Monthly Archives: August 2012

Strays

She could see them on the edge of the woods, crouched low in the brush, hungry and afraid, but hopeful.  New ones.  The regular ones, the ones that came around every night, were already at the foot of the garden.  Waiting for her to put the food into bowls and close the door.  A few were bold enough, these days, to come almost within reach of her broom.  They knew her.  She took care of them.  They were still afraid.

It was her kind, mostly, that hurt them.  But the elements and animals, predators like foxes and cougars and even wild dogs, took their toll.  They were so small.  They weren’t fast or strong.  Some of them didn’t learn quick enough.  They remembered, somewhere in the back of their minds, that people had taken care of them.  They had petted and doted on them, bought them ribbons and treats, and gave them soft places to sleep.  They hadn’t had to worry.  They hadn’t had to hide.  But that wasn’t true anymore.

There were bad people.  People trapped them.  They hurt them.  Sometimes they killed them.  Sometimes they did it because they were afraid.  They thought they carried disease or that they might attack.  They didn’t want their yards or houses upset.  They didn’t like the smell.  They didn’t like to think about them.  Sometimes, though, they hurt them for fun.  They hurt them to laugh and to watch them die.

Those that escaped started to learn.  They kept to the shadows in the day.  They hunted when they could in the woods.  But mostly they came here at night.  They wanted and they hoped.  This wasn’t home.  There was no more home.  There could never be.  But this was safe, for a while, and there was food, and there were more of them.  They were safer when there were more of them.  No one could catch them all.  And there was her and she called them by names she made up and she remembered to call them the same names, as if they were worth something, and she helped them when she could, and when they couldn’t go on, she helped them then too.  Maybe it wasn’t much, but it was something, so they came every night, in twos and threes, they crept up to the door or the garden path, or the edge of the woods and they waited.

Sometimes bad things came here, but they drove them off.  They couldn’t kill them, but they were many.  Too many to be stopped by any one or two.  Too many for a cougar or a dog pack even.  She taught them that.  They had strength.  They knew by her smell, because they lived in a world where there was nothing but scent, where all you were and are and were planning was as clear as taking a breath, they knew she was old.  They knew one day she would not come to the door and then they would be alone.  But they hoped.  They hoped that when the day came she might join them.  They thought that might be true.  That there were things beyond life and death and that even in death they might have something of her.  A spirit.  A hope.  Or something more.  She sang to them sometimes.  Songs they remembered.  They knew them from times before.  Sometimes they sang back.  Tried to anyway.  It was hard to remember and they couldn’t make the sounds right.  She knew they tried.  That counted for something.  Tonight was different though.

Tonight there was something more on the wind that the old lady or the food or their brothers and sisters.  Somewhere along the line they had become more than ones and twos and fours and twenty. They had become one and there was a sort of synthesis to their thought.  They thought in the now and then they did.  Others joined the colony and some faded away.  But they were thought and action.  There were people here.  Maybe bad people. They were not so close, but not so far away.  They smelled like metal and smoke and blood and hate.  They smelled like death.  They knew death.  It came at you with guns and wire.  It was food that burned and cars that ran them down.  It was fire and drowning.  It was always waiting and behind it there were men with smiles that smelled like blood.  One man you could hide from.  Two you could run from.  More though.  Many.  They could scatter, but some would be caught.  And they knew in their hearts that there was more at stake.

Death was coming for them.  True.  Always.  But it was coming for her too.  How they knew this, they could not have said.  It was in the air like electricity.  Maybe it was something they learned in the shadows.  Maybe it was what you had to learn to survive.  That second or third sense that kept you moving, told you not to go beyond that yard, to touch that food, to stay low, stay safe.  And they were right.

They heard the car, cars, truck, trucks.  She heard it too and started.  She dropped a bowl.  They pulled back to the shadows.  Laid low.  But they did not scatter.  The men were making words.  Bad words.  Hard words.  One hit her across the breastbone with the end of his gun and she went down hard, on her knees.  She was crying.  She was crying for them and then men were laughing.  What they were saying, they didn’t know.  Not the words, really, but they knew what they meant.  They meant kill them.  Kill them all.  Kill them with blood and smoke and pain.  Kill her too and burn the house down and then go home and go to sleep and get up tomorrow.

