Part of the wisdom that comes with getting older is recognizing the patterns in the day to day, and then smartly anticipating them as they invariably, unavoidably, come and go. Like the tide. Or your teeth. And then, if you live long enough, long enough to become truly clever, you might also begin to appreciate the things in this world that some, even most, might take for granted. Like the tranquility of gardening. Or how much nicer baby wipes are than toilet paper. And then, if you live even longer than that, long enough to become honestly enlightened, long enough to accept the truth in all things, it might become painfully clear just how easy it all could have been. Like the small amount of grace required to relent the proving of your point. Or to please your mother.
It’s a state of mind that we are all moving toward, and hopefully grow into before our ends. That, along with every good life, there will come a few bad days. They’ll be here soon. Concede them. That the most enjoyable actions and activities are usually the simplest. You’ve already done most of them. Remember to do them again. And that there aren’t actually very many reasons in this universe worth getting your whiskers in a twist. Arguing with loved ones will only make it worse. Arguing with strangers will even more. So, as often as you can, accept them.
Or call the police.
Coincidentally, in that space of being where we all aspire to someday peacefully end, is nearly the identical state into which a cat begins. But, unfortunately, if you start out as more or less perfection, there really is only one direction to go. And the slow stubborn progression away from calm, balance, and dignity is the curse of all sons and daughters of Bastet.
Charlie had been noticing with more and more frequency that he was spending his emotional budget in far less efficient ways. On matters like breakfast. This morning, it tasted undeniably like someone had spilled the whole thing on the floor, and then, thoughtlessly, brushed it back into his bowl without removing the collected hair and lint. In previous years, a little less sleep or his coat failing to lay flat, regardless the number of compensatory naps attempted or how relentlessly he’d licked himself, would not have resulted in his present funk.
But today he was practically feral.
It was as though every year it took a little more effort to be happy.
And it became a little less possible to keep his joie de vivre.
Just last week, back home, he’d gotten into an incredibly petty argument with a raccoon. One he’d lived peaceably amongst for years. Over a roast beef sandwich he himself had no intention of eating. But, it seemed, in that moment, he couldn’t help but quarrel. Lines were then drawn, voices became taut, and it had nearly come to blows. Over nothing. And now, and probably for the rest of their lives, there would be awkward glances over their respective shoulders.
Though, presently, his mood wasn’t all the fault of his betraying age.
If he’d had his senses about him, and had been capable of searching out the reason for his heightened anxiety, he surely would have found it in the smell.
Life with his family, with Canner and Chloe, had begun at the beach. But after living a mountain range away for years, and now having been taken back to it, back to the place where everything smelled like cold salty wet and warm death, he had obviously lost all acclimation to its influence. It was familiar enough, having grown up with it, that its significance was easily dismissed. But when nothing had its own scent, and everything swirled in together, overly strong, overly sweet, it was easy to lose your wits.
Though, even so, he still knew a few things.
Nothing could last forever.
This moment would pass.
There was hope.
And a nice walk could cure plenty.
He hadn’t gotten too old or too irritable to recall that much.
Nor had it passed his attention that his family was undeserving of all the hissing and yowling threatening in his throat.
The love he had for them had built up a barrier that would always stand between. A sort of compassionate failsafe. And, to the end, that would be more than adequate to cover his developing inequities. So much so that his family might never notice that he had any at all.
Which is the thought he had settled on while perched, patiently waiting on the kitchen table, when Chloe opened the front door.
He affectionately brushed against her leg as he ran past her.
She shrieked at him to come back, but he bolted away and slinked down the stairs to the parking lot. He couldn’t oblige her just now. There were things that needed doing, while here, if he was going to find his balance again.
Though the beach was infested with seagulls and crows, it was also plentiful with pigeons. Seagulls were much too large to hunt. Crows were much too smart. And the wonderful thing about pigeons was that you didn’t need to smell them to find them. Their clapping wings and the enormous piles they left beneath their nests were signs too obvious to miss. Which begged the question, how had the hopeless grey things ever survived more than a century of natural selection?
But, honestly, how had anyone?
It was the pigeons that tempted him downstairs. He’d thought maybe he would sneak up on one. Or maybe he’d just enjoy watching them. But the sound of the ocean soon attracted him to the cliff. And then he found a large weed growing out from the wall at the edge that needed investigation. And by the time he was wondering how the thing had become so wholly alive with caterpillars, he had found his focus.
He felt like himself again. A calmer, wiser being that was not unnecessarily aggravated by anything. And it was in that relaxed moment, when his whimsy and curiosity had returned, that his mind was clear enough to notice something out of place.
Something in the salty sweet air had changed.
Charlie tiptoed into a patch of ice plant, down onto the cliff edge itself, a space no human would have been able to follow, and skirted the wall that separated the Channel Inn from the rest of the sprawling bluffs. He traveled quickly north, staying away from the loose sand that crisscrossed in paths and pooled in open spaces, and glided easily between and beneath the grasses and brush where the plants’ roots offered him solid ground to pad.
He kept his nose in the air when he could; all the while doing his best to separate the wickedness from the wind.
When he arrived at his destination, a clearing close to the abrupt edge of the bluff, he lay quietly at its border, in the cool sand under a knot of lavender, and watched.
There was a man on the ground being zippered into a huge black sack by strange people, and long black ropes trailing off the edge where more of them were climbing up. They appeared to be toting clear plastic bags up from the beach; one containing a shoe, another with a tattered Hawaiian shirt, and another just a wallet.
Charlie remembered the man in the sack fondly. Even though Birch’s scent was broken and lifeless, a good cat never forgets a hand that has touched him behind the ears. He stayed, watching beneath the lavender long enough to wish there had been someone there who might have cried for him. Then he slipped around the clearing without being noticed and continued up the bluff to see what else might be found today.