Why not tonight?

I tip the glass up and the sharp taste of the Bushmill’s in it fills my mouth. It slides down my throat as I swallow like a fiery being that fills my body with heat. The surface ripples, catching a stray bit of light from the bar’s overhead illumination. It looks like an eye winking rhythmically at me, mocking me, daring me.

“I could do it tonight.”

No one could have heard me whisper the words to myself, not with the music blasting over the sound system. But I hear them, and I wonder why I don’t do it.

I have a gun, a snub-nosed .38 that even an expert couldn’t hit a target with from more than ten feet away. I told the man at the gun store I was buying it because several of my neighbors had been robbed, but that was a lie.

I have learned how to tie innumerable knots. I tell people I learned to tie them because I’m interested in boats. I am interested in boats, but that had nothing to do with my desire to understand knots.

I look down at the amber liquid in my glass. I could just keep drinking, drink until I can’t stand straight, until my senses begin to reel. The drive home is long, the road busy, and there would be many opportunities.

On the drive here, I saw men standing in the mouths of allies, sometimes alone, sometimes with other people. The way they all look furtively about, their very wariness, is a sign that they are buying and selling drugs. I could stop and buy something from one of them before going home to do it in private.

“So why don’t I do it? Why don’t I kill myself?” I ask the reflection in the whiskey. Life has been one long string of disappointments. A job I hate, one failed romance after another, family dying one by one, leaving me alone.

Why am I still alive?

I take another sip, look into the glass, and find the answer. I don’t kill myself because I still have hope. Some part of me believes my soul mate is out there, waiting for me to find her. A portion of my heart still thinks I’ll find a job that makes me fulfilled.

I look at my reflection, and the tired old man who looks back at me smiles. I push the glass away, stand, and head for the door. I look up as I exit and see the sky, darker than any of my musing. I see the scattered stars, shining like tiny beacons. Even as dim as they are here in town, they’re ever-present. Like my hope, they too refuse to fade away. I know why I won’t take my life tonight, or any of the countless nights to come.

“You don’t kill yourself because you’re too stupid to just lay down and give up, that’s why.”

It’s not much of a reason, but it’s enough.

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Strange cat tales

Something strange happened today, but to understand why it’s strange, you need to know a bit of history.

I’ve had several what I call ‘hang-around-the-fort’ cats. The name draws from the old days of American Indian culture when there were those who tried to follow the traditional ways of life, and those who who took to the white man’s ways. The former often called the latter ‘hang-around-the-fort’ Indians because they regarded those who took the white man’s path as too lazy to fend for themselves. When applied to cats, it means a stray that’s willing to show up and eat food provided for it, while occasionally allowing itself to be petted. Generally, they maintain a facade of independence, a sort of aloof attachment to those who feed them.

A few have moved beyond that to become near pets, venturing into the house for short periods before making their own way towards the door and the environment they’re familiar with. One of these earned the name “No Paws”. She was one of a surviving pair of female kittens born to a terrible mother cat who tended to lie atop her kittens and kill them. The two were identical dark tabbies except for the fact that one of them had four white paws, and the other didn’t. So when a family member picked the name “Snow Paws” for that one, and the other became “No Paws”. Snow Paws disappeared shortly after maturing (some ‘hang-around’ cats are only temporary visitors), but “No Paws” became something of a fixture, becoming as close to a real pet as possible for a feral cat. She would come in the house, wander around, even lie down and watch TV with everyone else. But eventually, she’d head for the door where she’d sit impatiently waiting for someone to let her out. She hung around for a couple of years, then one day, she just wasn’t around anymore. Where she went to, I don’t know. I never saw her wandering the neighborhood, nor did she delve into my or the neighbor’s garbage. She just left.

Other cats followed her, including the current cat who bears the name “Silly” (the name has a long story attached to it, suffice it to say she earned the moniker). Like most of the earlier cats, “Silly” is a female (why I draw the interest of mostly female cats, I have no clue), and she’s been around for nearly three years now. Occasionally, other cats will show up to try to steal her food (she prefers to eat outside, I guess preferring ‘alfresco’ dining to being around us lowly humans), and a few will decide to stick around short-term in hopes of benefiting from the ‘free food’ us humans put out.

So it was no surprise when a dark tabby showed up a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t stick around long. “Silly” is fairly territorial, and I or someone else will usually hear the howling prequel to a full-on cat fight long before actual combat commences. I was the one who broke this fight up before it started, and outside of watching the cat until it had run away, I didn’t think anything of it.

