November 22, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (9 of 12)

Thread: Mission

Mizzy ran across the road and a white Transit van blared its horn at her, screeching to a halt just a couple of feet away. She waved her hands, mouthed sorry and continued across with speed. The driver waved back obscene gestures and mouthed an alternative response. When she reached the other side of the road, the cat was gone.

Red, misshapen paw prints led into a dilapidated house beside her; the cat had dived through a small broken window in the basement.

Mizzy heard the van take off behind her, but the driver shouted a few more insults to indicate that she was in the wrong for taking her life and putting it in his driving hands. She stepped back to get a good view of the house.

No one lived here anymore. It was an old three-storey house, probably about a hundred years old, although to be fair Mizzy was just guessing. Although it looked old, it was rather bland, painted in a single colour – white – from top to bottom, save for the fuchsia front door. Paint peeling from the window frames revealed rotting, sodden wood beneath. The roof was missing a few slates and a bird nest or two was likely to be found sheltering there. Wooden planks barricaded the front door, forcing intruders to attack the windows, each of them smashed and penetrated at one time or another in a sort of property gang rape, every accessible entrance defiled and spoiled. A rusty gate sitting at the edge of some miserable-looking railings pretended to be the first line of defence; beyond lay two sets of slate steps, one that ascended forwards to the front door, the other descending to the left.

Mizzy kicked the gate and it wobbled and screeched, shedding rust like brown dandruff as it swung open. The cat was her priority not a graceful break-and-enter. She rushed down the slate steps towards the basement door. She hesitated by a small, smashed porthole-type window that the cat had escaped into, but could only make out a dim, stone floor inside. Little sunlight survived down to the basement level on this cloudy day.

Turning to the basement door, Mizzy wondered how she was going to open it, but was then both relieved and concerned to notice it was ajar. The lock had been busted open. In recent times or days long gone, she had no idea. She just hoped there was no one inside. Then again, maybe she was being told to enter because there was someone inside. Someone she was meant to meet, that would clarify her whole sorry mess of a life. Whatever – time to trust in the vision. There was purpose to be found here, she knew it.

The door creaked as she pushed it open and the stench of cat urine barrelled into her. Oh my God, she thought, I am going to gag. It was going to be difficult to find purpose in cat urine.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2231

November 19, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (8 of 12)

Thread: Mission

The following morning, she left the hostel early. It was her final full day in London and she felt desperate. The answer to her problems seemed so far away and this little pilgrimage could be filed under the category of Complete Failure. Mizzy had tried talking to every type of person she encountered about her troubles.

A Polish guy in a café in Canary Wharf, whose English was actually better than some of the locals, grinned and declared he loved tiramisu too. A Caucasian black cab driver in the West End, listened carefully to every detail and then said she owed thirty pounds, but retracted the demand quickly when Mizzy got a bit weepy. A homeless man on a bench, somewhere amongst grand white facades of the Pimlico streets, was silent and smelly through her tale and then cast some coins on the ground and asked her if she knew what they foretold. Some handyman on a side street in Stoke Newington told her to get her “tits” out and wolf-whistled, but when she tried to talk to him about her life story, he told her to “fack awf”. Then there was the imam who, just like Tom, saw Mizzy as American and nothing but American. He kept telling her, over and over again, that he had nothing to do with 9/11. There were others, of course. She couldn’t remember any of their names. It was a form of promiscuity; telling secrets to strangers without protection. Yet she didn’t feel unclean, just unfulfilled. No climax, only urgency, need.

Public transport was too expensive and she had quickly learnt to walk everywhere. So she kept walking that morning, an American tourist with nothing to tour. She crossed over the Thames to the South by Blackfriars bridge. She paid little attention to the river view with St. Paul’s Cathedral struggling to be noticed amongst the growing skyline, despairing that she was going to leave London with nothing to show for it except for the meaningless memories of random encounters. She left the well-trodden districts and ventured into the urban maze of the local. Places tourists did not go, because they had no reason to visit. Nothing of interest happened there.

