“If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” - Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The stray cat gave birth to kittens. Four of them lived, which was a bit of a miracle considering. Prior to the birth, she crept over the black stones of the tawny red clay city. The fat sun that hung so determinedly in the sky finally relented and slipped toward the horizon. The cat settled down. She moved only when the people hide. And when they moved, she hid as best she could. People started to come to life again now that the sun was gone. They crept out of doorways and opened shutters to let in the hope of a breeze. They carried their prayer books to the open mosque in the center of the square. They bowed and prayed and filled the hours.

She was pregnant. Very pregnant. And in being pregnant with a litter her movements where hampered which is a very unfortunate situation to be in as a cat. Especially in this area. There were children to contend with. They did not like the cat. Any cat. Especially the one girl.

“Get out of here!” the girl screamed, stamping her foot only inches from the cats face. The cat pulled back and hissed, baring all its teeth. She swiped a paw out and nicked the girl’s bare toe. The blood glistened. The girl ran away. The cat was pleased.

She cleaned herself, her fat rolling belly. The cat knew she had to find a place to deliver these kittens. There was nowhere safe in this city. There was a spasm of pain down her back that made her legs twitch. She wanted to run but couldn’t.

Later that night the girl came back. She yelled at the cat again, her face contorting into a snarl. The cat dug her claws into the dirt of the road and hissed back, teeth showing, ears flat. The girl kicked at the road, a shower of dirt and pebbles flew at the cat. She tried to run but managed only to hobble under a nearby car. The girl laughed and peeked under the car. The cat pulled herself in as close as she could. Her eyes stung from the dirt that was now stuck in them. She didn’t dare lick her paw and try to clean them out. She didn’t dare move. Still was safer. She waited for the girl to go away.

Days later, right before the waves of pain that would send the cat leaping, with a half born kitten falling out of her, the girl came back. The cat watched her; her and another one. Taller. Stronger. She could smell the boy before he rounded the corner. They spotted the cat and laughed. The cat purred to calm herself. The kittens inside her rolled over and over each other. The boy climbed the stairs behind her up to the balcony. The cat watched him and wondered what he was doing.
He lifted a glass jug which shone in the sun, the light blinking off it like a warning. The cat started. Something was wrong. She could feel that.

“Do it,” the girl on the street yelled. The cat turned her attention to the noise and the boy above her, on the balcony tipped the jug pouring thick olive oil out of it which splattered and smeared the cat in its slime. The cat tried to run again. The oil coated her fur making her skin itch horribly. Hobbled, she hid under the car, behind a wheel. The children laughed, their voices fading down the road. The cat tried to clean herself, desperately knew she had to clean herself. Her rough tongue pulled at the oil soaked hair. The kittens inside her rolled over and over again. It was time.

Only four would survive. They would be confused by the foreign smell of their mother, her fur still matted with oil. They would nip and cry and refuse to drink. The ones that died, their necks twisted, some half formed, she left under the car for a day. Later she would gather them, one by one, her mouth closing over the loose skin on their necks. Some had no necks so she dragged them by whatever she could. She lined them up, neatly, right on the front step of the girl’s home. She cleaned them each in turn and then she ran away to wait till sunset when the girl would find them. She would wait to hear the girl scream.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

This is Work

“Split the log with a quick sharp blow,” my father said.

I felt the wooden handle of the axe in my hand, my toe tapped the steel point. My father took a step back, out of the sunlight that hit the back of the field. In the shade he seemed thinner, older.
I hefted the tool up, surprised by the weight of it, as if I were pulling in a great fish and propped it on my shoulder, the way they used to show loggers posed in magazines. I put one hand on my hip, being funny.

“What are you doing?” my father said, swinging his big paw hand around at the back of my head. “That’s how people get hurt. You think this is a game? This is work.”

I held the axe with two hands, brushing off his remark.

“One quick sharp blow,” he repeated setting the log upright.

