Apeiron Review | Issue 9

Page 77

hand and talk to her tree children. In the evening she would go out in her long flannel nightgown and sing them a lullaby. After many years of this ritual, the man, now old with a grey beard to his waist that he sometimes braided and beaded for special events, became weary of his wife pretending trees were her children. The trees had grown tall and ominous. They swayed in the wind, joining boughs, sighing and crying way above the cabin’s rooftop. In sharp winds they bent nearly to the ground, threatening the old couple’s safety. They blocked all the sunlight coming into the tiny cabin so it was always dark and dreary inside with sad sounds of their sighing and the old woman’s crying. So the old man spent most of his time outside near the compost pit far away from the trees and their oppressive darkness contemplating his wife’s demise and his own safety. One day as he was sitting on a stump next to the compost heap smoking his pipe and looking up at the swaying trees each one named for a dead child, he considered his options. He could cut them down but his wife would call him a murderer. If he did nothing, they could one day fall during a storm and kill them both, or if that did not happen, his wife would continue talking to them and he would soon go as insane as she, listening to baby talk and lullabies day after day, year after year. The old man did not think he could stand another minute, but he did not know what to do. Right about then a spotted black and white cat appeared. It was crawling cautiously on its belly, tail switching. It slunk near the compost pit and pounced on the muskmelon rinds the old man had thrown into it after his breakfast. “Hey you!” he shouted at the cat. The cat ran, a big chunk of melon rind in its jaws. That night, the old man watched his wife snoring comfortably after she had sung her nightly lullabies to her tree children. Unable to sleep, he rose and once again sat outside by the compost heap, smoking his pipe. As he smoked, he saw the spotted cat visible in the dry field, making its way towards the compost. “Hey you!” he called out. “If you’re hungry I have something better for you.” And he went inside the cabin and brought out a small bit of veni-

son his wife was thawing for their supper. The man held out his hand and the spotted cat came near and sniffed. The man saw the cat had one ear missing and one eye was milky white—blind. “Vince?” he said. “Vince?” The cat looked at him through his one eye, grabbed the meat and ran. That night the old man lay next to his old wife and again listened to her snore. He wondered if he should tell her he saw Vince and that he was now a cat. He soon fell asleep and in his dreams he dreamt he had a multitude of cat sons who helped him build a high masonry wall all around the cabin. When he awoke, he shook off the dream still fresh in his mind, determined to forget all about the cat, fearing he was becoming as crazy as his wife. That morning as he sat away from the house on his favorite madrone stump next to the compost pit where the sun warmed his balding head and skinny arms, he saw a rustling near the fence line where the weeds grew thick and high. As he watched, there was a tumble, grunt, a sigh and then the spotted cat leaped high, proud, a snake clamped in his jaws, right in its middle speared by the cat’s sharp teeth, its two ends twitching and curling up alongside the cat’s muzzle like thick whiskers. The head twisted and turned, furious, not quite dead, its forked tongue flicking, hissing, its tail rattling, for it was a rattlesnake, venomous and deadly. The cat with one eye and one ear, bit down hard. The rattling and hissing stopped. The snake fell in two parts at the old man’s feet, wriggled just a moment in the aftershock of death, and lay still. The cat sat back on its haunches and looked the old man square in the eyes. The old man took another puff on his pipe. “Vince?” he said and patted his lap. The cat jumped up, turned once around, and settled into the old man’s lap for a long morning nap. The two dozed. When the sun was noon high the old man said to the cat, “Come on boy, come to the house to meet the wife and have some lunch.” The two of them walked from the sunlight into the dark gloom of the circle of trees and into the house. “Wife,” the old man called out. “Someone’s here I’d like you to meet.” The old woman came from the kitchen wiping her