The meandering streets welcomed her with indifference, offering up nothing of consequence. There were corner shops with conspicuous cameras, discarded Metro newspapers jammed into drains and hooded youngsters who were not in school probably because it was boring and no one had convinced them that an education was good for them. Too much Pop Idol, nurturing dreams of immediate success without a mountainous climb of endeavour and experience. She wondered about that climb. Had Tom been right? Was she simply suffering from responsibility vertigo?

She was willing to surrender the cat, return it to its rightful owner, and call the whole affair a bad dream. Perhaps its purpose was merely to shake her up and force her to reflect on the failures of her life and root around in the soil for buried truths. She still wasn’t sure. She needed more time to think about all of this, but the money had bolted from her wallet fairly fast in this foreign land. The return flight was tomorrow. Game over, girl. Game over.

Mizzy was surprised to find herself back at the street with her hostel. She had been so deep in thought, that she had let feet carry her in any direction they wanted to go. They had brought her back to base camp. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply and decided to prepare for departure. This grimy city held no secrets.

When she opened her eyes, bloody paw prints lay on the path before her. She turned her head slowly, following the trail across the road.

On the opposite side walk sat a dusty grey cat, tail curling and beating the paving stones with uncertain rhythm. It looked disinterested and unlikely to be killed by any over-stimulated sense of curiosity.

Mizzy stared at its snow-white paws, tinged with blood.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1909

November 12, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (7 of 12)

Thread: Mission

“So?” asked Mizzy. “What does it all mean?”

Tom was deep in thought beside her on the pew, glazed eyes, staring deep into infinity and beyond.

After a minute of silence had elapsed, Mizzy prompted again, “Well?”

Tom shook himself out of his stupor. “Oh, Mizzy, I’m so very sorry. Was a bit lost in thought there. We’ve got a little meeting being arranged here this evening and I wasn’t sure-”

“So you weren’t listening to me?” The excellent acoustics made her allegation sound a lot stronger than she intended.

Tom looked a little uncomfortable. “No, no, no, dear, that’s all wrong. I was listening, to everything about the running and the tiramisu.”

“The tiramisu is not important. It was incidental detail to convey an impression of my life and the people in it.”

“Well, Mizzy dear, if you mention it, it must be important. If you think there are signs everywhere, then surely the tiramisu is a sign too?”

Mizzy looked at him with unsatisfied eyes, slouched. She had travelled all the way to Europe to get away. She had wanted to solve the riddle that had been bestowed upon her. She wanted to know if that was why her life was screwed up; was there a fundamental reason why her life had been benighted so. This English idiot of a minister thought that the tiramisu was the key component.

“How do you find a compass for your life if you don’t have a compass to find it? God wants me to do something! The cat! Aren’t we supposed to follow God’s commands? Do what he tells us?”

Tom was suddenly galvanised. “He doesn’t want automatons, child. We are not meant to be robots awaiting instruction. We were given mind and soul not simply for the purpose of resisting sin.” His face was stern for a moment but soon lapsed back into a friendly smile. “I really should get some cushions for these pews, they are a little uncomfortable, aren’t they?”

It had looked like she was about to get some decent conversation out of the minister. Now he was back on cushions. “Tom,” she started, disenchanted. “Do you have any advice for me? I don’t have much time left.”

His blue eyes darted towards the fresco-less ceiling and then back to Mizzy. He put his hand on hers and cleared his throat. “Don’t you see Mizzy? Every chance for becoming something greater, to realise your potential, has been squandered and sabotaged. This is your answer. Stop worrying about what might come to pass, stop worrying about failure and try to be. Go out there and be special. You’ve gifted, talented, I can tell from your story. But every time you find some way of destroying yourself. Promise isn’t meant to be bottled up in the cellar like some fine wine. It doesn’t ferment, it just spoils. This is the real message contained in your life story.”

Mizzy leaned forward and stared intensely into Tom’s eyes. She wasn’t sure what she was trying to find in them, but looked nonetheless. There was nothing but honesty in them. Wait, no, she also found goodness and compassion. During this analysis, she considered his take on her past.

