Categories
25th Anniversary Uncategorized

Re: Re: Re: Exit by Kendall Poe

Visual art by Ting Wang

From: Crystal Hatzi <Crystal.Hatzi@yahoo.com>

To: William Rocky Cuevas <Billyrock4@gmail.com>

Date: February 20, 2020 8:27 AM

Subject: Exit

The cats are in their carriers. Or they were, at least. It was a struggle, but I did it. I’m exhausted. Panting, practically. You’d think I’d have had it down after the fire drill we had last Thanksgiving when the neighbors burned their jerk chicken, but Bugs didn’t want to go. I have a three-inch gash on my thigh to prove it. He’s wild when he wants to be. Snowcaps could care less. She almost walked inside and closed the gate for me. Typical. Remember the scene from Alien when Ripley runs through the ship with the empty carrier looking for Jones and all you’re thinking is ‘GO, GO! LEAVE THE CAT’ ? I understand now. No matter how grave the threat, you can’t leave the cat.

We haven’t seen each other in over a month, back when the virus was just a virus and not a pandemic, but I thought I should write to you. See if you were leaving too. Maybe you thought I was joking then when I said the thing about fleeing the city after the first five hundred cases. Maybe I had been. The three of us, me, Snowcaps, and Bugs, left last night. The sight of the skyline made my skin crawl as we drove over the Verrazano Bridge. All the nooks and crannies it could hide in. Remember when bed bugs scared us? How we feared catching them on the train. All the frivolous things we thought. Please tell me that you left too. I find myself wondering which highway you’d take and how your mother’s knees would handle the travel. The cats and I have gone west, as I said we would, hoping that you’d be in the ‘we’ too. We’re lounging inside a motel room outside of Toledo. After we clear Chicago, I figure we can make it to Minnesota by morning the next day. I can’t drive straight through. You know how I am, narcoleptic after the first thirty miles of highway. We make frequent stops. I gave Snowcaps a feline sedative, otherwise her tongue stuck out like she was dying of dehydration.

Why I’m writing to you instead of calling you evades even me. I’m scared of what you’d say, the tone of your voice, perhaps the indifference that might meet me, same as it was last month.

Outside of the city, you’d think people were less scared, but it’s the opposite. Every gas station I stopped in had one to two clerks in ill-fitting masks shuffling between aisles or reaching for cigarettes on the high shelf. Each time we’d catch the other’s eyes, we’d nod in solidarity. A gesture that seemed to say: We aren’t fools. I wanted to tell some of them to buy better masks, but I remembered how you’d said I acted above people sometimes, so I stopped myself.

I want to give you a full report of what the cats are doing because even though we didn’t agree to joint custody, they were your cats too once. Bugs is nervous, as usual, in the unfamiliar space and transition. Snowcaps doesn’t care for the car rides but adapts immediately to whatever room you let her out. She investigates the bedspread, creeps across the AC vents. She sniffs the drain of the bathtub and even lies down next to me while I watch the news. They’re good companions. Please tell your mother that I say hello and that I’m sorry I never went to any of her birthdays. The Bronx really wasn’t as far as I made it out to be.

Let me know if and where you’ve gone.

Love,

Crystal

From: Crystal Hatzi <Crystal.Hatzi@yahoo.com>

To: William Rocky Cuevas <Billyrock4@gmail.com>

Date: February 24, 2020, 4:19 PM

Subject: Re: Exit

I’m sorry it’s been a couple days, but a lot has happened since I last wrote. First off, I don’t begrudge you for not responding. My goal in writing is not to goad you into another relationship. Believe me. We didn’t work for many reasons, I’ve realized over the last few days of driving. The road has a way of delivering you to the land of self-awareness. I just want to tell you where we are and how it’s going. Would I like to know where you are too? Of course! Do I worry that you’ve disregarded the warnings and better judgment, and have decided to stay in the city? Absolutely, but I am perfectly fine to contemplate and put my thoughts into the ether without the expectation of response. Merely the idea of you reading this gives me enough hope.

We made it to Minnesota, but barely. We had to spend an extra day in Eau Claire, Wisconsin when the car battery died (didn’t we change it a few years ago?) and they had to order one from Minneapolis. I guess people, or perhaps only Wisconsinites, have begun to hoard car batteries, too, along with the masks, hand sanitizer, water bottles, and aspirin. You may think I’m just like them, but I’m not. They’re crazy; I’m cautious.

