Moodswing - Black cat or no black cat

Mona's missing and Lary doesn't seem to care

?I swear to God it's true this time: Lary's cat is really dead. Or at least missing. But missing is good enough. Mona has faked her own death before but always shown up at least by the third day. This time she's been missing for two weeks, and you'd think Lary could act a little sadder. But no, he's at the Local right now drinking bourbon and ginger like the only thing he's ever loved his entire life isn't off somewhere dead with her head imbedded in a teeming ball of maggots.

"I haven't smelled anything," he says, with absolutely no worry in his voice. "I figure if she crawled off and croaked nearby I would definitely have inhaled the stench by now." So what does that mean? That because he can't get a whiff of decaying cat she must be all right or something?

I swear to God, sometimes I just want to shake him until all the trapped toxins in his body break free in a cloud of carbonated particles.

Lary's home is a dilapidated old warehouse, a total dumping ground for industrial trace material, with at least a hundred places for a cat to hide, including inside all the exposed air-conditioning ducts.

When I go there, I keep thinking I see her out of the corner of my eye. I keep thinking, "Is that a black cat?" No black cat.

That Mona is black is appropriate for the pet of an earthbound demon like Lary, but she is not all evil, or even all black. She has a white mustache that curls up on her cheeks just like Salvador Dali.

That is the absolute truth. Lary found her living under the remains of a wreck in his carport 14 years ago, along with a dozen other feral kittens, but Mona is the one he picked out for some reason.

He pointed her out to me, had me get down on my knees next to an old oil stain on the concrete so I could see her peeking at me from behind the rusty muffler, and the first thing I saw was that mustache.

"You should name her Sally," I said, "after Salvador Dali." That was back when I believed in cutesy crap. I think I was even wearing a vest with, like, little gold appliqués on it or something, and I had bangs, too. Curled. I have no idea what Lary saw in me, or why he picked me out as a friend. He must have seen something in my eyes, a harbinger of how things would turn out.

I have no idea what he saw in Mona, either. There have been about a hundred kittens birthed in his carport, and he has not gotten attached to any of them but Mona. He even built her a damn pedestal, I swear. It's gold gilded, with an electrically heated velvet cushion. You would think he'd be a gibbering mess of emotional wreckage right now, but no. He is not even looking for her.

I, on the other hand, still keep thinking I see her. I see black cats everywhere, which is not good considering the renewed state of superstitious fugue I've been suffering lately.

It used to be I could keep it in check. It used to be I could see a black cat cross my path and I wouldn't have to hunt it down to make sure it didn't at least have a spot of some other color on it to keep it from casting a pallor of dread on my otherwise bearable existence.

Because these days I feel like I have it halfway together, you know.

I feel like I can almost balance everything, but of course you can't keep all the plates spinning indefinitely. Of course you gotta rest for a second, and damn if that won't be right when the black cat crosses your path and everything comes crashing down.

"Black cat, no black cat," Lary says, a bourbon and ginger bubbling at the end of his paw. "It doesn't make any difference." But I could see something in his eyes right then, a passing shadow. He might have been remembering her little pink nose as she peeked at him from behind that rusty muffler for the first time; he might be remembering the empty pedestal that waits for him at home right now. Yes, I see it in his face, he thinks she's really gone this time, too. "She was 14 years old," he says, and now I just wanna punch him, because punching him will make him feel better.

I tell you, two black cats crossed my path last weekend alone, and it's stupid stuff like this that makes me certain the shoe is gonna drop somewhere soon.

Because here you have this tiny toehold on the world for the first time, where you think you might be able to halfway handle the lovely crap basket that is your life right now, and you're starting to actually think life is a ball.

Then stuff like this happens. "She was 14 years old," Lary says again. I know. I know. I know. Life is a ball, all right, but it is a ball that bounces. Up and down. Black cat or no black cat.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (Harper Collins), now available in paperback. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."??