It’s as if I’m standing on the top of a high mountain, looking down at the gorgeous view that stretches out in all directions around me, inhaling the chill air, and I’ve suddenly realized I’m terrified of heights.
Sometimes I leave pages in notebooks blank. One, two, three or eight. I think they must need to be that way. To not have words written on them. As if it were somehow just the way it should be.
And then, sometimes, in need of scratch paper to write down the date and time of a hair appointment, or to scribble a phone number, or maybe a grocery shopping list; I find these pages, tear them out.
I wonder, though, what happens to those empty spaces in the notebook that were meant to be there. Those pauses, those separations. I wonder if the words that were once apart by a single blank page then meet. If they say hello.
The annoying beep… beep of her phone alarm seeps into her dreams. Even there she curses it, resisting the awakening of her body in the form of grunts and groans. 8am. Earlier than she would ever choose to wake up.
Groggily down the stairs, the kids are up and quietly watching iCarly on TV. Her ever blinking eyes search the counter and then into the shelves of the fridge– but nope, no iced latte. The magical latte fairy has yet returned with her medicine. Though she knows it’d be best for everyone if she simply crawled back up the stairs and in to bed, instead:
“Good morning, sweethearts. Sleep well?”
Mmmhmms and yesses and total silence are the response, but she pushes the disappointment aside and begins working on brushing hair through squirts of hair detangler and mumbles of hold-stills. Satisfied that the kids look vaguely well taken care of, she sends the middle child off to find a matching skirt, ignoring her protests that flowers and polka dots match just fine.
The latte fairy emerges from the garage in slacks and buttoned up shirt, and she vaguely notices he even trimmed his beard today, latte in his hand. Her eyes focus on the drizzles of caramel visible alongside the inside of the plastic transparent cup as he kisses her forehead and heads off to work, his purpose now done.
Signing homework papers and double checking the calendar on the fridge, she reminds the kids to get their jackets on– again– and sends them off with kisses and waves. After watching them disappear around a sidewalk corner, she closes the heavy front door deliberately.
Considering her options, with a return to the comforts of her bed high on the priority list, she instead slides the kitchen drawer open to a box tucked away and pulls out a cigarette and lighter. Latte in hand she makes her way to the backyard and, through exhales of smoke wonders– not for the first time– why a patch of grass has turned brown among the greens.
Stubbing the cigarette out on the concrete, she heads back inside and up the stairs into her bathroom. After a few splashes of cold water on her face, she pauses at her reflection in the mirror, noticing again the additional lines between her brows that didn’t used to be there, and the red splotches that have lately been marring her face.
Slipping on a pair of yoga pants and tank top, she makes her way out to the garage and into her red minivan. She leaves the track homes and women jogging with their dogs behind, settling on a narrow road.
Her car skids slightly as she brakes and puts it into park. Stepping out into the sunshine, a coolness still in the air, she takes a deep breath. The air tastes of fresh salt water, mingled with the latte still on her breath, as she looks over the ocean below. From up here the barking of dogs, the sounds of children shouting and laughing at a nearby school, of garbage trucks making the rounds– it all disappears, left only with the breaking of waves on the rocks below.
She climbs down the sides of the cliffs a few feet to a narrow ridge. Picking up a rock she holds it in her hand for a moment before letting it simply go, watching it disappear into the rocks and surf below. She closes her eyes and takes a step.
Her eyes fly open by the startling sound of her cell phone ringing in her back pocket. She steps back, pulls it out and looks at the screen. The elementary school phone number is displayed. After a moment, she answers.
“Hi, Mrs. Victor, this is Katie from the front office. Claire just puked here at school during recess. Can you come and get her?”
“Of course. I’ll be right there.”
Adam’s the kind of guy that would tell lies sometimes so crazy we almost believed him. He told us once that he caught someone in his apartment stealing his stash and so he slit his throat. He dumped the body in a dumpster and supposedly nobody ever noticed.
The first time I met him, he showed up at Mikey’s apartment late into an evening just like any other. Through a haze of cigarette and pot smoke and the stereo playing Rush or Led Zeppelin– depending on who won the argument that night– he came in and handed Mikey a pie.
