My latest book. In our modern world, only Ghosters know what comes after death. What stays behind. And what dwells between.
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If you're here, it's probably night. You can see a window from where you sit, and the window is dark. Who really knows what's outside?
I write. If you read, we've just made a connection.
SENTENCE is the forest you fall asleep into.
I created SENTENCE back in 1998 as a way of letting readers know a little bit more about me. Here you'll find about a dozen of my stories, the complete text of my novel Father Figure, essays of mine, videos I've made, photographs I've shot, a decade and a half of my on-line diary entries, some of my favorite recipes, and much, much more. I don't fear plagiarism. Ideas can be stolen-- a simile, a description, a plot, a joke-- but that will happen regardless of the medium in which your luggage is left alone on the airport floor. The truth is, fear of plagiarism is fear of readership. To be plagiarized is never fatal. What is more important is to be read. Because if it's in a box, and no one but you knows about the storms raging through the paragraphs, the footsteps plodding soggily down the sentences, water dripping off the rims of words, that's the biggest shame of all. A fizzle. Because the real achievement of writing is not the writing. The real achievement of writing is someone else reading the writing.
SENTENCE started as an island. Over the years, its accumulated bulk, added to each month, became a continent.
Art is an invitation to go inside someone else's mind. To see our world as they see it. SENTENCE is my mind.
I've been published in America, Canada, England, Ireland, India and Australia in a wide variety of genre and literary magazines and anthologies. My fiction has been called "graphically morbid". My writings are not for everyone. Are they for you? Find out.
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Established January 1, 1998.
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"All was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed-- just as cheese is made out of milk-- and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels."
but they never do
january 1, 2015
The first of each month I write a new Lately, but occasionally I just don't have the time. Like this month. So here's a reprint of a Lately I wrote back in April 5, 2003 (I was doing them weekly back then.) I hope you enjoy it.
Back in late 1990, while we were still living in an apartment, in Carrollton, Texas, a suburb north of Dallas, we went one Saturday to a no-kill pet shelter, Operation Kindness, and picked out two kittens.
Mary and I are cat people. Both our childhoods were filled with upright tails and deep purrings.
Once we got together, in 1979, we started traveling quite a bit, and so didn't have cats, because it wouldn't be fair to them. But now that we had settled down, in Texas, one day I said to Mary, "Why don't we get some cats?"
We picked out two from the shelter, a female for Mary, a male for me. We didn't know what sex they were when we chose them. It just worked out that way.
The cat I chose, who we named Nei, was sickly almost from the time we brought him home to our apartment. We spent most of that first month cradling his small body in our arms, smearing a peanut butter-type food paste we got from the vet up onto the roof of his mouth, which he would automatically lick off, swallowing it, the only way he could get nutrients (he wouldn't eat from a bowl). It seems like every time we held Nei, trying to get him to live, the Chris Isaac song, Wicked World, would be playing on the radio, a song which still, over a decade later, brings back memories of Mary and me taking turns, on the edge of our bed, in our quiet apartment, on quiet afternoons, trying to get Nei to live.
He died, about a month after we brought him home. He just wasted away. No amount of love, no amount of vet visits, no amount of that paste, no amount of prayers or tears could save him.
The other cat we brought home, Elf, Mary's cat, was, by contrast, an incredible ball of energy. She bounced off the walls.
When we left for work each morning, we'd shut her in the apartment's bathroom, with a bowl of food and a bowl of water, so she didn't tear everything apart in our absence. Each evening, arriving home, we'd open the bathroom door and she'd come surfing out, maniacal, atop a bouncing roll of shredded toilet paper.
In the mid-nineties, she was diagnosed with feline leukemia. Most cats die within a year or two of the diagnosis, but she survived until late 2000, dying precisely ten years, to the day, we first brought her home.
Back when we first had her, in late 1990, after Nei's death, we realized she really needed a companion, someone to play with. So we went out to the different pet stores, and finally decided on a small black kitten. I forget how much we paid for him. He's the only cat we've ever bought, rather than gotten from a shelter, or taken in from our back door.
We called him Rudo.
We got the name from a role-playing Sega video game we used to play about that time, called Phantasy Star. In the game, Rudo was the name of a stalwart companion who helped all the others, who was absolutely dependable and even-keeled.
When we brought him home, Elf went wild, scampering dervishly around the apartment, pushing her back paws off the center of our kitchen cabinets, landing next to poor Rudo, swatting him across the face, flying off to the ceiling to spring back with the next attack. We grabbed her at one point, small as she was, holding her up in our hands to look at her face. Her eyes were vibrating like ping pong balls.
Eventually, Elf came to tolerate Rudo's presence in our apartment, though she always seemed disdainful of him, the little black kitten.
