Just This

Originally published in Descant#143, Winter 2008

Where are you now my darling? My sweet girl. Ma cocotte. I don’t stop listening for you, sniffing the air for your smell, seeing you out of the corner of my eye. Feeling your fur with my fingers.

Your exquisite fur, white grey taupe black. Tes poils, which I find everywhere now, not just on couch and chairs and blanket but in my drawers and closets, white filigree lacing through sweaters and coats. My hair sheds too only it’s longer less fine. Our curly white hairs are everywhere in this apartment, I can’t brush yours away.

You’re nowhere, and everywhere. The flash of white that never appears though I’m always seeing it, wherever you used to lay yourself down. You always were everywhere, here, in these rooms, I took you in through senses I didn’t even know I had. That’s why I still feel you still smell you still hear you. I don’t stop listening for you.

All day long I keep telling myself no: that isn’t you rustling papers in the corner, that can’t be you at the window wanting to be let in, no that isn’t the soft thud of you landing as you dismount from the chair in my study.

I brace myself before walking in the door: no she is not curled up on the living room rug. No she won’t be there in the hallway when the door opens, doe-eyed fur a little matted from sleep, she won’t stand expectantly for a moment and then, tail up high, dance her little twirl. She won’t fling herself at the back of the armchair and hang there, body stretched full length, backpaws touching the floor, eyes turned in my direction.

Sleep undoes all the work of the day before. I lie in bed in the morning waiting, waiting for you to come in and hop on the bed. The floor creaks overhead, the refrigerator rattles. You don’t appear.

Distraction only makes it worse. Allows it to creep up on me when I’m not ready. Makes me forget so I have to remember all over again. Last night after the movie which made me leave you behind such a harsh return— to the is-not-here, the won’t-be-here, of you.

I sit at my desk and look out at the park. Our park. You spent more hours sitting in this chair than I ever did, gazing, dozing, gazing. The trees are maimed from the ice storm, lopsided, limbs missing, pitiful to look at. What kind of spring will this be, with you gone and the trees all scrawny?

Errante,” said the slip of paper the woman gave me at the SPCA when I came to pick you up on that first day of our life together. “Stray” in English, but if the slip had said “stray” instead of “errante” I wouldn’t have seen you, as I did so clearly then, wandering the ruelles of the neighborhood whose name was written there—Pointe Claire? Point Charles? it didn’t register, I barely knew the city then. What drove you into the cold November streets? Did you eat out of trash cans? Find old rags to bury yourself in at night?

A sign from the first of how it would be between us, till the end of our days together: you wandering off and never telling. Never making me any wiser about where you’d been. Leaving me in a chronic state of wanting-to-know and not-knowing. Even when you stayed right there on the chair in my office. Your chair. Now here again you’ve left, wandering deep into a night of your own where I can’t follow. Leaving me wanting and not-knowing. How much mystery you held in your tiny body!

You, mon errante, my sweet wandering girl. These terms of endearment I’ve never used with any woman. I never knew any holding back with you. From the first I knew how to give you pleasure. When to touch you, and when to stop. How to hold you. When you had fleas I bathed you, I knew how, I clasped your forelegs firmly, without hesitation, I dunked you, I held you there. You protested, you tried to wriggle free, but you never bit or clawed. You trusted me by then. When we went away together, you let me place you in your box, you sat there and submitted as I lowered the lid over your head. Only afterwards, once we were in the car you beside me on the passenger seat, did you start your moaning.

Why am I writing to you, about you? I never could write about the women I’ve loved and lost. Not without feeling underhanded. Not without my own story getting in the way. I’m not afraid to be found out with you. Nothing feels tainted. With you I was never ashamed. My hair could look any old way.

Why am I writing about you? Because I want to reach you. Because I want to put you to rest, in me, without sealing over. To heal, without moving on.

