02 April 2015

The Artificial Mouse

All that walk on two legs have forsaken me. . .

I forgive my children.  It is right for them to put me, a relic, aside, and seek their own way to the Truth.  In their day, if they conclude I set them on the right path, then let them bless my memory. . .

All that walk on two legs have forsaken me. . .

In fact, I forgive all, for who am I that I should not be forsaken?

Do they forgive me?

Rico is pretending with his artificial mouse. . .

It is Rico who stands with me, at the end.  Behold the cat.  From the bottom half of his nose down his mouth, chin and front of his neck and chest, he is pure white.  From the top half of his nose back over the eyes and ears, down the back of the neck, he is gray, with black and dark gray stripes, so that it appears he wears a Super Hero's mask. . .

Rico chokes the artificial mouse in his mouth, slinks three slow, proud paces, then jerks his head and tosses the artificial mouse into the air, bats it to the ground with his paws, then pounces on it.  He sits there a few seconds, looks around, then wearily walks away, abandoning the artificial mouse.  He used to pretend with the artificial mouse for much longer, battling it all around the house.  Poor Rico.  Poor Rico.  He must be bored with the artificial mouse.  Like some old time convict, staring at the same pin-up poster girl year-after-year in a cold gray prison cell. . .

I pick up Rico, hold his face close to mine.

"I've done you wrong," I tell him.

There is no condemnation in his lemon-lime eyes, only the serene blank stare of a creature who has accepted what cannot be changed.

I set Rico down.  He climbs into his bed, a cardboard Amazon.com box lined with an old blue towel.

It's a quarter to twelve on a frigid February night. . .

Meijer is open 24 hours. . .

I put on my coat.  Rico lifts his head as I open the front door.

"Sleep on," I tell him.

I have to brush snow off the car windows, and there is frost beneath.  My fingers ache as I scrape the windshield.   As I make my way around the car, my shoes cake with snow.  There's another engine running a few spaces down.  Lights are on in several of the council flats.  So there are other people, still.  I haven't been out in two days. The black sky hangs low, no stars, no moon, nothing but black going on and on and on, the bottomless pit waiting above me.

My old Honda Civic's heater only blows cold air on the short drive to the store.  A few cars pass by heading in the opposite direction, whether that be east, west, north or south.  Where could they possibly be going?  Nothing that has happened makes sense.  I am absolutely certain as I drive to the artificial mouse store nothing in the entire human history has been necessary.  Other than the crucifixion, of course.  All the rest?  Pointless.

There are more shopping carts than cars in the Meijer parking lot.  A bum is panhandling in front of the store.  I blow right by him.  The automatic door shuts behind me before he can even tell me what he needs the *couple bucks* for.  A sandwich? Bus fare?  Or the truth, some intoxicant?  But the truth is, he doesn't need anything.  None of us need anything.  We can just fall into the grave, and it's all the same.

On my way to the pet supplies section, I pass three young women laughing and huddled around a smartphone in the frozen foods aisle.  When was the last time I was with a group of friends?  I was with my two sons often, of course, until a few years ago, but with friends?  Decades.  Decades.  I suppose not since I was the laughing girls age.

There's a fat woman by the cold cuts.  Bologna, ham.  Her cart is loaded with garbage food.  And a little girl in a dirty white parka, munching from a box of animal crackers.  It's past midnight.  For God's sake, it's past midnight.  

I hear it:

Sweet babe, a golden cradle holds thee
Soft a snow-white fleece enfolds thee
Fairest flower all strewn before thee
Birds warble o'er thee
Seoithín seo ló, seoithín seo lú la ló

Oh who is this a-lying here
Gently at the door of my heart
To and fro like clouds at night
I softly rock your cradle
Seoithín seo ló, seoithín seo lú la ló

A yellow moon lies in the sky
Streaming, falling over the earth
Hush, a leanna, hush, be still
The world is silent and sleeping
Seoithín seo ló, seoithín seo lú la ló

He didn't remember.  My youngest son.  He couldn't fall asleep.  The crib a lake of fire.  Then I found a cd with the cradle song, sung by the angel Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.  I'd put it on repeat on the portable disc player as I carried the little man around his room.  7:45 pm, every night.  At first, fifteen times in a row, the cradle song, in the darkened room.  Every night.  Fifteen times.  Then, a dozen times.  Ten times.  A half-dozen.  After a couple months, once or twice, and he was out.  I asked him, when he was in junior high school, or maybe high school, if he remembered the angel Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and the cradle song.  "Who?  What?"  To carry him around his little room, listening to the angel in the dark, fifteen or twenty minutes a day of peace.  God how I hated it when he fell asleep, and I had to lay him down in his crib, close the door quietly behind me and go back into the world. . .

He doesn't remember.  Of course not, he wasn't even eighteen months old. He'll never know what it meant to me, those few moments in the dark, listening to the angel while he, while we, escaped the world's millstone. . .

What does it matter if anyone forgives me or not?  I live, all the same.

