Sunday, November 22, 2009


It sounds like the beginning of a joke – the other day, we walked into our local head shop and come home with a kitten. Except that it’s no joke.

Last Tuesday, we stood at the stainless steel table in the vet’s office, watching Dokusan’s flame extinguish. Except that it didn’t. There was no defining moment, no noticeable point of transition, no gap, no chasm. There was breathing, then a needle, then there was breathing no more – a simple, pure descent, no last gasp, no final spasm, no breaking of the eye, no markable transition. The vet needed her stethoscope to assert death.

Well. Life leads to death. So it is and so it has been. And so it shall be. Unremarkable.

Dokusan had been in cancer treatment. She had survived. Then some opportunistic infection got to her. Then she became all skin and bones. To feed her a teaspoon of tuna was a triumph. To see her take a step was a delight. Her oncologist – a cat with an oncologist! – kept pushing, and we took his lead and kept hoping. (Who knows why, I was going to write. But we all know why.) She was down to less than four pounds, and much of that was caked-on baby food – the very last thing she was willing to try, Gerber’s beef. We didn’t have the heart to bathe her or to wipe her face too vigorously -- she was that brittle. The vet laid her out in an Egyptian pose, we kissed that lil’ pink nose (putrid food be damned) and held her as she returned to a state of sky-high entropy.

As we came home, the oncologist called – he had good news: According to his lab results, the infection was treatable, just bring her in for a blood transfusion. Indeed, good sir, indeed.

The simplest way to reconcile the all too easily observed finitude of individual identity with the assumed eternity of the soul is to drop the assumption and err on the side of observation. There I stand, at the side of a dusty road in Varanasi, holding out a banana peel. A cow will snap it from my hand if a monkey doesn’t get it first. That is indeed a vulture perching on yonder telephone pole, a myriad messages zooming through its teeth.

Whenever I retreated for a serious bout of writing, Dokusan would drape herself around my neck. She would knead my shoulders with sharp claws whenever she considered my narratives bloodless. Often, she would sit on my stack of notes, calling the shots on what could be used and what was out of reach. I blame the hopscotch structure of my novel on her choices – my cat was the modernist in me.

It is a circle. It is a wheel.
Yet it goes nowhere.

So we walked into our local head shop, dead set on expanding our collection of rubber duckies. And there he was, a chimera of a cat, the color of the West-Texas desert, young and brash and sinewy, with a swagger in his hips and an utter disdain for the legs of any passerby. Or that is what we thought we saw, in that brief glimpse before he disappeared under a rack of tacky gothicalia, no doubt – we now know – to wreak havoc on the garments’ fringes.

We weren’t looking for a new cat. Not so soon. But there he was. So, too, is life. It’s always too soon and always too late and it’s all perfectly on time.

Careful observation of the little fellah led us to believe his true name was Enso. So Enso he became. As a consequence of his provenance, his fur smells like incense; a lightening bolt of quiet meditation zipping by at breakneck speed.

We get the cats we deserve.

I dread and hope. Enso, I note, has more tooth and claw than Doku had. More mischief on his mind. A scorn for convention that borders on the insane. Zero aloofness. He’s all bluster, all balls, all goofy jumps gracefully miscalculated, all purring machine turning into explosive kitty bonkers in half a second flat. Walk through the door, and he rains down on you. He’ll pummel you with his love until your heart’s a bloody pulp.

Let’s see what havoc he shall wreak on the gothic fringes of my imagination.

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