Eight Pieces: Hearth

kristal807

During the bright days, full of color and the sweet humid air, Kristal soaked up the free, easy feeling to take home with her. It wouldn’t be long now before she needed to return, and this was what she wanted to return with: a feeling of freedom.

Romance could wait, she decided. She felt no need to replace her ex.

In the late evening, after the clouds that brought the afternoon rain blew off, leaving the chill of a clear dark sky, she lit a fire in the large chiminea on the patio.

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A yearning grew within her when she gazed at the amber glow.

What was this warmth?

She heard the memory of laughter, deep within, a family gathering–the teasing of cousins, the kind, low voice of her grandfather, the scent of baking cinnamon buns. But when she looked at the canvas she’d painted, trying to capture this warmth of family, she felt coldness. In spite of the fire, in spite of the single lamp, it was a cold blue painting.

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She began a series of night paintings–maybe it was an attempt to excavate this pain.

She wanted to explore the loneliness. Sure, she could do without romance. But family?

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For decades, she and her husband–her ex–made their own family. Even when they’d stopped listening, even when they no longer touched, save for the brusque swipe of a kiss hello or goodbye, there were the daily routines that created family: the shopping lists, the bills to sort, the sound of another living person in the house, the warmth of another body in the bed, even if it was at a distance. Living together, even if it was dissonant, built a family. And now?

When she returned, she would live in the house alone.

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Could one create a family? She felt she was too old to adopt a child. Roommates? As much as she wanted the companionship of living with other warm, breathing beings, she cherished the idea of solitude, for at least the moments when she chose.

She worked the puzzle through her thoughts on her morning walk to the plaza.

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The plaza, as usual, had a few stray dogs, sleeping in the shade, sitting in wait by the picnic tables, scavenging behind the vendor stalls.

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“Lot of dogs here,” Kristal said to the vendor when she ordered her morning cup of yerba mate.

“You like?” he asked. “They’re available.”

“What do you mean?”

“For the tourists. For adoption. It’s a program.”

He handed her a brochure. International Canine/Feline Adoption Program, sponsored by Pets without Borders.

The idea was simple and straightforward: Pay the costs of spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and any other necessary medical procedures, and the dog or cat was yours, to take home without the usual period of quarantine.

“Could I really adopt one?” Kristal asked the vendor.

“Oh, si! Many people do. It’s win-win, yes? You get companion, we get rid of pest!”

A feral cat wondered in. It approached cautiously to sniff the back of her hand.

Imagine! Returning with a cat like this! It was like having a bobcat!

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Before she could pet it, it turned and trotted off.

For the next week, every walk along the village paths, every trip to the plaza, took on an edge of excitement. Maybe she would meet the dog or cat who would choose to come home with her. Maybe she would meet the one who would become a member of her new family.

The dogs were friendly, and three of them, an Afghan, a spaniel, and a chocolate curly-haired mixed breed, were there often enough that she developed an acquaintance with them, and even, perhaps, the start of a friendship.

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The bobcat never returned, but a lynx-like cat did, jumping on the table and staring at her.

“Would you like to come home with me?” she asked.

The cat twitched his tail.

“I suppose it’s presumptuous, isn’t it?” she said. “To expect you to give up this life, where you’re fat and free, to come keep me company.”

The cat closed his eyes and grinned.

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Puppy Love 4

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Mochi sat in the tall grasses at the edge of the field waiting. For what? For Nibbler and Babe to come romping up the hill? For Majora to flush out a mouse? Whomever she waited for never came.

She had the saddest eyes I’d ever seen.

We had to do something. So when Tanvi took Bosko for his evening walk, I rode along on the breeze.

You’ve always wanted a cat, I whispered to her. We have room now!

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When we spied a fine tuxedoed Tom following her, I whispered to Bosko, Kitty! Go make friends!

He stopped and turned towards the Tom.

“What’s this now, Boskie? You like that cat?”

Bosko woofed.

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I liked the cat, too. He had a long tale to tell of fishing boats and salmon heads, lobster traps and bait, wharf mice and cans of beer.

“Would you like to come home with us?” Tanvi asked, but he turned and trotted off, too fond of his scavenging days to trade them in for a full dinner bowl and a quilted bed.