Then I went out to prepare my own lunch today, and saw a dark cat on the back walk. It was facing away from the house, but in hopes of discouraging it from getting into a conflict with “Silly”, I opened the back door and called out to it. Usually, the response to this is the cat sprinting away as fast as it can go, but not this time. No, this cat raised its head, looked at me….then ran towards the back door. It came up, stopped at the bottom of the screen door, and stared up at me while letting out plaintive meows.

That’s when I noticed it’s markings. They were the same as “No Paws”, and the cat was rather large, just like her. And it sat there, staring up at me like it knew me and expected me to let it in.

“No Paws” was a full-grown adult cat when she disappeared nearly twenty years ago, so it’s impossible that this is her. So what’s going on? Is this someone’s pet turned out? Or is this some distant descendant of the cat that went MIA all those years ago?

Arise!

Clear skies bring sunshine.

Ground warms, air rises.

Wings I spread,

To catch the upwards currents.

Earth shrinks beneath me.

Humans, animals, plants.

All become insignificant,

As I ride the air higher.

Eyes sharp, I scan it all.

What will I find today?

Danger? Food? A mate?

For now, enjoy the moment.

A new venture: Gardening!

I used to keep a garden. It wasn’t a huge garden, and in all honesty, it probably wasn’t a very good garden, but it yielded a passable harvest of vegetables every year. Time passed, and the trees that surrounded my garden spot grew to the point where my crops were getting little of the sunshine they needed. So I abandoned my spot and tried ‘spot planting’: just digging up a sunny spot and planting something. A couple of tomato plants. The odd pepper. One year, a short row of pole beans off the sunny South end of my front porch. The results varied from ‘so-so’ to disappointing. Eventually, I gave up on gardening.

But a chance sighting of a five gallon bucket along the roadside (cracked, as I found when I recovered it) put me in mind to try container gardening this year. I decided to adopt a KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) approach to this year’s venture. Nothing spectacular, no line of containers occupying ever spare space. Just two ‘found’ containers: the bucket and a plastic milk crate I’d brought home last year after seeing it sitting unwanted outside the thrift store. I also decided to limit my outlay of funds to limit my liabilities. Truth be told, a toxic mixture of low expectations and sloth did not help my past ventures…which is also why I’m not expecting a lot from this year’s venture into gardening.

So, total outlay:

one pepper plant,

one tomato plant,

one bag of ‘potting soil’ (plus the bulk of a left-over bag from an earlier project)

All of this came from the local Walmart, and comes to (roughly) $20.00.

Additional material:

one small plastic garbage bag (to serve as a liner for the bucket, both to mitigate the crack and because I wasn’t happy with the possibility that its interior might not be clean).

one plastic shopping bag (blown in by a windstorm last year, rather threadbare but good enough to serve a liner for the milk crate)

two plastic pop bottle (reclaimed from the recycle bin)

The latter will (I hope) do duty as ‘drip irrigation’ for the plants. How? By slitting the caps (to allow a trickle of water to escape over time) and then slicing off the bases before pressing them into the dirt in the containers. When I initially tried it, with one pop bottle and an ‘energy drink’ bottle, the ‘drink’ bottle emptied rapidly (in under two hours, as opposed to overnight for the ‘pop’ bottle), so I opted to replace the ‘energy drink’ bottle with another ‘pop’ bottle in hopes that both will slowly release their water to the plants.

So I’m going to make the progress of my containers a sort of experiment, and the subject of future posts here. Hopefully it won’t be boring. At least Mother Nature has done her part to keep things interesting: after two days of warm sunny weather; today (April 27) dawned rainy, then segued into snow with the promise of below-freezing temperatures overnight. Plants are inside, in a (mostly) out-of the-way corner of the house. Tomorrow, thing are supposed to be warmer. Here’s hoping that prediction is correct.

Feeling under the weather? Join the club!

I hate colds.

If you get the flu, or pneumonia, or even Ebola, it hits you hard enough that you feel justified in not doing anything.

But a cold?

A cold makes you feel miserable….but it doesn’t really hit you hard enough to make you feel comfortable putting everything off. Complain to your boss that you’ve got a cold, and what do they do? Your nose is acting more like a leaky faucet than a part of your body? Blow it and move on! Sinuses so stuffed your head feels like it’s about to explode? Take something and get on with life! Your cold’s settled in your chest, and you feel like you’ve got Dumbo sitting atop you? Pffffffffttt! Deal with it!

