cynthia-wands

bout the author:

Cynthia Wands

Cynthia Wands
Email cwands@aol.com

18 Jul 2007 ... As an author, my works explore magical realism and romantic myth-making;

Cynthia Wands - Woodland Hills California

Theatre Scripts
2006
The American Woman Full length play
The Lost Years One Act
Emily One Act
Best Feet Forward Childrens Musical

Screenplays
Whitley Heights Drama
Dreams of a Laughing Minotaur Drama
The Wedding Ring Comedy

Short Stories
Fall 2005
Lessons In Feeding Ducks
M0+h
Poetry & Prose for the New Millennium
Bombshelter Press

Summer 2005
Saying Goodbye to Ralph Waldo Emerson
M0+h
Poetry & Prose for the New Millennium
Bombshelter Press

Spring 2004
Animal Stories
Bombshelter Press

Novel
Shakespeare's Curse
Mystery/History
Unpublished

Gift of Afternoon Light
Fiction
Unpublished

Summer 2007 ICWP Playwrights Retreat OSU
Summer 2006 Padua Playwrights Workshop with Murray Mednick
2004-2006 Process, Dialogue and Editing classes with Jack Grapes
1996 Constructing the Novel class, UCLA Extension




An Introduction by An Abbyssinian


I've been asked to write an introduction for this book, and, scratch, scratch, feh, feh, feh, sorry, where was I, oh yes, although the current thinking in some publication circles is that animals don't talk, think, read, or answer email, here I am. I'm an eight year old male Abyssinian. That's a cat. The people I live with named me Harley Hopkins. But she calls me Hoppy, or Bunny Boy, or The Prince of Nofral. Murph. Really I'd rather be outside getting one of those giant green grasshoppers or dissecting that disagreeable mockingbird, but no, here I am inside on a sunny afternoon pounding the keys for the introduction for this book. Itchy back, itchy back. There, now where was I?

Cynthia Wands, or Bug Eyed Owner as I secretly call her, has written this book about animals. Golden Retrievers. Cats. Hummingbirds. A few unfortunate episodes with deer. Go figure.

She's a weird one, this woman that serves me. She used to be a theater actress, and she has bookshelves with lots of dog eared scripts and books, and yawn. Anyway, where was I - is that a bug? No, well, let's see. Her book is about - animals. Cats are featured predominately in the work, which amuses me. You see, she's not too picky about the cats that she writes about: Russian Blues, Maine Coon Cats, Manx, Tabbies, the mixed breeds, and then of course the Abyssinians. And ducks, she writes about ducks. Can't'�get'�this toenail '�'�there, got it.

She also writes about dogs. Dogs. Pugh. There's a dog up the street that was eaten by the coyotes - and I'm not surprised. A two year old beagle named Elvis. Tragic really. But I went after him one day when I found him flirting with her IN MY OWN DRIVEWAY. Yes, I taught that little tail tagger a thing or two. My sister, Puma, who bothers me to no end and I just ignore her completely, was with me when we saw this travesty occur on our homeland property. Bug Eyed Owner was bending over him, cooing to this wiggling mess of a puppy. We actually heard her say: "What a sweet puppy." "How is the baby puppy?" So we went after him like veloceraptors and he yelped. Actually he jumped, right up into the arms of his owner, this big fellow with a growly voice who was a soldier in the Russian army. Well let's just say that Elvis never forgot what Abyssinians can do when they're annoyed. Hairball, hairball. No, I guess that was just some grass I ate. Sorry.

So where was I. Oh yes, the book. So she wrote this book on animals, and their life and meaning and their capacity to love and - was that a can opener? No, guess not. Too early. And I can tell you right now that's she's entirely too attached to me. The things she does to me, it's so humiliating, but what can I do, she feeds me. And then I take her out for a walk every day. It took a while to train her - but she's pretty bright, given her short attention span. We take a walk in the morning, with Puma straggling behind just to look pathetic, and I have to show her the impending modifications in the neighborhood - things that she just can't seem to recognize and register - that's how out of touch she is. It took weeks to teach her that a brown rabbit is now living in the bushes across the street from the Russians. I tried to herd it over to our driveway one morning, but the damn thing just kept hopping away from me. My biggest problem is the ongoing construction and remodeling going on in the area: the landscaping and the bags of cement and sand that I have to pee on - I just can't keep up with it all.

So I try and keep her informed, but it's a challenge. She tends to tune out on the walks: she doesn't seem interested in any smells, and she completely misses the animal carcasses lying in the grass. I really don't know how she supports herself. Flea bite, flea bite - no, wait, I guess that's just ..my fur. So, that's about all I can say about Cynthia's writing. Oh, I do like to sit on top of the computer while she's typing. I can keep an eye out for the dogs or gophers or any brown rabbits that might accidentally wander into the office.

It's a good life.
Hopkins


The Russian Blues


There are some kinds of cats, like people, that stay with you even after they've gone. That's how it's been with the Russian Blue cats, a kind of silvery blue furred cat that I've been blessed to know.

The first Russian Blue, Ted, was a prince of a guy. Tedder, we used to call him. He loved everybody, and everybody loved him.

We were renovating an old house in Spokane, Washington and trying to get it fixed up before the end of September. That's when we had to be back in California, and we had to reroof, repaint and repair the old house before we could sell it.

