I know what you need, cat. Because it’s what I need too.

My weird, adopted cat won’t get out of my face or off my wrist. ‘I am trying to write,’ I tell him, ‘Don’t you see?’ He doesn’t care, resting his mushy yet heavy body on my forearm. 

I don’t have the heart to move him, so as I write, I hold his weight with my wrist, his body a saggy bag of guts rising and falling at degrees based on the keys I’m trying to reach. I played the piano for years as a child so the span of my fingers is wide. I notice when I hit the delete key or insert a hyphen, his body lifts with a great flourish as my ring-finger stretchstretchstetches for the keys while my mighty pinky supports it all. 

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The cat came with the name Orzo. I intended to change it until my daughter implored me not to. ‘He’s lost so much already,’ she said, ‘let him keep his name,’ and I nodded and pursed my lips in agreement because once again she was right and showed me a better way. 

But Orzo, this cat. He drools on us and no matter how many layers we (the girls and I) wear on our tops–camisoles or sports bras and t-shirts under sweatshirts and hoodies–Orzo always finds our boobs. He’s a licker. 

And a drooler. With a plastic fetish. He loves the flimsy plastic that surrounds newspapers and magazines; grocery bags; bubble wrap; hardy plastic, the kind that produces noise as he gnaws. You cannot leave any of this laying around or he will eat it gone. 

I know what Orzo needs (besides a full-body shave) but he won’t listen. And when I say listen, I mean when I stop ignoring him as he begs for my attention, twisting his neck in directions that cannot feel good, and I move my palm to accept his head, I tell him, ‘Buddy, I can help you. I can make it better.’ 

So I pick him up and place him in my lap. ‘Here, just sit here while I work,’ I tell him. And I know he doesn’t like this but I keep thinking if he just experienced it more, it would grow on him. He would trust me and feel comfortable because I know he just needs a little love from someone he can trust. But he can’t bear it and always runs away or climbs back on the table.

The cat let me love him once. His owner had made the final trip to the car and was done  bringing in Orzo’s things: a litter box, an opened bag of litter, nail clippers, what was left of the bag of food they bought, the food scooper, several brushes, a comprehensive set of vet records (it was thick–the man and his wife adopted Orzo as a kitten 12 years ago.) 

The man stood by the door and explained how to care for his cat. There were tears in his eyes, he was upset. I imagined Orzo was too so I picked him up and held him on my shoulder, nodding as I listened to the instructions. ‘One scoop of food, twice a day; clean his litter box often, otherwise he’ll express his displeasure elsewhere.’ 

The owner looked so sad, almost betrayed when he saw how easily his cat came to me, let me hold him. I said, “See, he’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” 

I wanted to ask why his wife was making him give up their cat, but held my tongue. Instead I told him, “Look, if you want to visit Orzo on your way home from work some day, it’s fine by me.” I smiled, trying to lighten the mood, and said, “No one needs to know.” 

Based on the color his face turned, I guess he thought I was coming on to him. He left and Orzo and stayed, letting me hold him a bit longer before he dropped to the floor, ran off and hid. 

Someone told me once after I had mentioned my cat’s odd ways that he licks and drools because he was separated from his mother too soon. As soon as they said it, I wanted to punch them because unless you’ve been separated too soon from your mother or someone you care about a great deal, I’ll go so far as to say love, you don’t get to say things like that so off-the-cuff and in passing. 

Unless you’re a vet, I’m going to assume you don’t know what you’re talking about and are wrong. 

Even if you’re right.

Inside the Wooden Box

Letters. When I dared open the wooden box, I found letters from my mother. Lots of them. Some handwritten on heavy paper, some typed on tissue-paper onion skin. Letters she had sent to her parents. My grandparents. Her salutation was always the same, ‘Dearest Mother and Dale.’

In them, my mother referred to me as ‘S.’
She wrote to her mother about me sitting on her lap in church and trying to keep me quiet with books. But I had wanted her to read to me that instant, so that, ‘put an end to that.’