Smarty Cat Skitter Critters
3 pk Catnip Mice

Rico will love these.  Poor bastard.  I grab a pack, and then wander round the rest of the pet supplies, see if there is anything else he would like.  There's a cat bed.  Round.  It looks comfortable.  'Self-Warming Cat Bed.'  I read the tag: "The sleep surface of the bed incorporates a layer of self-warming material that reflects the pet's own body heat. Uses the same technology as 'space blankets.'"  The technological cat bed.  Even the animals must submit to the New Order of the Ages.  $29.99.  Poor Rico.  Poor, poor Rico.  Poor bastard.  He's not a '1%er.'  Well, according to the tradition, even Jesus had to sleep in a   

"What kind have ye?"

I nearly jump.  Out of nowhere an old woman is suddenly standing right next me.  An old, old woman.  Stooped, wrinkled, long dirty gray hair. Where the Hell did she come from?

"What kind have ye?" she asks again, in her hag's voice.

"Uh. . .it's just. . .it's just cardboard."

"Cardboard is it?  Hee hee hee hee!  A cardboard cat!" she sneers.  

"Cat?  No."  I point at the shelves in front of us.  "I thought you meant what kind of cat bed."

She rubs a gnarled hand over her runny crooked nose.

"Want in me bed, do ye?"

Oh God, a lunatick.  A hideous wreck of time.  Creepy and perverse.  Just came out of nowhere.  And materialized right next to me.

"What breed is yourn?"

Breed?  Rico a breed?  Rico a mere breed?  No.  He cannot be reduced to mere breed.  No.  He's more than a cat.  Ha.  There's one for the old bag:

"I got a morethanna."


Ha.  That's right, old woman.  It's a mystery for me to know.  You are to be left forever outside.

But my God, look at her coat!  An old black wool coat, covered in cat hair.  In the brilliant fluorescent light of the store, I can see cat hairs floating around her.  I'm taken up to her squalid rooms and shown a desolation littered with cat waste, her mattress claw-ripped and stained with urine, human and feline.  Only a lost daughter of Zion, this old bag.  Yes, that's it, isn't it?  In the middle of the night, when only the stores, the servants of mammon, offer refuge. This is the age of 

"Give yourn a pinkie!"


"Pinkies is better than them catnip mouses."

What is this poor old demented wretch babbling about?

"What's a pinkie?"

"Pinkies is living mouses.  Living baby mouses.  Naked o' fur."

"Uh. . .ok.  And what do you do with these pinkies?"

"I gives them to me cats."

"You give live mice to your cats?"

She nods.

"Uh. . .so do your cats. . .eat them?"

"No!  Hee hee hee hee!  They just raises Cain with em!"

"Uh-huh.  I guess it would be good exercise for them," I say, trying to be agreeable.  But the old woman doesn't seem to hear me.  It's probably an opportune moment to take my leave.  "Well, you have a nice rest of the night."

"There were one time when Aleister might did eat one.  Or maybe it were Crowley."

"Oh?  Is that right?  Well, uh, it's in their nature, I suppose. Anyway, you have a—"

"One or t'other spit up a mess o' pinkie innards."

"I guess that took a few paper towels, huh?"

"Hee hee hee hee!"

"Well, here's to our cats, ma'am.  And have a good night."

I walk away at a brisk pace, telling myself to not look back. At the self-checkout, paying for the artificial mice, I realize that brief exchange with the old kOOk was the first conversation I've had with another human being in a month, or maybe two months.  And though it was more satisfying than listening to what passes today for a normal person jabbering about a funny video on youtube, I hope to go several more months without talking to anyone.

I leave the store, and there's the panhandler.

"A couple bucks for—"

"You working the graveyard shift?  There's hardly anybody here."

"I missed the last bus.  Can you give something for cab fare?"

A bum calling a cab?  I suppose he has an Obamaphone, but where would he go?

"Cab to where?"

"The shelter."

"They're not going to let you in, this time of night.  You ever read that parable in Matthew Twenty-Five, about the fools who get the door locked on them?"

"You gonna give me some fucking money, or what?"

A filthy talker with sand paper skin and a stubble beard, a dirty stocking cap over greasy hair.  Behold the bum.  Yes, that's it.  Less than human.

"Are you a man or a mouse?" I ask the bum.

"Go fuck yourself!"

"I'll hire you for twenty dollars an hour.  You just have to crawl around the floor and eek like a mouse, while my cat chases you."

The bum takes a step toward me.

"I'll kick your motherfuckin' ass!"

I stand there and look at the bum.  It's cold.  The snow on my shoes melted while I was in the store, and now my shoes and socks are wet, and my toes start to ache. 

"Get the fuck outta here!" the bum says.

The black sky hangs low, no stars, no moon, nothing but black going on and on and on, the bottomless pit waiting above me.  The bum walks away.  I go to my car.

The heater only blows cold air on the short drive home.  A car passes by heading in the opposite direction, whether that be east, west, north or south.  Where could they possibly be going?  There's no point.  What could God be waiting for?

When I open the front door at home, there's Rico, still in his bed, the Amazon.com cardboard box with the old blue towel.  He lifts his head, blinks his drowsy eyes at me, then settles back down to sleep.  I remove the artificial mice from the packaging, place them just outside Rico's box.  He'll be happy when he wakes up.   

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