Saturday, November 15, 2008

Desmond and Hoover, by Alice M. de Munnik

Desmond opened one eye, peered around the room, then opened the other. He flexed each paw, extended his toes and bared his claws. Great! Everything was in working order. Desmond arched his body into a Hallowe’en hump, relaxed and settled back into the corner of the sofa where he’d been dozing for the past two hours.

Good sleep! The best he’d had for a while, nice and quiet, no one to bother him. And the dream he’d just had was everything a Maine Coon Cat could want – delicious, indulgent, satisfying. There was no snot-nosed baby to insist, despite his best efforts, on wiping her dirty, sticky hands on his fur. It took hours for him to lick his black, maroon and brown-fur coat back into pristine condition. And after all, he had a reputation to maintain. He came from pure stock. Both parents were Maine Coon Cats. His mother was given to stoutness at an early age just like Desmond was. But, make no mistake, that didn’t mean he couldn’t move fast. It just meant he took a little longer to get his 30-pound body where he wanted it to go.

What also made his dream so good was it didn’t have Hoover in it, the overgrown, slobbering Labrador, with whom he shared the house. If Hoover had been a female, Desmond would have called him theatrical, a “diva” for sure. Those sad liquid brown eyes were always on call for the next soft-hearted human he wanted something from. Hoover would look up at his human owners and anyone who came to visit and turn on his smarmy, martyr charms.

“Oh, look,” the hapless human would croon. “Isn’t he the saddest dog you’ve ever seen? He’s going to cry any minute now. See how he bows his head and looks like he hasn’t got a friend in the world?” Desmond’s gag reflex worked overtime when Hoover was in his feel-sorry-for-me mode.

Hoover was well fed and certainly didn’t lack for food. It made Desmond sick to see how he mooned over the baby in her highchair at meal times. Not only did the baby offer Hoover little bits of whatever she was having, but she spilled so much of her food on the seat and the trough at the bottom of the highchair that Hoover had trouble controlling himself. He couldn’t wait for the baby to be pulled out of her highchair and taken to the bathroom for a good hosing down. In a flash, Hoover would gulp down the spilled leftovers and be ready for more.

Desmond couldn’t stand it anymore. He was going to do something about that dog and he was going to do it soon. He’d made a plan that involved Hoover being blamed for everything that went wrong. And that would be the end of Mr. garbage disposal. Adieu Hoover, hello freedom!
For now, he relived his wonderful dream. It included bowl after bowl of cat food. Not the regular canned variety, but the gourmet hand-churned kind that Nancy, his human owner, bought from Essence Par Excellence every year as his Christmas treat. In his dream, Desmond spent endless hours together with Nancy. There was no noise, no baby to wash, feed, diaper and rock to sleep. No husband to cater to.

If truth were told, Desmond believed that Nancy was a most excellent specimen of what a human should be. She was tall, trim, beautiful, had long auburn hair with dark highlights and high cheekbones, like he had, and she loved him. When she rested after putting the baby to bed and read the historical romances she was so fond of, he always lay by her side. She would stroke his thick fur and give him a massage. He purred more contentedly when there were just the two of them. Nancy always saved some catnip for those quiet nights together. And there were saucers of thick cream, morsels of salmon saved from dinner and, his favourite of all, cashew nuts. Desmond knew that they were fattening, but he just couldn’t help himself.

Of course, these magical moments always came to an end when Nancy’s husband, Gary, came home from work. Desmond knew that if it were just he and Nancy in the house, he would want for nothing more. Nirvana would have been achieved.

The back door slammed shut. Footsteps intruded on Desmond’s reverie. He sighed. He knew he couldn’t expect to have lovely dreams all the time. He was a realist, but still ...
Nancy came into the family room and kicked off her shoes. Gary was behind her, carrying the baby whom he set down on the carpeted floor. Then he went back out to the hallway. The baby crawled to where Desmond sat, yanked on his tail and reached out her arms to him. She buried her face in Desmond’s fur.
Baah, he cried out. Get away from me, you dirty little cretin. The baby was an ankle biter and a smelly one at that and he would not let her anywhere near him.

Hoover came running from the basement, jumped on Nancy and licked her face. “Down Hoover!” Nancy yelled. Gary returned carrying what looked like a small animal carrier. There was something moving inside it.