One day while the roofers were banging away on the roof shingles, a beautiful young Russian Blue cat appeared on the roof with them. The roofers were a crew of five or six manly men, not really your cat fanciers, but they took to Ted right away. He would sit on their laps if they were resting or eating lunch, or he would scrabble around for any loose nails if some got away, and then he rub up against someone if they started singing. He became one of the guys.

Ted also loved the two little girls who lived in the house, Amy and Lisa. He would purr very loudly when they bent down to scratch his ears, and he knew how to flop next to them in the bed, close enough so they could see his blinks at them, but far enough away so they couldn't really pat him.

And then, he was very politic with Miss Berg The Booger Cat. He recognized that this little black cat from Boston was tough as nails and he gave her all due respect, especially at meals, and she could hiss at him all she wanted, but he never retaliated to her growlings or arched his back at her.

Everyone was getting very attached to him, the children, the husband, the roofers, so I figured out I'd better find out where he came from. He had no collar, no tag, and there were times when he would disappear for a few hours at time, but he always came back for meals, and he was always very hungry. One of our neighbors told me that the young woman who lived next door had owned him at one time, but she had gone back to school, and the cat seemed to belong to the neighborhood. I figured we would have to leave Ted behind when the time came to move back to California. I just didn't count on Ted resorting to such drastic measures.

We were just wrapping up the last days of construction - the house was finally getting to put on the market. But things were tense, there were problems with the renovation, the little girls were acting out and there were unspoken problems beneath the surface of the marriage. We were fixing dinner in the kitchen, Amy and Lisa sitting at the kitchen table, fighting about something, and the cats were hungry. The phone rang and their father went off to take the phone call, and I opened up a can of cat food for the cats.

As I was spooning out the cat food, Miss Berg pushed herself in front of Ted, and for the first time, he hissed at her. Impatient at the cats, and annoyed by the children squabbling in the background, I very lightly swatted Ted on the forehead and said "Bad cat, no."

That's when it happened. I swear I just barely patted Ted on the forehead. But I had swatted him just where an enormous abscess had hidden itself, and when I hit the cat with my fingers, I broke the surface of his skin. Suddenly there was this rancid, horrible bloody gash which bloomed open like a gun shot wound on Ted's head. The smell filled the kitchen, and Miss Berg ran hissing up the back stairs. The girls shrieked and made gagging noises as they stumbled to the living room. I was left holding this poor cat, now mewing at me, while he tried to get away from the smell coming from the hole in his head.

"Ted. Tedder, baby, I'm so sorry'�"

The cat turned his head and looked at me, with an expression of pity and exasperation, as if to say, I'm sorry for you too baby, but you're the one who's going to have to fix this.

And I did. I took him to a emergency animal clinic, and he was shaved, and medicated, and bandaged up by a very kind vet, who kept remarking on what a sweetheart Ted was. Poor Tedder. He looked like he was injured in a battle, with this enormous white Band-Aid on him, and a cone head strapped on him to make sure he didn't take it off.

That night Ted slept in my bed, and he leaned back against my pillow and sighed when I patted him. Even though he was wearing a cone head, he licked my hand, and purred. I knew he would do just fine in California.

So Ted came to live with us in California, and his mellow movie star ways made everyone love him. Neighbors, school kids, the mailman. Ted just had that kind of personality. He loved fresh fish, hamburgers with swiss cheese and my cashmere sweater. It was the only cashmere sweater I've ever had in my life, a coral peach color with a silky fur that seemed to melt when you wore it. It came from Filenes Basement in Boston, back when Filenes Basement was a bargain secret that only the Beacon Hill blue hairs knew about. This was my one luxury item, I'd wear it for holiday dinners or going out to some place we couldn't really afford. Ted used to love to sit on me when I wore that sweater, he'd purr and knead and drool, and end up sprawled over my lap, trying to get as much cashmere exposure as he could.

When Ted came down with cancer, the vet volunteered the experimental chemotherapy to try and save him. It was a valiant struggle, but in the end, he just couldn't survive the combination of the cancer and the drugs. The vet had grown very attached to Ted, and had put him to sleep for us. We went to pick up his little body, and I covered him with my cashmere sweater.

On the way back from the vet, Ted's body was limp and small, and helpless in my lap, and he felt almost warm in that delicate cashmere. I nuzzled his still beautiful Russian Blue fur, and patted him during the long ride home.

We buried Ted wrapped in his cashmere sweater, in the hills of Atascadero, carefully covered with the rocky dirt of California. Miss Berg spent several days looking for Ted, and four months later, when she also died from cancer, we buried her next to Ted. Somehow the little black cat from Boston and blue furred cat from Spokane ended their days with one another, and they rest quietly under the enormous arms of a very old oak tree that is filled with quail, and doves, and squirrels.

Every once in a while I'll be looking through the closet and wonder, where is that damn cashmere sweater. But then I'll remember - that's right - Ted's wearing it.

The Other Russian Blues

My other story about the Russian Blue cats started in Hollywood some ten years ago. Eric and I were living in an old apartment called Whitley Heights. In the years that we lived there we witnessed our neighbors lives: the drug overdoses, bomb threats, suicides, nervous breakdowns, abusive relationships, you know, the usual Hollywood backstory.

The people who lived here were aspiring actors and singers, film makers, heavy metal musicians, sulky screenwriters, and some drug dealers. Because of the low rent and bad building condition, people were constantly moving in and out of the building. Every Saturday there would be a van or a truck or a small car in the parking garage unloading furniture, boxes and chaos into another apartment.

