She's mellowed quite a bit since those days. She's watching from the other desk as I type this, which is surprising because she doesn't climb very much any more.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

She hated trips to the vet. She hated to go outside at all, so it got so I'd only take her for a rabies shot to pacify the groomers. Once every three years, we'd go and get the one stick. She'd hear me getting the box out, and run hide quick. Once there, she was well-behaved but terrified. There'd be times when we were finally done with the exams, and I'd let go, and Rodentia would hop back into the H-E-L-L box because at least nothing too bad would happen while you were inside.

This last trip to the groomers was hard. We've used the same person for four years now. He's a cat in a human suit, so I thought they'd be okay together--she's familiar with him and with the procedure. Usually I stay with her the whole way and act as a spare pair of hands.

But he was busy and it was going to be a good hour before he could get going, so I left. About 75 minutes later, I got the call that Rodentia had turned into a little psycho hose beast from hell, and could I come down and help?

So I came down to the shop and Rodentia was huddled in the very back of the kennel, blood on her muzzle from where she had hit the mirror in a mad dash to get the hell out of Dodge.

I stood at the door of the kennel and talked to her. Told her I'd been planning to revoke her driving privileges, but was now reconsidering. Told her how disappointed I was, that she'd told me I didn't need to stand there and hold her while the groomer did his work. How she'd said she was a big cat now.

And slowly, slowly, she crept to the front of the cage and let me touch her. And after a while, I picked her up, and this fierce little animal curled into my chest and clung to me.

She never does that.

I walked her to the table, which would normally be the time for fussing to be put down right now, but she wasn't budging. I stood there and held her for minutes while the groomer finished checking in another animal, and then we finished the job. She's fine as long as I'm there. She'll vocalize, but she doesn't struggle.

And that was when I realized we'd turned a corner. Turned away from late middle age with the occasional bad day, and turned towards old age with the occasional good day.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

And because I am of the species with the big brain (and the thumbs, yes, and the thumbs) I can see where this is going. I've read Kipling, I know The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, I understand that it is truly Margaret I mourn for.

On the one hand, I grieve. I grieve for the inevitable day when I will bundle her into the carrying box for the last time (promise) and take her to the vet to do the last thing I can for her. To take away the pain forever.

And yet and yet and yet--I do not want to throw away our todays for fear of what will come tomorrow. We've had our ten plus four, plus a little. We'll have whatever we have, until it's all gone and I'm planting marigolds.

Rehearsing, through a little cat, the end we all face.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Meet Eufamia

One of the online groups I play in is having a sock critters swap at the end of October. It's been sooooo hot and muggy here that it's been hard for me to get inspired (fingers keep wanting to type "insipid"--Freudian slip??) so before I signed up, I decided I needed to have the critter in hand before adding my name to the list.

Eufamia only eats foods that begin with the letter "A"--apples, artichokes, asparagus, arsenic. She likes long hops on the beach, and holding flippers at high noon. As you can see, she's into extreme body piercings and tribal tattoos, but smokers are a turn-off.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

But the Benefits Are Good

Today tastes like cotton candy--right put of the vat. It's still hot and sticky and very much one note here. No matter where you are, there's one season that is less enjoyable than the others.

I don't mind the haboob that sandblasts your car, your glasses, and your skin--the lovely drenching monsoon follows. I don't mind the hazy days--I get really good photos during the magic hours (and I'm even at home for them both!!)

I really HATE the humidity that blends with the heat to make taking a walk like a slog through a swamp of spoiled milk. It gets so bad I can't even remember the titles of my short stories--which REALLY is bad.

Here's the one I threatened you with a few weeks back. I called it "A Thankless Task." Close, but no ceegar. Here goes.1

His was one of those thankless tasks that is simultaneously vital to good function, utterly invisible, and loathsome to contemplate. Like the guy whose job it is to clean the vats in a sewage treatment plant. Or the cleanup crew after Mardi Gras, cleaning up the spilled booze, blood and vomit from the streets. The job gets done somehow, by someone, and nobody ever thinks about who does it and when.

He'd worked his beat for years, in all kinds of weather. He'd traveled rainy roads, through blowing snowstorms where the flakes fell in curtains, watching funnel clouds touch down from green black summer skies. He'd tapped on canvas tent flaps, knocked on doors of clapboard and brick houses, walked in through the front gates of palaces. Getting the word out.

Some people, old people, lonely people, were glad to see him. Others were angry at being interrupted, and clearly wanted to get back to their lives. A few were resigned, patiently listening to the tidings he brought. He'd been at this job a long, long time.

