Thaisa Frank

Three Stories

The Cat Lover

When a door opens and you can’t see who’s com­ing, it’s almost always a cat that would like to be your lover. All cats are small, so the open­ing door looks like an acci­dent. It’s not an acci­dent, though. These cats take great care until one paw hooks and the door swings open.

When the door opens, the cat sits at a dis­tance. This is the dis­tance of masked balls, eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry call­ing cards—once known by humans, nev­er for­got­ten by cats. you see its slant­ed eyes. you see its ele­gant face. The cat stares at you in all its wild­ness and comes to rest upon your heart.

Last night my cat lover woke me from a dream where I’d been look­ing for some­one who wouldn’t come to find me. This was some- one I’d known years ago, and I was search­ing the nar­row streets of an unfa­mil­iar city. When the cat woke me, I real­ized the entire fam­i­ly had gone to bed in chaos: My son was asleep in front of the tele­vi­sion, my hus­band on the liv­ing room couch, my daugh­ter in my son’s room, and me in my study wear­ing all my clothes—soft vel­vet clothes, some­thing I do when I hope there will be no night. It was three AM, and there was an unplanned feel­ing to the house, as though all of us, in order to sleep, had entered dif­fer­ent zones, and the house itself hadn’t been allowed to dream. The cat purred on my chest, but I shook him off and went down- stairs to cov­er my son. Then I wan­dered to the kitchen and ate lemon ice that remind­ed me of a place in France where sum­mers were so hot, ices dis­solved as soon as they hit the street. I had to stay in the store to eat them. I nev­er knew what they looked like.

While I ate, it occurred to me that noth­ing has skin—neither my chil­dren, my hus­band, nor me. Falling into his body was just some­thing I did over four­teen years ago because light bound us togeth­er like gold. I fin­ished the ice and my cat lover vis­it­ed again: The approach, the encounter, the loom­ing, and then he rest­ed against my body. His fur and my soft vel­vet dress felt the same—dark, pil­lowy tex­tures, things to love and dream in. I felt his small wild heart beat against my chest.

 

Schrodinger in Exile

Words didn’t work prop­er­ly at the time. He was stern on the coarse street. When peo­ple bumped into him, he cov­ered them with his own black coat and explained that they were mov­ing accord­ing to the laws of Brownian motion: Each street behaved like a cig­a­rette, emit­ting puffs of pedes­tri­ans, some­times in rings, often in clouds. Pedestrians couldn’t feel the exhale or inhale of the street and didn’t know they were being sucked in and released at inter­vals. This igno­rance, com­bined with fuzzy notions of free will, gave them the idea they could behave like trucks. They entered the streets honk­ing and screech­ing, and there was much rearrange­ment of bod­ies as they shift­ed gears, accel­er­at­ed, and worked clutch­es. They enjoyed the illu­so­ry sense of speed and didn’t care when they arrived too ear­ly or too late because some­times it took an hour to walk a city block and five min­utes to walk two miles. Schrödinger hoped his words had author­i­ty in the coat’s wooly dark­ness, but as soon as he fin­ished lec­tur­ing, peo­ple blast­ed out, pop­ping but­tons.

Traffic con­ges­tion was com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that vis­i­ble things (five per­cent of the uni­verse) were jock­ey­ing for posi­tion with dark ener­gy and dark mat­ter (nine­ty-five per­cent of the uni­verse). Schrödinger alone under­stood this: At night he woke up with a pound­ing heart and reached for one of his two wives who slept on either side of the nar­row bed in the dread­ful fur­nished room they’d been forced to rent. Whenever he reached for one, the oth­er also woke up, and he was sur­round­ed by annoy­ance at being wok­en and hear­ing the same thing about dark mat­ter again and again when there were more impor­tant things to wor­ry about like get­ting out of the dread­ful room and going back to their coun­try. They always turned on the light and made tea on the Bunsen burn­er, which they laced with scotch. He reject­ed the tea. He left and walked through the streets, which were as crowd­ed at night as they were in the day. At night he didn’t try to lec­ture the honk­ing, but­ton-pop­ping, careen­ing pedes­tri­ans. Instead he leaped over inhales and exhales of the street look­ing for the space in between the fall and rise of the breath even though he knew that he, too, was caught in the breath­ing. Eventually he returned to the fourth-floor walk-up where his two wives were still drink­ing tea. He wished that he could assign dark mat­ter to one and light mat­ter to the oth­er, but he knew that every­body in the world was sim­i­lar­ly per­me­at­ed. Sometimes this elat­ed him, and he embraced them both on their rick­ety chairs, top­pling them to the floor, hold­ing them close, when they said Edwin, it’s time to sleep, and pulling them back to the nar­row bed where he was com­fort­ed by the beat­ing of their hearts.