We lived on the second floor in a small one bedroom apartment crammed with books, furniture and props, and we had two cats in our lives - Thaitu, the Abyssinian and Ralph Waldo Emerson, her consort.

One day a young couple moved into the apartment directly across the courtyard from us on the second floor. They looked like they were in trouble - he was a Viking, ape-like man, (he told us he played in a punk band) and she was anorexic-thin with a breathy baby voice, and hair that had been fried blonde. From the day they moved in there was a constant stream of shouting and fighting and rage from their apartment. The evenings were the worst of it - the music and fighting would start around midnight, and the cops would be called, and sometimes the banging noise would stop and sometimes it wouldn't.

The day times were quiet - and one day while I was washing dishes, I looked up from the kitchen window and saw two small kittens watching me from their apartment. These neighbors kept their drapes closed all the time and we'd never seen the inside of their apartment, but the kittens had pushed the blinds aside and there they were. They were these beautiful young Russian Blue kittens, sitting side by side on the kitchen windowsill, and they were just sitting there, watching me with their big eyes. I wondered how they lived with all that noise and anger in their apartment. I wondered if they were like Ted.

A week later, I was in the apartment by myself in the afternoon, and I heard a heavy thumping noise. Then I heard it again. I went to the window, not really sure what or where I was hearing this noise. When it happened again the noise made the walls in our apartment shake. The heavy thumping noises were coming from their apartment. That's when I heard him talking, in an even normal voice.

"You bitch you say that to me one more time and I'll kill you - you get it, bitch, I'll kill you."

I stood frozen for a moment, and then I realized that the heavy noises were the sounds of the ape-man throwing the baby voiced woman against a wall.

Without thinking, or pausing, or even wondering if this was a good thing to do, I ran out of the apartment, slammed the door behind me and ran across the courtyard and up the stairs to their apartment.

I had so much adrenaline pumping that I started beating both my hands on their front door before my eyes focused to the dark hallway.

"HEY! Hello! Is anyone there! Open up or I'm calling the cops! Open up!"

There was a moment of quiet, and then the door flew open. There he was, completely naked, his wild blonde hair flying around his face. He had no pupils - he must have been on some sort of drugs because this man had no pupils in his eyes. I stared at him and realized he had a giant snake tattoo that wrapped around his body from his neck to his stomach- and he was entirely erect. I didn't know where to look for a moment, and then I heard this horrible moaning sound. I looked over against the wall in the apartment and there was the woman, also naked, and she was crumpled up on the floor and bleeding from her head. The entire apartment was knee deep in trash, newspapers, boxes, clothing and broken furniture. The cats were nowhere to be seen.

I looked back at the man animal standing in the doorway, and he laughed.

"You animal." I could barely get the words out. "I'm calling the police!"

"Yeah, you do that." He laughed again and started to close the door, and I heard her call out in that whispery baby voice, "Please don't try to help me."

The door closed, and it was quiet in the hallway. I could feel my heartbeat thumping in my ears.

Please don't try and help me - please don't.

Try and help me.

Her words burned in my ears as I ran back to my apartment and I called the police. It took them 45 minutes to respond to my call. I found out later if I had said he had a gun and there were shots fired they could have been there in ten minutes.

But because I said a naked man was beating a naked woman, it took the police forty-five minutes to get there.

When the police did arrive, the man and woman had already left the apartment. Later, one of the neighbors told me he had seen them leave together, fully dressed, and even though the woman looked bloodied and battered, they were hugging and kissing like teenagers in the elevator. There was blood on the trash and the carpet and the hallway, and the cats were hiding in the bathtub. I sat down on the bathtub edge and they both jumped up in my lap and picked at my clothes, purring. The male kitten was very forward, and kept pawing my face to look at him. The smaller female just wanted to curl up in my lap and close her eyes. The police took a full report and said there were already several charges against this guy. The apartment manager said he had started the eviction process against them for nonpayment of rent. But then when I tried to leave with the kittens, I was told I couldn't take them, because they were considered personal property. Leaving those kittens behind in that trash filled apartment was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I couldn't believe it when the woman moved out the next day and she left the kittens behind in that apartment. We heard that there was a warrant out for the guys arrest, and for two nights there was no noise, no music, no fighting. I could see the kittens sitting in the apartment window for hours at a time, and they would mew a silent mew to me.

I can't help you, I would think as I watched them. I can't break into his apartment and rescue you. I can't. He might be there. I might get caught. I might get hurt. I might be a coward.

Two nights later all hell broke loose.

He came back to that apartment with two other men, and there were screams and shouting and a gunshot, and the sound of breaking glass. The police arrived and had to break down the door, and there was a flood of gunfire, and someone was shot and an ambulance was called. We read in the paper the next day that these guys had robbed a jewelry store that day and shot and killed a nineteen year old clerk.

The next morning, I looked out at the apartment, and there in the windowsill, were the two kittens, now calling to me. I ran up the stairs over to the apartment and it had the yellow police tape crisscrossing over the door. The door was locked, and I could hear the kittens crying in the kitchen. I ran into the courtyard and dragged a patio table just underneath the broken living room window and climbed on top of it. I pulled myself into the apartment - it looked like the wreckage from a tornado - broken furniture and trash was everywhere. The two kittens called from the kitchen sink counter. I tried to talk calmly to them as I picked my way through the trash filled room, broken glass was crunching under my feet. When I got to the counter, the male kitten threw himself at me, and pawed my face and mewed constantly as I tried to pet him. The female kitten cowered, and shook violently when I picked her up. They both looked at me with their eyes frantic, asking me, telling me, that they were in terrible trouble.