I nodded. I lifted the tool over my shoulder and let it come down with just the force of gravity. I hit the log slightly off center and the axe stuck. I struggled to pull it out, but it refused to budge and then the whole mess fell over. My father put his foot on the log and with only one hand pried the axe out.

He lit a cigarette which he kept in his mouth as he flipped the log upright, lifted the axe and brought it down with a clean solid stroke that cleaved it in two. The sound of the axe in the wood echoed over the field, all the way back to the house.

“You see?” he said.

He handed me the axe. I watched him roll up his sleeve. The flesh there was still white, paler than the rest of his tan arms. I could see the scars on the inside of his arms, track marks.
He lifted another log back up on the post, exhaled a cloud of smoke over my head and nodded.

I hoisted the tool up and brought it down with a grunt. This time, I made contact but the log split unevenly, chipping the wood so that little flecks went everywhere. I covered my eyes fearful of anything getting into them. One section, like a piece cut from a pie, lay at my feet.

My father took the axe and cleaved the log in half. Mere seconds. He handed me his cigarette and told me to hold it. Then he cut another one. And another one. And another one. The sweat started to bead on his head.

“You see,” he grunted bringing the axe down, “this is how you do it. You need to know this. You need to know how to do this. Men need to know how to do this.”

His cigarette felt small and tender between my fingers. It was a damp where his lips had been. It felt like a little finger, like my baby sister's finger when she was still learning to walk. It felt breakable and I resisted the urge, watching my father lift and split log after log, grunting and sweating in the fading light, to snap it in half. Oh, but I wanted to. I pressed down on it with my forefinger and thumb, feeling the squish of the fibers in the filter. It was so tender, my fingers shook with need. My father continued to cut the log. He was speaking to me, I realized that, watching the sweat gather under his arms and around his neck. He was telling me about being a man.

When his head was down I brought the cigarette up to my lips, just to put them where his had been. Just for a moment.

“You hear me?” he said lifting his head and then seeing me there, “What the hell are you doing?”

Monday, August 2, 2010


The brown house was on fire to the attic. There was absolutely no way the damn dog was still alive but the man, moved to do something, anything really, kept approaching the firemen. They stalled him, pushing him aside. They had work to do. There was a fire. These were the things they told him. The feeling of displacement jarred him. He couldn’t help but notice how much he was not a part of this thing that was happening to him. He watched the flames crawl out the window. In stories they always say the flames lick something, the sky for instance. He noticed this was remarkably not true. When the firemen left, deeming this a job well done, the man looked up and down his street. He noticed with some degree of alarm that none of his neighbors had come out to gawk or worry over him. This wasn’t that kind of street.

When it was over, he walked inside, through the space that had once been the door. Immediately he felt what it was to occupy a negative space; an inverse; a nowhere. Inside were the guts of everything he once used and owned. Things he had selected from the numerous shelves in stores. His plates, his blanket, towels, razors, picture frames. The things we all collect to build a life. Now just twisted plastic melted into bizarre shapes, singed metal bent and mutated in its death. Cabinets in the kitchen stained from smoke and fire. In the living room, his couch was just metal springs, smoking soaked fabric. He ran his foot through ash and soot. It had happened so quickly he thought to himself. It was a simple decision; like a prayer murmured by a non-believer. It was spontaneous and obvious. Something had to be done about all the newspapers. This was the only available solution he had left.

He found the dog in the attic. It must have run up there in terror, he thought, leaning over it. The smoke must have killed it because the dog, the damn dog, was still untouched. Everything downstairs was destroyed, but not an inch of the dog’s wiry hair seemed singed. It lay on its side, teeth bared as if growling at the black curling smoke that entered its lungs. Its tongue was stained black. Only one eye was open. The man picked up the dog and noticed in death it held more weight than life. He started for the stairs. This was the change, he had prayed for, his finger rubbing together in need just hours ago. It did not last as long as he had hoped. It didn’t last as long as he needed. This was supposed to be a re-birth, he said to the dead dog under his arm. They were alone now, again, as they were before. It was so easy to step between the doorways. From a ghost to a man, briefly, far too briefly, and then without warning to a ghost again.