At first, there were the eight long years lived in the old house where my mother had died. And then the four years in the big house with the stream out front, and the tall trees. Then, the school in the city on the east coast. Then the drive cross-country with the cat named Molly.
Threatening to escape her cage, Molly writhed and spit. My sister and I took her to a vet hospital in Tucumcari, New Mexico to get her on tranquilizers. It was there that we heard the legend of Tocom and Kari, two young Native American lovers who died by knife after Tocom had fought bravely for Kari's love. When the Indian chief was shown the tragic scene of a dead Tocom and Kari, it is said he buried Kari's knife deep into his own heart, crying, "Tocom-Kari!"
The cat, asleep in the backseat, snored all the way to L.A. I stayed one month on a tasteful pull-out divan in the living room of my sister's lover's home until I found a basement apartment in a guest house in the Hollywood Hills. It was there that Molly blossomed into full-on huntress, where she brought her catch into bed (a futon I pulled out every night and retracted every morning). Once, there was a one-legged lizard found under the blanket, pleading with his bleeding eyes as he scratched me with his one remaining leg. My cat was vicious. There was little to be done aside from putting bells on her collar and hoping for the best. She wouldn't hear of staying inside.
Then, I moved to the former artists' colony in the hills, behind which was a statue of the Virgin Mary where my neighbors and I would climb to smoke at its foot, to look out upon the City of Angels with a certain sense of beingness and aliveness that we normally did not feel in our lives of clerking and second-assisting. The Santa Ana winds pushed and shoved dried carob tree husks around our feet, shifting and jabbing, scythes made alive by the winds, their power ghostly and haunted. I was reminded of home, of my years back in the Midwestern town where my friends and I snuck into the quarry and climbed the gravel dunes, where the insects crawled upon our laps once we settled in with a twelve pack and the storytelling got quiet. The air was thinner up there and the settling darkness made the world alive and our selves nothing more than the muscles that pumped inside our raw bodies.
The cat was afraid then, during the Santa Ana winds, and made wilder still. There was no means in the new studio apartment at the former artists' colony for her to let herself in or out, she was reliant on me to do the honors. I worked long hours as a production assistant on a television show where my main point of duty was to make sure I'd ordered the writers' lunch right. Often Molly did not come home. I walked at night calling her name, pathetically shaking a bag of her favorite treats thinking anything I had would or could entice her from the natural world. My sister warned me she'd get eaten by a coyote if I kept letting her out, but my sister didn't understand my cat, and that I doubted she would ever die. One neighbor who entertained himself a filmmaker, his entire apartment packed floor-to-ceiling with every horror film known to have been produced, who moaned of Quintan Tarantino's success in the same breath that he took credit for it (they had worked together at the same video store back in the day), hated Molly for the sounds the bell on her collar made. Sometimes, when I came home from work and she greeted me at my front door, I saw the bell on her collar had been removed. The horror filmmaker wanted to make my cat quiet. He wanted to make her deadlier still.
One morning I woke to a squawk, a shriek, and then weird quiet. And then, a Molly scratch at the door. I opened the door to find Molly's tail flicking and a half-dead bird placed at my doorstep. Molly pranced into the apartment with nothing more to say or do while I was stuck with the moral dilemma of having been given a half-dead creature. Its eyes were terrified. Precision: its eyes revealed terror. It was gray and its left wing was half tore off. It must have been in a great deal of pain. I knew the thing to do was to kill the bird to put it out of its misery, so I walked back inside to grab a pan. I would beat the thing with the pan, I would. I would kill the bird. Molly mewed from inside the apartment for food. She wanted from my bag of treats. The bird. The pan. The pan. The bird. Molly's cry from inside. Carob husks like scythes and Santa Ana winds. Tocom! Kari! The woman had died inside my home and for eight years we lived there still. She was never a story I told upon a rock pile in the old quarry, no matter how much beer I drank.
I couldn't kill the bird. I set down the pan. I walked back inside. I fed the cat. She couldn't help that she was a cat. I grabbed a towel. I walked back outside. I shut the apartment door. I scooped up the still-live bird with the towel and sat on a bench near my front door. Everything was alive. The wind was alive, it was, and the skittering leaves and the piles of dried pine needles and the bird in my palm. What precious weight. I sat with it on my lap and with my clubbish forefinger I pet its perfect head. In my left hand I could feel its heart careening through the towel. It was so scared at the very end. "Shh," I tried, until it died.