Oh my God! It was a cat. A tiny, ugly, striped little thing. Desmond couldn’t believe it. He’d been the only cat in the house for the past twelve years. What did they need another cat for? There must be some mistake, some misunderstanding surely.

Gary took a grey tabby gently out of the cat carrier, settled it on his knee and slowly rubbed his finger along its tiny nose. The kitty looked frightened. It wanted to climb down from Gary’s leg, but Desmond saw that it was too high and it seemed too afraid to try. The kitten already had a little collar around its neck with an S.P.C.A. tag and its name on it. Fiona! Oh, no! It was a female. What was he going to do with a female cat in the house?

Gary set the kitten on the carpet. “Come on, Fiona, that’s it,” he said. “Here’s the baby.” As he said this, he lifted the baby up and set her back down onto the carpet beside Fiona. The kitten sniffed the baby all over, turned up her nose and moved away.

I don’t blame you, Desmond thought. The baby’s a real stinker, especially when… He was too well bred to say it. A disgusted meow was his only comment.

Hoover nosed around the baby and, like the kitten, quickly moved away. Instead, he hunkered down on the carpet and started licking the kitten, curling his massive front paws around Fiona in a protective arc.

This can’t be happening, Desmond thought. He hissed and gave the dog and kitten a stare that would have withered most humans.

Naturally, Hoover was oblivious and kept on licking the cat. A contented purr escaped from the kitten’s tiny mouth. She relaxed and settled into the big dog’s embrace.

That’s it, Desmond thought. It was over. My life’s over. I’ve nothing more to live for. After all I’ve had to put up with in this house, now this betrayal. He stepped to where Nancy stood observing the scene on the carpet. Desmond held his head high. His fur bloomed out and his claws were itching, ready for anything that came. He slid his large body around Nancy’s legs. He expected a pat on the head or some indication of her love from her. There was nothing! Nancy completely ignored him.

“Isn’t that the living end, Gary? Who would have thought that a big dog like Hoover would take to her? They make a nice pair. We won’t have to worry about anything happening to Fiona from you know who.”

Gary laughed and pointed at Desmond. “Look at him. Never thought he’d be jealous. He wasn’t when the baby was born. But, just look at him. He’s in a major snit. Fur all bushy, claws out, eyes focused and nothing good on his mind.”

Nancy giggled and looked down at Desmond. “What is it, Desmond? You never seen a kitty before? Come on now. You didn’t think you’d be the only cat in the house forever, did you? You’re getting old and we want to make sure that when it’s your turn to leave us, the baby will have another cat to play with.”

How could Nancy do this to him? They’d had a bond, a love for each other that transcended species, that he was sure would never end, death notwithstanding. He just wouldn’t stand for it. He knew his Nancy wasn’t to blame. She loved him. In fact, she adored him. It was Gary’s doing. Of that he was certain.

Desmond sprang onto Gary’s lap and dug his claws into his arm. The blood started immediately. Gary yelped and jumped out of his chair. “That’s it, Nancy. I’ve had it! That cat has got to go!”

Go? Well maybe till Gary calmed down, Desmond decided, and tore off towards the basement stairs.

“You’d better run!” Gary shouted. “And run fast, you fat brute. I’m serious, Nancy. I want him put down today.”

“Oh, no. Not yet, Gary. He’s not sick and he’ll behave. It was just such a surprise to him, that’s all.”

Gary muttered something, and Desmond muttered something back as he slunk down into the basement. He skulked there for the rest of the week and barely touched his food. He’d have to rethink this whole thing and decide the best way to get rid of not only Hoover, but also Fiona. No one was going to replace him. But, first, he was going to have a nice long sleep. Then he’d decide. It’s what his Mother would have done.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Awakening, Tabitha Kot

Sitting innocently in my car,
weaving my way through rush hour traffic,
distracted and crunching on a tart Macintosh.
She silently, invisibly, slinks through the
of my open window.
Gliding across the breadth of my shoulders,
licking Her way up the back of my neck,
She slides seductively across my jawline,
rises up to my ear and
whispers, hotly,
Your life
is your sacred space.
And She is gone.
I blink once,
My eyes open to a
She is in everything I see.
She is in everything I hear.
She is in all that I touch,
all that I taste,
all that I smell,
all that I know.
I see the jewel of Aphrodite sparkling
in everything I behold.
The world becomes precious to me
in a heartbeat
with Her
in it.
I am home.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Pillow Talk, Gloria Nye