If you’re a writer, you’re your own boss, so you don’t have someone physically telling you to get busy. No, you’ve just got that nagging voice in your head telling you pretty much the same thing a real boss would say to you, and in a way, that’s even harder to ignore than a boss. Right now, I’ve got the ‘big three’ of colds going on: runny nose, stuffed head, and a stuffed chest. A full night’s sleep is a fond memory, so I find myself struggling to keep my mind focused enough to get daily chores done. Worst of all are the pains and discomfort a cold brings with it. Right now, my neck that feels like my car was rear-ended by an Abrams, and every time I get into a coughing fit, my head feels like there’s this little man inside it swinging a mean 16 lb. Maul.

And for all of that, I still feel like I should be writing. So I’ll let the impulse out on this little piece. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel human enough to dig back into “The Haunted Blade”…or maybe not. Right now, I think I’d be happy just to get a good night’s sleep.

I hope none of you who are reading this are suffering something similar, and if you are, you have my sympathy.

Confessions

“I love you.”

I couldn’t believe I’d said it. How many years had I known Nancy? How many times had I wanted to tell her? All those years, from grade school through high school, I’d known she was the woman I wanted to be with. In high school, other guys had made fun of her, called her ‘washboard’ and ‘carpenter’s delight’.

I didn’t care. She was kind, never laughed at my awkwardness, but always smiled at my lame jokes. Then high school ended, and I never saw her again. I followed my love of the stars into astronomy. College passed in a pleasant haze, surrounded by others who shared my interest and feeling at home at last. A degree, then another, brought me to manage one of the observatories atop Mauna Kea. Discoveries, even a measure of fame followed, but never love.

I don’t know why I started following my high school class on social media. I saw people I’d envied go on to fame, then failure. Others popped up, only to disappear again. The passing years brought something else: death. First one, then more of the people I’d gone to school with passed. Some died in accidents, others from disease. None of those notices bothered me. Then I saw the single line announcement that went through my heart.

“Nancy Phelan ne Coulette, died Feb. 25.”

Getting to her funeral was impossible, the notice appearing a week after her death. But I knew I had to go. So I’d made the flight, rented a car, and drove here. A mound of raw earth stood behind a plain gray granite tombstone. That was all I had to speak to, the only thing that could hear my confession.

But I had said it at last.

On ‘senior moments’

In a few weeks, I will turn 63. I know I am not as physically fit as I was twenty years ago, but until recently, the number of ‘senior moments’ I encountered were few. Then, yesterday happened….

I had made an appointment to get the tires on my car replaced, and as there was no way for me to get a ride home, I decided to wait at the store while the work was done. At an estimated hour, this wasn’t going to be a fast operation, so I made sure to take my music player and a book with me. (Yes, that’s right, a real book, not an ‘ebook’ on a tablet or my smart phone.) Drove to the store, dropped the key off at the desk, pulled up something decent to listen to, and picked up where I’d left off in Patrick O’Brian’s excellent “H.M.S. Surprise”. As ways to pass the time, not bad at all.

The work ended up taking a little over the hour estimate, but on the up side, they charged me a few dollars less than the original estimate, so I had no real complaints. Paid up, and drove off to a nearby town to run an errand, and also to ‘wring’ the new tires out to see how they performed. No problems on the drive, errand accomplished, and back home in time for a (slightly) late lunch.

About now, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with ‘senior moments’. That started after lunch, when I decided to finish the chapter I’d been in the middle of….and couldn’t find my book. I knew I’d been reading it, I also knew I’d picked it up when I left the tire store because I had a distinct memory of it lying in the passenger’s seat as I drove to my errand. Then, there was this drop-off, and I couldn’t remember what I’d done to it when I got home. A quick walk out to the care revealed that I hadn’t left it there. Search through the house, all the usual places I lay a book I’m reading down….nothing.

Now frustration sets in, and knowing that is the worst state of mind to be in when attempting logical thought, I decided to get some other work done. Most of that work involved editing a short story about a young man experiencing the end of our civilization, and the strange world that replaces it (more when I finish it). A couple of hour later, the frustration has faded some, but I still have no clue what I might have done with the missing book. Supper preparations call, and I attend to them, plus the dirty dishes that result.

All of it gets done, and the book remains stubbornly missing, so I do what I should have at the beginning: I try to remember the sequence of events that occurred when I got home from my errand. That’s when it popped into my mind that I’d picked up a couple of bags of items, and rather than make a couple of trips and from the car, I’d dropped the items I’d had in the passenger’s seat into one of the bags….a bag I hadn’t emptied when I got home. After what these days is called a ‘face-palm moment’, I go to the bag in question and recover my missing book.

How I could have forgotten something so elementary is a question I will not ask, but for someone who prides himself on having an excellent memory, it was a sobering, humbling moment. I hope I do not experience another such incident soon, but something tells me that is a wish I will not have granted.