Strange happened. No, something strange. Something happened and that is strange. Yes. Nothing happen here ever. Write because happened twice, once today earlier and then once before today. Day before today. Two days it happened, had visitor. Furry and small. Cat, I think. Hard to find right name. Not thought of names in long time. Cot for sleeping, have cot for sleeping, have sink for washing, chair for sitting. Names are stupid. This is hard, so enough. Maybe come back later.
It is tomorrow. Or next day. Doesn’t matter. Cat came back three times now, and still here. It is still here. Very pretty, this one cat. Fat and has short fur, white and brown. Not stripes like zebra but splotchy. (Took a long time to remember word zebra.) Very pretty pattern on cat, but distracting. Long time since had color to look at. Everything here is gray. Can almost see him moving when I close eyes, know he is there like the sun used to be. Don’t know if he is a he. If he is a he, he likes to wrap his side around the bars back and forth. They do that sometimes to put their smell on. His back is going up. Arching up. And tail is straight up. Now he is rubbing his head on the bar. Now he is staring at me. Now he looks away.
Well, he left, and it’s a good thing. I am tired from thinking of words. It’s getting easier, but enough for now.
No cat today. Maybe he will come later. For now I thought I might practice with words.
Practice with words.
The cat is
No words are coming.
Cat came to visit today. I was sitting in the corner, far away from the bars as I could be. I just like the corner, for sitting. I can see the whole room and the wall beyond the bars. Anyway, cat came through into my room this time (first time), but not far. Sort of sat down and stared at things. Probably got bored because there isn’t much in the way of looking at. Spent much time licking himself. I smoked a cigarette and watched him. He licked. Chewed. Gnawed.
Nothing happened for quite a long time except we stared at each other.
At the end of the long time, I did something I haven’t done since I can remember. Tried to make a word out loud. Opened my lips and moved the back of my tongue to the roof of my mouth. Made some kind of clicking sound, but all that came out after was air. It was a lot of work to make the air push out from my chest into a sound. K . . . k – hhhat. Very odd to hear, and a little frightening. Like the first word ever spoken by a deaf man.
Cat blinked, then said, Man. Then he left.
I wanted to say don’t go, but it was too hard.
Tonight, I practiced naming things out loud. A stupid thing to do, but I did it anyway. Out loud, I said floor, ceiling, faucet, lock, concrete. The more I did it, the more names came back to me. Names for things that are parts of things, like mortar, which is part of the wall. But what are names good for? When I sit on the cot, is it still a cot, or is it a chair? What if the chair was not there, and I had only a concrete slab sticking out from the wall for sitting on? Would the slab then be a chair? Chair, this chair, my chair, in this place, always stays against the wall and doesn’t move. I never move it, so it might as well be a slab. But I am getting better with the words, is the point. I read what I’ve written so far and I can see it getting better, too. I even read some parts out loud, but I got tired from pushing the air out.
When I woke up today, cat was sitting on the floor, staring at me. I said hello, cat, and so did he (only he said man, not cat). Then he said, I didn’t know you could talk.
Neither did I, I said. I mean, I didn’t know you could talk, either. He looked over to the sink, as if it was more interesting than me, and said Most people talk too much.
My cheeks rolled up when he said that. An odd feeling, to smile. I said I didn’t remember the last time I talked to people, but that I seemed to remember having that same thought (about them). I sat up on the cot because it made talking easier. What kind of cat are you?
( name )
( name ), I said. I wanted to tell him how beautiful he was, but it seemed too soon. I have to really know someone, even if it’s a cat, before I can say something like that. For the moment, I just went on watching him as he checked out the place.
My mother once had a cat that looked like you. And another one that was brown with a black tail and black feet.
Paws, said the cat.
I apologized, but Cat just walked around the room to smell things and rub his smell on them.
Are you a male? I said.
Uh-huh. He was scratching the back of his neck on the bottom of the u-shaped pipe under the sink. Satisfied, maybe, he started back across the room. He glanced at me and blinked and said, Thank you for asking.
I said there was no need, that I was just wondering.
Well, most people would pick me up and look. Turn me upside down and check, he said.
In the middle of the room, cat stopped, looking off to one side at nothing in particular and wondering, I guess, what exactly to do next. He decided to leave. He slipped out between the bars and said See you later.
I was sitting on the cot with my back against the wall, when he came back.
Hello, Cat, I said.
No answer. He had something in his mouth. He padded up to me and dropped it on the floor. I had to lean over my creaky cot to see what it was. It was small and ugly and dead.
Mouse, he said.
Our eyes met (mine and the cat’s). I said, For me?
He blinked. Yeah.
Thanks. Thank you very much.
