Combat for Cats
“No I swear, hand to mouth, fist to foot, he killed every last one of those sons of bitches and now he’s on trial for murder and I believe it.”
This was the voice of Lionel Hopscotch, originally Lionel Hogan, but after his sister drowned in the Mississippi River he changed it to Hopscotch being as that was her favorite game to play. His voice was cool, his shirt unbuttoned, and bourbon on ice swirling in the glass at his hands. He has a moustache and thick sideburns, non distinct regular eyes-maybe they were on the beady side. Sometimes his hands hook, and the person he accused once, ages ago, killed two turtles, a liter of kittens, a chicken, and one stray dog. So Lionel always thought him to be evil anyway. The person sitting across from him, to the left of me, is Mary Maggie, Lionel’s wife. She is pretty and petite, the type to make you jealous of red lipstick, believing drastically that it had always been made for her lips.
To give you an idea of her; once while the three of us were camping, back on that same river-different state, she ran out of her tent in ripped overalls and a raft she got from heaven knows where; and floated about a mile or so down laughing and yelling Huck Finn quotes at us. Mary Maggie was born in New York and clung deeply to Truman Capote’s version of Marilyn Monroe. Also, today her nails are polished pink. Lionel and Mary Maggie Hopscotch have been married fifteen years putting them at the ages of 57 and 48. They have two daughters Patricia who everyone called Port and Langston. For lunch Lionel chose smoke salmon drowned in lemon and butter and garlic. Maggie had the crab and I nothing but a whiskey soda being as I was planning to see them again for dinner.
“They’re calling him the Grammar Thief or something,” Maggie says.
“No honey, the Book Thief after that book.”
Maggie smiled, “Oh shut up.”
They have one of those martial moments where they can only grin and stare at each other, even after fifteen years. Finally they look away so Lionel can address me.
“And anyway kid, aren’t you gonna fill your belly with something other than this whiskey crap? A little bon appétit?”
“Well hey now aren’t we getting fancy? Wife, the kid says, decidedly no.”
She waits until I have more than a sip washing around my mouth: “Fuck off”
Needless to say the whiskey soda goes flying and people turn to stare, but Mary Maggie keeps her head so close to her dish you would think she was expecting it for sea ticks. Lionel thought it was funny too. You can always tell when he’s really laughing because his hands go flying to his face to hide himself.
“I went wrong,” he says after a bit of recovery, “in marrying a comedian. Someone who can really piss the bed and screw the pooch at the same time”
“So a lady?” I ask.
Again Lionel covers his face but with one hand and just the mouth, “Yea a real humdinger.”
“Could you two please get a hold on yourself people are starting to stare. They’re going to think we came here just to get drunk.”
“Harper did. Look at her, one soda after another.”
“You’re really hung up on my drinking aren’t you?”
“No I’m hung up on the whiskey. Fifteen years and you’ve learned nothing about really good drinking-”
“-Nor shall I ever, isn’t that right?”
Lionel smiled but his hand started to shake so he grabbed hold of his glass and took a sip. “Wife,”
Maggie, chewing crab subdued, “Husband,”
“Build a time machine.”
“Oh sure, what’s the reason?”
“Fifteen years ago today, our honeymoon…”
“Yes, I think I recall something like that.”
“…we took pity on a wretched, miserable, and lonely child.”
“Go back in time and slap our faces, this is how she grew up.”
Maggie only beams at us.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
Now when I plopped into the bath I was really loose and both the height of water and deepness of the bubbles would lead me to believe I was Joan Crawford and expecting a delicious call from Buck Winston, inspite my already stealing Norma Shearer’s husband. Well there was nothing really going on and I lay hot, and without a glass of water, water to chin, reading Capote’s Music for Chameleons. Truman just got done smoking pot with his cleaning lady who’d much rather be called a Catholic Negro other than the 70’s coined Black. However, I’d rather be called Harper and left at that; it is after all my name.