“Tom,” she eventually concluded, “I don’t think so. I think it’s about the cat.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2120

November 5, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (6 of 12)

Thread: Mission

Mizzy wasn’t certain she actually believed in God, but the House of God sure had a lot of nice and friendly people in it. Everybody seemed to like Mizzy at the church and she was fond of them too. She spent most of her free time at church because her parents never spent any time there, which was good enough a reason as any.

After losing her previous job, she had returned to the family enclave, now somewhat upstate after the Gardiner debacle. Mizzy never told any of her new friends about the scandal but as she had been such a young thing with fluff for a brain at the time, there was no doubt that she would be forgiven for doing something so juvenile. There was no sense in volunteering the information, though.

Mizzy had great organisational skills and organised anything that the Baptist minister took a fancy to. The Holyween evening, the local school choir and the Christian Sports Parade. When the minister ran out of ideas, Mizzy offered a few of her own. When the minister was too busy to listen to her ideas, she went ahead with them anyway. Mizzy was busy.

She subsisted on part-time earnings from working at the Bains Street store, tapping numbers into the cash register and sometimes helping out the old man from Pauli Avenue get the amaretto liqueur from the top shelf. He liked to make tiramisu for his wife, explaining that they had eaten tiramisu the first time they had sex, after which they got married because she got pregnant with a son that had turned out so well he had not bothered to visit for twenty-odd years. His wife had been six feet under for some time and Mizzy wondered where all this Italian dessert ended up. Perhaps the obesity of his black Dachshund was the key to that particular mystery, that not so much walked as dragged itself around behind the old man.

A low cost of living was maintained by living low with her parents. She only had to put up with Mom’s occasional jabs like “you could have been in the Olympics now, honey” and “you could’ve been married and had children now, honey” and “get me a goddamn drink, what kind of daughter do you call yourself?” Life was sweet.

This illusion of contentment was revised by an intrusive nightmare.

She was wandering out of the store at which she worked on Bains and a grey cat with snow-white paws was staring at her from the road. There was something wrong with the feline, something shocking; it took her a moment to realise what it was. Human eyes. As soon as she noticed, the cat stood up on its hind legs, like a human would and opened its fore legs like a human would stretch out his arms. Blood seeped from its paws. She recognised the signs – this was the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus Christ. Why had this cat been chosen? Why here? Now?

The cat opened its mouth to speak, with sharp, erect whiskers, and she waited for its words. She knew its words were a warning and her heart began to race. She knew that whatever it said was going to be very important. She felt intense fear of whatever truth the cat was bringing her. All she could say was, “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”

The first sound from its mouth smacked her awake. Dripping with sweat, she found that she had urinated in the bed. After all this, she was still a little girl and there was no getting away from it. The warning was incomplete but she had to tell someone. She tumbled out of bed, put on some pants and raced out the door in the middle of the night, time unknown.

She felt cloistered by the cold air. She ran for the church but was careful to avoid Bains, as her night terrors were still vivid and at large, preventing her from taking that particular route. She passed by the cemetery on the edge of town and spied a couple of dessert trays resting beside one of the tombstones.

Reaching the church, she banged on the door, rapping as hard as her fists would allow and pleaded for the minister. The minister came, looking shocked at the sight before him, having never seen Mizzy in a tizzy. He took her into the hall and asked her what the matter was. She told him all about the dream and the single word the cat told her. She didn’t know what it meant but she felt it was important. She was concerned that she had been sent a divine message but she had woken up before it had finished.

The minister asked what the name of the cat was, but she said she didn’t know and asked how that was important, and the minister explained that names were extremely important to get right. Without knowing the cat’s name, the minister seemed at a loss and just reassured her that it was probably just a bad dream. He made up a story about a bad stomach blight going around the town recently.

It wasn’t enough for Mizzy though. She started to tell everybody about the dream and because it was very important. She told the women who ran the cookie stall in the market. She told all of the children in the choir. She told her parents several times, even when her mother was clicking the stopwatch at her over dinner. Eventually people started to talk about Mizzy in a different way. When people start talking about someone, any small fact that they know becomes part of the general knowledge of that person. Soon enough, everyone had the full Mizzy picture, the one with the Gardiner debacle.

She couldn’t stay much longer after that and obeyed the only word from cat she had heard. That word was “go”.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1417