She told my grandmother Marg, how she had finally gotten around to hemming my slip so it wouldn’t show under the dress with the white collar and sleeves that my cousin Margo had handed down to me.

How I had worn the red velvet cape and looked darling.

That the blazer she was sewing my brother was coming along. A friend had helped her match up the plaids and, ‘thank goodness, because the pattern was in 15 pieces.’ (If I put her words in quotation marks, that brings her a little closer to me. They are her exact words. Punctuation makes her real.) 

She told them that, if the little blazer looked good when she was finished, she would make a big one, for my father. There was a small piece of the blue corduroy left. ‘Is corduroy vulgar for Easter?’ she wanted to know.

On a Sunday to keep her sanity during all the ball games, with needle and thread, she hemmed the curtains so the heat would blow properly through the vents.

She reported that she and her best friend, Betty Sue, each drank a Singapore Sling on New Year’s Eve. My dad ordered a ‘Naked Lady,’ because he thought it was a funny name. She wrote that it tasted disgusting but the steak and lobster were divine.

I am glad they went out. I am glad she had the steak and lobster. I am glad they could afford it. I am glad they both had a cocktail. (I thought my dad never drank.) I am glad they stayed up and saw the new year in. I am glad we – my brother and I – liked the new babysitter.

She wrote to her mother that, ‘S loves tangelos and enjoys peeling them all by herself which she is doing at the sink right now.’ She said that S (that’s me, she was talking about ME) did not like the ‘nuts’ inside the fruit.

The tenses are confusing: Past, present. The memories are frustrating. Real, imagined? That I can’t touch her hand. That I can’t ask anyone. There is no one left to ask. There hasn’t been for years.

I found the newspaper clipping of their obituaries among the letters. Someone, who knows who, had taped the pieces together. Time marked the place where the adhesive, now yellowed and brittle like a chronic smokers’ teeth, met the paper. Her summary appeared first, my brother’s brief facts followed. One beside the other, just like their gravestones under the magnolia tree.

She died on a Saturday. He died the following day, the lord’s day. My father and I appeared, respectively, in both their obituaries as survivors: ‘Husband, daughter; father, sister.’ Their funerals were on Tuesday at 2 pm with ‘cremations to follow.’ I was in the hospital still and unable to attend. Probably best for us all. She was 39. He was 11.

I was six.

On the outside of the box, on the lid, there’s a ship. Burnt there, like scrimshaw on wood. On the inside, there’s a small, paper Santa nailed to the lid. It looks like it was cut from wrapping paper. Her name is there – Janet Lamb – written in blue ink in the space between Santa’s black boots.

 

 

 

Instead of Writing

i.
Instead of writing
I could take a nap
Stare out the window.
Download a productivity app so I can waste more time tracking my time.
I could start a new project
Or stare at an unfinished one
like the wall that needs a final coat of paint
Or finish the front door repair, do the detail work.
I already walked the dog…

Instead of writing
I could unload the dishwasher or use the new vacuum
Check my social media accounts.
Masturbate.
Do a load of laundry
Research trips to Costa Rica.
Conduct an image search on the pantsuit my daughter wants for prom
Start dinner even though it’s 10 am.
Text someone I should not.
Get a flu shot
Run an errand.
Brush the cat
Talk to the dog.
Meditate
Cry
Eat
Read.
Pluck the chin hairs the laser missed
Clean up my eyebrows and then sit on my hands so I don’t pick at my fingers.

ii.
Instead of writing
I could thank the guy on Instagram for answering my question about the vase he posted a photo of this morning. I could let him know that, ‘Yeah, I do want the signed and numbered, open-top Scandinavian Kosta Boda vase.’

And if I had any doubts about buying it, I really should get it because out of the 17 or so pieces, my eye went to this vessel. Because of course it did. It looks like a skyscraper. And it is, the artist named the work, “Metropolis.”