No big deal, he said. There’s a lot of them, if you know where to look. He paused, and padded my gift with his paw. It flipped over, and cat got a little excited at that. He swiped it, and it skidded away, and then he crouched, as if ready to pounce. Then he relaxed, as if remembering mouse was dead, and looked at me out of the corner of his eye — sheepishly, I want to say. Acting as if I hadn’t noticed, I reached for a cigarette. Over time, mainly since there is nothing here but time, I’ve developed a habit, a ritual of sorts, whereby the act of reaching for a cigarette has become a drawn out process involving much packing of the cigarette, passing of the cigarette under my nose, and rolling of the cigarette between my fingers before I ever get around to lighting it, so he (cat) had plenty of time to ponder my action before saying what he said next.
They say you shouldn’t do that, he said.
I had only just gotten the thing between my lips and hadn’t gotten around to lighting it yet. Who does? I said.
I don’t know, he said. People.
The unlit cigarette hanging from my mouth, it was my turn to ponder. I thought we agreed that people talk too much, I said.
Oh yeah, he said.
I smiled again, pulled the cigarette from my lips and slipped it back into the pack. I said maybe those people were right.
He was close to me now, closest he’d been so far, sitting with his head craned up, eyes scanning the edge of my cot. Most of his weight was on his back legs. His hind legs. But then he changed his mind, must have caught me smiling, because he became less taut, and suddenly seemed heavier than he had a moment ago. A little self-conscious, maybe.
I layed my hand on the edge of the cot and wiggled my fingers.
He seemed to think about it for a moment. Then he jumped. And suddenly his feet, or rather his paws, were making little indentations in the soft mattress as he padded around.
Haven’t seen Cat in many days, but I thought I might write a little anyway. I have this notebook, so I must need it. Need is a funny word, when you say it out loud. Need. Neeeeed. I need bread. I knead bread. No, I knead dough, I eat bread. I eet bread. I eeet bred. Eet bred. It’s ridiculous, the sounds we make, that we don’t even listen to, and yet somehow understand. Yesterday, as I was putting words together and listening to them, slowing them down, speeding them up, isolating fragments and repeating them till they lost all meaning and became only sounds, I heard what English sounds like to someone who doesn’t speak it, and it frightened me. I am not going to speak out loud again until Cat comes back. But what I began to say is that I must need this notebook, because here, in this room, it is all I have left. I seem to remember having it from the beginning, although I cannot prove that, because there is nothing written before the beginning of this. In the beginning, the beginning of my time here, I had many things. All of them have disappeared. All but this notebook. It had a color once, though I don’t remember what. Now it is gray like the walls, the sink, the blanket. Other things — the food, the cigarettes and matches — I don’t know where these come from. But they are there when I reach for them.
Has it occurred to you that you might be a little bit crazy?
It was Cat talking. I rolled over to find him hunched over my notebook, which I had left lying open on the floor. I’ve taken to writing while lying on the floor, on my stomach, elbows propped under me. It’s hard on the elbows, even with a blanket for a cushion.
Cat! I said. Where have you been?
He was leafing backwards through the pages. They caught me, he said, and locked me up for awhile. But I got out.
Who caught you?
One of those whaddayacallems. Dogcatchers.
You’re no dog, I said.
That’s what I said. But they put me in a little cage anyway. Kind of like this one, he said, only with bars on all sides, not just one. Then some lady came and took me home with her. I ran away first chance I got. He paused a moment, then continued reading. Then he said, You don’t mind me reading, do you?
I didn’t mind, really, but it was slightly embarrassing. Parts of it did, I’m sure, sound a little crazy. But it amused me that he’d read all the way back to the first page before asking.
You didn’t like this lady?
Nuh uh. Cat flipped my notebook shut and rubbed his face with a paw. She kept picking me up and putting me on her lap when I didn’t want to be on her lap. And she had dirty breath. She didn’t brush her teeth enough or something. Her breath was really something. I never brush my teeth, and my breath doesn’t stink like that.
How do you know? I said.
I’ll tell you what stinks, he said. Dog breath. Dog breath stinks bad.
I said I didn’t remember dog breath stinking that bad, but it had been a long time.
Cat opened my notebook again and flipped through it forward this time.
How long have you been here?
I crunched my blanket up under my cheek like for a pillow. Lying on my side on the cot, I stared through the gray metal bars to the gray concrete wall beyond.
I don’t know, I said. A long time. But I remember parts of a time when I wasn’t here. Small parts, and they are hard to remember.
What about before, said Cat, his tail flipping side to side. Where were you before?
I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand, trying to think. They felt puffy, my eyes. Probably had big bags under them. My eyelids seemed to bounce back up when I blinked.
Before, I was … I can’t say what. I do remember being happy, and having friends.
It wasn’t something I enjoyed remembering, or rather realizing. I didn’t really want to discuss it, and Cat had this look on his face like he didn’t care if I did or not
I remember laughing. I remember being able to talk to anyone and have a good time. I remember it being very easy to laugh.
