My Little Ragged Buckboard, or, Intimacy Issues: A Fantasy
I love being a grownup and having a space all to myself, but I’m not a good host, not even to my cat.
I want to be the bachelor who loves the merry chaos of company, who quietly refreshes drinks and empties ashtrays, who lingers on the arm of the sofa long enough to drop a bon mot before gliding back to the kitchen for more ice or Chex Mix. But entertaining, even one person, is never very much fun for me. It’s exhausting, and it’s embarrassing.
Patty the Cat knows this. Within a year, cats know everything about their owners. Claws protracted, they dig to the bottoms of our psyches and pull out every self, every resolution and revolution — hooked or free, dripping or hidden — we once were and now are. And then they stare.
Patty doesn’t let me trim her claws. I take her to the veterinarian, and a we had a terrible row the last time I tried to get her into her carrier. She hissed and scratched my hands and wrists. I had to pin her down and tossed her into the carrier with bloody hands.
I’ve since tried to apologize.
“You like it here, right? I keep good house. I feed you. I wake up when you want me to.”
“I’m sorry. I feel ashamed. I shouldn’t have locked you in the bedroom and chased you down. But we had an appointment, and I didn’t want to be late. That tattooed nurse at the animal hospital is so judgy.”
Her ears pivot back to the sound of a siren.
“Please don’t be so skittish around me anymore. You like lying on my belly while I read.”
She almost rolls her eyes at me but instead pads to the bedroom where she curls on a sunny spot of floor beside the bed. I follow her and lie down. She glances up, stares forward a moment, then leaps onto the bed and me and starts kneading my belly. Her claws. It’s been a month.
I pick up a book with one hand — I sleep in bed with multiple books — and stroke her with the fingertips of the other. I start to read:
“To the Müller farm,” I said, standing beside my small trunks and suitcase with the bitter wind cutting through my thin coat.
“Anybody meet you?” he asked, not pausing.
“They said so.”
“All right, he said, and got into his little ragged buckboard with a sway-backed horse and drove away.”
What’s a buckboard? My smartphone, with its two dictionary apps, isn’t within reach, and the arm holding the book is getting tired. I panic for a minute and stare into Patty the Cat’s eyes. Her claws dig hard into my belly fat. “Buck-board,” I intone. It must be a kind of a horse-drawn carriage. A horse bucks; the board protects the driver like a shield? Is it more of a wagon, then?
“It doesn’t matter what a buckboard is,” says Patty.
“Patty! You’re physically unable to speak. I fixed you.”
“Don’t move. You invited me on to your belly.”
“I’m still at the beginning; I don’t know when the story is set. The buckboard’s an important detail. I need the dictionary.” I miss my Merriam Webster dictionary, waiting for me on the shelf in the other room.
Patty’s pupils constrict. She looks like she’s about to roll her eyes again.
“You know, you’ve got some crust on you, Patty,” I say. “First you maul me when you know — ”
“Crust? Who says that? Why do you talk like some gum-chomping actress from the ‘40s? Crust, buckboards — no one gives a fuck. That’s why you’re alone.”
“Quiet, Patricia. Stop talking.” I put the book down. “I have you, Patty.”
“Well, I’m unhappy. And no one has a cat. That’s the point.”
“No, you’re right,” I reply. “I’m your caretaker. Your host. I’m sorry.”
She jumps off my belly and the bed and leaves the room. I sit up on my elbows and watch her exit. The tip of her tail folds. “Just relax, man,” she says through the side of her mouth as she turns the corner.
I look around my bedroom: the poster of the Croatian release of the 1962 movie Walk on the Wild Side (Vrela Ulica, “Hot Street”), with the silhouette of a cat on it. The chrome bookends on my dresser in the shape of the rook piece in chess; rook from the Persian word rokh. The Poetical Cat: An Anthology, among the books between the rooks. I leap up and grab it. Table of Contents. Stevie Smith, “The Singing Cat.” Randall Jarell, “The Happy Cat.” Cats love writers. Iranians love cats. Iranians are great hosts. I’m an Iranian, and I love writers, and I love cats. Mine doesn’t sing, and she isn’t happy, but I’ll learn from my Persians and my poets, and things will change!
I close the book. No one remembers Stevie Smith or Randall Jarell anymore.
“But I’m not lonely, Patty!” I yowl. My voice echoes back at me.