An immoral love story set in San Francisco, an unlikely encounter leads to love, betrayl, loss and the inevitable mature realization.
The English have made talking about the weather an art form while we San Franciscans practice it religiously. On sunny spring days, we are compelled to pack our backpacks and picnic baskets with frisbees, blankets and tidbits and soak in as much photons as possible outdoors while the sun loiters the high skies before the cloud funnel obscures the remainder of a good day. The low pressure from the Pacific concentrates the moist air over the San Bruno mountains, and countering against the continental pressure inland, covers the warmed city in rivers of fog, rendering strips of high, hilly areas into little isolated Transylvanian islets.
Speaking of Transylvania, I had a weird dream last night. Maybe it was the effect of the horror movie I saw just before turning in. There was a large, gothic mansion along the street I found myself walking. I wandered through its many hallways, through many of its rooms of varying purpose. I heard disembodied voices in the bedrooms. There were human shaped gray shadows that hovered beyond my field of vision, the kind that disappears when you shift your eyes, trying to catch them as they make preparations to spook you. But I wasn't scared; instead, the place felt like home.
Some time after meandering through the empty mansion, even in the dream I felt hunger pangs, so I headed toward the kitchen to heat up some soup. Why soup? Perhaps my dreaming mind remembered that I had a pot of leftover lentil soup on the stove in real life.
In the middle of the kitchen in the dream, there was a long, roughly crafted wooden table and bench. On the bench, there was a row of gray statues of the people to whom the bodiless voices belonged. All of them were made of what appeared to be very old gypsum and plaster, covered in dust. Some of them possessed white beards all the way down to their chests. The sculptures' facial expressions were solemn and I got the impression that they were very far removed from any joy or suffering brought on by the little things in this life. I scrutinized each of them. Although they seemed to be aware of their being, they sat very still and disregarded me altogether.
A little apart from these old shapes, I approached another sculpture that appeared a little less finished. It was of a young man. His open eyes were gazing far into nowhere. I suddenly flung my arms and hugged this solid thing. At first my embrace was cold but I realized that the sculpture's breast was warming up quickly. This hug lasted for some time, but the young man did not come to life and he showed no sign of the effect of my spontaneous embrace. I was disappointed. I was hoping for a Pygmalionish miracle that would paint the gray world that we shared with Technicolor rainbows and awaken him so that he would join me in this life once more.
Just as I let go, there was a miniscule flush of color around his eyes. Almost imperceptibly, his pupils wavered and I could see that he wanted to say something, but his lips were rigidly sealed. His eyes had to tell me something. But I could not understand.
"What are you, some kind of tragic Victorian heroine?" Esther is my best friend who teaches developmentally challenged elementary school kids in the inner city. She's currently using chopsticks expertly to rescue a stray stand of Kalkooksu from her steaming bowl of anchovy broth. "They're just residual images that your brain could not process, nothing more," she says, as she flicks her shoulder length hair from her sweaty neck.
"Can't you tie your hair up or something? You're eating your hair," I say.
"I don't have any rubber bands," Esther says, "Anyway, say good bye to the hair. After the wedding, all this will be gone. I'm so sick of it."
"What are you doing tomorrow?" I ask.
"I'm gonna go and check out Ikea with Robbie," she says, "Wanna come along?"
Esther is same age as me, 28 years old. She will be marrying Robbie in a couple of months, a Korean transplant who emigrated from Argentina. Robbie speaks Spanish fluently, dresses in pastel Ralph Lauren polo shirts with Dockers, manages a sewing contracting business, doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, attends church every Sunday. In one word, a loser.
I'm not jealous of losing my one best friend to a loser. I've attended her high school and college graduations, I've seen the kinds of wild and crazy boyfriends that she had been attracted to, I've held her hand during the long months as she recovered from her brain surgery. After the angina attack, she chose to settle down and marry the kind of boy that her parents preferred. Clean cut, healthy lifestyle, respectful toward the elders It was just too bad about his dead eye. To each her own, I guess. I shudder to think that after she gets married, we would have to go out in fours, her and Robbie, and me with my husband, Tom.