From that day on every time I saw Adam he always had a pie to give away; lemon meringue, banana cream, and Dutch apple. He said he was a chef at Coco’s and and they were leftover pies nobody bought that day.
Scott and I would sometimes crash at his place. He lived in a building that was once a hotel, parts of the building boarded up because the floors had come down. The only way in was through an alley now. The floor of his one room apartment was slanted, too. So much so that when we slept on the floor we’d end up across the room in the morning.
His cat wandered drunkenly around the room of lime green carpet, missing the litter box and staring at shadows on the walls. We warmed up canned beans using the coffee maker and ate crackers with sardines because we could get them cheap. We made big plans for Scott’s band and tried to figure out ways to market them. We knew the music was good, we just had to get people to hear it.
“I got a cabin up the coast,” Adam told us one day. “Right by the water. We should go up next weekend.”
“Yeah,” I said. “That sounds cool.”
We all drove up a few weeks later. It turned out to be his brother’s cabin, but nobody complained. We spent the days trekking through cliffs and trees and sand. Erin, Mikey’s girlfriend, got a bloody gash on her leg from a hallowed out old tree, and Scott got so fed up with all the climbing that he took a nap in the sand.
I found a rock that day, made of sandstone and molded into the perfect shape of a fish. I had the great idea of carving out the insides into a functional pipe. It took days and turned out pretty good except it’d burn your lips if you didn’t hold the lighter just right. Adam said he liked it, so I gave it to him.
A few days later Adam tried to kiss me when we were playing a game of haiku. He’d give me a topic or word and I’d give him a haiku.
“Quit it,” I told him.
“Scott won’t mind,” he said, “we’re like best friends.”
I hit him in the shoulder and spent the rest of the day over at Mikey’s.
Winter came, and the guys were talking about going up to Alaska for a job. The band broke up again and Adam hadn’t been around in a few weeks.
When I called him up he said he’d been promoted at work, that he moved in with a girlfriend, and he sounded happy.
I was trying to get a job at Subway and we were sleeping in the car most nights, until we got a few hundred bucks from a stash of prescription pills Scott stole from his mom’s house. We decided to go to Coco’s.
We asked the waiter if he could tell Adam that we’d like to compliment the chef.
“Adam?” he said.
“Yeah, he works here, right?”
“That Adam?” and he pointed to a guy bussing a table across the room.
We told the waiter to forget it and left.
Adam came by to drop off a pie a few days later. He said he’d made it special for us. It was a chocolate cream pie with a vanilla frosting. The three of us ate the whole thing in one sitting, cross legged on the floor of the motel we were staying at for a few days.
We talked about maybe moving up to Seattle together, getting out of this town, that Scott knew a guy who might be able to get them a job fixing up computers.
Scott and I moved up to SeaTac a few months later. Adam wasn’t answering his phone and hadn’t been around.
We rented out a small room of a house, with a shared kitchen and living room. We grilled chicken out in the backyard with lemon and threw carrots at the wild rabbits. Scott got a job fixing computers and I spent the days watching The Price is Right while I applied for jobs.
Scott got home one day and told me there were rumors that Adam had overdosed. That he was dead. We weren’t sure if it was true or not. Maybe his phone was just disconnected.
We went down for a birthday party for Mikey a few weeks later. It was over at Andrea’s house because Mikey’s apartment was too small. When I got there I saw that Andrea had my fish pipe on the coffee table next to a glass pipe and an acrylic water bong.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked her.
“I got it from Adam’s stuff,” she said. “It looks cool, huh? It burns your lips, though.”
I guess Andrea knew Adam from high school, and their moms were friends. When Adam died Andrea was invited to look through his things. I told her I’d made the pipe, and she let me have it.
On the drive back home I told Scott we should make a quick stop.
“What for?” he said.
“A pie,” I told him. “Let’s go get a pie.”
A Cat Story, Part 1
You would not believe what happened to me. I can’t even believe it, except that I know it did.
