The large animal is close. The air is flat. No breeze, no ruffling of leaves. The dry harshness has wilted the green ferns by the edge of the trail and only the strongest of plants are not brittle with the heat. He growls loudly and you know you are on his one track mind. He hasn’t eaten for several days and it was time. His nature and his stomach tell him to eat and eat quickly. When our arrows hit the antelope he died for the good of the tribe, not for sport or fun. The spirit of the deer deserves respect as he did nothing wrong. He merely wanted to live. We did not want to kill his beauty but we had to end his life in order to allow ours to continue. Now the big lion in the bushes comes close. He would not take our food. We would defend ourselves, if necessary.
Chores are decided in a sexist way. Thousands of years of evolution have been completely overturned. Men hunted. Women raised the children and performed all of the varied tasks necessary to live. But, not now. Not now. Things have changed for the better.
Sometimes I get up before she does. Not often though because the moment I stir, the moment my eyes begin to focus, the moment my feet touch the floor her extraordinary super powers kick in and she is awake. I try not to make any noise. Don’t let the slipper drop. I use the small middle bathroom in the hall. Occasionally, I escape her scrutiny and have the morning to myself. Oh, I love her being with me. That’s not it. I want her to rest because she has medical problems and not much energy.
Slowly, I edge to the side of the bed. Darned old antique bed creaks and resists as I rise up. Ah, one foot on the wooden floor. I steal a sideways glance and detect no movement by my wife her head turned away in the blue silk pillow. And, I’m off. Coffee, an apple pastry, feed the cats, sit down, check out the current outrage on the tv, and finally, the ultimate, see who’s dead in the obits. As I age, the startling realization that I am older than many of the dead people I am reading about sinks in. My God, that person is so young. And, the names. Frank “Big Tubby” Evans, R. Bobby “”Slicker” Davis, “Streaker”Morris, and Susan “Big Momma” Randall. Where do they come up with these names, and moreover, why do the families put the nicknames in the paper? It is a source of quirky entertainment for me. I collect them.
We went to our high school reunion a few years ago and there was a large memorial board set up dedicated to our deceased classmates. Black bunting around the edges. It even had their pictures on it. Very professional. Except…. there is always an except, and when someone says except or but, a big problem looms. One guy was not happy. People were coming up to him and just staring. “Oh my God. You’re alive.” “Steve, we thought you were dead.” “Hey, man, you ain’t dead?” After a few of these greetings a person’s sense of mortality begins to sink in. Over a beer we were laughing about it. I wanted to go check the board, but was too chicken. What if the memorial was a harbinger of what was soon to come? What if I were listed there? Safer to drink the beer, laugh at that other guy, and not be inquisitive.
“There you are baby. Sit down and I’ll bring you some breakfast.” This is our normal ritual. We relax on the old soft grey couch and ask how each other slept through the night. Sometimes, she reports a “schoolmare”. After retiring as a teacher for twenty four years, she has occasionally experienced dreams about school. This morning she says she had one.
“Donald Pride was at it again last night.” She explains. This kid would repeat his name over and over in the third person. Not “I know the answer teacher”, but “Donald Pride knows the answer. Donald Pride wants to go to the bathroom. Donald Pride did his homework.” He was the nephew of country singer Charlie Pride and he apparently relished his one claim to fame. The relationship was a mark of honor. Is he was simply advertising his uncle?
Sometimes, my wife dreams about the third grader who pooped in his pants. All the kids are laughing and cutting up. “What’s that smell?” “Oooo, stinky.”
“James smells, Mrs. Teel.” Kids do not hesitate to point out the obvious.
Out into the hallway Myrna shuffles James. “Now, James, do you need to go to the bathroom?”
“Are you sure?”
“Uh huh.” He declares.
“James, there is something running down your torn blue jeans pants leg. Don’t you want to go to the bathroom?” She is pleading now.
“No, ma’am.” He is in denial. Perhaps, he thinks she will quit asking and leave him alone, or possibly he believes if his will power is strong his “accident” will somehow dissipate into the ether and he will be saved the embarrassment. Or, more likely, he believes if he continues to refute reality his lies will be believed and he can go about his business. This boy has a future in law or politics! Exasperated, Myrna marches, a better description would be waddles, him down the cracked green linoleum floors to the office to call his mama. Oh, the shame. Then Myrna wakes up. No Donald Pride and no James the Poot Boy, but the memories linger.
The lion creeps ever closer. I am unaware of the danger. He jumps and as he does the clean ripples of his muscles stand out. I am the target. I neither move nor escape and he lands after a leap of many feet. The big cat is one of our house cats and his trajectory lands him in my lap as my Worlds Greatest Grandfather coffee cup goes one way and my hands the other. I am the designated kitty litter cleaner. I am cat friendly. I am not cat proof. My pride as a warrior is injured beyond repair. I married a Cat Lady. She can name and describe every cat she ever owned. We have pictures of many of them from Prince to Malty to CC Woman, to Sid and so on and so on. The dead cat album I call it as I get a dirty look. In fairness, I knew about her obsession beforehand. During the first two decades of our marriage I was able to avoid cat leavings sanitation duty. When my wife’s bad back no longer allowed her to stoop down, the litter box became my exclusive domain.
“But, you clean it better than me.” “I’m busy and it really needs it.” And, my personal favorite, “Honey, they like it better when you clean it.” Actually, she might be right about that since both of the cats stand guard at the door making sure to their satisfaction I perform my duties. It makes me so mad when the moment I finish scooping out the litter with the little plastic shovel one of them jumps in the box and uses it again.
“Wes, I smell it.”
“I don’t smell anything.”
“You don’t smell that?” She doesn’t believe me. She’s right too. I’m lying. She knows I’m lying, but she cannot with absolute certainty prove my nose doesn’t pick up the pungent odor of what she refers to as cat doodle. I give it another name.
“Please go change it.” No amount of protest on my part will suffice. The lions I tangle with have collars and names; I am no longer the hunter, weapons at the ready. I am the designated kitty litter scraper and chief disposer. I confess I like the cats. They like me. There is no greater bonding experience than when a certain twenty pound cat named Winston lays across your good pants depositing grey and black hairs that won’t easily brush off and it is time to leave. The other cat, Layla, a black and white girl is, according to my wife, a lady and primarily cottons to Myrna.
My private man cave is the official cat litter sanctuary. As I work at my desk often the unmistakable molecules of cat doodle fills the air. I gag. I choke. I cover my nose. My manly instincts are thwarted. The forrest is calling me. I will guard the meat from the hungry lion. Or, maybe, I just want to relax and finish the paper, down another cup of coffee, see who’s dead. What the heck. But first, the kitty litter calls. It is an urgent shrill call that cannot be ignored.
As I give it more thought, I’m lucky. Blessed even. I have a wonderful life partner, a nice home, and I am retired. The best job I ever held. My health is reasonably good and I have all my teeth. I don’t need a combover and I no longer have to wear a tie. Our kids and granddaughter love us, and the cats love us too. It could be worse. I suppose it is time to stop and smell the kitty litter after all.