August 26, 2015

Leah Givens


I want nothing more than to dissolve under sheets, so quiet it's a secret even from the cat who sleeps in another room, oblivious; I have the bed all to myself. The fan goes on, soft, circulates the hot and dissipates the light sweat rising to the surface. Just enough to keep warm but not uncomfortable. And the noise, calming, the noise of sleep, dreams, of a plane long since taken off and drifting in the sky, through downy clouds, nighttime, above cities and countries. No one knows where and no one cares.

Time drifts by too and we all sleep, the engine murmuring that we'll arrive sometime and it will all be okay. That things will be different there and the new will be enough to last us a while, to distract us from the solid lump of pain in our chest, breaking it up with great breaths as we gaze at tall buildings, the sun in our eyes, exotic trees lining the streets, the air smelling of street carts selling things we've only read about in guidebooks and laugh to find out truly exist. Like New York hot dogs or Turkish kebabs or just pretzels near the subway—things you shouldn't eat, wouldn't eat at home, but nothing like that matters anymore; it's all here to experience.

One day after the next, each day is fresh. No matter the place, look all around, point out the dogs, play in the fountains, try to read the neon signs. Everything is free even when the adults complain about the fees for the museum and the amusement parks and special beverages; you're happy with lemonade and a park bench, anywhere in the world, it's all the same. A little dog walks by, eyes just your height. He recognizes you, you him, and you give a smile; that's all that you need in the world.

The plane ride back will be fine, and you can do it again on the other side. Your parents might want more, they may hold your hand and drag you from place to place and store to store, but if only they'd sit on this park bench with you, sit and watch the birds and the children playing, the sun fluttering in the long grass, ask what you want for lunch, peanut butter or honey toast, no matter if it's healthy, that's all you need in the world.


The cat is the problem. She knows she has my devotion, regardless of whatever world crashes around us. I could be homeless, hopeless, and I would sob even harder when she climbed into my lap, her paws gentle probing question marks: what is the matter, and can a purr not cure it?

And then you laugh through tears—no, you laugh and cry now that something so pure-hearted and beautiful could love you. She is perfectly made, stripes aligned by some cosmic design, eyes like fresh-washed grapes, full and lustrous, pink tongue ridged like a hilly landscape. How can I be so honored that a creature, not even understanding my words to her or my language (unless we allow her certain powers) will sit in sympathy, try to comfort me as she knows how? It is a blessing beyond understanding.

The cat knows you won't leave her. For long, at least. You take a trip to visit your sister, hand the spare key to a friend who's visited time and again. You pack quietly, hoping she won't notice as you fold clothes, stuff socks into the corners of a worn suitcase.

Once she hears you're going, your peace is over. She bolts across the floor, claws scrape-skating the parquet like old brakes on ice. Then she unleashes her howl, a deep-throated yowl, a primal call in a cello's range. As if in pain, as if in mourning and so out of sorts her brain has lost control of its body, leaving her limbs racing and her mind terrified.

True, your humanness means you risk naming her animal urges with words for our emotions. But when she slides to a halt and stares at you, eyes wide with anxiety, awaiting your next move, you have no choice but to take your place among the starry-eyed who see a soul in every creature. This creature, if not all of nature.

You won't say it because everyone says it—"My pet is the best”—plasters hackneyed bumper stickers, "Best Friend on Board" or "All My Kids Have Paws." No one can know, really know, the soundless comfort, the speaking without words.

Until you see they do. A dog refuses to leave its master's coffin during the long military ceremony. An elderly woman describes a new childhood after being gifted a kitten. "I learned to play again," she says simply. You imagine the river of wrinkles on her cheeks as threads of string in which a tiny calico finds endless joy.


Leah Givens has lived in St. Louis for ten years and enjoys almost everything about it except the inhumane winters. Jobs throughout her lifetime have included church-dinner dishwasher, medical resident, clinical assessor of Alzheimer's study participants and freelance photographer. Some of her work can be found at

No comments: