Two Shorts

Break Blow Burn

You couldn’t know, how optimistic and lucky you’ve been, all. We actually worked on the thing. Champagne in the desert, eyes still re-adjusting, the world singing day-night like an eclipse. It was the first time I didn’t flinch when the cork popped out.

After we scattered like fallout. Some to RAND, to NASA, some hanged up their aprons for unbloodied academics. Fat men lecturing little boys. No point if there isn’t time to grow up.

The mushrooms were all over like real mushrooms or grass. Tried those. Didn’t work. Flicks, comics, the Twilight Zone. After Pigs in 63 I guess we none of us thought She had another decade left in her. Understand, at the start we didn’t think there would be another left to waste. Understand, we didn’t.

Engraved in my retinas like they say the last thing a murder victim sees, I still carry the flash fading in the blacks of his goggles as Oppenheimer pours my glass. I carry that. It’s light as air, but I carry it. Light as light.

The Trouble with the Dog

The cat was upping its game. When I came into the sitting room which is the room that’s sort of sitting on the other rooms because we don’t have a second floor legitimately but only a staircase, the lamp was in pieces—the good one which Marie had whittled for us in the shape of the Statue of Liberty.

I saw at once that it was another perpetration of the cat’s, and it was the last straw. It was lying in the middle of the destruction pretending to be a fragment of lamp. But I wasn’t fooled. “You’re not a fragment of lamp,” I said to the cat. “You’re a cat.”

“I am not a cat,” the cat said. It was that kind of a cat.

We named the cat “Twelve-forty-five” after the time it was when he first showed up on our doorstep. Its previous owner must have pampered it, as bowls of perfectly good food, dry wet and in-between, were left untouched, and the cat would only eat at the table, which I indulged but which Corporal Zemlya found intolerably tacky. The singing, also, while not unskilled, was a distraction.

The cat would neither mouse for us nor bird nor even plastic-stick-and-yarn-cat-toy for us. Within weeks, it had quite ruined much of the furniture, even the larger pieces like the sofa and the kitchen island, both of which were smashed to splinters.

Our vet could make neither head nor tail of it. “This is not a cat,” our vet said. “And I am not a vet.” It was that kind of a vet. “Please leave the library and do not come back.”

But all pet owners think their companions are unique, and I’m sure Twelve-forty-five’s little quirks and idiosyncrasies were quite the norm in others’ eyes. After some time, we learned to love warts and all of his foibles, though they at times tried our good nature. We resolved not to condemn Twelve-forty-five to a shelter, in whose dark and dirty cages he would hardly have fit, even without his shoes and sample case.

And our patience was fruitful.

Between-six-thirty-and-eight came to us just as unexpectedly, and Marie, the Corporal, and I were understandably wary of taking in another pet with the trouble we were already having. But I am a hopeless St.-Francis, and was so enamored of the newcomer that I wholly forgot to note the time of its arrival and we were forced to name him with a shameful nebulousness.

In the end, the second little lost foundling took a great liking to our Twelve-forty-five, and our house was whole again, both emotionally and literally where the cat had knocked out a section of living room wall. Marie started whittling again. The Corporal resumed his calisthenics in peace. And I was able to focus on my private work, which is a great comfort to me. The cats mostly keep to themselves after we let them go in to town on Sundays and they haven’t been back since. Which proves my point completely.  

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