The winking smiling slightly muffled cat pranced about like a ghost. Coming to stop near the door of a dull house. The house was painfully dreary. Everything thing from the grass to the windows wept of normalcy. The paint was perfect, parted, practical, and pale. In the dark light of a brilliant moon, as the wind-swept up noises of creepy critters crawling across cold cobble stones, the cat walked through the locked door and entered into a world of adults and teens, argument and anguish. Through the saddening people of past times and happiness, it danced to the center of the room, where a playpen stood holding a child wishing for some fun.
The cat looked at the child pretending to be asleep, purred and twitched its tail this way, that way, up down, side to side, exciting the child to a sitting position. They looked at each other with a knowing no one knew could ever be known. An understanding that souls like these two understood.
“Hello Ballad,” the cat says in her most sweet, subtly silly voice, making him smile, “The imaginorians have sent me to tell you that there is a life outside of this, a life that can only be found if you take yourself there. Would you like to come with me?”
He looks over toward the people who love him and care for him, and feed him. He knows they will always be here when he returns and that they will understand his little adventure. He knows they will.
“yes I would.”
The cat melts through the side of the playpen nestling beside him, “close your eyes and believe in the words I am about to tell you.” She begins.
With her words his mind goes black, nothing exists but her voice, it soothes his soul, singing sweet lullaby’s to his belly.”Imagine a red surface, floating in the plane of existence. It is bumpy and rough, it is the cover of a book. Watch it as it opens up to reveal the very first page, it is blank, as it should be, but notice in the middle of the left hand corner, there is a door knob, do you see it? I do, take it, open it, experience it.”Ballad takes it in his hand and turns, with a wooooooooooooooooooosh of wind and tick-tick-tick-creak of the page-door opening.
He and the cat enter a large dining room filled with foods he has only seen eaten but has never had the opportunity to eat them him self. The smell of all the delicious treats engulf him, filling his head with memories he may have never had before. He walks up and down the table seeing bowls of soup filled with tasty things, plates piled with candy, breads, fish, vegetables, meat, nothing in a paste, all of it whole. The table is to high for him to reach but he figures out a way, he pulls a few chairs together and begins to climb. Before he can get completely onto the first chair the family rushes in attacking the table, and in seconds they leave nothing but dirty plates.
“Oh well, I wasn’t really hungry,” Ballad says to the cat on the floor, “come to think of it I don’t think I can properly chew yet.”
“Yes I am sure, be careful getting down.”
“Oh come on, I’m not a b… never mind, I’ll be careful,” He makes it down safely, from the mountain that is the chairs. And walks toward the doorway the family walked though. His first sight, apart from the living room of the house he lives in, is of his grandmother, but it was not his grandmother, but it was. She was and wasn’t all at the same time. She was different then he remembered her.
His grandmother is a blur of tentacles, always cleaning always putting things away. She comes to a halt right in front of him, he can see why she isn’t herself. She is an octopus in a fishbowl, her tentacles poke through the underside of the bowl, her legs are robotic stems with wheels. She is holding a duster a rag, plates, sponges and soap, her lips puff out on the outside of the bowl as well, moving fast and clearly talking about people not cleaning, mess, mess ,mess. She sees him and bounds forward to hug and squeeze him. She dances with him rolling around still cleaning, still washing.
“My little angelic, perfect, handsome, wonderful…” she goes on and on talking cleaning, dancing, he is getting dizzy. Ballad just wants to be put down, she is treating him like he can not walk on his own, he just climbed a mountain of chairs, he can do anything. She puts him down and starts her cleaning again, she is moving way to fast for him to see her, a blur again.
“She seems to have a lot to do doesn’t she?” asks the cat.
“She always does, I sometimes wish I could spend more time with her when she is calm. She never is though, she is always running around doing things for others never for herself. You know what though, I think she likes to be there for others, no matter how stress full it can be, she is glad to be needed. I hope I grow up to be like that.” Ballad is surprised to hear that come out of his mouth, and the cat knows.