Right now, the sun was hot on his bald head as he walked the dusty road into Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. October 31, All Hallows' Eve, and tomorrow would be the Day of the Dead. He grinned. Marigolds on the graves, and paper money, and sugar skulls to eat. His parchment skin wrinkled back exposing his gums, and burying his already small and deep set eyes back further in their sockets. Every day, so far as he was concerned, was the day of the dead. All flesh was grass, ashes, and dust.

He carried a battered leather case, wore a straw cowboy hat on his head, stained with sweat, the edges patiently rolled and re-rolled into permanent curls like pork rinds. His shirt was white, and although wrinkled, bone dry. He had small silver pesatas for cufflinks, sparking shards of sunlight. His pants were black, starting to go rusty on the knees and in the seat. The heels on his boots were worn at the backs, so he leaned backward a little when he stood still, but he seldom stopped and stood. Always and forever on the go, world without end, amen.

He stopped in at a burger joint, ordered only a glass of water. When the waitress looked him over slowly, taking in the cufflinks, his bolo tie with a silver mouse skull, and the white linen shirt, then contrasting it with the fact that he had walked in, walked on a road where anyone with a lick of sense would have driven, hitched a ride, or rode the bus; he smiled gently, keeping his teeth covered by his thin lips. He knew he'd see her again, thirty years from now, in the hospital with ovarian cancer. She 'd finally have lost those twenty-five pounds she blamed her loveless days on; those twenty-five pounds and more to keep them company. Oh, she'd be just as thin as the fashion models she pictured her face on in those magazines she read, easily a size 0, maybe even 00. Not that she'd enjoy it. Not that she'd be in a big city, seeing and being seen, dancing all night. So why give her a rough day now?

"Add on a patty melt, hon," he said, in his voice like rustling leaves. "But don't make it up just yet. Give it to . . . what's his name, the man who knocks on the door just about closing. The one you give the lunchmeat and bread that's just expired that day or the day before. Ask him in, let him sit down, and give him a hot fresh meal." Because I'll be seeing him tonight, out on the train tracks, just after the 11:05 from Santa Fe comes rolling by, he thought, but didn't say. Albert, Albert Manolo, that was the man's name. Albert who would find a five dollar bill, no, would be given a five dollar bill by a family of three on the way to Tucson, who would then purchase a bottle of sweet fortified wine, and go to sleep it off in his lean-to just outside town. But he'd fall, and lie there looking at the stars, finishing the last sticky dregs in the bottle, too rubber-limbed and swoony to get back up. And he'd pillow his head on the rail, and close his eyes, lulled by the thrumming heartbeat under his cheek, the faraway song of steel growing slowly closer.

The waitress, Gaye, if her name tag was to be believed, turned pale, paler at his casual mention of the man who'd come begging every few nights for the last two-three months. Acne stood out like paint flecks on her cheeks gone white. She'd feared having to throw this guy out, this bum with the good jewelry, maybe just starting on his way down, ordering only a glass of water, but how did he know about Albert? Albert with his liquid brown eyes, his heartbroken smile, the closest thing she'd had to a long-term relationship. How could he know? Her boss didn't know.

He finished his water, tipped her a dollar for her trouble, put his hat back on his head. He'd removed it when sitting down, placing it on the empty stool next to him. As he stood to leave, the background chatter of the kid in the booth with his parents stopped as he took a big bite of his burger, mumbled something through a mouthful of bun and beef, started to cough--and then stopped.

The kid spit out most of the bite, fumbled at his mouth and throat. His father patted him on the back, gently at first then harder as the kid's face purpled and his tongue thrust out. The woman with them stood up, looking for--what exactly? A god in a flowered chair to drop from the sky? A poster with the Heimlich Maneuver with easy to follow directions? Someone to read her mind?

It seems someone did, because the man with the hat dropped his case on the floor by his seat, and hurried over, sweeping the kid up in his arms in a bear hug, with his fist in the pit of the kid's stomach. Two hard squeezes, and the remains of the too big bite came out. The kid coughed scratchily, then began to bawl as he was handed back over to his relieved parents.

They thanked him effusively, and he shucked and grinned it all off. Just doing what anyone would, ma'am. Paying it forward, you could say. Acts of charity are what make the world go 'round, we're all in it here together until the great and final end. He ruffled the kid's hair, praised him for being a tough little soldier. Told the kid to take care, and turned to pick up his case, thinking that he'd be a little sorry to see this one in ten years, on prom night, behind the wheel with breath you could light on fire from the spiked punch. But he had a job to do.