"It's okay." I walked out of that hellhole apartment holding the kittens under my shirt. "I'm here, and you are going to be okay."

We kept them in our apartment for a few days, but Thaitu and Emerson freaked out at the high strung kittens that ran around, crying constantly. The kittens were starving and ate everything, food, dirt, paper. The male kitten sprayed on everything and the female kitten hid underneath the towels in the bathroom, shaking violently if anyone picked her up.

My good friend Joan took the kittens for a few days. They shredded her beautiful Hollywood Home, crying frantically, until her mother in Orange County offered to take them. Momma Mara loved the kittens too, but their crying and high strung ways made her have to reconsider her offer as well.

And then dear friends came to the rescue: Candy and Math, and their adorable daughter Rachel, adopted these high strung Russian Blue kittens and they went to live with them in their home in Long Beach.

The male cat was called Nicky, the female was named Perlita. Perlita became the princess of the house, sleeping in Rachel's bed, Rachel's doll carriage, Rachel's clothing.

Nicky has never really overcome his Hollywood past - he's become the terror of the Long Beach neighborhood, picking fights with other cats, challenging cars to come and hit him, hissing and fighting and carrying on. And then he developed food issues; he'll hiss and bite anyone who tries to feed him. And then too, he'll go missing for three or four days and then appear again, one ear cut up, or a giant scratch on his forehead. But Nicky loves the man of the house, Math, and follows him around, crying and calling to get his attention. And when he can, he'll settle in Math's lap, teeth gleaming, eyes closed as he gets his tummy rubbed.

Perlita and Nicky remain very bonded, they snuggle together in the morning and they still groom one another like kittens. Every once in a while they'll chase each other through the back yard and into the house and back again, knocking over glasses and furniture as they play their frantic hunt me game. They have lived a happy life for ten years with this family, having the run of their house and home.

The last time I was in Long Beach to visit Candy and Math, Nicky was sitting on a large upholstered chair outside on their patio. He looked up as he saw me walk towards him, and I swear, I saw a cloud of recognition in his eyes.

I sat down next to him, and he jumped up and plunked himself on my lap, claws out and picking at my clothes. He purred, and drooled, and shook as he kneaded himself into a sitting position, and then he looked up at me, his yellow eyes fully dilated.

For a moment it looked as if he had no pupils in his eyes. But then he looked away and I realized it was just the way the sun had caught him in the light.


-----
A collection of stories. If I am going to review this, then I better take them one by one. First because I like the style and I am reading one a day to enjoy it.

An Introduction by An Abbyssinian

1. CHARACTERISATION: The idea of an animal reporting on humans was of course made popular in modern literature by Franz Kafka. Here, the Abyssinian cat takes over the keyboard while the author of "Animal Stories" is not there and writes the foreword to the book. One can picture very well that snobbish four-legged creature and its daily routines of rivalry with dogs, drawing attention to things - this is what pet do. Poor Elvis, he reminds me a bit of that dog in the Garfield strips.


3.SETTING: the story is very visual. As a reader I can picture that this must be located in US suburbia because of the American English spelling of Theater and the mention of driveway and landscaping. Hopkins also treats us to a house tour, so we actually get to see inside author's Cynthia's house - her desk with the computer, her shelf with her books.

4. POINT OF VIEW: the point of view on here is wittingly done. There is no better way of writing an introduction than getting having someone close to the author doing it. In this case, the author writing that piece as a cat is great.
5. PACING: the introduction takes us right into the subject matter - a book of animal stories, and gives us an idea about the author's motivation to write such a series and a few descriptions.
7. MECHANICS: It flows very well. The narrator cat rambles and gets distracted by cat things but the anecdotes are clear. One gets insight about the narrator's view on humans, dogs, fellow cats and its view on relationships with owner. In fact there are even elements of identity themes by mentioning real names and nicknames.

very enjoyable.
all the best to you, Cynthia!

A Black Cat From Boston

I know I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life: people, freeway directions, omens, the right wine to drink with the right meal. And in one of my reoccurring dreams there's a large, gilded gate, almost twenty feet high, that keeps blowing open in this black wind. I know it's a bad sign. I know I'm not wrong about this. In my dreams that gate means that the wolves and the dark things creeping in the corners can get out. This is the gate that seals the kingdom of the past and ensures that you won't look back, you won't call, and most important, you won't miss a part of the world that you used to belong in.

I used to belong to a very different world, one that had children and a dog named Sam, and a house designed by my architect husband. Of course the children weren't mine, as much as we pretended that we belonged to one another, and the dog really belonged to one of them; and the architect husband apparently was never mine to begin with. And the house, well, my sister called that house a wooden trailer with architectural delusions. I know all that now, but I didn't then. I was 19 years old, what did I know. The problem was, I thought I knew what was real, and I was wrong.

The girls - the little girls that this husband and his ex-wife shared - were a handful. There were only two, but oh did they have issues. And rightly so, they'd been handed a poker game with some really important cards missing, and a couple of jokers for parents. This was back in the seventies when parenting wasn't the religion that it is now. This was when joint custody meant the ex-husband paid $170 a month for child support, and he complained about it, even though he was an architect, and architects were supposed to be well off. But he had two beautiful little girls, and for six years I got to pretend that I was related to them.