“Trust me, there will be more times where you are surprised in what you say. Do you hear that?” she asks with a bit of concern in her voice.
“I do, and I think I know what it is” he says with half a smile and half a grimace. A loud unruly, booming noise comes from the left side of the living room, the hallway light turns on and through it comes his father.
His father is a cross between cousin it and a one man band. His long black hair curled around each instrument that was locked against his body. Every time he took a step, his hair would play a tune. His fingers moved like snakes and he speaks in guitar solos. He moves like water smashes against rock faces of mountains. Noisily he walks over to Ballad picking him up in his snakes, they wriggle and tickle, taking him to the couch and sitting him down to watch another episode of T.V.
Pinned by hair, horn and snakes he spends an eternity trying, fighting, crying to escape and explore. He wants so desperately to be let go, to be with the cat on the floor and walk around.
“help me cat, make him let go.” He pleads
“but I can not help you, you have to figure away to get out of it yourself.” She scurries under the couch. He is left to fend for himself now.
Looking around for a way out he sees that one of the instrument is loose on the hair, this may be his only chance. He grabs at it, pulling, yanking, screaming primal screams, he finally pulls it out and throws it across the room. Feeling his music falter the father runs to the aid of his instrument, putting him on the floor.
“I can not believe he just left you for that horn.” The cat says incensed.
“I do,” Ballad says with a smile. “he is deeply passionate about music, and I love that, he takes such pride in what he does that I know when I am old enough he will teach me. I wish to be like that when I am older.”
The television turns off and a squeak comes from the hall again. Both he and the cat look over and see a sight worth seeing. It is none other than his mother.
“oh.” Says the cat.
His mother is a fast talking kissing fingered, tofu tongued, short-legged race car. A cell phone in one hand, a laptop in the other and mental powers to turn the television back on. She talks types, and goads over her husband and child. She grabs Ballad and again he is trapped. She makes her husband uneasy, which in turn makes a racket from his hair. Ballad knows she tells him what to do and is amused by it.
“not again,” the cat runs under for cover.
Ballad needs to find a way to get out, but there is no escaping this time her grip is too great. She holds him, kisses him, talks and types.
“how can anyone do so much at once?” he says to him self.
She blazes on with school work and phone calls, asking her husband to make a bottle, never looking away from the television or her child. Suffocating in kisses and feeding, Ballad looks to the cat for help but she only pops her head out to ask an annoying question.
“so what does she have that you want in life.”
Angry with a question he knows is to put his mother down he blurts “she is deeply committed to me and my dad, her love will never waver and never falter, she will always be there for us both, you hear me.” He yells to the cat, yet he would like to be let down all the same. The cat smiles at the answer and goes back under the couch for safety.
A scream shocks Ballad, a scream he has heard before, a scream that can only mean one thing: fun. Noises come from all around him, the cat bolts out from under the couch. Its his youngest uncle.
Crawling out from under the couch, his long thin lizard body close to the ground is his uncle. He slithers across the floor playing video games, he stops, smells, and slowly slyly, smoothly turns to face Ballad. They both smile at each other, then suddenly, like lightning, his lizard uncle is wrapped around him, they roll and tumble on the floor like two cubs.
Tossing Ballad on a saddle secured to his back they travel around the entire living room, looking in and at all the things that it has to offer. Searching for a new game to make, yelling and screaming as they have an adventure.
His lizard uncle takes him across the floor, up the walls, and upside-down into the hall way, where they look at more toys, and many more things grandma wouldn’t like them playing with. It is always a treat to be allowed to do things adults do, like play with pencils, or ware hats that are ten times to big. Or holding a magazine even if he knows the scribbles on it mean nothing to him yet, and maybe one day he can hold the green paper they love so much. His uncle takes him off the saddle, and slinks away.
“he is fun isn’t he?” the cat is back, sitting next to him on the floor.
“I love him, he teaches me everyday that anything and everything can be fun, that life is not meant to be taken so seriously, that being young is the most amazing thing about being alive, and even when I get older its ok to hold on to that way of thinking.”