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Head on down to the wharf, I whispered to Tanvi.

Near the fishmonger’s stall, she met a white Cornish Rex.

“You’re beautiful,” she said.

But the Rex hissed at her and arched his back at Bosko before dashing under the stacked crab pots.

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A beautiful Himalayan trotted by.

Quick! Introduce yourself! I whispered, but it was too late. She’d passed us by.

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Beside a pile of yesterday’s bait sat a white-faced Maine coon cat.

Oh, he’s lovely, I whispered to Tanvi.

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Bosko seemed to like him, but the cat gave Bosko the stink-eye.

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Look, trash! I whispered to Bosko, to distract him from the cat.

“Oh, aren’t you something!” Tanvi said. “Yes, you like me, too, don’t you!”

And the coon cat did seem to like Tanvi, unlike the Rex, who had come up behind Tanvi, growling quietly under his breath.

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But the coon cat, too, trotted off before Tanvi could suggest that he might follow them home for a proper meal and a fur-brushing.

I blew home before them to do some thinking. There’s nothing like slipping inside of an object, especially one that carries symbolic significance, like a supper bowl, to do some serious pondering.

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She would just have to try again. It was that simple.  I realized that this would take an actual conversation, not just my subtle whispers.

By the time I slid out of the bowl, Tanvi had already gone to sleep.

But Lucas was awake. He would deliver my message. I joined him for a midnight snack in the front garden.

“How is Tanvi?” I asked.

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“She’s all right?” he said. “Well, not really? The doctor says she’s got something with her heart?”

“Oh, but she seems so strong!”

“She is!” Lucas said. “I think she’s OK really? What do doctors know.”

“Did she tell you she always wanted another cat?” I said. “But we didn’t have room. We have room now.”

Lucas brightened at that.

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“I’d love another cat!” he said.

“You know,” I prompted, “she might not feel like she should get one, if she’s worried about her health. But, personally, I think a household cat would be the best medicine!”

“Of course it would!” Lucas said. “And Mochi’s lonely, too? And I miss Majora? If we got a new cat, we’d all be happy! Bosko and Bartie, too!”

“There are so many cats down at the wharf,” I said. “Maybe you should suggest to her that she take a walk down there tomorrow.”

“That’s a great idea!” Lucas said.

“And maybe,” I suggested, “this time Bosko should stay home.”

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When the sun came up, I hovered, formless and unseen, at the edge of the breakfast table.

“Mochi is lonely,” Lucas said. “She misses Majora.”

“I do, too,” said Tanvi.

“Maybe we could get another cat.”

“Really?” Tanvi perked up. “I’ve always wanted another cat.”

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So after breakfast, leaving Bosko, Bartholomew, and Mochi at home with Lucas, Tanvi walked back down to the wharf, and I followed on the breeze.

We found a beautiful spotted cat. I fell in love. But she trotted off before agreeing to come home with Tanvi.

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I suppose some cats like their freedom. They may like pets and kind words, but they also like the big sky, the sea breeze, the seagulls’ call. They like the tall scaffolding and the empty crates, the moonlight and the night prowls.

But some cats like a warm bed and a dry house.

A beautiful cat, with the face of an otter and the thick fur of a coatimundi, slowly approached Tanvi.

“Aren’t you sweet?” Tanvi said.

And the cat mewed back in echo.

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Oh, Tanvi, she loves you! I whispered.

And it did indeed seem that she did.

“Would you like to belong with us?” Tanvi asked. “That is, we would belong to you!”

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The otter-cat mewed back and pawed at Tanvi’s knee.

“You want to be picked up, do you?” Tanvi asked.

Otter snuggled into the crook of her arm and batted at her hair.

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“Then it’s a deal!” Tanvi said.

Before turning back home, I saw sorrow’s shadow behind Tanvi’s eyes. It’s a look I know well. She’d be joining me soon, and right then, she was taking it all in, believing it possible that this might be the last time she would see the wharf with her own two eyes.

We have different eyes, in the After, eyes not of the body but of the soul. And they see even more true. They see through it all to beauty. Tanvi didn’t know that yet, but she would soon.

And Otter? Otter had eyes of love, the happy eyes of a cat who has finally found a home.

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