Through the Rockwellian downtown, then back into the suburbs. The sub-sub-suburbs, he thought, and grinned again. Out to a tiny two room cabin with an outhouse and a clapboard porch to sit on when the summer heat was too great for sleeping.

The little house sat on much too much land, the way it had when the one who lived there had raised cattle on his ranch, driving them to Santa Fe to be loaded onto trains and driven to the slaughterhouses of Chicago to feed the nation on flesh. Slowly, as he'd grown older, the rancher had trimmed back his operations, stopped renting lands for grazing first, then sold the ranch an acre at a time as the city unfolded. "Why let them have it all at once," he'd said, without bitterness. He knew that the world turned, and that his way was ending. "Why let them have it in a great big gulp, when I can sell it to them a bit at a time, and ranch coin from the land?"

No fences from the road, just the end of the road itself, and the nearest neighbor still a quarter-mile off. The travelling man squinted in the setting sun, listened carefully. Smiled as he heard the creak of the boards, and the joints of the rocking chair. Smelled the oil on the rancher's knife and the sap of the cottonwood limb he was whittling on. "I'm an excellent sculptor," the rancher would say in his rusted baritone, cracked from dust and yelling orders over lowing cattle and the perpetual wind on the plains. "I can see a toothpick in any hunk of wood. All that it takes is carving away the excess."

He pulled up even with the house, watched for a moment as the old man's palsied hands picked away at the cottonwood branch, the knife so deft even as he trembled. "Hello, the house," he called. Waited as the man in the rocking chair looked up, turtle-like behind his trifocals that still weren't enough to bring back the unclouded sight that had once been his.

"Well, hello," the rancher replied, using the momentum of the rocking chair to lever himself up, with care for his arthritic back and knees. He folded the pocketknife's blade back deliberately, slipped the knife into his pocket, peered at the stranger in the straw hat. "Take a wrong turn, mister? Don't get much company out this way."

The other smiled. "Not a wrong turn at all, unless you aren't Jean-Paul Verley." He walked slowly forward, hand extended.

The rancher smiled, though his brows drew together in puzzlement. "I'm him," he said, meeting the stranger at the top of the stairs to the porch. He shook hands with the man, then said "But you still took a wrong turn if you're the Fuller Brush man." He indicated the outhouse around the side. They both had a laugh at that.

Verley settled back in his rocking chair, offered his guest the cane-seat chair next to it. Remarks were exchanged about the weather (too damn hot for this time of year), the current state of the world's affairs (going to hell in a handbasket) and the past baseball season (the wrong team won). Verley opined that it was good to talk to a man who saw things the same way he did. It was getting lonely for a lifelong batchelor, whose remaining family was scattered to the four winds. "But here I've gone and jawed your ear off, and kept you from your rightful business. Which is?"

"Well, it isn't Fuller Brushes, nor is it inquiring about your personal relationship with Jesus. I'm not in the business of selling at all, really." Here came the moment, the moment all this had lead up to. "I'm more in the business of taking." He looked at Verley, long and slow in the growing darkness. Verley looked back, measuring the skull beneath the skin, and his eyes dropped first.

"Oh," he said softly, sadly, and sighed.

"I'm sorry," the other said, and for a wonder, he was. It happened occasionally, when he had the time to sit down for a moment with someone who wasn't surprised to see him, with someone who didn't whine and plead for just a few more months, weeks, days. Gotta have one last Christmas, see the kid graduate, see the baby born. Just one more hour to say goodbye to everyone and everything. A pure pleasure to just stop for a minute and have a civilized conversation before rolling on down the road to the next appointment.

"Well. Much obliged." said Verley, as he opened the door to the house and went in for his jacket. The other followed him in.

"Obliged?" he asked Verley. "Obliged to die?"

"Yessir," replied Verley as he wound his watch and tucked it into his pocket. "It's been a good life--though of course, not near long enough." He lay down on the bed. "Bet you hear that all the time, though."

"Not quite like that," replied Death.

"And, well, I'd like to say 'thankee too much' for holding off so I could have the days I did. For not taking me when that bull spooked my horse and he crushed my leg up against the boards of the chute. For waiting out that case of pneumonia when I was sixty-five. For making the rattlesnake that crawled into my boot that night on the last drive rattle before I stuck my foot in, so I could shake him out without getting bit. Thankee, sir, and muchly obliged." He looked around. "Going to miss this, though. Anything particular I need to do?"

Death trembled. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes. You need to take the battered leather case you'll find on the porch, and you'll need to meet a man named Albert Manolo out by the train tracks at 11:08 this evening."

"Beg pardon?"