Cat started licking himself, and I could tell he was more into that than talking. I watched him lick himself so long I fell asleep. When I woke up later, he was gone.
Woke up today and found Cat curled up against my chest. That was nice. He was warm and breathing. I smiled.
He opened his eyes and said hello, man.
I asked him if he would mind terribly if I were to touch him. He only blinked, and I took that as a yes. I stroked his side. Soft, and pleasant. The first time I touched him. I stroked his fur, and with each stroke, he blinked. Then he began to rumble inside. To purr.
I like you, Cat.
Cat closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
It’s been so long since I’ve written, because I haven’t seen Cat, though I have no idea how long. I say days, though there are really no days here, only a perpetual twilight gray, like a mist that thickens and fades almost imperceptibly. It has no connection with my sleep cycle, if even I have one. I never go to sleep. I only wake up, and realize I have slept. Not unlike the way I sometimes close my hand around a pack of cigarettes that I didn’t know was there, or find myself with a mouthful of bread, not knowing where it came from.
I remember going to school, I told Cat one time. I mean, I know that a long time ago, I did go to school like everyone else, and that like everyone else, I didn’t like it. I know I graduated college, and worked afterwards. But all I remember about that was having to wear something tight and too warm. That, and standing by some machine that clicked and hummed.
Cat didn’t respond to this, just flapped his tail and waited for more.
I grabbed his tail and said, I remember liking it at first, and then hating it. I remember hating a lot of things, but I remember the hate more than the things.
Cat said that was depressing, and I said he was right. For some reason, it occurred to me that if I reached for a cigarette it would be there, but that I didn’t want one, and so it wasn’t really there.
I remember when I was boy, I was playing a board game with a friend. I was winning, and I loved how he grew more and more frustrated until he threw the dice against the wall and quit. I loved how he stared at the board with disgust. And then it occurred to me we weren’t sharing anything anymore. We weren’t even in the same room anymore. So I decided to lose. I made stupid moves. And soon all of his pieces were back on the board and mine off it. I acted frustrated and disgusted so he wouldn’t know I meant to lose. It was nice to see him happy. That was a long time ago.
I find Cat staring at me blankly.
Am I talking too much?
Cat shakes his head and smiles. I mean, he doesn’t really shake his head or smile, but he looks like he would be smiling, if he could.
It’s good to talk, says the Cat.
You don’t talk much, I say.
It’s also good to listen, he says.
I want to listen to you talk for awhile, I say.
What do you want me to talk about?
Anything. Just talk.
I don’t have much to say.
I don’t care what you say, just say something. Say the alphabet, if you want.
Why would I want to do that?
To give me something to listen to.
What good would that do?
What do you mean what good would that do?
How about you listen to me flap my tail on the mattress?
That’s not talking.
Neither is saying the alphabet. So what do you want from me?
I just want you to talk.
Why don’t you ask me a question?
What should I ask you?
Ask why I’m here.
Fine. That’s a good question. Why are you here?
Why am I here?
Yes, why are you here?
Why is Cat here?
Yes, why is Cat here?
Why is Cat here?
You’ve got to answer, not repeat.
How am I supposed to answer a question I don’t have the answer to?
One of us has got to have the answer.
Yes, one of us has got to have the answer.
One of us has got to have the answer. One of us has got to have an answer. One of us must have an answer.
Are we fighting?
Am I fighting?
Are we fighting?
Am I fighting?
Am I fighting?
Am I crazy?
Am I crazy?
Cats cannot talk. Cats cannot talk. Cats cannot talk. Cats cannot talk. Cats cannot talk. Cats cannot talk.
I have no answer.
There is no answer.
I am furious at the bars today. Enraged at them for being there, for locking me in. Why are they there when they didn’t use to be? I remember a time before bars, before concrete, before a gray everything. I want to smash everything in sight with a sledgehammer, rip down the bars and twist them into pretzels and run headfirst and screaming into whatever is out there to run headfirst and screaming into. I want to snap myself off the cot and rip the room apart and scream up to the bars and bend them wide and run out of here screaming.
I jumped up to bend the bars and found my arms locked around my chest. I couldn’t unlock them.
I had an incredible urge to cry.
I sat back down on the cot.
You realize it’s not locked, said Cat, only Cat wasn’t there to say it. I mean the lock on the door made of bars within bars. I mean the lock isn’t locked.
Yes, it’s locked.
It’s not locked.
It is locked. It’s locked.
You’re head is locked. You’re arms are locked. The door is not locked.
I cannot move.
You can go now, I say. You don’t need to stay here. Go, if you want to go.
Alright. My tone of voice seemed to say suit yourself. I jumped off the cot and padded out to the bars. I stood with my arms locked around my chest. I stood there, and I stood without moving. I could not move. I could not sit, I could not do a thing but stand there. I felt like if I moved, a spell would be broken. And I was afraid of breaking it.