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The Cat’s Meow

By
December 15, 2006

The upshot was that I said, “Feels like yesterday.”

“Correction,” said my 11-year old daughter—her new expression. “Feels like tomorrow.”

“Same diff,” I said. Yesterday it felt like tomorrow, that is, today. But today was today all over again, the today that was tomorrow yesterday—the future, but a future passed right on up out of the bad old days, made-to-measure from tar and papyrus by an early human ancestor in Gawis, Ethiopia. As if we had never made any headway. As if all we could do was repeat ourselves, repeat ourselves.

“Correction,” repeated my serious daughter, who had taken to wearing a grass-green jacket, like a book about Brazil, a book in which tigers ripple through sun-sequined woods. “Diff same.”

Were there tigers in Brazil? Were there even woods? Generally speaking, woods had become other things such as houses and yes, books, whole woods of books that were read and returned to the library by parents in cars. It was the automobile age, and G was for gas, not grass or green or Gawis, Ethiopia. There were two sets of pumps, marked A for agree and B for agree. We agreed, and got where we were going. We made a profit and a wooden spouse—no, house. Same diff! Words get away from us. So do spouses, but our wooden houses are full of books we like better than our spouses, though they are the obituaries of woods, woods we once liked better than books. Our regret expresses itself in children, who then write books about their parents, which are put in the library. Like tigers, parents must eventually learn to live on paper, rippling through vanished woods in books.

My daughter has written a book. It is called The Cat’s Meow. “What’s it about?” I asked, hoping to read about myself, to replace my identity with a more tropical one.

“Tigers tomorrow,” said my secretive daughter, firming her hand on the page. She published it in a single handwritten copy we took to the library and left between two books about big cats. Later, I snuck back to read it. I couldn’t—what’s the expression?—get into it. The pages were glued-together by sticky pictures drawn in what appeared to be candy cane dipped in soda—leaves a red line, we had discovered one day, striping our arms. We were tigers, or people clawed by tigers.

After that, I was living in two. Everybody knows that books are mirrors. The quotation of the day creates a rival day, ample and private. Thousands who are dissatisfied with today are living there. The other day, called “I never,” provides immigrants an opportunity to leave spaces that have grown too small, as well as certain material benefits like cheese and denim; but not tigers. No, I didn’t hope for tigers.

The fact is, however, that claw marks were found on a page.

“Were found,” as if by, I don’t know, Henry Ford? I found them, in a book about anti-art. The librarian thanked me for my concern. “Tattler,” my daughter said. “What a fierce little kitten!” said the stupid librarian.

All right, I said it. When I should have known she was already a cat.

A tunnel was found leading from the heart of the library out of town. Tufts of black and white fur were found in the tunnel. Information was leaking, we heard, and it moved like tigers.

Alarmed, the president denounced the rival day, calling it erroneous and violent. The Daily News worriedly discussed the tiger threat. The library was an evolutionary factory, they said, where renewable words were growing, self-sufficient words capable of stampede, starting families, perhaps eventually producing ethanol to fuel their own automobiles. Generals began using shock waves to pulverize books into clouds of sandlike material. The president spent $19.4 million to fund a book in which the world would be represented, “exactly as it is.” Every citizen was requested to come forward and identify him or herself for the purposes of accurate representation.

This war of mirroring had an unintended effect. Once books had contained vanished woods, tigers and parents as negative spaces, where negative is like the undocumented anatomy of an immigrant, made up of rhythm and light, weather and doubt. Now they had gone physical. The book still connected yesterday and tomorrow, but it no longer carried the featherweight of mention. It carried kidney stones, fossils. It carried blood. Anatomy was the new conversation, sometimes the only conversation possible. In Karachi, in Soho, in Sao Paolo and Gawis, Ethiopia, the voice was no longer heard, but felt. “Tiger” clawed the page. “Cat” meowed. Read meant red, red as candy, or blood the page bled when clawed by writers or the readers who read it, and reading were embracing the tiger and were clawed and bled all over their green jackets and the library books they returned later full of read blood. Every page was striped, is striped—see?

Meanwhile, on the presidents’ order, the old library was transformed into a cheese museum. Little by little, the pages of books were removed and replaced with slices of cheese. Library fines rose to $950 an hour. “We’ve got to draw the line,” said the president. But a line is also a stripe. It curves round the planet. It ripples through fields and woods as green as the jacket of my daughter.

My daughter wears a jacket, like a book, but she is not a book, though she goes to the library. A book does not put other books under its jacket and walk away with them. My daughter tells me all the library books must be returned to the wood, and that is where she is taking them. She stacks them up into trunks and branches and tells them they are trees.

My stormy daughter was detained at the library under suspicion of owing $3.8 billion dollars in fines. She declined to be identified. “I’m an outside consultant,” she said.

“Can you identify this girl?” the librarian asked me. “Yes,” I said, but I am no tattler. “She’s the cat’s meow.”

Correction. She is a tiger. Reading, my daughter is read, red all over, striped with blood, read blood, her own blood and the blood of other readers. My tiger daughter flees into the woods, leaving drops of bloods shining like sequins. “Be trees,” she tells the stacked books, and the word greens. Blood greens. Red greens. The books become woods, woods you can read. Their leaves ripple in the breeze.

Aficionados agree that this is not literature. But there is no agreement on what it is.

To comment on this piece: editors@guernicamag.com

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