We had birthday parties, Christmas Eve stockings, Easter eggs in the grass. We had cats, and the dog named Sam, which really lived at the ex-wife's house, and dinner with the families. We had gymnastic lessons, and drama class, and track meets. We had a lot time together, good and bad. Now we're apart, for many years and no longer connected.

These little girls are now women with children of their own. We've exchanged a few letters, and cards. And there was one awkward visit that told me that they really don't want to see me in the present tense, however kind my intentions might be. So I refrain from insinuating myself in a world where I don't belong anymore. I know that's the right thing to do. I know that gate should be closed.

But I think about them, as little girls, and remember the giggles at bed time, the tears about school, or the sighs and dark faces about their parents divorce. They went through a lot, these girls. And then, there was the strange story about Miss Berg, the cat. It's a true story, but even now when I think about, it's a strange story.

We were living in Boston. Actually, we were living in the married student housing at MIT, me, the architect, and his oldest daughter, Lisa. He was getting another degree in architectural engineering at MIT. It was ironic that we were even able to live in the married student housing, because at the time, we weren't married. That was later. We had simply supplied a copy of his marriage certificate to his ex-wife, and they had assumed I was that wife. He was 32. I was 19. Lisa was 12.

We had recently acquired a small black kitten, under strange and sinister circumstances. We'd been invited to a Halloween costume party, at a loft in Beacon Hill, by some artist types we didn't know very well. We arrived at the party and didn't know anyone, and while we're standing around holding these little paper cups of orange soda, there are the thumping sounds of a very noisy orgy go in on in the back room. Music is blaring and there are screams and people yelling "YES! YES! YES!" So we're talking with the sad looking hostess, who was this rather large woman dressed as a Salem witch, complete with a black pointy hat and plastic moles on her chin, and she's trying to talk us into adopting one of these little black kittens that are running around in the kitchen. The noises got louder and louder from the back room, and, well, let's just say that's how we ended up taking one of the little black kittens home with us. Just so we could leave a party where an orgy was going on. But I did wonder if that was just a taped recording of an orgy going on in the back room, and they used it as a form of blackmail to get people to take one of their kittens home with them. "Get a kitten now or join the orgy." "It's a kitten or an orgy, take your pick." "No kitten, okay, you're next - join the orgy!"

Anyway, we had this small black kitten without a name and Lisa had just come to live with us. Lisa was delighted to have a small animal to boss around. "You Booger! Stop climbing on my hair!" "Booger! Stop that" "Booger, get out of the sink!"

Faced with the idea that I would have to live with a cat named Booger, we supposedly agreed to name the cat, "Miss Berg". She still called the cat Booger, and I called the cat Miss Berg.

And on the one summer weekend we drove to Upstate New York to see my grandparents, rather than leave the cat alone in the apartment, we took the cat with us. We had a nice visit with my grandparents and their three large dogs. And while we might have had a very nice time, Miss Berg did not. She had never seen dogs before and had spent the entire time sulking in a closet. So after three days, we said goodbye, loaded the car with suitcases and the cat, and started the drive back to Boston. For some reason, halfway home we pulled off the highway, and stopped at a river's edge, near a stone bridge. We opened the car door and that's when the cat bolted from Lisa's lap and disappeared into the tall grass. It was a nightmare. We called her and begged her to come back. But she was mad. Mad about the car, mad about the dogs, mad about the closet, mad about leaving MIT. She was mad and she was not coming back. We spent hours calling her. So it was nearly dusk, and that's when Lisa's father announced that he wasn't looking for the cat anymore, and that we were going to leave her there and go home.

Lisa cried, I did my best, oh come on now honey negotiating, and nothing worked. But it was dark now and he had made up his mind. It was a very quiet ride back to Cambridge without the little black cat in the car. I knew this was wrong. But there was a lot going on for all of us at the time: I was working at the MIT Psychology library, he was working on his thesis for MIT, and Lisa was struggling to fit into the new school. For several days we lived without our little black cat.

It was about a week later we had a terrible lightning and thunder storm in the middle of the night. You could see the lightning through your closed eyes, and the thunder rattled all the glass jars on the kitchen shelves.

That's when I had the dream. And even now, it seems so real to remember I'm not sure it was a dream. I could see the stone bridge by the lake where we had lost Miss Berg. And just beyond the curve in the road, I could see a large culvert, and the raining is beating down, and the lightning and thunder is filling the air. And in a moment of quiet, I can hear Miss Berg crying, and there in the flash of lightning - I see her. She's in the culvert, wet and shivering, and she's crying out, wondering - where are we and how can she get home.

In the dark I sat straight up in bed, and I knew that it was true. I woke him up and told him about my dream, and he harrumped, and turned over.

In the morning I told the story to Lisa. Her little face turned white and scared. I told her "I'm going to call in sick today because I'm going to drive up there and see if I can find Miss Berg." I asked her if she wanted to skip school and go with me. I could see him in the kitchen, annoyed and shaking his head, exasperated by my story, and I pretend not to notice. In her very small little girl voice she said "Okay."


So we go. It's still raining a bit, and it takes us nearly two hours to get to the turn off from the highway. But we find the stone bridge. And we get out of the car in the drizzling rain and start looking for a culvert, and we can't find it. We're getting soaked. So Lisa starts calling in her high clear little girl voice "Here Booger, Here Booger, Here Booger, Booger, Booger!"

And then we heard it. It was about 50 yards down the road. There was the culvert I had seen in my dream, and there was this little black kitten mewing for us.

