"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I wrote the following journal entry exactly one year ago, only about a month after I’d moved in with Mark.  It’s crazy how long ago that feels.   

April 28, 2010

I went for a walk tonight.
I was supposed to be doing school work, but I’d been cooped up in my classroom all day long monitoring TAKS, and I’d had a chai latte and it was just a really nice evening and I decided I needed to get out.  Mark chose not to come with me this time, so I set out with just my book, a collection of stories by Naomi Shihab Nye, and nothing else, not even a cell phone.  It was about 8:15PM. 
Taking a walk at this time of night without my phone is not something I ever would have done in Rosedale, but here it feels ok, and it was kind of liberating to get out of touch for a while.  I set off down Snapdragon and turned right on Bluestar, looking at houses and reading the story called “Lending Library” in my book, another tale of a cosmic conversation in a taxi.  (Naomi’s book is making me wish I had more reasons to take public transportation.)
When I got to the corner of Bluestar and Sundrop Valley, I suddenly wished I had brought my phone.  There, on the edge of a bush by the sidewalk was a momma cat and four adorable little kittens, three tabby and one (the littlest one) solid black, probably about six or eight weeks old.  Well, Mark had said no to a walk, but had he ever said no to kittens?  These were so cute—in that stage of toddling around, curious and a little wobbly—and I knew he would want to see them.  So I ran back the few blocks (revealing how truly out of shape I am) and got Mark.  He came back with me and we spent about fifteen minutes watching and playing with the little cats.  They were gentle and not wild.  I held two of them and only got hissed at, half-heartedly, a couple of times.  We’re worried about their safety and about them breeding more strays and considered talking to the owners of the closest house about maybe helping to get them fixed or something, but there was nothing to be done tonight, so we left them alone.  Mark went on home and I continued on my walk.
By then it was much darker and I could only read by street lamp, and there are not that many street lamps in our neighborhood of shady roads and many stars, but I kept trying anyway.  I am a slow reader as it is, someone who likes to stop often and ponder what I have read.  This just gave me more opportunity, often in the middle of a sentence.  Street lamp… “I’m never lonely.  And I’ve only taken a friend along twice.  But I always take books and find more books.  Say, have you read…”  Pause for darkness.  Porch light… “another one of my truly favorite books, Cold Oceans by Jon Turk?”  Darkness again.  Reading the story so slowly like that—a sentence here, a paragraph there—made me enjoy it even more.  It was about a taxi driver who had waited at the airport for Naomi (we are, apparently, on a first name basis now) for three hours when her plane was delayed, but his grumpiness quickly turned to friendliness when they started discussing books and he realized that she was friends with his favorite author.  He told her that Peter Matthiessen’s book The Snow Leopard changed his life, and ever since then he has worked for a year (earning money and living simply) and then explored for a year, and he listed all of the countries he had been to already living life this way.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but I enjoyed the spaces between the story (ever-increasing as I walked on streets with fewer lights) just as much if not more.  This neighborhood is definitely different from Rosedale.  The houses are all somewhat similar in that “master planned community” sort of way (I always wonder if the builders of these developments ever get to say in the process, “It’s all part of the master plan…”) and when the lights are on inside and you can see in, the rooms are… different… in a way I can’t describe, but this place certainly has its own individual charm as well, and I was finding it tonight.  The many stars that are visible… Orion, the big dipper, and other, smaller ones, I never saw on Ramsey.  The flowers everywhere, making us true to our name of “Wildflower Park”, specifically that big patch of buttercups at the corner of Hibiscus Valley and Chaska that I actually passed twice tonight when I decided my walk hadn’t been long enough yet.  The peacocks that you can hear kay-hawing out somewhere on the east (?) side of the neighborhood.  The fact that I can walk without my phone if I want to and still feel safe.  (Although I think I’ll start carrying it anyway.  Shady characters or not, I could just as easily trip and fall here as in Rosedale, and besides it is helpful for kitten sightings.)
In the shadows of my walk, while I was pondering the latest words in my book and waiting for the next bit of illumination, I found myself looking at the houses I passed, and feeling those familiar stirrings of envy for the big houses with their second stories and balconies and extra rooms.  Without even meaning to, I started to fantasize about cat rooms and more living space and a separate office and guest room, decorating the imaginary square feet with furniture and, naturally, more books.  When I realized what I was doing, I had to laugh at myself.  Mark and I could move into the biggest house in this neighborhood and have a separate room for every cat if we wanted to, and in the evenings after work, I’d still grab my book and my tea and my laptop and squeeze into the chair by his computer so we could hang out together.  Maybe all that space is overrated after all…
Eventually, I got close enough to the end of my story that I could no longer read it in disjointed segments, and I stopped abruptly and read the last few lines in a circle of light somewhere on Hibiscus Valley.   When I finished, I realized I was standing right in the middle of someone’s driveway and felt a little silly, wondering if they were watching me from inside.  After that, it seemed like the right plan to head home.  I didn’t really want to; I felt like I could walk around all night, enjoying the cool breezes, reading under street lights, and contemplating the idea of taking every other year off to travel the world.  But I had no way of knowing what time it was or if maybe Mark was worrying about me, so I made my way back to Snapdragon Drive.
By the time I arrived home, it was 9:20PM, and I had come to three conclusions.  I’m very happy with my new neighborhood, and I don’t think I would do well with the work-a-year, play-a-year lifestyle, but I think I’ll put The Snow Leopard on my reading list nonetheless.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Creepy Things

