Mean Black Cat Blues

It's a mean black cat, Lordy, clawin' on my door.
It's a mean black cat, Lordy, clawin' on my door.
I'm going to Louisiana, where I won't hear it whine no more.

It's been persistent lately. Sometimes, it's the image of me in crumpled work clothes, sheets pulled up to my neck as darkness takes hold like a tipped ink well. Someone who loved me weeps into the other end of the phone, calls out to me, but I lay unmoved . Even with so little to give, no one has wept so for me before. They could have been on the other end of the line, or it could have been some mournful dirge carved into a phonographic cylinder one thousand years before. I'm certain it's mine, but it's for someone else. He can't tell the difference.

At other moments, it is happy clamor filling my lungs like noxious gas. The jubilation seems little more than a shoddy overcoat those around me, like cowards, use to rebuff the cruel and correct winds. What I'm sure I know, what little they seem to know, punches through my guts like white hot coals. To proud to succumb to the incessant pawing, I vomit this venom as some pointless diatribe. I pound my fists on the table and scream about other hollow things--'Best picture in 2004 was a goddamn joke!!'--as it's the only way I know to keep him outside the door. 

A friend, concerned, puts his arm around me and says, "You know I love you, man." And I growl, "That just makes me sad for you."

In recent months I've made a point to double what I save from each paycheck. When the figures look right, I've decided I'll roam the earth in solitude. Because the obvious answer is where he can't find me. 

It's a mean black cat, Lordy, all around my bed.
It's a mean black cat, Lordy, all around my bed.
I'm gonna get up some mornin', kill that black cat dead.

I wake, and a terrible coldness falls in my chest. 

The floor is cluttered. Art pulled from the walls. A shattered cocktail glass. An anonymous fast food bag emptied of its contents with rapacious gluttony. The earring kept, a tenuous link with some imagined happy memory, pulled out somewhere during the course of the night. Nearby, the half shut laptop accompanied by a pathetic soiled rag. Sheets rent from their notebook with "FUCK YOU" scrawled in manic script across the pages.

This is the week. No vices. Gym five times. I'm bigger than he is. I'm stronger than he is. It will never be this way again. Never. This is the week.  

It's a mean black, Lordy. Lord it's wearin' my clothes.
It's a mean black cat, Lordy. I mean it's wearin' my clothes.
Just you put him on my levee, let that black cat go.

I'll sit in the back of my mind and watch him. My grey hood edges my periphery and my black satin jacket shimmers in the thin glow of streetlights. He moves through the night, an extension of the darkness, impervious to whatever rolls around in his belly. He whispers antagonisms to those around. Slow poison to pit them against themselves leaked in vicious glances and cruel advice. He'll start a fire to argue someone down until they believe they were holding the matches all along. He belittles and demeans and twists words until they fit in innocents mouths they way he wants them to. Drunk on malevolence, claws sharp, the shadows swallow him whole.

But somewhere in an invisible alley, the rabble of shoves and punches shatter the night. Cause black cats always find other black cats, and all that badness has to be put somewhere.

Detatched, but ever present like human theatre watched through his eyes, other people are the best players. He feeds them whatever persona they've decided on as his true self. An innocent game, he plies them with spoonful on gentle spoonful until they are intoxicated with their own fibs. Once sated, he'll look them right in the face, dab their mouth clean, and chirp through a bible salesman's smile, "You know...99% of what you believe about a person you make up yourself."

In a small way his take could be boiled down to peer admiration or an undone zipper, but his only thirst is for the thing he can't give back.

But when I'm spit out on the New Jersey Turnpike, wide awake and steeped in the ripples of remorse, I want to cry out for understanding. Forgiveness. Absolution. Punishment. I want to yell, "I mean...it's wearing my clothes!"

I don't though. Because they won't believe me. Because I don't believe me.     

First time I met you, I said you was a crook.
First time I met you, said you was a crook.
You got a new way of lovin' where ain't in no book.

It's a far off memory. Soft focus edges and authentic patina accentuate the age of these 8 millimeter memories. Spring's air was still cool in my mouth. A pungent density of mesquite and wildflowers was infused in every gulp of oxygen. Red dirt and sand ground under my tiny feet as I contemplated the diamond chain link pattern stretched across the playground backstop's pipe frame. You could feel the sun on your skin, but it wasn't warm. 

The line of children led up to the batters box where a life time of athletic and genetic superiority was to be decided with one swing of the bat.

John Garcia was a boy I knew. I can recall at least one instance of playing wall ball on the side of his brick house, or refusing to look at his father's copies of "Easy Rider Magazine"...because I was a good boy. John had the brownest arms you've ever seen come out of a pink Ocean Pacific sleeveless tee. He sauntered in from no where, and it's likely because I was next to Derek, the conduit between us, he decided to cut right in front of me.

And it was an insult to my dignity I would not abide. 

I choked on my furious blood. A coal furnace ignited behind my cheeks. I would spend a lifetime collecting adjectives to hang a meaning or identity on this feeling, and they have all fallen short. My muscles ticked beneath my little boy arms. And as I felt my fingers tighten into my palm, the reel jumps, and the next frame, clumsily spliced in, reads: "SCENE MISSING".

A crimson rivulet trickled from John's nose. His eyes wide, fearful, he shrieked. I whipped around and disassociated myself from the wailing boy behind me. Made him feel so far away, it was as though he didn't exist at all.    

As the consequences fell in around me, I was certain this was the worst thing I'd ever done. I wanted to hate this thing in me. I needed to condemn this reaction as some transient, violent specter passed through me. I manufactured all the guilt I was meant to produce.

But no matter the outward display, no matter the reassuring internal dialogue, I looked down at my right hand and saw a new hideous and powerful thing. I could close my eyes and see the blood I drew with my hand from John's stupid, cutter face. It shone so red, as red as the Roman Legion's standard,  and a sensation expanded in my chest like vulture's wings: He would never do that again.

Next time I met you, you know I made a hit.
Next time I met you, you know I made a hit.
But you got a new way of lovin', where it just won't quit.

I nudge him off the porch with my foot. I smile at him while he sunbathes on the garbage cans by the back fence. I open the car door and see him, conjured from nowhere, gaze fixed on me, and I yell at him to go away. When he gets underfoot of the pizza delivery guy and almost sends him in a pile down the steps, I feel a sense of pride. When the front door yawns for too long, and he bolts inside, I grab him under his front legs and gently coo, "You know you can't come in here." When I unload groceries, and on return trip number three find him inside my trunk hidden amongst the handles of white plastic bags, I admire how much of each other we are. 

He disappears for weeks on end. Just when I feel a pang, part hope, part regret, that he might be gone forever, he peeks his little black head through the askew slats hung on the sliding glass door and winces his petulant little cat sounds. I feed him often enough for him to come around, but not so often that he thinks he belongs here. I'm not fool enough to think I control him. No one owns a cat. Yet I'm grown enough to understand he is more dangerous caged than set to roam free. 

So together we sit on the cold cement stoop. Curled up in my lap, I scratch behind the ears until his purr  reverberates in my bones. I tell him I'll have him neutered, or put to sleep, and he looks up at me for a moment, unmoved, with his big yellow eyes. Behind two heavy lids, he returns to his prone state of improbable blackness. 

Me and my mean black cat--that ugly, essential bastard--sit and watch the world go by.

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