Lisa shrieks and starts to run through the rain slicked grass towards the kitten, and she slips and falls down, and the kitten leaps out of the culvert and starts running towards Lisa. The next thing I know Lisa is holding her kitten, nearly crushing it with her tears, and she's crying and I'm crying and the cat is crying.

We get in the car, and that little black cat is so happy to see us, she's licking our faces, and butting her head against our hands, and she's mewing and mewing and mewing. The kitten is soaking wet, and she looks really skinny. My hands are shaking as I start up the car.

We found a McDonalds and bought three Fishwiches. That cat is so hungry she's growling and purring while she's wolfing down the bites of the Fishwiches that Lisa is feeding her. It's raining hard now, and we have the heat and the windshield wipers cranked up on high as I find the highway onramp, and we head home.

An hour later, Lisa and the kitten have fallen asleep in the passenger seat. Lisa is holding the kitten like a baby and the cat has wrapped her paws around Lisa's neck and is holding on for dear life. They both look exhausted and damp and dirty, but for a while they are both sleeping such a sweet sleep in the warm cocoon of the car.

Miss Berg the Booger Cat, lived with us for five more years, until she died from cancer. But oh was she loved in those five years. And she was needed, too, by a young girl who had a really lonely and difficult adolescence.

I wonder if Lisa remembers the cat she called "Booger' that slept on her pillow at night. And I wonder if she remembers who I was in the story of her life, and what she meant to me.

I know I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life. But I know that the dream I had about a little black cat lost in a thunder storm, led me to do the right thing for a little girl I loved

THE BRUJA
I'm called a "Bruja" in my neighborhood -which makes me smile This comes from the guys who have been building the big ugly house down the street. Mostly they're men from Central America, working construction in the nether wold of "undocumented workers". "Bruja" means "witch" in their language. It really means: "The Woman Who Walks With The Abyssinians". They also call my two cats, the Abyssinians, "Brujitos" - or little witches. Mostly because the cats like to come over and watch them while they work, which makes them nervous. They know if they turn around for a moment, somehow something will disappear. We'll come home in the evening and find things on the kitchen floor: a dusty baseball cap or an old dirty work glove or a red crumpled handkerchief, all presents to us from our little furry kleptomaniacs. And then we'll have to sneak over to the work site, leaving what ever it is on the front step, hoping that we don't get caught.

When I go on my morning walks with the cats, I see the guys pause as they work, and they watch us walk by. I smile, I wave, I try to look friendly to them. They shake their heads and weakly wave back, muttering things in their language that it's probably best that I don't understand. A woman walking her cats. In their culture, there couldn't be a bigger waste of time. No children, no horses, not even dogs, that woman walks her two cats every morning. I didn't mean to end up this way - I love dogs, am only slightly afraid of horses, and I think I meant to have children. Things just didn't turn out that way. I believe in adopting animals from shelters, given the abandoned pet population in the United States, and have had several adopted cats live long and happy lives with me.

But then one day a woman gave me an Abyssinian. They look like the Egyptian Temple cats with the big ears. If only I had known what an Abyssinian was, I might have said "No thanks, I'm sticking with the tabbies." We called her "Thaitu", who was once an ancient queen of Abyssinia, married to a King Minok. She ruled over our lives with an iron paw. She was funny, smart, affectionate, and had the temperament of a movie star. She loved parties, black truffle pate, and would sit on anybody's lap, mostly to steal the appetizers from their hands if they didn't have a good grip on their food, and cried piteously when people left. When Thaitu died, a lot of our friends said "I loved that cat, and I don't like cats."

You might think that cats are cats. And you'd be right, except there's a reason why the vet warns you not to have arguments with your spouse in front of the Abyssinian and why Abyssinians are called the dogs of the cat world. And why Abyssinians are very expensive. I can only compare these cats to cars. I used to have a 1976 Audi. That's like the Tabby Cats I've had - functional, runs good, some minor repairs, don't look for a lot of excelleration. The Abyssinians I've had are like a 1996 Jaguar convertible. Expensive to buy, expensive to maintain, a lot of fun, and the replacement parts are hell.

The two Abyssinians we have now are a brother and sister, Hopkins the male, and Puma, the female. They get to go outside during the day, but they have to come in at night. Mostly that schedule works, although there has been the occasional dark night when I'm out there trying to coax one of them to please leave the gopher alone and please come home. Actually - I hate admitting this - I have spent many dark hours negotiating with the Abyssinians to come back inside, hoping that a coyote doesn't recognize the sound of plea bargaining with cats. And I can tell you from personal experience how annoying it is to see a cat smile in the dark when you know it is baiting you.

They bring us lots of trophies, live lizards, live baby birds, snakes, grandfather rats from the palm trees, field mice, and the occasional construction accessory from next door. For a while Hopkins was bringing us squirrel tails - not the whole squirrel - just the tail. We'd hear him make his triumphant "Look what I found" mew, and he'd appear, head held high with this enormous fuzzy tail clamped in his mouth. He must have brought us five or six of these squirrel tails. We wondered if we should post them on the refrigerator door, like some kid's spelling test, to make him stop dragging them home. But then he just stopped. We never did find out where he was getting these. And then one night I came home, Hopkins was prancing around and mewing that warning call, and I flicked on the hall light, and for a moment, I swore I saw an enormous frying pan on the hall floor. My mouth dropped open when I realized what it was: some poor squirrel had been run over by a truck, and flattened out with the tire tread embedded in the fur. The squirrel's tail stuck out like a pan handle, and the entire corpse was so old and dried out, it was like cardboard. I still can't figure out how Hopkins got it through the cat door.

