The never-ending stain on the rug at the threshold between the kitchen and the dining room has the tenacity of a birth mark, it’s as hard to remove, has become my daily penance, a Greek who’s upset the gods now on my knees rubbing, blotting, brushing, and still it returns each morning.
It’s where Ginger started squatting when Dawn and the girls left for Germany that one year a week or two ahead of me, and it made the dog so nervous she felt more comfortable going there on the rug than outside, and after submitting to a $500 fee to see an animal behaviorist and talk about the dog’s inverted vulva, we had a binder full of internet print-outs and samples of medication to help with the anxiety, but little regard for the carpet stains, which it seemed no one could help us with.
And as I sat there in the waiting room at the behaviorist’s filling out forms, the forms got more and more detailed, because we had concerns about the cats too, we were concerned how the transition to Germany might affect them, so the behaviorist wanted information on their as-is state: like, where is the litter box in relation to the main living area, in feet: can you draw a map in the house illustrating its proximity to the other family members, and how long in seconds or minutes have you observed the cats pawing at their waste, please estimate — and as I sat there filling it out I started to come apart as a person, like that character at the end of 1984 I felt beaten senseless, stripped of all reason, obedient to whatever, to accepting samples of scentless pheromone wipes you rub on surfaces to please your pet even though humans can’t smell it, you just have to trust (and go online to order more).
Ginger hasn’t peed on the carpet since we’ve been back but the cat went right there, puked an ocean, and a stain is a stain is a stain regardless of origin.
I’ve started clipping coupons, shopping for deals, succumbed to buying crap cereal for the kids but Dawn gets to it first, like a mouse chewing through the plastic sleeve, she leaves holes. The cat needs out to hunt and kill or she gets agitated, works over the cardboard scratching pads, folds her ears back flat, responds to inner voices, impulses to destroy. Dawn rescues a baby bunny from her jaws, its ears chewed — I catch Ginger gagging on an adult-sized mouse and seize it from her, drop it in the compost bin with the rest. I vacuum every day, empty the canister, a load of laundry, dishes — micro-managing the kids, checking in on status, following up.
After more than a year not working, I’m finally losing track of time with my kids at the playground (no watch, no phone, unsure how long we’ve been there); I’m loosening my grip, trying to enter the same pace as theirs where time holds no sway, where all they want is to grow up but it happens too slow for them, and too fast for us. It seems now I was often in a hurry, wanting to go: time bends as if we’re looking through a spyglass from opposite ends.
Something broke off a tree, a moss-crusted branch, landed right on the net on our sports court in the night, a karate chop straight down the middle. I heard the rain coming on hard, we had the windows open and it woke me up, I lay there scanning the yard mentally, all I’d left out that could get wet: some firewood, the patio pillows, a lawn chair — hoped Dawn had rolled up the windows on the Pilot, was trying to get up at 5 each day to write, some internal sense of duty that drives me, somewhere to be. The patio heater hasn’t fired in a few years: the disc it wears on the top like an upside down wok is bent at the rim from being blown over in a wind storm and now looks rumpled like a fisherman’s hat, even the neck a bit askew, a non-speaking fixture, a crudely drawn droid. We’re on our fourth or fifth gazing globe, what some Pennsylvania Dutch back east believe keeps witches away, like they get attracted to their reflection and it confuses them, they forget what they were doing and fly off, which makes sense, if you believe in witches.
Everything in the yard plump, bending down. Sometimes the reality of everything all at once. Playing Fela Kuti at dusk so loud I’m probably disturbing the neighbors by the green belt and can’t hear the birds but the music sounds better, and they’ll be back come morning. I traded out my two pairs of jeans in Europe for a set of Wranglers, Relaxed Fit, but I am anything but.