I knew I was in trouble when the pillow started slipping. Mrs. Greenspan, the wardrobe assistant, had just finished pinning up my hair and I suggested she secure the strap tighter. She patted my opulent bosom with a reassuring, “You’re fine, my dear.” Then added, “If we pull the strap any tighter across your midriff, it will leave a dent. The director’s orders were to make you look like an opera singer.” She cocked her head. “And you do look large enough for one.”
I loved amateur theatre, and that fall when my grade nine teacher announced a drama class, I eagerly joined. For five months, we practiced diligently for the annual year-end school concert, culminating in a successful dress rehearsal.

Finally, it was on opening night. There I was in front of my family and friends, and I was playing opposite, Kevin, the best looking boy in school.  I thought Kevin would laugh when he saw my high-necked, salmon-coloured dress stuffed with pillows and dragging on the floor, but he looked equally strange. Wearing football pads under a white shirt and a black jacket two sizes too big for him, he resembled a crash-test dummy about to run into a brick wall. His head and shoulders moved stiffly as one, and his string necktie seemed to be strangling him. Would we pass as soprano and tenor?

The play was a take on a talent contest with a variety of acts: a spinning ballerina, a tap dancer, a frantic hip hopper, a comedian, a pop singer, a baton twirler and us - the hopeful opera duo. Sitting in a row of chairs, lined up in the middle of the stage, we all waited for our turn to audition.  After each performance, the audience clapped politely. Kevin and I were last in line.

Finally it was almost our turn. Kevin gallantly (and briefly) took my hand as I stood up.  I was feeling quite confident until I took my first step forward and that’s when I felt my front pillow drop an inch. I had four more steps to centre stage, enough I figured, to cause my stomach to fall completely to the boards.

Puccini’s noble music swelled. It was our cue. Kevin stepped up and flung his left arm out from his oversized shoulders and chest. Tentatively, I took another step, then wrapped both arms protectively across my front. Would it be enough to keep me together? I glanced over at the wing where the director was gesturing wildly for me to lift my arms. A trickle of sweat rolled down my forehead into one eye, no doubt leaving a white trail in my makeup. I blinked at the audience, took another step and began drawing in my breath for the aria. I gasped as the pillow, tied to my backside, started its slow descent.

Kevin twisted around to see why I was not keeping up with him and saw me whip my left arm behind my back to grab a fistful of flopping salmon. A strangled note escaped from my throat as I glanced desperately at the director who was now pumping his arms up and down gesturing to me to lift my arms. Alas, although I’d memorized the grand movements of divas, my arms were busy containing unruly body parts.

A titter came from the audience. The comedic parts of the play had already been presented; my part was serious. My voice cracked again as I attempted to lift my bosom back to its appropriate place and, with the other hand, tried to hold up my posterior. Kevin, singing loudly and raising his arms aloft, saw my plight. My face felt hotter and I knew it was turning red under the rivulets of sweat; he would never ask me out now.

A pin flew from my up-do and a thick strand of hair escaped. The tittering from across the footlights changed to laughter. It rose louder when Kevin reached out to grab my falling bosom but snatched his hand back abruptly before he got a handful of me under the collapsing dress. Meanwhile, I was contorting myself in vain trying to control the activity of my front and back pillows, which, being feathers rather than foam, had a mind of their own.

Another hairpin let loose and a large clump of hair tumbled down to rest on my sagging shoulder. The laughter swelled to loud guffaws and Kevin’s broad smile had turned his usually rounded notes into a wailing siren. The director was now holding his head in both hands; was he laughing or crying?

At that precise moment, I made my decision. Finding my voice, I joined Kevin in the last musical phrase as I twisted and turned in mock horror, while grasping and yanking at my falling anatomy. The higher the notes climbed, the lower the pillows sank and, as the final crescendo sounded, I raised my arms high. Then I reached down, swept both pillows majestically up into my arms, and, as the curtain fell, made a grand and awkward curtsey to a standing ovation.

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