Where are you now? Everywhere I look I see your absence. A dullness to the chairs, the rugs, the floorboards, the plants. The bloom is off. Deprived of your appreciation, of your endless consideration. Lovelorn without you. What am I without you. Like the trees in the park with their limbs lopped off.

I prepare myself before getting into bed: no I won’t hear the door creak as you nudge it open, no you won’t circle the bed while I wait, knowing you’re down there biding your time, I won’t feel that little bounce as you mount the bed at last, hear the purr that begins the instant you land, feel you padding towards me on the quilt, purring louder as you approach. I won’t reach out to where I know you are, just about even with my waist, let my hand fall on you, then stroke you as you push your head through my hand, over and over, until you’ve had enough and make your way back to the foot of the bed, discreetly, where as you mark out your nest then lower yourself down into it your purr subsides and we both drop gently into sleep.

I keep trying to get to the new life the one you’ve made possible by leaving, so far nothing compensates, I try and add up the advantages but they don’t amount to a hill of beans. I’d give anything to be vacuuming twice a week, running the lintbrush over the chairs, the couch, the blankets, riding my bike home from the pet store with my knapsack full of cans, all the shopping cleaning and worrying and you know it was all a pleasure because it was all for you my dear.

Not political this time, not global. So small you didn’t even weigh eight pounds.

Not that I was abandoned, not that I was hurt, not that I was accused. Not that I failed.

No rewriting of our history, no sudden stabbing memories of hate, or love. No anger, no indignation.

No trace of relief. No up side. No perks. What did you ever get in the way of, nothing that I can think of, you were always there but never in the way never demanding your needs so simple to gratify.

When I went to see you at the clinic they let me take you out of your cage, they unhooked the tube from the IV, they led us to a private sitting room where we nestled down together on the couch. Your belly was shaven, you had an orange velcro sleeve on your foreleg. I covered you with my green parka, you were shaking and crying, your claws dug into me. I sat there with you on that couch as the sky darkened out the window and the room grew black. I had as much time as you needed. After an hour I could feel your body starting to relax. And then it came. The softest purr. You started to lick my hand. You’d come back, you’d let me bring you back.

No guilt. The vet said there was nothing to be done. I did all I could. No regrets. I took time to stroke you to talk to you to just sit with you. We spent long hours sitting together, you and I.

I wonder what I will do with myself all day long, all my life. I fear a dreary succession of days filled with “no,” no you, no ground, no heart at the center of things.

Don’t expect, say the Buddhists. Learn to live in the moment just as it is. But it’s my body expects you, in every moment, when I sit on the floor my hand expects your head to come find it, to push its way through, expects your whole body to come tunnelling through after, then to turn around and do it again. My waist expects to feel you sidling up against it, circling round.


My eyes expect you, only now do I see how the ever-present possibility of you filled these rooms, how atmospheric was my anticipation of you. How the sight of you—your heart-shaped face your pale green eyes your dainty step your electric fur gray white diaphanous—brought… relief, delight, joy. And even, sometimes, shock, the shock of a lover showing up when you’re not expecting her, oh remember how you suddenly appeared down by the lake on that full moon night? I’d never seen you there, you’d never ventured down that far, yes it is true when you suddenly appeared and often even when I was expecting you, when I first walked in the door and there you were—I had the start that lovers have. My pulse would quicken as I climbed the stairs, just to know I’d be seeing you! Just to know you were there. And of course you always were there, I could count on you to be there even as I could count on that little rush at the sight of you. It seemed too good to be true. With humans one of those assurances always seemed to rule out the other.

My ears expect you, the language I learned that was all yours, the deep pleasure purr when I touched you, stroked you, and you’d been waiting for my touch, the quieter subtler purr as you approached, that anticipatory whirr as you headed towards me on the couch, on the floor, on the bed. The focused, aggressive purr, while you waited for me to open a can of food. And outdoors, your particular cries I struggled to make out from among the tapestry of sounds, the rustling of the leaves and the squeaking of the chipmunks and the rushing of the wind.