A buzz ran through them like fire.  It was painful.  It was what it felt like to hate.  They never hated.  They just were.  They knew the taste of hate though.  They remembered it.  Pain, fear, loss, hunger.  Those were their words now.  But she had taught them other words.  She had taught them love and hope and faith.  And now they had hate.  They stood, all of them, and there were many.  They didn’t wait, they just came forward.  There were too many of them.  They were like an army.  So many that the old lady couldn’t count them.  They never came out together, not even for her.  They learned to share and wait.  They learned to live in shadows.  They were moving now in the light of the moon they were twenty and thirty and fifty.  They were small.  It was easy to hide.  Who would count them?  Who wanted to?  And now the old lady was laughing and they smelled fear.  They smelled fear on the men and even though guns were firing they were so many.  So very many.

A man was yelling you had to shoot them in the head, nothing else would work, and to not let them bite you, but no one was listening.  There were just so many, wearing sneakers and sandals and dresses straight from Church.  Some of them still had toys that they couldn’t quite remember what to do with, but they knew they were important.  They were to a child grubby and ragged.  Some had bones showing through patches of skin.  Others had patches of grave moss growing on their faces and arms.  But they were smiling.  All of them.  Smiling with baby teeth and braces and righteous fury.  And they were hungry.  So. Very. Hungry.  After all, they hadn’t been fed tonight.


Judge Not Lest You Get a Cup of Coffee in the Face.

Someone who I hold generally to have good common sense told me that I shouldn’t judge people by what they say today.  I beg to differ.  Judging people by what they say and do is the ONLY way you should judge them.  I’ve found that people tend to say plenty of nasty things they wouldn’t actually do.  That doesn’t mean they don’t believe them or that they might not want to do them if they could actually get away with it.  People like to justify all kinds of hatefulness by adding a “but” to things.  Then, they can get away with saying things like, “I don’t have a problem with women, but. . .” and turn around and contradict what they just said.  What they really mean to say is the exact opposite of the first part of their sentence and then use the but to tell you exactly why.

I’m not naïve.  I don’t believe that people are nice or that the world is a happy little place.  I tend to side more with Humes than Rosseau when it comes to the nature of people in general.  You hear a lot of mothers saying they’re raising little angels or at worse rascals.   I’d love to live in a world with nothing worse than a few rascals.  Unlike a lot of folks, I remember childhood pretty clearly and there were plenty of SOBs on the playground.  They weren’t rascals.  They were the sorts of kids that thought shooting birds with BB guns was fun and making someone cry was just the cherry on top of their hateful sundae.  Those little rascals don’t grow up to be humanitarians on the whole.  They just grow up.  Then they walk around adding “but” to a lot of their sentences and making faces at people who don’t.

That’s not to say that I don’t judge people.  I do.  All the time.  And I use “but” in sentences a lot too.  I just don’t assign any sort of creed to my hatefulness.  I hate you because of things you say and do.  I don’t hate you because anyone or thing told me too.  I’m very personal in my hate.  And I have a perfect right to my hatefulness.  Just like you do.  That’s the awesome thing about America.  You can hate whomever you want.  You can hate people because they cut you off in traffic, they don’t use proper punctuation, or for any little reason at all.  As long as there is no action to your hate, more power to you.  Be as hateful as you please.  But don’t expect me to feel sorry for you when someone else hates you.

The risk of saying what you think is that some people won’t like it.  They may even hate it.  They may even hate you.  Most people don’t go around saying what they think for that very reason.  They’d rather live their lives not having drinks thrown in their faces and having friends.  Does that dress look bad on you?  Yes, it really, really does.  Am I going to tell you that?  No.  Because someday I might ask you and similar question and you will be expected to lie.   After all, society runs on lies.  Tiny, polite lies are what keep us from bludgeoning each other.

If you opt to put your beliefs out there for everyone to see – more power to you.  Just don’t be shocked if some people decide they disagree.  Some might disagree so much that they don’t want to be your friend, buy from your business, or live in the same state with you.  They might decide that it’s their duty to let other folks know just what kind of person you are.  And, you know what, you should probably be glad.  You should probably be happy about all this self-advertisement that you started by speaking up.  After all, you spoke up for a reason.  You wanted people to know what you thought and now they do.  And they’re even passing it along to their friends.  That’s what freedom of speech means.  Everyone gets to say what they think.  Then we all get to judge each other.