The Cats Are Floating in the Valley
The Lebanese Prince cradles a demi-tasse of meaty coffee. His crown is a homespun hat, his sweater a scratchy thing, caught on callouses and unraveling.
He holds court over the iron stove, drawing in a breath as the stone kitchen puffs out its mortar against a deranged, yelping gust outside. Blustery cataracts crash down on prone, rocky villages and eddy around the distant coast and wash out to sea.
Torn cedars tumble under bright, sunny skies. Clumsy blasts shout CLANG! through the trestles and DONG! through the bells. Tarpaulins draped over cars snap in a tommy-gun ripple BANG! BANG! and the glass shudders, vibrating to each sill until the wave is exhausted.
The Prince talks of the wind as if she were a noisy, embarrassing neighbor. He talks of the price of flour and metal, and everyone jumps when a tempest slaps the window, and they all turn to see a face planted on the pane, sliding down the glass, dying to get inside, out of the wind.
Oh, please let me in.
The wind bursts as if from a broken dam, snapping branches and jumping on the flat-roofed hovels, which own a meager view of the valley, buried in misshapen progress all around, a scattering of precious eggs laid carelessly on the edge of a nest, hanging on for dear life, twisting as if on a mail hook.
And yet, the kitchen is hushed in cloaks and murmurs. Not a hair moves. Not a cup rattles. The Earth is spinning faster here, accelerating, the powerlines whip around, caught in that awful vortex which never ceases in its derision of our smallness.
It relishes every chance to startle the grandmothers who smother the kids in deep, woolen folds as the lights go out, and come on again, and go out, and stay out.
All of these kitchens, with a lone candle glimmering on a small table, are the only pulse in a labyrinth of otherwise dark, comatose rooms, where the cold air slumps to the floor and leans against the door. The television goes off, and comes on, and goes off again.
A squall smacks on the window SMACK! and everyone jumps, except for the Prince, who laughs, until a herd of bison seem to concuss across the roof, and everyone looks to the water-stained ceiling. And now everyone laughs, because no one will go to see what that was, not now.
Not while the wind breaks like the surf, not while icy ghosts throng in dark hallways, not while the motor scooter may be in a tree, not while the cats are floating in the valley.
So the Prince laughs, and everyone eats flatbread, and the wind, boxing on the roof, shoves its head clear down the black stove pipe, and breathes hard and dry into the coals, which are hot and glowing.