When we go on our walks in the morning, I'll carry a cup of very strong coffee, and the cats will have just had breakfast, and we'll saunter up the road together, Puma on my heels and Hopkins following her. They walk with their tails straight up in the air, and they will occasionally break rank and chase each other up a tree, or around the rosemary bushes. But mostly, they like to follow me in a straight line and we walk up to the hill where they can look out over their neighborhood. Hopkins likes me to pick him up so he can look out and survey his street, Nofral Road; and Puma rolls around in the soft grass like a young horse flopping around in the corral. I give them silly names for our walks together: Hopkins is the Prince of Nofral, and Puma is the Porcupine Princess. Silly names like you would give your kid. Or your dog. Or your horse.

And me. I'm the Bruja of Dumetz Road.

The Metaphor of Deer


I remember hearing the story of an estranged couple, friends of my sister, who were going through some difficult issues in the custody of their only child, a boy who was four years old at the time.

The father took his son to see 'Bambi'; at the movie theatre, and bought him boxes of popcorn and candy and hotdogs and sodas. The little boy was happily munching popcorn and enjoying the movie until the scene where Bambi and his mother were chased by the hunters. The little guy grew very quiet when the rifle shots rang out and Bambi's mother called 'Run, Bambi, run!';

The father watched his son's lower lip start to tremble, and tears were brimming in his eyes when the gunshots blasted Bambi's mother. The little boy froze as he watched Bambi frantically run through the forest, trying to get away from the gunshots and the hunters.

Then the father deer, a magnificent stag with enormous horns, appeared out of the forest and said in a deep baritone voice: 'Bambi, come with me.';

At that moment the father reached out his hand to the scared little boy sitting motionless in his seat, and the little boy grabbed onto him for dear life. In the darkened theatre, the father squeezed his son's hand, and the little boy squeezed back.

Shortly afterwards, the little boy announced to his mother that he wanted to go live with his dad, just like Bambi.

I've always thought that was a brilliant, if somewhat underhanded, strategy of the dad's to influence his son's feelings. And I don't quite remember how the custody issue was resolved, but every once in a while, my sister and I will see a misbehaving parent and say in a deep baritone: 'Bambi, come with me.'

Deer. Somehow they've become one of those metaphysical animals in my life ' like one of those American Indian visions. They appear as a kind of benevolent signal that something is about to happen. Change. Die. Appear.

And I'm always annoyed that out of all the members of the animal kingdom, my talisman is deer. Not rattlesnakes, or spiders, or ravens. They would seem more like the sacred messenger spirit. But no. I have deer as my guide.

The first time it happened, I thought it was just a poetic circumstance, not to be repeated. I was eighteen years old and living with my aunt in Middletown, Connecticut. I was recovering from a nervous breakdown of sorts, although I didn't recognize it as such. I couldn't sleep, or eat, couldn't read or think or talk. My young life had fallen apart and I had gone to stay with my grandparents at their farm, Bonnie Brae, in Upstate New York. Now I know that I was experiencing clinical depression, but I didn't recognize the symptoms until they came back to haunt me many years later.

But now, I was living in my Aunt's house, working part time as an assistant to an architect at Wesleyan University, and selling clothes at a high-end designer store on the weekends. I felt as if I were sleepwalking in this muffled college town where life seemed like an underwater ballet. I surfaced through most of the experiences that summer with a pretense of coping, but mostly I participated as a kind of ghost, unsmiling and self-absorbed. I had settled into a kind of half-life, unlived and fully occupied at the same time.

I lived that summer with my aunt Cynthia and her husband Benji in their colonial brick house in Middletown. They had smart mouthy friends and hosted dinner parties, and served gin and tonics, with freshly picked blood red tomatoes and skunky basil from the garden. She was working with the performing arts department at Wesleyan and he was a teacher. I was their sulky 18 year old niece who stayed in my bedroom, the first bedroom I had ever had to myself. I read Emily Dickinson poetry while Creep, their Maine Coon Cat with six toes, sat on my lap and slashed her tail in my face. I loved that house: it had four fireplaces, wide plank wooden floors, and screened in porches, and big stairs. And it smelled like a home: smoke and old furniture, and coffee and dog fur.

And most importantly, there were two dogs ' Nickerson Grundy and Hoggarth. Two Golden Retriever brothers, with the personalities of the Three Musketeers. Their nickname was 'The Boys', and they were loved more than any dogs I had ever known.

One afternoon in the early fall, I took the dogs for one of their favorite walks. It was unseasonably warm and the sky was cobalt blue, without a single cloud. I loaded the boys in my aunt's pumpkin colored Pinto, the one car that featured exploding gas tanks if they were hit from behind. I turned on the radio, listening to some awful disco music, and we went to the park that we loved. The boys loved racing around the dusty paths that led to the pond and waterfall that was hidden deep within a bowel like canyon in the park.

The boys would splash around in the pond, snapping and jumping like furry seals. I would throw sticks in the water and they would wrestle with one another, bothering each to get their big jagged teeth around the stick. I was sitting in the grass and the dogs sloshed out of water, shaking their coats and groaning as they threw themselves on the ground next to me. The sun glistened on their wet auburn fur, and their sides heaved as they lay in the sun, their eyes closed as they panted.

