The Deaf Cat and The Rain
It has been raining most of this week. That's to be expected. This is Guadalajara and it is August, the rainy season. Our house has a flat roof that collects the rain, so my wife reminds me to get out the aluminum ladder and climb up on the roof to sweep off the puddles and clean out the drains. So, I get out the ladder. It is not long enough to reach the roof, so I have to transfer my right foot from the ladder to the top of the window frame, balance there for a moment and then swing my body over the lip of the roof onto the surface. It is a tricky maneuver. Probably wouldn't be a big deal if I was eighteen, but it's been more than two generations since I was eighteen and it takes some doing. My wife, of course, does not appreciate this. It is simply men's work which she disdains as something necessary but of no interest.
Anyway, I get up on the roof and I walk over to the edge. I don't have a fear of heights exactly. But I am one of those people who feel an urge to jump when they are up high. So, I pull back from the edge nervously. That's when I see the cat. It is a black and white cat, small, although bigger than a kitten. I know this cat and have seen it in the neighborhood. There is a little girl about eight years-old down below in my front garden. "Will you get my cat, mister?" she asks. I approach the cat that is perilously near the edge of the roof and call her. "Here, kitty, kitty!" "She's deaf," the little girl says. Oh great, a deaf cat who is going to freak out when I grab her from behind and frighten the hell out of her.
"I'll tell you what," I say. "Let her get used to me being up here. I'll start sweeping the roof and then when she sees me, I'll call her over and then get her down." So I start sweeping. There is a lot of water and it's not going anywhere unless I clean the drain. I see that one of the problems is that the cat has been using the screen over the drain as a litter box. The drain contains fine sand from the roofing materials and several cat turds. It is disgusting but I clean that off and some of the water starts to drain.
The cat notices me and I call her over. She comes tentatively, pace by pace as if in slow motion. I finally reach out and grab her, and then carry her over to the ladder. Now here's the trick. I have to hang over the roof to get one foot onto the upstairs window frame which swings out as my foot touches it. Then, when I've got one foot tentatively on the top of the ledge, I have to swing the other leg down and over and put it on top of the ladder which is to the right and two feet below the top of the window frame. I've got to do all of this while holding a wriggling cat who has already scratched me as I made the turn to descend backwards over the roof.
Like I said, I'm not really afraid of heights but I am a bit afraid of breaking my back, of spending my life paralyzed, living in a wheelchair... especially for something as absurd as a cat who doesn't want to get down from the roof. Meanwhile the little girl is shouting, "Don't hurt her, mister," but, of course it is the cat that is hurting me.
Well, to make a long story abbreviated, I get the cat down and turn her over to the little girl who is a bit miffed by the ungentle way I've handled her pet so doesn't even thank me, just goes off down the street with the deaf cat trailing behind her. Probably it will get back up on someone else's roof before the day is over.
I go down to the kitchen, make myself a cup of coffee, light up a cigarette, and then go outside and pull up a chair beneath the mango tree in our back garden, and relax. I deserve a break after that.
I think about jobs and how now task is ever simple. You start one thing and it leads to another. Everything in life is like that. A simple job sweeping rain off the roof, ends up with a deaf cat, cat poop in the gutters, an ungrateful child, feelings of fear of falling, of breaking one's back, life in a wheelchair. It's exhausting, really.
Now my wife looks out the window and sees me sitting under the mango tree doing nothing. "There water still dripping from the ceiling into the bedroom," she says. "When are you going to finish sweeping the roof? Every weekend it's the same thing. No matter what little thing I ask you, it's always such a big deal. What's the problem now?"
Well, you and I know what the problem is, right? How you set out to do a little job and it turns into this incredibly complicated task which involves risks you didn't expect to assume when you began. But try explaining that to someone who hasn't experienced it. You might as well be talking Korean to a Brazilian. Or English to George Bush. "How many is a ‘Brazilian' anyway?" asks George Bush. Is it more than a Zillion?" Probably you'd be able to communicate better with either of them than I'm able to with my wife in this case. So, I don't even bother to answer. I just sit there drinking my coffee. "Did you hear me?" she yells. "Yes, mi amor," I reply. "I heard you. A ‘Brazilian' times, I think to myself.
Now I look at the roof and I wonder what could have possessed me to climb up there anyway. This is not a job for a sixty-five year-old. I have no business climbing up on roofs like a kid. I'm a retired professor. I should be doing just what I am doing right now. Sitting here beneath the mango tree in my garden, thinking about things, contemplating life, not risking life and limb to sweep rainwater, climbing up and down ladders.
Anyway, I get up and go out to the front where I've parked the car. Maybe I could take a long ride in the car, get away for a while, have some peace and quiet. But, no. There's the cat stretched out on the hood of my Dodge Neon. I try to shoo her away but, of course, she's deaf and doesn't hear me. Perhaps she could read lips but she's facing the wrong way. My wife comes out. "What are you doing, now?" she asks. I say that I was going to go for a little ride in the car, but this stupid cat is on the hood. The cat is deaf, I think.
"Yeah," she says. "Deaf like you. Only hears what it wants to hear. I'll just wait out here while you finish up on the roof."
So, I get back up on the ladder. I make the perilous swing over to the top of the window frame and then unto the roof. I look out over the edge, down at my wife in the foreshortened courtyard below, and then down at the couple walking along the street on their way to the park. We used to be a couple like that, talking walks, discussing the future. Now the future is here: me, sweeping rain off the roof, cleaning gutters, talking to deaf cats, and her being critical and self-righteous. I walk closer to the edge.
I've always has this feeling, this strange compulsion to step off into space. I know I can't fly, that I would go crashing down with broken bones or a crushed vertebra like that actor that played Superman. Still, the temptation is strong. Just one little step and then out into empty space.
Copyright © 2009 by Michael Hogan. From Permafrost (University of Alaska Review), Summer 2007.