We waited for the new battery in another roadside motel, except this time the weather was so unseasonably warm I took out my bike and did some laps of the nearby pond. I let the cats loose in the room and rode for over two hours. Eau Claire really is a nice city with red brick buildings, green spaces, and the Chippewa River, like a glistening black ribbon that ties it all together. You’d like it. Anyway, by the time I finished rolling back to the motel, Bugs was missing. I couldn’t find him anywhere, and the room didn’t have that many spaces in which to hide. Snowcaps sat like fat Buddha on the armchair, giving me no indication that she knew of her brother’s whereabouts. I got the dry food bag and shook. Still no Bugs. Then I opened a fresh can of food. Nothing. I shook the bag in one hand and put the tin can on the table to tap it with a fork in the other. Nowhere. Then I started to freak out, but kept at my ridiculous display of percussion. Snowcaps was in a frenzy at my feet, but I still couldn’t find Bugs. Eileen, the older lady who checked me in and who was most likely the owner, followed me to the room and pointed out the obvious spots she thought a cat would hide: Under the bed, in the closet, wedged below the nightstand. When we couldn’t find him, she went back to the office to get a screwdriver. When she returned, Eileen silently walked toward an air vent by the bed and began to undo each of the screws. He couldn’t have fit in there, but Eileen pointed out that one of the screws had already fallen off, so it was actually feasible. Sure enough, after a few more shakes of the food bag, Bugs slunk out of the vent like he’d just woken up from a nap. Can you believe him! What an ingenious, albeit slightly stupid, cat.

Now we’re in Minnesota. I don’t think I said last time that we would go north instead of the cities. The cities will get just as bad as New York. Plus, my mother doesn’t agree with me, thinks I’m making a big deal out of nothing, yada, yada, yada, “hysterics”, etc, etc. She ultimately relented and said that even though they can’t have visitors right now (busy at work), I could stay at the cabin if I absolutely insisted. So that’s where we went. You remember it, I’m sure. A couple hours northwest of the furthest suburb of Minneapolis. Closest encampment is Grand Rapids—Minnesota, not Michigan. It has one grocery store, five bait shops, and one faded mural of Judy Garland as Dorothy—the only way the midwest wants to remember her. We loaded up on canned foods (human and cat alike) oatmeal, and bought minimal amounts of produce, red wine and cheap lager. I saw only two people wearing masks in town. Everyone else avoided contact with me, as though I were the infected one. A worker at one of the bait shops was nice though. They sold snacks and live minnows. I could try to ice fish one of these days. Thank God my stepfather didn’t winterize the pipes this year.

Crystal

From: Crystal Hatzi <Crystal.Hatzi@yahoo.com>

To: William Rocky Cuevas <Billyrock4@gmail.com>

Date: February 27, 2020, 3:19 AM

Subject: Re: Re: Exit

It’s only been a few days, but we have something of a routine already. From what I can tell the cats like it here, and I don’t mind the quiet either. I keep asking myself why didn’t I come out here sooner? Our days are slow but active, if that makes sense. I guard against boredom as best I can, lest I make the same mistakes as my predecessors and eat poisonous berries or get lost in the woods.

We sleep in the small bedroom because it has a wood pellet stove and one of the bait shops has a sale on pellets. Bugs still doesn’t sleep next to me, but he’s at the foot of the bed at least, which is an improvement from when we were together. I think you tossed and turned too much for his taste. Snowcaps finds the crook of my arm and burrows in, just like she always has. She snuggles better than you ever did or maybe she knows I need something to hold while I sleep. In the morning I cook one egg and a portion of black beans. One can last me three days, so I imagine I will be fine for the next few weeks with what I’ve got. While I cook I listen and watch between chopping exactly one new Beatles’ video. Little did I know how quirky they were, and I’d never seen one before the cabin. It all started when I typed the word “help” into the Internet browser. I only drink coffee every other day to ration the three bags of beans that were left in the grocery store. The cats get a portion of wet and dry food and whatever leftovers I cannot eat.

After breakfast I turn on the radio. Local stations don’t highlight much beyond a fifty-mile radius of Grand Rapids, but I don’t mind. It’s nice to forget the larger stuff. To keep up with the virus I only read bullet points and never an article over three hundred words. Don’t look for the numbers. They will scare you every time. When I’ve read enough, I shower and dry myself next to the fireplace. In the afternoon I walk along the road that circles the entire lake. I haven’t gotten all the way around yet. It has to be longer than thirteen miles. Maybe one day if I start really early I can do it. I breathe better out here. It’s like someone has taken Windex and wiped away the soot from over a decade of living in New York City. Again, why didn’t I come out here before an epidemic hit?

When I get back, I put birdseed on the ground next to the house, and the cats and I watch as the birds eat. A cardinal has come around the last two days. It’s such a stark contrast to the white of the snow. Cardinals signify the presence of a loved one, usually deceased, who seeks to connect with you. I don’t know who would want to connect with me. Neither of my grandmothers liked the color red or winter very much. Snowcaps, in particular, likes the cardinal. Her tail twitches when it flies into view. I imagine her eyes dilate a millimeter.

