Even in Kyoto
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry
I long for Kyoto
We’ve been renovating the house for 11 years. I’m sleeping tonight, one floor upstairs from our apartment, in the raw empty place. My laptop is on one of those little TV-dinner tables, lifted up to the correct desktop level by the thickest hardcover from our bookshelves, The Complete Illustrated Shakespeare.
I came back from Pittsburgh last night so that I could clean our apartment for the newly arriving bed & breakfast subletters. Had to houseclean better than I would have cleaned it for just us, much as if we were having our parents or special guests over for dinner. I’ll do this housecleaning and greeting of subletters twice more in as many weeks before I leave for Germany in October.
I’ll sleep on the Aero-Bed tonight, the one with the slow leak. The bed & breakfast is equipped with the good one. So sometime in the night I’ll awaken to start the built-in electric air pump to re-inflate the thick rubber bed, but I think I will enjoy my sleep anyway. With the window open to the garden, it will be almost like sleeping in the branches of the large tree that pushes up against the house. I hope in the morning I hear that one bird that sang its unique melody all summer long at dawn. We call it the “here comes the bride” bird because its five-note song seemed to be a bebop improv of that classic. But I’m not really expecting a performance. The first autumn chill has arrived, so the song birds have probably begun their migration south by now.
The cat would always go out precisely at dawn to hunt birds. I thought that was because the birds would still be asleep. But then I read somewhere that, incredibly, most birds only really sleep for three seconds at a time, a kind of built-in self-preservation mechanism. So the cat instead must have used the half-light of dawn to its advantage in some way, particularly with morning doves, which were the species of bird she usually caught. But the doves seemed also to have another self-preservation thing. They go unconscious when a predator catches them. The cat often brought such an unconscious bird in through the window in its mouth, setting its inert body under our bed. On waking, the dove would begin vigorously flapping its wings, startling us awake also, as it would escape from under the bed into the room. With no place high for the bird to perch, the whole incident would turn into quite a drama, with both the cat and I chasing the terrified flying animal around the room. Using the sheet as net, I’d finally capture the dove and release it outside again.
I had also read that morning doves sometimes don’t migrate and are often seen at the same feeders yearlong. Morning doves will bond as pairs lifelong, raising nest after nest of young birds over many years. Gaby could never understand how or why our cat could be so cruel to these birds. These incidents were always a true horror for her. She had raised the cat from a kitten, a wild stray that for years would barely allow anyone to even touch it. The kitten was all white with one blue eye and one yellow eye. We named her Blinky. Gaby had patiently tamed her and now many years later, the white cat would always lie on its back, stretched out in her lap, safe and secure in its home.
The morning she died, Blinky had been lying on my chest at dawn just before she went outside. She wasn’t really allowed on the bed, but then over time, I had permitted her that little affection. When I saw her lying out on the grass in the backyard, at first I thought she was sunning herself in a new goofball position. I almost woke Gaby to come look at the cat acting funny again, but just before I touched her awake a very familiar fear gripped me. Through the window I called out her name and she didn’t move, and I knew. As if in some metaphysical or poetic gesture, Blinky had died right next to the compost pile. So I dug the grave right there. I brought out a towel and wrapped her in it. I buried her before Gaby woke up. I can’t remember how I told her.
Sleeping next to her at night, always on that particular side of me, the unconscious knowledge of the body of another is always there. The shock and fear on waking at night, finding her gone. In two weeks I will be living in the foreign strangeness of an apartment in Germany. But lying quietly next to her at night, both alone and together in our memories, maybe I will be graced with that feeling that I am “home” again, for a while.