A Farewell to Arms

It’s the spring ratchet of frogs gearing up outside the window like some swampthick engine of ooze. I think about the mud. Cool. Soothing. Before the summer stink climbs in and starts rotting it and clinging like a too-needy lover. You feel guilty for denying that need, but if you don’t it will eat you up.

If I chew on my lip, I can feel the raw hunger of it, the throbbing before it starts to bleed. That’s when I’m alive.

In Russia, the newspaper said, there was a storm over a swamp and it came down and lifted up the baby frogs and held them a while until the storm moved and then it let them fall, baby frogs falling from the sky on some unsuspecting little village with too much imagination. Think what the peasants could have thought it meant. Of course they weren’t really peasants because it wasn’t all that long ago, the newspaper said, but when frogs are falling on you from the sky, you probably don’t stop to think about how modern conveniences have changed your life.

What I’m doing here at the window is inviting the raucous chorus of it to pick at me like the customers at work, only this annoyance gets under my skin and breeds something exciting, nervous but exciting. I’m welcoming the universe back into my life again each night while the customers are digging back under my skin to get it out again and take it home with them. Where they’ll use it to line their garbage cans. It’ll breed there too I suppose, but I don’t want to hear about it. I just want to think of it without people involved. I want to be an animal again and let it get me wound up. Let it make me want to find another.

Yesterday at work, an overweight young woman with a kid wrapped in a dirty red blanket set the kid on the counter while she counted out her change to pay for the doughnut she was eating. She was wearing a huge floppy black T-shirt and someone behind her laughed.  She turned around and glared at them and I could see written on the back of her in dirty white lettering YOU CALL ME BITCH, LIKE IT’S A BAD THING. For a moment there was an awkward silence, and I was afraid there would be an “altercation.” I was trying to remember what they said about it in training. Then I could hear her baby, purring like a cat.

If I stand on one leg I can imagine myself hunting like a heron, holding the world of my body so still I look like a reed, waiting for the frog to come closer. I can think about the slick skin sliding down, my throat opening around it and closing back again, squeezing it down, down until that moment of satisfaction settles into my stomach. I can almost sleep like that. I can almost dream.

I have some air left in my cheeks where I put it to save it from the breeze. You might think it always comes back, but it’s not the same. Even in my cheeks it changes, and I like it that way, better than new air though sometimes I have to let go and start again. I don’t need to make a sound the way the herons do. I just hold on to it and let it tell me what I should feel.

When my supervisor came over to see what the commotion was, I didn’t say a word. I just swallowed air and tried to think about the way we all have to entertain some surprising possibilities, and I decided to offer the woman my hankie. I don’t know what I was thinking. What was she supposed to do with it? Well that’s what she must have been wondering too because she just looked at me, then decided to take the hankie and wipe the baby’s nose like that’s why I gave it to her. My supervisor seemed confused but walked away when the woman smiled and gave me back the dirty hankie. I counted the change and hit the register button like it was a pure delight. In a way it was. But not the way anyone watching would have thought.

My cat used to get nervous when I lifted one leg and held still like that. She didn’t know what to do, and I wouldn’t stop and pet her. Now she doesn’t come anywhere near me until I speak to her, like she believes if I hold still in that position and don’t talk, it’s not me.

It was a moment just like that when I noticed that there was a stick on the floor, and I didn’t pick it up. I thought about what it was doing there. I thought about what it was for, and it wasn’t for anything except for itself. I thought about the stickness of the stick.  I thought about myself, and it made me grateful for the stick. Until my supervisor picked it up and looked at me like why didn’t I notice it and take it out of the way, and I knew I did notice it, more than he could know, but I wondered why I didn’t take it out of the way. Maybe we were in the way. Maybe it was a stick that belonged there and we were in the way.

Someone brought homemade beer to the going away party. It tasted raw. It tasted like it wasn’t ready to have anyone drinking it yet, and that made it taste better. I was supposed to know who was going away, but I didn’t. I was supposed to enjoy the beer, and I did.  I was supposed to enjoy the beer because someone was going away, and I did that too, but I didn’t know who was going away. I wondered if it was me. I wondered if I should stop thinking about it, and I didn’t know. I thought maybe I should.

My cat stares at things that don’t move like she’s trying to figure out why, and I can understand why it confuses her. It’s not a stupid thing like you expect it to move when you know it won’t but a deep thing like what is the reason for its existence if its purpose doesn’t involve doing anything. What exactly is it that it’s not doing?

Sometimes I catch my cat doing things embarrassing for a cat, but my cat doesn’t seem to know it’s embarrassing for a cat to be doing those things. Like when it sneaks up on the cottage cheese I put in its bowl. Or when it falls over backwards or doesn’t land on its feet. Then my cat looks at me like I’m in the wrong place and next time it won’t be there where it’s not supposed to be.

And the one time there was a mouse, my cat looked at it like it was a walrus in the bathtub. And then it looked at me like that. Because I was in the bathtub at the time.  And then I started swimming in the bathtub, slowly, as if it mattered, my feet kicking out on each side as far as the bathtub would let me, my useless little hands folded back against my chest with the water streaming out around my mouth because by this time I was moving a little, and my blubbery mouth was pushed out ahead of me like it could drink the ocean but just didn’t want to. I tried to figure out why I just didn’t want to, but I couldn’t figure it out. My cat watched me do that and I expected to feel embarrassed, but I didn’t feel embarrassed. It felt like something you could do for a long time.