Somewhere outside the bathroom window I could hear someone talking about me. They weren’t saying anything bad or good but I became defensive anyway and quietly told them to eat a fat one. I just don’t think my name should ever come up unless I’m in the presence, if not, than kindly forget all about me. I’m sure I’m returning the favor. From behind the door a voice not unlike that of a newborn sheep or baby chicks comes floating in to me.
“This is the voice of doom, your time is up.” It-or rather she said.
Technically speaking I’m drunk bathing in Ella’s tub because I’m in Ella’s apartment because Ella gave me a key.
“You know,” I start, trying to concentrate on the words, realizing I had stopped reading a half hour ago. “You make it impossible to try and kill yourself.”
“And get blood all over my nice tub? That’s selfish and dated.”
“Ella, out of respect for you I would never slice my wrist. Only people who’ve been in love could do that. I think it’s obnoxious and as someone destined for notoriety one way or another, I’d go out like the notorious.”
“And how is that?”
“With the bottle of vicodin you keep next to your hair brush.”
“You stay away from there I’ve got an audition tomorrow-hey! Now open up, we’re supposed to be celebrating that. I got rum and everything.”
It’s unnecessary but I stand up to unlock the door. Ella comes in and the first thing her neat little eyes do is exam my body from toes to the shortest curl top of my head. Her favorite actresses are Lucille Ball, Rosalind Russell, and Julia Roberts. When I told her she had a thing for red heads she pointed out Rosalind had never been red. So I asked her how come the only time I ever see her weeping is during a Susan Sarandon movie or Amy Adams and Emma Stone’s Oscar wins. Ever logical Ella reported it was because Amy deserved it, Emma should have won last year, and Step Mom is a “fucking beautiful movie so kindly stick a dildo up your ass.” In truth Ella is too smart to be an actress but can’t stand the human race either so she figured she’d make a bundle doing charming B movies. Then do one hell of a outstanding Oscar worthy movie, charm the pants off of every interviewer she comes across to become a legend, marry, have some kids, become a director. Guys loved Ella beause her logic was stright and to the point.
“Does your vagina itch a lot?”
“Well I noticed the pubic hair growing back and mines itches like venereal disease.”
I chuckle while easing back into the tub. Ella sits on the edge balancing paper cups between her thighs as she pours.
“It’s the length after the itch that I like best.”
“Same,” Ella passes me a cup. “So you’ve been drinking all afternoon?”
“Without eating a thing since yesterday.”
We toast and take some sips.
“I guess I’m feeling fat and lonely. I keep waiting to vomit but nothings coming but probably a blackout.”
“You’ve got the greatest body I’ve ever seen.”
“Damn right I do, but I can’t convince my eyes this week.” I take another sip. “Let’s shut up about me, what’s happening to you? Why are we drinking bathtub rum?”
“Alright we’ll quit, but don’t you think for a second I didn’t catch that lonely bit. We’ll revisit it at a more sobering time.”
“I got a fucking callback-and get this shit, not for the dumb bitch of a friend that I auditioned for. They want me for the lead the fucking lead!”
It had to be done: I clear my throat, “The fucking lead,” I hold my cup between my teeth so I can enter my index finger into the hole my right hand is making; “or the fucking lead?”
Ella snorts and slaps my hands back into the water, “I don’t have to fuck anyone dummy.”
“Not right now…but if you want a nice dressing room I’m sure there’s some sort of arrangement.”
Ella knocks back the rest of her rum, refills her cup, waits for me to finish mine, and refills my cup. One time I came over and the whole apartment was dark. I don’t know what made me come over, just a feeling I guess: I called for Ella but there was no response so I thought she was out on a date. Taking off my shoes and pants, it was a hot evening; I grabbed a drumstick from the freezer and went snooping around her things. Why I stayed in the dark to this day I’m not sure, perhaps it was because instinct had sent me there in the first place, who knows? But when heading towards the bedroom I saw a glow coming from underneath the door. It was eerier so I called for her again but again nothing. So I tried the knob and it was locked. The panic set in so I began to yell and bang on the door and rattle the knob to still no response.