But at oth­er times these thoughts about the per­me­ation of dark mat­ter depressed him when he came home. And although this, too, went against the laws of physics, he had visions of dark mat­ter suf­fo­cat­ing every­body. He sat on the floor with his head in his hands, and his wives put down their cups and sat beside him. one rubbed his back, the oth­er rubbed his shoul­ders, both telling him: Edwin, we under­stand the way you see things, but even so we get by. When they began to talk, he said that the fur­nished room was depress­ing, and one of them always said that his exile wouldn’t be for­ev­er and they would return to their house with its books and clocks and com­fort­ing beds. They knew he would counter by say­ing every­thing was tem­po­rary, and they always invoked care­ful­ly worked-out sys­tems of space and time. They talked about how the sub- atom­ic relat­ed to the atom­ic, and how the atom­ic relat­ed to the world of couch­es and cars and clocks. They talked about veloc­i­ty, plan­ets, and galax­ies. They talked until he fell asleep on the floor.

When his black coat got holes and his wives had to buy him a used one, Schrödinger grew more dis­traught. He start­ed to lec­ture chil­dren, as well as his wives, who began to take cir­cuitous routes to shop for gro­ceries. When he went out at night, he stopped leap­ing between the inhale and the exhale of the street and arrest­ed pedes­tri­ans. Soon he began to ignore his own prin­ci­ples, which he’d not worked out com­plete­ly because his own brain was also a ran­dom par­ti­cle. One evening he was forced to arrest him­self for speed­ing. It was warm inside his coat, and sound was muf­fled. From an open­ing in the flap he could see pedes­tri­ans expand­ing and retract­ing in the milky light—thinking they were walk­ing, not know­ing they were only par­ti­cles of smoke. In the dis­tance he saw his two wives. They each had bas­kets of food and were aloft on cir­cuitous routes. The breath of the street was a labor of love, the act of walk­ing an act of faith. Schrödinger said a few words and let him­self out. After all, he thought, I’m not very far from home.

 

Silver

I’m always impal­ing myself on sil­ver things, things my lover gives me when I’m not look­ing. He buys me sil­ver rings and puts them on me when I’m asleep. He buck­les my waist with a sil­ver belt, drapes me with sil­ver neck­laces, fas­tens anklets under my jeans, puts six ear­rings in the holes of my ears. Silver and nev­er gold, because sil­ver is the col­or of the acci­dent one longs for. It’s light that slants through rice paper shades, a face on the street that car­ries you through the sol­stice.

You can’t love some­one with­out hurt­ing them—that’s what my broth­er told me once. We were home from col­lege, wash­ing pots in the sink, and my broth­er had just gone crazy on LSD. He thought he could climb walls when he was only scal­ing a chair. He thought he could see the truth when he was star­ing at a shop­ping list.

But one thing I knew, he’d said to me then. you can’t love some­one with­out hurt­ing them. I saw that when I looked inside my brain and all the cells were singing, you can’t love some­one with­out hurt­ing them. They were beau­ti­ful, those cells. All of them were made of sil­ver.

My par­ents were get­ting divorced, just as I am now. Light was com­ing through the kitchen, the kind of light that makes you think you’re in anoth­er cen­tu­ry.

Is it fifth-cen­tu­ry Greece? I’d asked my broth­er.

No, he answered. It’s the Huang dynasty.

I want­ed to hug my broth­er and say every­thing would be okay: His

brain would stop singing. He wouldn’t have to hurt peo­ple he loved. In fact, things didn’t go well for him until he got a PhD in phys­i­ol­o­gy and dis­cov­ered that those years of watch­ing his own brain cells had paid off. Now he lives in Rome and writes papers with titles like The Neurophysiology of Indifferent, Compatible Systems.

Sometimes I wake up at night, impaled by sil­ver, and think about my broth­er, far away in Rome. I think how he’s found love and hurt a lot of peo­ple in the process. I also think of my lover in a small beige room, sur­round­ed by flow­er­ing trees. I lie in bed alone, wear­ing heavy sil­ver.

Why don’t you take those off when you go to sleep? my lover asks, touch­ing the scratch marks on my arms and neck.

For God’s sake, what are you doing to your­self?

I don’t answer because then I’d have to tell him about the ran­dom sil­ver of his face the day he stepped out to meet me.

Your face was like that, I would have to say to him. Don’t you remem­ber? It was the day before the sol­stice, peo­ple were rac­ing around to buy presents, and you stepped for­ward to meet me. A week lat­er you gave me a sil­ver bracelet. A week after that you gave me sil­ver keys. But none of this would have mat­tered if your face hadn’t been an acci­dent.

~

Thaisa Frank, the author of the forth­com­ing col­lec­tion Enchantment,  is the author of three pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions of short fic­tion and the nov­el Heidegger’s Glasses,which sold to ten for­eign coun­tries before pub­li­ca­tion.  She is also the co-author of Finding Your Writer’s Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction    Her essays have been anthol­o­gized, and she con­tributed to the Afterward to the Signet Classics edi­tion of   Voltaire:  Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories.   She is the recip­i­ent of two PEN awards, has been Visiting Associate Professor in the Honors pro­gram in Creative Writing at UC Berkeley and teach­es writ­ing in MFA pro­grams in San Francisco.  A native of the Bronx, NY, she lives in Berkeley, California.    Her web­site is  www.thaisafrank.com