Vines poke their tendrils through the soffit vents and under the doorways in the Valley. Spiders and dust slip the gap in the screen. Shade trees drop leaves like drunkards, covering the patio the day after you clean it. Rats chew their way into the walls, bed down in the insulation and gnaw on the ceiling rafters. Ants march across countertops to find the drop of maple syrup you spilled at breakfast. While you watch Game of Thrones nature is forever reaching into your house, reasserting claims.
You hear cat stories from people, how they disappear for a week and then walk back in the door as though nothing happened. That’s never happened to us.
Our deal with Memphis was he was free to wander the neighborhood as long as he reported in by dark. He rusticated under bushes. He slithered over fences and onto neighbors patios. He lolled in the middle of the street, swishing his tail, waiting for cars to come around the corner. He galumphed up and down the block greeting tradesmen and head-butting teenage slackers. The normal rules of cat tragedy were forever in abeyance. A hundred and nine lives he enjoyed. On our return from the evening walk we would hear the tinkle of his collar as he fell into step behind us. Sometimes he took sport in making Mrs. U chase him down, gather him into her arms, and carry him back to the house over her shoulder while he kneaded his claws into her shoulder.
On the second morning after Memphis didn’t report, I woke to Trixie pacing the roof. She stood at parade rest over my bedroom window, alert, staring toward the end of the block, as though sniffing his return.
It was not to be. The urban forest had extracted its claim on our house.
We hold on to the leash for her own good. There are no internal limits on frolic, unless she learns them the hard way, which we don’t have the stomach for. Impulsive joy will lead her past a point where she can find her scent home. There will be freeways and fences between us. There will be Parvo-ridden pools of stagnant water. There will be anti-freeze lurking in overturned hubcaps. Scorpions. Razor wire. Dognappers. Drainpipes which lead to tight corners in which she can’t turn around.
In the dark recurring dream I have from time to time, I finally find her on the other side of Sepulveda. Catching sight of me, she bounds forward, ears back, happy and relieved, into a charnel house of indifferent cars….
The bonds of restraint we can place on people are not so simple. Short of incarceration, we rely on an admixture of love, shame and subsidy, in different portions, to guide people away from or toward their worst instincts.
After the RV, you’re down to the shopping cart.
After the shopping cart, you’re down to the rolling bucket on wheels.
When you can’t walk anymore, they call the paramedics to take you away.
Then one day your Mother can’t find you. You’re gone.
You know you have a problem with pet dander in your house when you invite a friend over for a craft beer tasting, and after an hour or so, he grabs a broom and starts swatting at the rafters. Memphis the cat sauntering up and down the countertops like he owns the place doesn’t help.
What can I say? In Van Nuys, we comfortable with ourselves.