By dusk, the cats snuggle into a mountain of fleece to watch whatever’s on NBC or CBS. I forgot how mindless primetime television was in comparison to streaming services. The formulaic dialogue, the noxious laughter, stereotypical characters? Have we not progressed beyond the twentieth century? I do, however, enjoy the show Black-ish. The actors seem to really get along. I’d be trapped in quarantine with them any day! Dinner is not dinner but instead an extended snacking session. In reality I only eat breakfast each day, but I feel my body adapting already. After all those times you suggested an intermittent fasting diet, here I am! We rarely stay up past ten. The first night I fell asleep at seven, hence the slower pace of life.

Best,

Crystal

From: Crystal Hatzi <Crystal.Hatzi@yahoo.com>

To: William Rocky Cuevas <Billyrock4@gmail.com>

Date: March 3, 2020, 3:19 AM

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Exit

Bugs ran away. I’m sorry. Sorry for you, sorry for me, sorry for Snowcaps, who doesn’t show her hurt, but I know it’s there. I walked outside to shovel the porch and he darted between my legs and into the thick row of evergreens across the street. I called for hours, then told myself to relax, that he’d come back after a little bit, but that was three days ago. I don’t know what to do. Every time I hear the wind moving through the trees I imagine Bugs shivering beneath a frozen, twice-rotten log or limply hanging from the mouth of a coyote. I’ve sat outside for the better part of a day, until my fingers went from red, to white, to blue, praying he would trot back into the yard. I’ve set food traps around the perimeter of the garage but only managed to catch the tail end of a raccoon. My sweet Bugs. I can’t tell you how much I’ve cried. We’re no longer three but two, just like we were once four. Was he scared when he left or thrilled? That perhaps he finally got his chance to explore remains my only consolation. I wish I could immortalize him in eloquent prose, but words don’t even excite me right now. All I can remember is the scene from Cast Away when Wilson floats away from Tom Hanks, except I can’t go to Wal-Mart to buy another Bugs. I thought we still had some time together. Writing it down makes it more real and final, which depresses me all the more. I will keep this message short. Another teardrop in the gray bucket.

From: Crystal Hatzi <Crystal.Hatzi@yahoo.com>

To: William Rocky Cuevas <Billyrock4@gmail.com>

Date: March 13, 2020, 4:08 AM

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Exit

I can’t remember the last time I touched myself. Not in a sexual way, but at all. Ever since doctors warned against touching your eyes, nose, ears or any metal surface, my hands have acted separately from the rest of my body. I don’t know what I feel like anymore, how my cheekbones push up or the loosening skin around the front of my neck. I replace the sensation of skin with the grain of untreated wood or the curve of a water glass. Everything I can touch except for me.

I’ve been listening to updates on the Chicago outbreak all morning, despite my better sense to turn it off. (I told you that cities were no good.) They talk about metal. They talk about air circulation. They talk about microscopic particles nestled in the wool of someone’s mitten, on the tip of a woman’s eyelash. It all sounds like the plot of a horror movie. There are so many instances in a day when I have to remind myself that this is real, this is my life, and we are all living this. How are you? I truly want to know. Now they have to find every single person who rode the el in the last two days. I can’t help but feel buoyed by the news. It reaffirms my decision.

You should have been here to distract me about Bugs or you might have even caught his tail before he ran out the door. Then I wonder if we would have survived quarantine together. I hear a lot of divorces happening as a result of this thing. Ours was premature.

I feel heavy-headed most of the days, like if I let it, my head would drop to the floor like a bowling ball. My mother calls, but I don’t answer. Her voice echoes from the answering machine. Funny they still have one. She sounds like a manic woodpecker when she accentuates certain words over others. Increasingly annoyed by my ignoring her, I guess. In some messages I hear the TV in the background. She only watches true crime these days. I can imagine her as she floats from room to room, each TV tuned into the same channel, so that she won’t miss a second of suspense, the moment they reveal the murder and husband as one. You might accuse her of being unloving or cold, but I know she knows I’m OK and I’m alive. Just like I know she will avoid direct confrontation for as long as possible. A trait she passed on to me like a baton that I will never drop, no matter how much time I spend retraining my thought patterns.

Snowcaps had developed an obsession with cleaning her coat. She doesn’t appear to care that Bugs has left, but has coughed up three hairballs since he left. Our food supply has dwindled, but I need to get gas if I use the car. Also I’m not really hungry these days. Snowcaps grooms herself almost the entire time the sun is out, except when the cardinal appears by the birdfeeder. I’m running out of birdseed. That might finally be the reason that forces me into town. Otherwise, I just might wait it out until my mother comes to drag me home. You know the feeling when any choice debilitates you? That’s where I am, no matter how hard I push myself in some definitive direction.