My thoughts were abstract. I tried to reason that maybe she was having sex, though I knew Ella’s belief that you should only have sex in your own bed with someone worth marrying. She didn’t know anyone like that, and if she was having sex I would have caught her in the living room. So maybe she was having one person sex? Not likely either because she would have told me to do something weird like call out forgotten Spanish words till she was finished. Not knowing what else to do and feeling dramatic I took out my credit card and ruined it until I got the door open. Ella was sitting on the floor in front of the mirror, holding the flashlight from her phone up to her face crying. She looked no bigger than a pre-schooler when she looked at me.
She said: “Harper, I hate my father. But now that he’s dead I can’t stop crying. Why did he have to say sorry? Why couldn’t he die hating me too? Then maybe…maybe I could be glad he’s dead.”
That was three years ago.
“You know I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up the actress and me Momasita,” Ella says grinning.
By now she’s feeling good and I’ve gotten drunker. She starts to fix her hair in the mirror.
“You couldn’t pay me to be your life companion.”
“No really be a actress. We can rekindle the great feuds of the golden age like no one’s ever seen. Then when we become two broke broads we’ll write autobiographies laughing in everyone’s face.”
“You’ll laugh, I’m going to die humbly at 47.”
“Oh are you Uriah?” Ella says reparting her hair so that the part is more to the right. She rolls her eyes at me.
The tub was making it hard to tell if I was really drunk or just tired. The idea of using soap when knowing I had just showered six hours ago was too much for me to take. So I let the drain out and stand up again, too fast I might add, for the room started to spin and blacken and my head felt like it was unscrewing. It was hot. New Orleans hot; a place I plan to give two years of my life to either at 27 o 32…or 37 depending. While on the subject I would also like to live in Japan-all over Japan. Cold turkey too, the only phrases I want to have in my arsenal (a word I couldn’t think of yesterday) are: “More of that ramen please”, “Goodnight”, “Don’t cheat me”, and “Is this place still open?” It’ll be a helluva hard experience and I‘ll probably cry all the time in the beginning, but, damn would I love every minute of it. That’ll probably happen in my thirties too.
“I’m going to faint,” I say through little gasps, stepping out of the tub and leaning my head into the sink. My legs feel weak.
“Relax,” Ella says turning the cold faucet on over my head.
At first I feel even worse, but eventually the coolness starts to seep back into my scalp.
“You think,” I pause to slurp some water. It tastes stale compared to the pervious rum but my body screams that this is what I need. “Do you think if Bette and Joan would have been friends they would have found themselves in this situation?”
Again Ella snorts, her common laugh, almost like a sneer, though you know she’s tickled red. “The way those old biddies like to drink I wouldn’t be surprised if they have been and in this situation and just don’t remember.”
“Who are you?”
“Well Better wouldn’t be caught dead with her head in the sink”
“I need to lie down.”
“I’ll help you, but first look up.”
When I do she takes a selfie of the two of us with her giving the thumbs up. I’m really too drunk to protest and Ella only post flattering or funny pictures so I’m not really worried either. While wrapping a towel around me she becomes emerged in her post etiquette; but Ella isn’t a bad person so simultaneously she also leads me to her room and tucks me, a little damp, into her bed. She chooses to lie on top of the covers and gives me her phone.
“Think if a caption.”
It comes to me instantly and makes me laugh hard: Emoji of a bride #WifeyMaterial emoji of a bride; location: The Red Light District.
Now Ella is laughing. She takes her phone back, kisses my forehead, and gets out of bed. “Why no one is paying you to write their captions I’ll never know.”
“Because everyone thinks they’re funny but I actually am.
She leaves the room only to come back and set my phone on a pillow beside me, “I set like fourteen alarms for you so you’ll be up in time for your parents or relatives or whoever those hilarious hippies are to you, dinner party. I like that they are celebrating their honeymoon and not wedding anniversary. It’s sort of weird…anyway Bryan is texting me he’s here. We’re allegedly getting acupuncture but we’ll probably just end up at Patrick’s Roadhouse. Bye.”