It started on a Tuesday when I got home from school. As usual I had to do chores and homework and I never even got a chance to play any video games. When I ask my mom she says, “Maybe tomorrow,” but it never happens.
I was staring at my math problems when Peaches jumped up onto the chair next to me.
“Meow,” Peaches likes to say.
So I scratched his little head and meowed right back at him.
“Finish your homework!” my mother snapped, and that’s when I made an important decision.
When dinner was done and I cleaned my face— because I always seem to have to clean my face— I went to find Peaches.
He was sleeping on my bed, which happens to be one of his most favorite spots to sleep. It’s one of my most favorite spots, too.
That’s when I snuggled him into my arms and he purred and purred, and I asked him, very seriously, “Will you turn me into a cat? Please, Peaches, please?”
All he answered with was, “Meow,” and more purrs, so I figured that was that.
The next morning, though, I woke up to the sound of my sister opening drawers trying to find something to wear. She saw me looking at her and smiled, reached out her hand and scratched my head.
“Stop it!” I yelled, and that’s when I realized.
It wasn’t a yell at all, it was a MEOW!
I looked at my hands and they weren’t hands at all. They were paws! Real paws covered in orange fur!
“What is going on!” I screamed, but it came out as a HOWL.
I jumped out of bed and landed with a THUMP on the floor. It wasn’t that far down the night before!
“Silly Peaches, what are you doing?” my sister said, and so I did the only thing I could think of doing. I ran right under the bed.
My sister left our room and I was not prepared for what came next. Out of my bed sat up ME!
I hid under the bed and watched myself stretch. I watched confusion come over my face. I watched as the human me screamed and fell out of bed onto the floor.
I was looking at myself. Or myself was looking at me. I don’t know! But there I was under the bed and she stared at me, eyes big and wide.
“Caaaaaiiiiitlyn,” my mom called. I knew I should listen but what could I tell her in my crazy cat voice? We just laid there staring at each other while my mom called and called.
“Get ready for school, Caitlyn! What are you doing on the floor?” She stood in the doorway but the Caitlyn that wasn’t Caitlyn just looked up at her.
“Mrrrreeeooooo,” the Not Caitlyn said.
“No time for sillies. Get dressed!” and she stormed out of the room.
Oh no, I thought to myself. What am I going to do now? Here I am, in Peaches cat body, and Peaches is in ME! He didn’t even seem able to stand up right. He kept scratching and mrowing and falling to the floor.
I did the best I could with my paws and mouth. I pulled a dress off a hanger and brought it to Peaches to wear. I think I only got a few scratches in it, but that was okay. He tried to put the dress on but I don’t think he was used to hands. My mom came back and put the dress over his head, helped him with his shoes and the three of them left for school.
That was when I got a little bit scared. I had never been home alone before and the house felt big.
What do cats do all day, anyway?
His tongue moved over his lips and I wondered if he could taste it– the sweetness.
As if his words were fading in and out, the world moved in jagged slow motions, as I stared at his lips– full and beautiful and chocolate stained.
“Here’s a napkin,” I told him abruptly.
He smiled, held it in his hand and continued speaking. Innocent, boyish.
“There’s chocolate on your mouth,” I finally said.
Startled, he wiped his mouth with the napkin. Even still, on the edge of his bottom lip, a small smudge remained.
“Is it gone?” he asks me.
“Yes. It’s gone.”
She stepped out of the dry brush into the open and stared, taking in the view. It reminded her of the old faded postcards her father kept, covered with some sort of plasticly film– laminated, she remembered. He kept books filled with them, piles in drawers, some tacked on the walls– an ancient way of sending messages to people, apparently. A piece of thick paper with a picture of a landscape, some other landmark or tourist attraction. A way of saying to the receiver, “Wish you were here!”
People never really did that anymore. Or at least, not before. But this view… this was right out of one of those postcards. A seemingly untouched landscape of reds and oranges. Free and untouched by the past or even the present. She was sure no place like this even existed, and yet here it was, as if stepping right through that piece of paper.