I’m not surprised that among the Blenko, Murano and Millefiori glass, I like the chunky, blocky one. I feel nothing for the red, hand-blown piece with the neck of a swan and a Georgia O’Keefe opening; I am immune to the brown bowl, that despite its thickness, is somehow still transparent; nor am I moved by the thin, green vase flecked with red, its edges fluted, like seaweed lettuce washed up on the shore.

iii.
The vase is a sign. Today marks the two-year anniversary of the day my father and I met for the first time. He lives in the city, the only city, New York City. I knew he did before I knew him, before I knew who he was. I felt it in my bones.

The City, much like the vase, with its determined lines and straightforward approach, draws me in, pulls me toward it with purpose; with the force of an unseen magnet.

Like the pull of a nothing-special bar on West 63rd I’d sometimes frequent when I was in the City for work. There are 18-thousand bars in Manhattan and some of them are pretty amazing. This particular bar was not.

Yet it was. I didn’t know it at the time, but this bland and basic bar with only blended scotch, no single malts, was attached to the building my father lived in. Still lives in.

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The Glow

Remember when the house was new to us still?
When we returned our final offer on our first home, I had wanted the thrill of a deal.
To ask for something more exciting,
more mogul than a 12-month home warranty.
So I asked that the garden ornaments convey.
All of them.
Never mind I liked none of them.

Remember when the yard was unfamiliar to us still?
You stood tall and young, looking out the window filled with night
Your hands in the kitchen sink.
I saw you look twice.

Eyes big, you waved your hand and called me over.
(How I loved it when you said my name.)
Pointing, ‘Do you see it? That glowing, do you see it?’
I did. I saw it. But had no idea what it was.
A small spaceship? The eyes of an animal? A piece of the moon?

I didn’t venture out alone to investigate
Or send you into the dark by yourself
Nor mumble, ‘It’s probably nothing.’

We went outside together,
Tip-toeing around the catawpa tree, its limbs so low you had to duck.
Closer now, giggling.
‘You go.’
‘No, you go.’
‘I’m not going. You go.’

We approached the glow together, an army of two.
You nudged it with the tip of your shoe.
Nothing, no movement.
I bent down and poked the mystery on the ground.

‘Oh my god,’ I said, no more whispering.
The glow was from an extension cord set outside to power the small lily pond,
it’s illuminated end, once hidden under the mulch, now exposed.

The glow was nothing we expected it to be. Like so many things that would come to the surface.
Glowing multi-plug extension cord

Nine Days of Vinegar

Is the sting of me
The buzz of me
The me of me gone?
Have I worn off?

I’m not sure why, but I keep thinking of vinegar when I think of you.
Maybe because I started a batch of drinking vinegar a week ago.
The jar on my counter
vinegar and raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.

At first, the concoction the color of a dehydrated person’s piss.
Seven days later, a deep ruby red
the berries degrading, becoming something different than how they began.
Two elements, graced by time and science, combining
to make something unexpected, good and palatable.

Or is vinegar on my mind because I busied myself with a how-to-make kombucha workshop this past week?
I wanted to tell you about it.
I would have told you about it
and how my friend and I misbehaved the entire class, how we laughed at the questions the men asked, the two of them so earnest, their wives so pleased.

I would have told you how I went back to the hardware store and had them recut the glass for the front door.
How I got two panes just in case I broke the first when I tried to place it back in the frame.
I would have said to, ‘standby for pictures,’ of the completed repair, of my sloppy solo work.

I would have told you I read at an open mic, my first.
I recited the poems I wrote about you, about us.
When I read the last line of the last one I sent you, some people in the audience inhaled. Some said, ‘damnnn.’
I wanted to invite you and told my friend as much.
She said, ‘Not yet, not this time. It’s too soon.’

Too soon for what? For me to miss you less? For my love to fade?

What day is that, when it’s not ‘too soon?’ One week and two days since we backed off and away, that day feels like an eighth day the Almighty forgot to create.

It’s been nine days of vinegar. Nights you kept me awake.

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