I don't know what made me look up at the top of the waterfall, but I saw a movement somewhere, and it took a moment before I could focus my eyes in the sharp sunlight.

A beautiful male deer, with an enormous rack appeared in silhouette at the banks of the waterfall. The sunlight glistened around him as he was drinking from the stream water. He slowly straightened up and looked out, and then suddenly he saw me. He stared down at me, only fifty feet away, not moving a muscle.

I could see his unblinking eyes staring at me with a look that seemed to show a sense of pity and concern. Then he turned and looked up at the beautiful blue sky and then he turned back to look straight at me again.

He's warning me, I thought. But warning me what? Warning me that there's a beautiful blue sky? I glanced over at the dogs, who were now sprawled on their sides like road kill, their breathing loud and heavy. Great hunting dogs, I thought. I looked back up at the stag and he was gone. I blinked to make sure, but he had disappeared.

Funny, I thought. It seemed like he was warning me about the blue sky. And then I forgot about it.

Several weeks later, we had a severe thunderstorm in Connecticut. I hadn't lived through a severe thunderstorm in many years, and I had forgotten what they were like. That afternoon the damp oppressive heat had created enormous thunderhead clouds that crowded the sky, looking like ominous cities on the dark horizon. You could smell the sulfur and the sprinkles of rain in the breeze, and then in the early evening the thunder and lightning started.

I was home with the dogs, and they started whining and pacing as the booming thunder began. Cynthia and Benji came home just as the downpour started to pound on the roof, coming down in streaks of hard driving stinging rain. The lightning made the dogs pant and pace and yelp as the bright arcs of light, little nuclear flashes, blinding everything in the darkness.

After a spectacular flash of lightning, the power went off, and we lit candles and lanterns, and had flashlights to help illuminate the dark. There was a sense of wonder at the fireworks of the storm, and an anxiety that this was going to be a long night.

It was almost midnight when the phone rang. From my bedroom I could hear Cynthia's terse 'Oh god', as she was talking on the phone in kitchen. Something bad had happened. I slipped downstairs and saw Cynthia talking on the phone, with her face buried in one hand. Benji was sitting at the kitchen table, with Creep sitting in his lap waving her raccoon tail like a flag. Benji watched me sit down on the floor next to the big dogs, and he nodded at me, and then we all silently watched Cynthia listen to the conversation on the other end of the phone.

'Yes. Yes. Yes.' Cynthia nodded, and then she suddenly straightened up. 'Alright, we'll be there as soon as we can.'

She hung up the phone and moved her lips but no sound came out. She sat down next to Benji, and they both looked away in opposite directions.

Benji cleared his throat. 'There's been a fire.' He turned and looked at me. 'Bonnie Brae was struck by lightning before your grandparents got home. But they're okay.'�

A week before, my grandparents had left their home for the first time in their lives to go on vacation, and they had nervously left their two dogs and cat in the home to be cared for by their neighbors. They were supposed to have flown into Albany that night, and my grandmother's brother was driving them the rest of the journey home. They had just returned home to find that it had been struck by lightning and had burned. We didn't know how badly, and we didn't know if anyone had been hurt. The phone lines were down, and a relative of a neighbor had called to give us the news. All we knew is that we had to be there. It was decided that Cynthia and I would drive up in her orange Pinto, and that Benji would load the dogs up in the truck and follow us.

We left Middletown around 1:00 in the morning and we crawled through the blowing storm with driving rain. The drive took nearly five hours, as we dodged downed trees, and the washed out roads. Cynthia and I talked until we were hoarse: Was the house still burning? Was anyone there? Did the barns catch on fire, were the dogs okay, were the cars in the garage, if only we could be there now and just know and see what had happened. Finally, it was almost dawn by the time we were able to reach Meeting House Road.

Cynthia was leaning forward in her seat, the windshield wipers frantically echoing her 'oh please oh please oh please' she didn't even know she was saying it out loud. As we drove up the driveway, everything was dark and black in the driving rain, and we sat for a moment in the car, with the wipers beating time to the slashing rain. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could make out the silhouette of the big brick house, still standing. We crawled out of the car and in the rain, we staggered to the front of the house. Even in the pouring rain, the smell of smoke hit us immediately, smoke like an acrid punch to the face. The house looked like it had been bombed. The top of the house had been ripped off, all the windows were broken out, and everything was black with smoke rising from the back of the house.

I watched my aunt gaze at the ruin as if she couldn't quite recognize it, and then she walked with some difficulty to the house and laid her hands on the blackened bricks. We stood there, listening to the rain wash over the black charred house; and then Cynthia turned and waved her hands in front of her face, as if she couldn't see anymore, and silent and stunned, we walked back to her car.


In the morning light, the dew sparkled in pockets of beautiful little spider webs on the ground. Fairy Handkerchiefs, my Nanan would call them. It hurt to look at them now, so beautifully crystal in the wet green grass, with the smoldering black ruin of Bonnie Brae in the background.

I turned and something caught my eye along the row of the cornfield in the north meadow. Standing along the dry corn stalks was an enormous stag, it's horns dark ivory. He was watching me from about 300 feet away. For a long moment we looked at one another, and then I remembered the deer back at the park in Middletown.

This deer blinked and turned away from me. He walked slowly with a stately kind of grace up the side of the road, his head lowered. Just as he reached the edge of the pine trees, he turned back and looked straight at me, as if to say, I tried to tell you. And then he stepped into the darkness of the trees and he was gone.

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