Recently I took a break from the memoirs and young adult novels I’ve been reading and picked up some short stories of the “creepy” genre instead.  First I read Horror Stories: A Spine-Chilling Collection, chosen by Susan Price, which was great.  It contained favorites like “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe and “The Room in the Tower” by E. F. Benson (a story so creepy I kept checking behind me as I read it), as well as some eerie ones I hadn’t heard before like “Something” by Joan Aiken and “The Affair at 7 Rue de M—“ by John Steinbeck, which is about a sinister piece of bubble gum which takes on a mind of its own.

Next I read More Spooky Texas Tales by Tim Tingle and Doc Moore, which included modern versions of stories about such creatures as the chupacabra and “Skinwalker”.  It was only ok, but did have a few gems here and there.  One of my favorite lines came from “Screaming Banshee Cattle of the Night Swamp”.   In this story, a little boy is with his dad, driving across east Texas at night, and his father has just told him the tale of the screaming banshee cattle of the night swamp, those monstrous cows that look just like the rest of the herd until nightfall when they reveal their long sharp teeth and pounce upon human victims with piercing screams.  The boy, who only half believes the story, falls asleep, and when he awakes it is dark and his dad is pulling into a lonely-looking diner.  He tells his son to stay in the truck while he gets them some food for the road.  But not long after he is left alone, the night becomes frightening.  The wind picks up, the moon disappears behind the clouds, a storm rolls in, and the boy begins to hear a high-pitched screaming sound.  Terrified, he looks toward the restaurant for signs of his father and sees him, sitting at the counter, laughing and joking with the cook.  It says, “In the diner, life appeared normal.”

Such a simple statement, yet it holds so much meaning for me. 

One of my earliest memories is of a recurring nightmare I had, when I was around four years old.  In the dream, I am playing in an old red rocking chair in the back room of our house, climbing around on it and hanging upside down in it so that my feet point to the ceiling and my head dangles toward the floor.  Just a few yards away to my right, my mom and grandmother sit at the kitchen table, shelling peas into a metal pan and talking quietly.  To my left, I can see my pappy walking down the back porch, heading to the door to come inside.  The scene is normal, peaceful, right. 

Then, in an instant, everything changes.  No longer is it my pappy coming to the back door.  It is the thing, the monster, the creature, the phantom, and it is coming in to get me.  Suddenly, I can't move; I am trapped, upside down, in the rocker.  Suddenly, I can't speak; I try to call for help, but my voice is gone.  The nightmare advances in slow motion.  Me, trying desperately to move, to speak, to run… the thing getting closer and closer to the door, reaching for the doorknob, the doorknob turning… the panic growing inside me until I awake, drenched in fear.

The only thing about the dream that remains constant, is the scene in the kitchen.  Throughout my turmoil, my mom and grandmother continue shelling peas for dinner, utterly oblivious to my horror, and completely safe from it.  In other words, in the kitchen, life appeared normal.

Sometimes, when you feel creeped out, whether justifiably or not, you find comfort in being around others, in joining a group that knows nothing of your turmoil and carries on as usual.  There is the idea of “safety in numbers” and the feeling that nothing bad can happen to you if you’re surrounded by friends.  But other times… there is no amount of camaraderie that can protect you, no crowd that you can blend into to feel safe.  In times like these, the terror has targeted you specifically, and there is no way for others to rescue you because they can’t even perceive your danger.  And those are most horrifying experiences of all.

Sleep tight,