The ground was hard and dusty, bright red hued orange dirt broken up by sandstone rock formations jutting up from the ground. As if some stone giant living within the earth were angry one day, jutting his broom upwards in anger at the noise of those above, forcing the rock to push upwards out of the ground.
Off in the distance she could see a massive wall of the stuff, seemingly blocking her way in all directions.
Clear skies and a too hot sun. Out west, they said. What could be out here but the opportunity to die of dehydration or sun stroke?
She sighed heavily and pulled the handkerchief from her back pocket to wipe the sweat from her forehead. A simple gesture, but one that deliberately gave her a moment to think. To take stock in a calm manner. To figure out what the hell she was going to do next.
She didn’t have enough water to go but a day longer, and the food had all but run out except a can of white beans. The terrain was harsh and the likelihood of coming upon a place with resources didn’t look too good. But to go back now?
As she knelt in the dusty sand, hand to her forehead, she heard a whistle to the northeast. An honest to God whistle, from the throat of a human being, clear and loud. Instinctually she dived back into the brush, breath held, and inched herself into position on her stomach, her elbows digging into the solid ground to peer out into the openness.
Nothing. The sweat dripped from her forehead down her cheeks, into her eyes and mouth, but she dared not make a sound as she intently watched and listened.
The moon stood nearly full in the black sky, small and distant, casting little light on the world below it. Their soft breathing and the crackling of the fire were joined now and again with a rustling that sounded all too close from the dry shrubs and bushes around them, surely a small rodent or lizard.
“Where are you headed?” she asked, in an attempt to break the tension.
He sat only a few feet from her, his face lit by the flames of the fire, hard features and a glare in his eyes. Since she’d found him– or he, found her– he’d said little. He seemed a quiet man with something unspoken beneath the surfaces of his dark skin. Maybe anger, or maybe a touch of sadness. She couldn’t tell.
“Not much of anywhere,” he responded, “been heading that way”– indicating northwest with his head– “for a time. Not much water around these parts.”
“I noticed,” she said, her throat suddenly parch. “They say in the west, though–”.
“I know what they say,” he interrupted.
Her body tensed at the finality of his tone, and she decided not to push it. She instead stared into the fire, considering the situation at hand. Sometimes it seemed almost unreal that here she was, wandering a world once overflowing with people, alone. That days, weeks, and months could be spent without seeing another soul, whereas her whole life prior had been spent wishing for some semblance of quiet in the constant noise and chaos of her world.
This was it, she supposed. This was the life she had yearned for and wanted, but it wasn’t as she’d dreamed it. It wasn’t just that it was difficult, or that it was dirty, or that there were some days she wasn’t sure she’d live at all to see the next. But instead it was lonely, and while a quiet and nomadic life had at once seemed desirable it’d lost its charm. She wanted home and family and people and she didn’t know where that was anymore.
The movement of his hands caught her attention, breaking her out of her thoughts. He’d gently pulled up the cuff of his pants to reveal the sheath of a knife and obscured it in the palm of his hand. Her eyes darted to his face, and he was staring at her, eyes hard and cold.
Her heart leaped in her chest. She looked into those eyes for a frozen moment, working through the odds of her reaching her knife first, whether the position she was in would allow enough defense, or whether she should run. Just as she made her decision and threw her body to the left, diving hard into the ground with a roll to snatch her pack where her knife was, he moved with a speed that surprised her and was on his feet.
He dug his boots into the ground and catapulted himself in a leap– not towards her at all, but towards where she was sitting just breaths before, and she heard an animal-like shout as his knife found it’s home. In confused panic she stood, her knife free and in hand, staring at him with his knife plunged deep into the stomach of another man who was bent over, almost hugging him. He made a quick movement, turning the blade and then promptly pushing the other’s body away from him to the ground.
She stood still in her stance, knife still in hand, her breaths coming quickly. He lost no time– he went to his pack and pulled out a piece of cloth, wiped the blade of his knife off and sheathed it. He began moving about to gather his things, all the while not looking towards her. She began moving again as he was stamping the fire out, throwing the sandy dirt joined with bits of rock onto it, packing up her own things.
“I’m sorry, I–”
“We need to go now.”