"Get up. Get up. There's work to be done. It's a hard and thankless task, but the benefits are good." Death took off his hat and placed it on the dresser, lay down on Verley's bed.

Verley smiled, and his eyes sank deeper into his head, the edges of his teeth glittering. "So that's how it goes, is it? A thankless task, yes sir. Thankless indeed."

"Yes," said Death. "But the benefits are good." And he closed his eyes for the first time ever.

1. You can find the other short in the August archives, under "I Stole This From Artella." The two stories link because the above story was written in response to a challenge where you had to include the phrase "obliged to die."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Fleeting Progress Post

Not quite too busy to take a quiz, but still . . . How is it that whenever you get three-four days where you don't have to report to work that LESS gets done than when you squeeze it in around a ten-hour chunk devoted to someone else's agenda?

We are in the big finishing stretch here, completing things that have been trudging along for months. Gareth's Big Gray Binkie is done. Six feet by seven feet of charcoal goodness--which is why there's no photo. It was impossible for me with my limited studio to make the project exciting through sheer volume (c'mon, SIX feet wide by SEVEN feet long, all handknit? Whoof. Put that in your patience pipe and smoke it.)

Adenydd--Wings-- is complete, and one of the things I wanted to do was to post the pithy directions and charts. Of course, that means I need to find out how, read the directions, and perform the operation. I know where the cursed how is, just haven't rolled up the sleeves and gotten to it. But look:

Yum. Again, I'd love to have two lovely assistants to help out here and stretch this shawl out to take an artsy shot of the article and its shadows. It's nearly seven feet square, and I could probably get it to seven and a half if I blocked a little more severely. I didn't intend for it to get this big, but swatches LIE.

The castle blanket for Project Linus is nearly through. Due to the edges being temporarily held on string, there's no way to get a nice photo that doesn't look like a pile of yarn barf. (Ok, some would argue that my color sensibilities and choices make ALL my PL binkies look like piles of yarn barf. Those People of Beige Persuasion know who they are, and where they may go. Posthaste.)

So what's new on the needles??? I've started a Kiri in the Knittery's silk-merino yarn in their passionfruit colorway. Oh my YUM.

The yarn is a sensual delight, so soft and delicious in the hands. It's like really good chocolate, the kind you get from a friend overseas, or at a chocolatier, that you experience once and then can never find quite the same stuff again. And the colors. Mostly plum purple with shots of grey and hints of funny jelly green and some pinky-brown.

The shape of the shawl will show more than the stitches of the shawl, I think, though the proof is in the blocking. That's okay, though--the knitting is dead simple. Simple enough to keep me awake and knitting, unlike garter stitch, but not teeth-gnashingly complicated. It's a good balance.

Socks for me, of course. I think I bought just about every variation of self-striping sock yarn over the last few years. Each time I added to the stash, I castigated myself for investing in one-trick ponies. SSS yarn comes in pretty colors, but the only thing it does well is knit small tubes in the round. And not too small tubes--the stripes get awfully wide in glove fingers. Tubes about the size of your ankle or wrist.

There's no simple way to manipulate the order of the stripes, or change colors at strategic locations--that's why you bought yarn that would do this for you, after all. You didn't want the work involved in stranded color patterns. One trick ponies, just like eyelash yarn.

But they had so many pretty colors . . . And I love socks for brainless knitting. I have two blue box patterns, one for plain yarns, one for self-striping yarns. I have two big bags FULL of SSS yarn, and a shoeholder full of various kinds of sock yarn.

My stashing self has been vindicated--the faux Fair Isle SSS yarn has gone away. You can still find the usual suspects (cough Opal cough Regia cough) but the heyday of every stockist/manufacturer putting out SSS yarn has passed by, and the FFI SSS yarn has slid away almost entirely. Glad I grabbed when I could. I have brainless socks for a long time to come.

It's not that I don't like patterned socks. I'm a huge fan of
Cookie A and have even laid out buckage for some of her designs. I just like to have options--to knit two at once on two circs is a joy, just as following a chart and doing one sock at a time on DPN is pleasing. But hey, they're just socks. We've seen them before, so don't expect photos unless there's something intrinsically cool about the sock--shaping choices, or pattern choices, or handdyed yarn.

I'm doing some knitted felted bowls (yes, Mildred, the technical term for an object that is knitted, crocheted, or woven that is then agitated in water to make the cloth firmer and ravel-proof is "Fulling." They all knew what I meant by felting though, so shoo!) for a friend who wants to sell "stuff and things" at Ren Faire and such. Those are easy and like potato chips. I hope to have the whole series done next week during commute time.

I'm actually in compliance with my "no more than four" rule. Pretty amazing.