–C

From: Crystal Hatzi <Crystal.Hatzi@yahoo.com>

To: William Rocky Cuevas <Billyrock4@gmail.com>

Date: March 18, 2020, 12:19 AM

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Exit

Remember the time we went camping but how we fought in the rental car outside our apartment window for almost an hour, each of us threatening the other that we wouldn’t go? The cats watched us argue from their post at the windowsill. Our arguments never ended until they finally did. It was like chopping off a toe, then asking us both to walk four miles. We didn’t know what we were doing to each other or how it would hurt so much later. I eventually put the keys in the ignition and guided the car to the highway, to the north, to the campground.

Someone called out to me last night in my sleep. She sounded urgent. This morning I checked to see if my mother had left another message but the machine was empty. All I can think about is what the woman wanted. Why did she yell my name? I never asked you if you believed in ghosts. It never came up in three years, which makes me wonder if we ever knew each other.

You see, I think the cats understood that we couldn’t stay together. They disbanded before they could die, like they say cats will do when owners are away. Yesterday I made the mistake of letting Snowcaps outside. She has such a docile personality. I didn’t think anything bad would happen. For a while it was fine. We sat in the sunlight together, she with closed eyes and gentle flicks of the tail and me with a mug of lukewarm coffee. Just sitting outside felt like an accomplishment. I thought of Bugs frolicking through the empty fields of melting snow. Most likely I thought if we both sat outside he would come back to us.

We were enjoying our late morning outing until I stupidly spread the birdseed. They need to eat too, I’d thought. Snowcaps dropped her head, zipped up her relaxed position into a tense crouch. She waited. The chickadees came first. Still Snowcaps stayed still except for her tail that cranked behind her like a can opener. It was funny to see how quickly a cat’s instincts overtook them. I watched her watch the birds but by the time I reached to grab her, to pull her from her blood lust, she’d taken off. The cardinal had showed up. I saw his blood red breast streak through the tree branches as soon as she got to his patch of seed. He landed for a few agitated seconds, then flew to a spot close enough to the seed, but far enough away from Snowcaps. No matter how quickly she moved the cardinal outsmarted her. She studied his movements but when I reached to grab her, I must have spooked the cardinal. He darted in the direction of the lake. Snowcaps ran with him. She bounded down the stairs and jumped over the beached dock like a hurdle. Because she gave chase, I chased too.

I’ve never seen a cat run that fast, straight onto the frozen edge of the lake. The cardinal landed closer to the middle. She stopped running once she got within ten feet of him and crouched again. I came up behind her but just as I reached her tail, I heard the ice groan below me. I know ice makes all sorts of noises. Not all is bad.  It complains when it freezes, it shouts when it melts. Because it was March and sunny and no longer as cold as it used to be, I knew to heed the ice’s warning. Immediately I dropped to my belly. Snowcaps crept out of my reach, so I shimmied on my stomach closer to her, to the cardinal. The ice moaned again. Dear God, I thought. This can’t be the way I go. Surely a virus was better than this. The cardinal stayed in his spot, as though luring her and subsequently me to thinner ice. More cracking. I started screaming then, to hopefully drown out the sound of the ice and scare the cardinal away. Stupid cat. Stupid cat. I shimmied closer and closer until I finally was in distance to reach her haunches if I lunged, but the cardinal grew tired of this game and flew back to shore. As if nothing had happened, Snowcaps dropped her predatory stance, turned on her paws, and walked back toward land. She didn’t even stop when she passed me. For a luxurious second I forget that I’m in danger and feel the delicious lick of ice on my hot cheek, followed by a few labored breaths. The whole scenario reminded me of the final scene of Fargo when Frances McDormand chases the killer onto the frozen lake before shooting him in the leg. You know, they filmed that shot somewhere around here, on one of the many, many lakes. They’ve got ten thousand to choose from. Hard to know which one was best. Maybe a variation of this scene, cat-girl-bird, plays out on each of them. Maybe someone sees a girl chasing a cat across barely frozen water every day in the springtime. Suffice it to say, we both made it home. Snowcaps was waiting for me at the door and flicked her tail as we walked in.

This is my last exercise in throwing unanswered thoughts into the ether. You don’t want to be bothered, or you’ve died, dramatic as it sounds. Regardless, I need to understand that you’ve died for me, as apparently you’ve killed the idea of me off weeks ago. It’s okay, I keep saying out loud. This is a new world where the coffee tastes burnt but I don’t add sugar. I’m surprisingly well adapted to this kind of thinking. And I can’t stop thinking about how the scene would have been different if you’d been here. How maybe your weight would have sunk us. I wonder in how many versions, in which of the lakes do you show up?

By gulfstreamlitmag

www.gulfstreamlitmag.com