And with that Ella is gone.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Something is calling out to me through the roar of a train or a whirlwind. I hear it, it’s sad. The farther I reach my hand out to grab it, to feel the thinness of it so close; a vale lifts up and it slips obediently into another dimension. I wake up: I’m filled with the knowledge of every basic human yearning of the world: It flees: I recall nothing.
I woke to the eighth alarm to a dilemma. Either slip back into sleep at fifteen minute increments through the last six alarms or; and more responsibly, get up. No matter what my decision will be I’ll be late to Lionel and Mary Maggie’s dinner party because one of my tragic social flaws is punctuality. No matter how early I leave the earth lines up the gravel to keep me late. The select times I have been on time are when I showed up hours beforehand. More importantly the room isn’t spinning and I don’t have to vomit. I stand up. I have to vomit. In the toilet it looks like the kale salad I had the day previous. There are even some swallowed whole carrots and orange slices. Altogether it sort of looks like a green happy face and makes me laugh. I feel tremendously better and maybe don’t think I’m fat anymore.
It’s not until engine is off, the lights are off, and I’m parked in the driveway of the dear Hopscotch’s that I realize I am one hundred percent still drunk. The knowledge of it is enough to send me into an agonizing panic attack. Did I even really remember driving or had my body just moved me into the motions? There was going to be no doubt about it, tonight Port, Langston, or all three of us were going to share a bed. For some reason the house, a tall two story, brown picket fence the children had plans to paint, was unreasonably quiet. Lionel, more than Maggie, if only slightly, loves parties-the house should be overran with sound. The time is 9:34pm, no dinner party in history has been an hour…or so I thought. I try to listen at the door but I hear nothing, maybe a few muffled voices. So at least someone is in there. Maybe the party got canceled and now they were being robbed.
Well whatever the case I had to face it head on. I turn the knob and enter. Instantly there’s a rush of bodies and noise and shouting. No, not shouting per se, but cheers good hearty cheers being accompanied with confetti. This goes without saying but I was over wrought with confusion. The lights come on and there is everyone’s smiling faces-smiling at me. I don’t know what to say or do, still Maggie is the first person I see looking elegant and east coast, so I try my hand at something.
It goes like this: I pull a small box out of my blazer pocket. It contains two watches with personal inscriptions, being as when I did a quick Google search months ago on things to get at the 15th mark it said crystals or watches. I had six months till this day but at no point did I feel like driving to Topanga, the land of the crystal believers. Besides my inscriptions are funnier than some “peace” crystals could ever be.
I say, “Happy fifteen friend,” and hand her the box to which everyone laughs.
The laughter makes me really look around. These aren’t just Mary Maggie and Lionel’s friends but mine too. From somewhere Ella comes and puts an arm around me.
“Nobody celebrates their honeymoon you dope, happy birthday.”
“But my birthday is not until tomorrow.”
“Hence the surprise.”
Then the lights dim and Lionel pushes through the crowd holding a cake with twenty-five shimmering candles. Mary Maggie is beaming like she was at lunch while everyone sings: For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow
Then immediately someone of the older crowd starts in on: Happy Happy Birthday Baby
By this time it’s too much for me to take and I start crying one of those really heavy drunk cries. The kind where the tears run fast and hot and the voice is really wailing though I’m doing everything in my power to hush it up-
“Fifteen years ago, four days into our glorious, and it seems unending honeymoon, Loni and I came across a-”
Maggie’s voice breaks and her eyes water though she is smiling. She’s never been able to give speeches so Port of ten and Langston of five hold her hand and replicate that same beaming look inherited from their mother at her and everyone.
“Fifteen years ago, four days into our honeymoon-” Loni starts but is interrupted by MaryMaggie.
“You forgot glorious.”
“Fifteen years ago,” Lionel looks at his wife grinning, “four days into our glorious honeymoon,” he looks at everyone, “we met a girl-at kid the same age as Port today…” I think unintentionally he gets choked up when he meets my eyes because he quickly looks away to very cautiously bring his wavering eyes back. “Aw hell, kid, you’re the tops and we’re…we’re glad you stuck around. Happy Birthday. Now blow out these damn candles, my hands shaking like a jigsaw.”