Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rose Berdoo 2, ongoing

During the day Mira felt that the ship was like all the best parts of Disneyland, picked out from the dross to be enjoyed on its own. Like a small teacup of fruit cocktail cherries that she could stretch out and make last all day. Like the first Saturday of summer vacation, Mira woke up each morning knowing the only purpose of the day was to spend it playing. Sunday afternoon’s dread of Monday morning was unimaginable on this floating Treasure Island pet shop filled with laughing, talking animals.

At night, though, when the headaches sometimes kept Mira awake and she lay in her hammock, or sat and watched the water from the deck, then the ship seemed like something altogether different. In the nighttime quiet, it was the ship and the water Mira could hear talking in creaks and whispers. The ocean and the ship talking back and forth might as well be two old relatives talking about who was dead and who was sick, and deeper, adult mysteries of the world.

She was sitting on the deck tonight, her face pressed to the cool of the cabin wall. The water was shushing against the hull and the clouds were gone so that she could see the colored stars against the black sky. Somewhere out at sea a lighthouse shone faintly on the horizon. Mira sat on the deck for what felt like a long time, hoping the cold against her head would let her sleep, and as she sat there in the dark she realized that the light on the horizon was not a lighthouse but a pair of eyes in a small, pointy-earred head slowly swivelling its gaze across the starlit sea. She got up and walked to the prow and sat down in the dark next to Rose Berdoo.

She smiled as the cat stood up and sat down closer to Mira, just touching her leg.

“I thought you were a lighthouse, Rose.”

The end of Rosy’s tail flicked back and forth in amusement. “I’ve been mistaken for hood ornaments and mastheads, but never a lighthouse. Tell me: do I look particularly pharonic sitting here?” He stuck out his chest so far his fur puffed out in a decidedly Elizabethan fashion. “Call me Farolito!”

Mira patted smooth Rose’s fur. “Tell me, Rose, why do cat’s eyes shine in the dark? Do you know?”

Rose squinted his cat’s smile and said, “Dear little girl, all cats know this!” He paused, sniffed Mira’s arm and licked his side before looking out over the water again. “Would a story help you sleep, do you think? It’s a long one; let’s go sit on that rope and be comfortable.”

Mira picked Rose up and carried him over to the loops of rope the monkeys had been working on during the day. It was a big enough pile for Mira to snuggle down on it, curled into its coils. With Rose settled on her lap like a tabby muff, she said, “Okay, I’m ready for my story.”

“It’s said by the ignorant that cats are creatures of the night. We ourselves know better, from the stories passed down from mother to kitten, back to the time of the 90,000th mother. We have many stories about the long-ago times. Some are funny. Others are terrible.

“But you asked why the eyes of cats shine in the dark, so that’s the story I’ll tell you tonight.

“A long time ago, there was a brother, the earth, and his sister the sun. The earth is a very large place, so I’m thinking that this brother, whoa, he must have been one fat baby, but in any case he was too large to visit his sister in her sky house. And you’d never know it because she lives so far away, but she was a big baby, too, and grew up to be much to large to visit her brother in his house. So the brother took little pieces of himself and turned them into falcons so he could fly up and visit his older sister. And the sister took little pieces of herself and threw them to some of the beasts that lived in her little brother’s house so that she could visit him there.

Mira looked down at Rose Berdoo. “And did the cats eat the pieces of the sun?”

“My dear, you’re a sharp one. The earth brother kept many kinds of animals in his house, birds and dogs and horses and whatnot, but it was the cats who reached the rainbow nuggets of sun first and ate them all up.”

“Why didn’t the dogs get any?”

“Some mothers say it’s because Earth brother kept the dogs inside at night and the cats outside, so that when the Sun sister rose and strewed the yard with pieces of herself, those cats sleeping outside saw them first and didn’t let the opportunity go to waste. However, some mothers say it’s because the dogs, given a choice between snacking on sun nuggets or (ahem) cat nuggets, chose the latter, as they do to this day.

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