1. You know how some people are crazy? Meanwhile, there are others merely follow different rules. You’ll find me under the second category. Better yet, you’ll find me and some animal. But I don’t follow different “rules” so much as keep particular habits.
For as long as I can remember without having to strain, I have been accompanied by a familiar. An animal with whom I share a special bond, a close and dare I say “spiritual” (as many breeds as that comes by) friendship.
Today I am happy to be joined by Larincia, my little honey-colored cat, now 11. She’s been with me through this whole thing–the Leukemia, that is. But she’s had her own problems which I won’t go into. I can only hope that we pass together, and not separately. Call it sentimentality. Anyway, I’m writing you all because I expect not to last many more months, and I haven’t spoken to some of you in some time. Most of you, in fact. And in the spirit of the season (whatever season that is, in mid-September), I’ve decided to give you the gift of my life, distilled to its clearer moments, and arranged the only way I can–by animal.
2. My growth spurt came one morning after I’d turned 8, so my mother (Petunia Grace-Mithers) left the house to go find clothes fit for a 12-year-old boy. This left me alone in the house with Horp, my robin-turtle, whom I had adopted as a baby in the creek behind our first house that summer, and Father, who was too young to take care of even himself and was sleeping and whom we can safely count out. My turtle and me, then.
This was the summer of storms, when each day could be sliced into alternating patches of clear periwinkle sky and savage, stampeding rainstorms. Inside for an hour, outside in the wet grass for another. When mother left that day, and I was wobbling around with my limbs jutting out of my clothes, with Horp in a little handwoven sling tied around my wrist, I went outside.
I wanted to see how it felt to get under one of those little ravenous storms, so I went out to the shed. The shed at this time was supported only by the things inside it–all tools Father had inherited and forgotten. I dragged out the big folded tarpaulin while Horp wiggled her little blunt legs from where they dangled out of the sling from small holes. Like she knew I was making trouble.
I looked to the West and sure enough I saw this little hell-raiser of a cloud, its dark thick strings of rain falling like a huge daddy-long-legs slowly, loudly overtaking the hill.
I threw out the tarp and crawled under it and pitched it up with my head, shivering with excitement. I fed Horp some wet grass to calm her nerves as the clattering, slopping sound got nearer and nearer. It was about as far away as the house when I heard something else: screaming. Father had woken up and was racing along the veranda in his socks.
“Son! Where are you, son?!”
I got on my hands and knees and punched the tarp in front of me for a path. I held the ends of the sling in my teeth and Horp swung freely. I thought my teeth’d come out. Finally I made it to the end and thrust my head out into the calm air. A few yards to my left was the storm, and directly in front of me, on the stairs, was Father, gaping at me and holding his throat in both hands. Father was more frightened of lightning than anything else, because the legend goes that if you get struck by lightning, you’re more likely to get struck again, and he’d been struck while canoeing down the Hensbend River when he was 18. Snapped the canoe in half and he washed up on the shore of the Mither farm.
“SON! SON!” he was waving his arms like they were on fire. Even now I catch myself imagining they were on fire, but that’s nonsense. “THE STORM’S–!”
Then the storm hit me, and I threw my head back in. The tarp bucked and grasped all around me, and all my ears filled up with pure noise while I laughed my head off. Horp was sucked back into her prickly shell with her ears open. Then the storm trampled on across the yard.
“NNYAAGH!” came Father’s voice again, and I wriggled out into the wet, cool day to see him leaping after the storm, now sockless. Mom came home shortly thereafter, but Father was gone. The best I can figure is that he was so scared of getting lightning-bit that he wanted to get it over with (and maybe start doing something with his life). But according to that logic, he’d only be struck more and more frequently, until finally it happened a few times in the same minute and he died of shock. We’ll never know.
Horp lived until just after I started junior high and Mom and I moved into town.