"Naw, it's okay. Maybe I'll go and check out the Guy Ritchie movie with Tom," I say.
"Oh my God." I couldn't believe my eyes. I was in the car with Tom, headed to SanJo 40 miles away to have dinner with my parents. I told my father that we would be at their place by three o'clock and already I was running late at 2:45. It wasn't the first time that I blew them off but I could already hear my ex-military father going off about keeping good time. "Is that a cat?" I said, watching a tiny lump of orange fur crawling in the middle of the street.
"We're running late as it is," Tom said with an uncertain frown.
"I can't drive off like this. Let's check it out," I swung the car into a quick u-turn in the empty street and slowed down the Beemer to a halt.
It was a kitten. About the size of my fist. It had been hit by a car. The kitten's eyes were unfocused, and out of its nose, coagulated blood clung to its upper lip. The kitten made desperate mewing noises, its limbs shaking badly. The vivid color of the blood from its nose stained the ground as the kitten continued to struggle to rise, only to fall after a few haltering steps. It must have lost its sense of direction because the blood was stamped in a circular pattern on the ground.
"Don't touch it!" Tom said.
I gingerly picked up the orange kitten so as to not further aggravate its condition and crossed the street. People drove by, rubbernecking at the little scene. I gently placed the shaking kitten down on the tiny patch of grass growing next to the sidewalk and prayed that the kitten's shocking appearance be much worse than the actual injury.
"What happened? What's going on?" An Asian guy ran up to me and shouted.
"It's just a cat. Got run over," Tom said disapprovingly.
"Is it all right?" the Asian guy said.
"We found him there," I replied as I pointed toward the spot.
"Oh no, this guy's hurt pretty bad," the guy dropped to his knees on the grass and inspected the kitten which was now trying to lay down and close its eyes, "He's not your cat?"
"No, we were just passing by," I said as I knelt down on the grass and stroked the kitten's fur, hoping the kitten would stay alive, "Please don't die...please."
"He needs a doctor," the Asian guy scratched the kitten's neck with his forefinger. The kitten opened its amber eyes slightly and started to purr. Out of its tiny nostrils, a fresh blood bubble inflated and deflated rhythmically.
"We should call animal control," Tom said. I was contemplating on the balance on the new credit card. Another problem was that I didn't know if any veterinarians would be open, the day being Sunday.
A police cruiser saw two cars parked in the middle of the road to investigate. "What happened here?" The police officer seemed like a new recruit, in his 30's. As we described the circumstances, the front door of the house where we stood opened a few inches to reveal a granny in a blue green house smock. She also listened to our story for a moment, and went back inside. When she hobbled out again, she held out a cardboard box with a rag on the bottom. We picked up the kitten and put it inside the box. The officer stepped back and said something to his radio. The kitten seemed to have recovered his senses a little and kept trying to crawl out of low edge of the box.
"I contacted animal control. They should be here shortly," the officer said. The five of us waited for the van to arrive, and I quit any thoughts about taking the kitten to a vet. Curious passersby peeked inside the box, wondering what got five people standing in the middle of a deserted street on a Sunday afternoon. The kitten breathed laboriously and alternated between rest and spurts of effort at escaping the box.
"Hold on, little dude, hold on," the Asian guy encouraged the kitten as he spoke to the officer and the old lady about how this neighborhood hadn't changed in the last twenty years.
After 40 minutes of waiting, we could not stay any longer. "Excuse me, but where are they taking the kitten?"
"They're coming from Whipple. It shouldn't take them long," the officer said.
"Will they take good care of him? We have to leave," I asked.
"Actually, I had to be somewhere an hour ago too," the Asian guy said.
"Yeah, they'll check him out and get him fixed up," the officer said as he glanced at the kitten, "He's not doing too bad." His reassurance made me feel a little less guilty for leaving.
"Yeah, he's going to be fine," the Asian guy petted the kitten's small skull, "What's your name, little dude? Since you don't have a collar, I'll just call you Lucky."
"So he'll be at the Whipple station, then?" I asked. I will adopt this kitten.
Tom and I left the site, and when I went to the animal shelter on Whipple to discover the fate of the kitten, it was six days later on a Saturday of early March.