When Elf went into heat, sliding her body forward across the carpet towards Rudo, who was sitting quietly a yard or so away, he eventually agreed to service her, but he was an absolute disaster at it. Time after time, he'd mount Elf's unhinged hips, jerking his back legs forward, then dropping off to look under her tail again, Okay, it's about an inch below her tail, mounting her again, back legs jerking forward, but once again missing the incredibly moist mark.
Eventually, Elf gave up on him. Eventually, we got them both fixed.
When he was a kitten, Rudo had a Frankenstein appearance, black paws, gray and black striped legs, black back, gray tail, but as he got older, all that stitched-look coalesced into a beautiful, uniform, long black fur. And he turned into a huge cat, about three times Elf's size. Mary used to call him fat. I objected, calling him rangy, I don't know why that word occurred to me then, but Mary's teased me about it ever since.
The last few years, Rudo has started showing signs of old age. He had hip surgery last Summer, and has had elevated levels in his kidneys which we've had treated.
This past weekend, he started deteriorating rapidly. I petted him at one point Sunday morning, was surprised how much of his bones I could feel under the long black fur.
We brought him to the vet this past Monday, March 31. After some blood work, the vet came back into the examination cubicle, solemn, and told us the levels in Rudo's kidneys were literally off the charts (he had higher levels of potassium, etc. than his equipment could register. His levels were more than ten times the safe levels).
Rudo was, in fact, in the end stages of kidney failure. What we drink and what we eat nourishes our bodies, but also turns, eventually, toxic, to where it must be eliminated. Rudo's kidneys could no longer pass the toxins in his body through his urine (which is what kidney failure means). Instead, those toxins were staying in his body, building up in his system, slowly poisoning him to death.
The vet estimated Rudo had only a few more weeks of life left, before the poisons killed him. But they would be weeks of absolute misery. In fact, that morning, as we prepared to bring him in to the vet, he started crying out in pain.
We asked the vet to shoot him full of fluids, temporarily easing his discomfort, so we could bring him home to spend one last evening with him, before returning with him to the vet the next morning.
When I think of Rudo, here's what I think of:
When he was little, when we were still in our apartment, I'd split a can of wet cat food between two black coffee saucers, one for Elf, one for Rudo, both of them excitedly circling my shoes, We're being fed! We're being fed! As I lowered the saucers with the strong-smelling food, little Rudo would raise his front paws up, slamming his saucer down onto the kitchen floor, so he could immediately start eating. We always figured he wanted to eat as much as he could, as fast as he could, to get bigger than Elf so she'd stop bullying him.
Elf was everywhere in our apartment, but sometimes we'd lose track of Rudo. But then we'd sense someone was watching us, look around, and there he'd be, tiny, black, quiet, staring up at us from the floor. That brought about the first of our many nicknames for him, The Little Alien (because of how big his green eyes were).
He was very shy, so we'd rarely see him, he'd just sit off in a corner by himself while we oohed and aahed over Elf's spine-bending gymnastics, but each morning, when I'd wake up, there'd be the little black alien on my bedside table, small head bent into my water glass, quietly lapping up the cold water.
While still in the apartment, both of them prowling the pale mustard kitchen counter, we turned on the water one day in the kitchen sink, to see what they'd do. Elf held back, wide-eyed but suddenly timid, while Rudo descended, front paws first, into the aluminum sink basin, licking his little tongue sideways at the rapidly-falling silver drops. So he was courageous, after all, in a way Elf wasn't. This was confirmed, later, when we brought home a huge, carpet-covered cat tree for them. We had assumed Elf would immediately skip upwards to the top, but in fact she hung back. It was Rudo who made his way up, platform by platform, meticulously sniffing the carpet pile.
When we moved into our home, we were curious how they would go about exploring the house, and in fact discussed it quite a bit between ourselves. Rudo immediately trotted out of the master bathroom where we opened their cage, through the master bedroom, the kitchen, to the white-carpeted living room, where he climbed onto the red brick hearth, draping his black front paws over its edge, looking back at us, looking quite regal. Later, he and we went upstairs, Rudo in the lead, seeming quite brave, but then stopping at the bend in the stairs to shoot a look over his shoulder, making sure we were right behind him.
Once we were in our home, Rudo adjusted rapidly. He generally kept to himself. He was not a cat you would go up to and start petting, and in fact if you did, he would usually get himself up and walk a few feet away, settling back down again. But when he did want to be petted, he'd let you know. Usually, this would be in the kitchen, where he'd follow us around like a little black dog. Each time we'd stop, at the stove to stir, or at the sink to fill a measuring cup, he'd sit next to our leg, resting the side of his face against our calf, quietly looking up at us. His face, in profile, looked just like King Kong.