“that is actually very beautiful.”
“I know, but what do we do now?” he says looking at the giant door looking at both of them. Neither of them can reach the knob. But just as they begin to think of another place to go, the lock clicks and the door opens.
They walk into the room lit only by another television, sound blaring in Spanish. They edge closer to the flickering light and see his grandfather. He is a king sitting in his lazy boy throne, laughing at the scenes depicted on the screen. His face is that of a loving old man, lined with stories, hair peppered with experience and lips ready to speak. His hands are rough with work, many years of it, he body and legs tense with tired, and his eyes dim, ready for a good nights sleep before the working day begins again.
Ballad likes to watch his grandpa do things, they always look like they are important. Like when he pokes his fingers and reads numbers from little machine, or flips through the channels like there is something always better on the other side of the screen. Or when he eats, that looks important. Octopus grandma brings in the food and he is ready. Though sometimes grandpa looks to tired to do important things.
“you know its been a while since I got to play with him, he seems so tired lately.” Ballad says to the cat who listens earnestly. “but I guess it’s how it goes for him. He works so hard to make his family happy, he is tough on the outside but I know he does it all with love”
“I think you are right.”
“I know I am, I hope I am a hard worker like grandpa when I grow up.” He says more to himself then the cat.
Grandpa starts to do important poking and going “oh” and “ah”, Ballad and the cat feel like they are interrupting, so they back away a bit till they come to rest on a wall. The wall is mushy, and they fall right though, they are now in another room, this one belongs to his oldest uncle, the one Ballad doesn’t fully understand.
The room is dark, but noisy with talk from many different people. They are all blabbing at the same time its hard to understand them. Ballad and the cat walk slowly to the center of the room, not making a sound, they don’t know why. The voices are getting louder and faster every step. The darkness gets deeper just as fast. Louder, darker, louder and darker still. Ballad and the cat can’t take it anymore they fall to their knees making the ground crunch.
Silence now. A glow from in front of them lights up the figure of a man, and then the rest of the room. Only the three of them are in the room, but all the voices start to come back, slowly. Ballad sees that the voices are coming from the ever-changing face of his uncle, he is never the same person twice, he speaks in blahs.
“blah blah, blah” he says
“you know what, I don’t know why, but I don’t like him much.” Ballad says surprising himself again. “well I love him and all, but I mean come on, he is never him self, it’s always something different, magic, music, reading, writing, something, he never has time to play with me, he is always shut away in his room, and I never get to see him. He talks like a sailor, smokes like a train, and would rather do that then play with me. I think he is all bu…”
“hey hold on there kid, hold your tongue or ill do it for you” the cat chimes in.
But as she says that she looks at the uncle, his hands are holding books and cards, pens and papers. His faces talk to each other and no one, around his head spin words and phrases. His eyes are the only constant, they are always searching, always taking in what is going on.
“I have to admit, I learned something from him.” Ballad says
“oh and what is that” she asks half in disbelief half curious
“it doesn’t matter if you are a hard worker, fun, committed, passionate, or caring of others if you don’t have two things.” He looks at his uncle “knowledge and unwavering honesty. And I know, no matter how bad of a person my uncle is, or just might seem, he always wants to learn and tell the truth at all costs, I hope I grow up to have that too.”
Silently and slowly they walk out of the room, and back into the living room. They can hear king grandpa’s television, music dad’s noises, multitasking mom’s talking. They can see lizard uncle bouncing off the walls and octopus grandma in a frenzy. They can even imagine what faces uncle-writer has on. The cat helps Ballad melt back into his playpen.
“we didn’t get to see the imaginorians, and you didn’t get to show me life outside of this” Ballad says to the cat, partly glad.
“oh child that is for another time, for now go to your family.” She turns to leave but stops and looks back. “tell me, if they have taught you all this, what have you taught them?”
“that cat, is for another story.” They smile at each other in agreement, and the cat disappears through the door, and out into the moonlit windswept night.
-to my nephew, I hope you read this when you get older, and to Maurice Sendak, a great man who will be missed.