The series of little “mews” piping a greeting as you ran towards me from the woods, tail high, body electric with energy. The yowl at the door, repeated ever more insistently until someone came and let you in. The more primal yowl—conquest? pride? victory? —as you pranced across the porch with a shrew in your mouth. The sounds that over the years I learned to pull out from among the vast universe of sounds. Having strained to hear you all these years my ears go on hearing you, and I have to train them in reverse now, to release your beloved mews and yowls and purrs back to the universe, to return them to the vastness from which they came. I have to unlearn your language.

Today I walked into my bedroom and gasped. There on my bed! The flounce, the flash of white. As after a dream my rational mind restores the contours of the waking world. My gray shorts in a ball, pockets turned out…

Seeing you, suddenly, on the rug in the alcove. Shock. Until I realize it is two books I left sitting on the floor in the exact spot you used to occupy. A pale sweater left draped across your chair produces another start. Just so you continue to take shape before me, beside me. What shape is that shifting over there?

I know this stance from having hunted for you so many times: ears attuned, eyes trained, all senses straining to make out the desired one. Spotting you—la voilà!—the shock to the heart: you were so often scarce, so often when I called you didn’t show. That rustling in the leaves, the tiny piping sound you made as you ran, oh come to me please come all I ask is for you to come come home my prodigal daughter/ lover/ beloved.

Last night I dreamt of you, I was holding you, you were in my hands, and one hand was stroking you, all over, your head your back your sides your tail. Such unexpected fulfillment to hold you that way. To hold you, in my hands, in your entirety, as I did when you died, holding you on my knees feeling—in my hands and my legs, as I could never do for any human—the life go out of you. Completely.

Grace. Gracie. My Gracie girl, my sweetest most beautiful girl, these words I’ve never used with any woman, or any child. “My girl” “my sweetest girl” I called you knowing you would never be mine, knowing I could hold you, I could pick you up and shake you about, I could rough you up the way I often did, I could gather you completely in my hands, and hold you to my chest and yet—ownership was out of the question with you, always. You would never be à moi. Maybe that’s why I felt so free with my possessives. You would always be mon errante, straying from me even as you stayed at my side. At the same time you were mine, you were of me, in me, part of me as my legs are mine or my fingers.

My Gracie girl, mon amour, ma cocotte, I loved you without reservation, without fear. Without holding back. I was never afraid to run out of love with you.

What was our story, yours and mine? The drama the conflict the turning point the dénouement? We fell into rhythms and whole months disappeared into them. By “disappeared” I don’t mean that anything was lost. It continued, we continued, the fabric went on being woven, threads of love spun—that’s how I took you into me.

No drama to mark our days, months, years together. Only constant repetitions, day in day out. You were always my first thought in the morning. My rising would rouse you. Over and over I fill the bowl I open the window, I listen for the sound of you scratching to be let back in. Over and over I sit on my cushion and you come join me, circle around me, let your body drop against my folded legs.

Over and over we soak in, we give thanks. You taught me that. How to rest in the moment. How to give ourselves over to…rapture. Among the plants. Above the burnished floor. Beside the green-leaved window.

This is life, Gracie, just this, I felt myself saying to you, over and over, and in your silence and your soft purring I heard you agree. And it’s nice like this, it’s good like this, just this. Isn’t it?

Yes, yes.

About the Author

Lise Weil was founder and editor of the US feminist review Trivia: A Journal of Ideas (1982-1991) and co-founder of its online offshoot Trivia: Voices of Feminism, which she edited through 2011 and which is now published by an editorial collective at the University of Arizona (www.triviavoices.com). She recently completed a memoir, In Search of Pure Lust, centering on the tension between the grand experiment of lesbian-feminism of the ‘70s and ‘80s, in which she was a fervent participant, and her later immersion in Buddhist practice. In 1990, she left Western Mass. for Montreal, where she has lived ever since. She teaches in Goddard College’s Graduate Institute.

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