We also called him Mr. Half-Off and Half-On, because he loved to lie with half his body on carpet, half his body on vinyl flooring.
Everyone who visited us loved Rudo. He was the star, of all our cats, to outsiders (Elf remained the true star, to us). We also called him The Greeter, because unlike our other cats, he'd march fearlessly up to each new guest, craning his long-furred neck back to look up at them with his green eyes. He was a philosopher, as cats can sometimes be, but rarely are. He'd sit by himself on the white carpet for hours, black front legs elegantly crossed, just looking up at the ceiling, thinking.
We also, eventually, called him The Old Man, because in recent years he would rise up from the carpet, or settle himself down, gingerly, and would walk more carefully. We called him that as a joke, because we thought he would live forever, just get more and more fussy.
After we brought him home from the vet Monday evening, pumped up on injections, he was more alert and ambulatory than he had been in a while. Rather than just hold him against us the whole evening, we let him do the things he liked most to do, just lying on the carpet here for a while, then lying upstairs for a bit, then lying on the kitchen floor, his favorite spot, waiting for the next meal to be served (he used to lie stretched out across the kitchen floor on his back, reaching over his head with a long-furred black paw for the nearest bowl of dry food, pulling it close, then scooping some dry food out overhand, dropping it into his mouth like peanuts).
Did he know he was going to die the next morning? I don't know. At one point, while we were upstairs Monday night, listlessly finding things to do, wanting the next day to come and be over with, Mary at one moment when we were talking pointed to Rudo, asleep on his side at the top of the stairs. He looked peaceful.
"I wish he would wake up and be all better," she said.
But they never do.
When I wake up in the morning, Rudo is usually sleeping beside my face, on the left edge of the bed, but this time, Tuesday morning, he wasn't. I found him upstairs, just sitting on the top step, looking around. I actually hoped I would find him dead, so his end would be natural.
Mary and I got dressed, then did something we had done only once before, years and years ago, with him. I picked Rudo up in my arms, we opened the back door, and we walked with him through our garden, something he had previously only seen through the glass of the breakfast nook windows.
He was enthralled. Emaciated body in my arms, his big, black head swung this way and that, experiencing the sensation of breezes on his body, black nose sniffing the air, green eyes watching birds flap overhead. I lowered him at one point so he could smell the first iris in bloom in our garden, a yellow iris.
We wanted him to have that experience, and also, we wanted to signal to him that something was very different.
After we were back inside, back door shut and locked, I called the vet to confirm our decision. Could we come in now? We could.
We were ushered right into the main consultation room, bigger than the examination rooms.
There was a long wait while a male nurse took Rudo out to have him fitted with a needle head in the vein of his back leg, then another wait for the doctor to finish up with his patient. There were magazines to read in the room, but we didn't. We talked to Rudo some, petted his head, knowing these would be the last pettings, looked at each other red-eyed.
The vet finally showed up, the male nurse behind him, holding the syringe.
As the nurse had, the doctor explained that as soon as the plunger in the syringe reached the bottom, Rudo would be dead, but that there might be limb jerkings, even cries. That had happened with Elf, so we were prepared. I had told the nurse earlier that I wanted to hold Rudo in my arms as they injected him. He said we could do whatever we wanted, as long as they had access to the needle head in his back leg, but cautioned that Rudo's bladder might "express" at the moment of death. That was fine with me, but as it happened, by the time they were ready for the injection, Rudo looked so comfortable on the metal table, I decided to leave him there. Mary put her hand on his side. I put a last kiss on his forehead. "I'm sorry," I said to him. I got down on my haunches, staring into his beautiful green eyes, Rudo into my eyes, as the plunger descended.
He looked right into my eyes the whole brief moment, then suddenly, peacefully, he was looking instead at something I've never seen, and his head lolled.
The vet put a stethoscope against his fur, checking at different spots on his motionless chest. He took the ends out of his ears. "He had to be very close to death to go that quickly."
We drove home with Rudo wrapped in a white towel, the towel folded away from his noble head.
It was windy outside. Using pick axe and shovel, we dug his grave, under a spreading pear tree. I had to snap off some of the lower branches to get clearance for the ax swings.
When the hole was wide and deep enough, we got the cardboard box from the garage, with Rudo in it.
When we took Rudo out for his walk, we carried him past a bed where nothing was blooming. But now, Mary noticed there was a stand of perennial tulips in full red and yellow bloom. We cut one, put it in the box with him. We added the yellow iris he had sniffed a couple of hours earlier. And we opened a new jar of mayonnaise, placing the cellophane collar of the jar in the box, because he used to get so excited, batting the collars across the kitchen floor when he was younger.