The Word: PLASTER
Edie tried so hard to walk in the light. To look for things to love. The wind tossing in the trees, the shimmering of palm fronds, flowering cherries and plums. Someone being kind to someone in the street, a young person walking with an old person, matching their slow careful steps. A good dog, sitting at a corner, waiting for his owner to give the OK. Orange cars, and green ones, especially screaming orange and green, like cars from the ‘Seventies.
But her mother was in the hospital now, something terrible going on, some cosmic struggle, she was spitting and biting and calling out, talking about “Mr. Man,” who started as her old boss, Mr. Manfred, but had been transmuted through the relentless procession of dementia into a looming, punishing, Godot-like figure. Mr. Man the Boogie Man.
Edie paused at the table before the pile of receipts, her taxes spread out, wondering if she could stand going back to the hospital today and have her tiny, bruised mother bare her teeth at her and tell her, as Mr. Man, to ‘stick it up her ass.’
She needed to finish her expenses before she did anything else. It was actually a relief just do something so mechanical and impersonal. Unreimbursed medical, office supply, parking. It took a full day to recover from these visits with her mother. She’d rather do her taxes every day for a month.
The cat wandered in. Charley. What did he want, food? Edie checked. Food in his bowl. The cat didn’t want his food, he wanted to show her–oh no.There on the floor, a just hatched baby bird. Fuzzy, with a yellow breast, a pointed little beak. Hummingbird? Thrush? Barely moving. Goddamn it, and she was usually so careful not to leave the door open, so the cat had to ask to come in and anything in his mouth would have a chance to get away. But today, this lovely spring day, she’d left the door open.
That damned cat. Her husband Vic was the cat lover. And her kids. She didn’t have anything against the cat per se, Charley was nice enough. But. She’d never wanted a cat. If he was inside he ignored the scratching posts and trained his sights on the furniture. If he was out, he killed things.
Now it was spring, and the birds were nesting, such easy targets for this furry killing machine. Charley didn’t even eat what he caught, just played with his victim—lizard, bird–until exhausted, it died.
Edie disagreed with cat ownership. People owning millions of small tigers, thinking it was nothing. These relentless predators. She hadn’t seen a robin in years, they’d been so plentiful when she was a child. She purposely didn’t spray the yard, even in the flea infestation, not to harm the birds.
She took the bird outside and put it in the bushes, but she knew a baby had little chance without the nest—and now the cat was yowling to go out, walking across her paperwork, clawing at the table legs and then at her leg. She didn’t want to let him out, now he knew where the nest was. She thought of the grief of the mother bird. But the cat dug its claws into her kneecap, into the carved center post of her grandmother’s dining room table. She let him go, gone in the whoosh of an orange tail. She, Edie Holland, was Kali, bringer of death.
“It’s a cat,” Vic said. “It’s what they do.”
Leave it inside! She could already hear her podiatrist friend Marjorie saying, with her four rescued cats and her house full of clawed furniture and cathair. But Edie worked at home, she couldn’t deal with all that sharp-clawed yearning. She was a dog person. A lover of birds.
Even as she wept, she knew that it had something to do with her mother, screaming and spitting and ancient and lost, with only Edie to care for her. The death of the vulnerable. The birds just trying to raise their blameless children, and cats which didn’t need to kill, killing. The harshness of life. The waste.
So how did one walk in the light? How did one find a way to be happy in this kind of world. She didn’t want to go out and get plastered. She hadn’t had a drink in 18 years. She just wanted to know how to live.
The blameless thing to do was keep the cat in. The only one who would suffer would be herself. You could get a second cat to keep the first one company. And then you’d have two cats you didn’t want instead of one.
Or just accept that the world was going to hell, and she was part of it. She was on the roller coaster car about to plunge over the broken rail. She would not be blameless. Her mother was suffering and she wasn’t able to do anything about it but fight with the smarmy doctor, with his patronizing smile and his pink shirts, knowing all the while her hatred of him was just a distraction from the real suffering.
She always felt responsible. Even as a little kid, Edie could never just laugh and have a good time. The cat was just a metaphor. The problem was how to be happy in a terrible world where old ladies suffered horribly and innocent birds were killed in the nest for the amusement of well-fed housecats.
She wanted to be happy, a happy person, not someone always fretting and feeling guilty and surrounded with the horror of everyday life. She would be old soon herself, tiny as a bird and stuck in a bed shrieking at the invisible “Mr. Man” and never would she have even enjoyed her life. Even the birds would forget about their babies in a day or two, while she still remembered that French cabdriver she’d undertipped ten years ago, when she was so ill and only had a huge bill she didn’t want to give him. How could you be happy when you were a person like that? She still remembered a friend making fun of her during a sing-along party when got the lyrics wrong. She thought they were good friends, but it was the end of the friendship. She never got over it.
She couldn’t get over things the way other people did. The way the birds did, or the killer cat. As her mother would if they ever got her meds right. Only Edie wanted to cry, only she remembered things. Was she destined to be a professional mourner, Elektra of Encino? Why are you people happy? Why are you people not rolling in the mud and screaming to the gods? The tragedy of the house of Atreus was that no one forgot a thing.
She left the taxes on the table. They could wait another day. She took a book and an apple and headed to the hospital, after which she would treat herself to a cappuccino and a croissant at an overpriced hipster coffee house, and sit in the filtered sun under bright-leaved trees listening to birds her cat had not yet killed, and see if she could clear out a tiny space for happiness.
Part of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: BILL