Friday, June 17, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 27

My heart is broken. It was inevitable, here in the Land of Infidelity, and now I, too, know the pain of a cuckold.

Sprocket’s been cheating on me. I noticed her trotting out to meet me from my neighbour’s front yard, in which she looked very much – and suspiciously – at home. I hesitated to ask because it’s my Jehovah’s Witness neighbour and our polite conversations always head in the same salvation-from-heathenism-before-it’s-too-late direction, which makes me highly uncomfortable. But Sprocket was looking guilty and trying to distract me, all big eyes and whatever, so I knew something was up.
Up, indeed! JW has been feeding Sprocket the whole time! She gives her a plate of her own meal and she has a big bag of cat food. And apparently the family up the hill feeds her too! Sprocket’s a total hussy!

While it’s obvious that Sprocket loves me best, since she follows me around, sits with me when I’m reading outside, moves to the doorway of whatever room I’m in – including the bathroom, which also has a door leading out to the garden – and brought her kittens to me for help, I realized it was an inappropriate point to make and could work against me in potential future legal battles. I held my tongue.
So that Sprocket! I’m moving earth and sea to find her a home, I’m making transportation arrangements with my students, I’m pulling allergy gunk out of my eyes rather than stop feeding her so she’ll go away, and this whole time she’s been getting it from the neighbours. Why You Wanna Break My Heart, Sprocket?

And there’s MORE. Sprocket-based trauma is taking over my life. Are you familiar with cats in heat? It’s loud and miserable and right outside my door all night, because three large toms – each a different colour and fur length, in a pleasing nod toward diversity in the community – are hot for Miss Sprocket. This also means that they’re peeing all over the place, marking her as property, and I’ve found two piddle puddles on my floor. (I asked Franck to mark a line of his own in front of the doors, a male-to-male challenge, to keep the toms [and their fur] out of the house, but he said no and has been acting nervous around me ever since. What? WHAT?)

She hangs out near me for protection, as I chase the bastards away with a broom in a show of female solidarity, but then she eventually wanders towards Henri, the ginger one and her apparent boyfriend, and shakes her tail suggestively. Here’s how it goes (the prudish among you might want to skip this paragraph): he chases her a few times and she gets away, playing hard to get. Then she sits and waits and he pounces, grabs her and bites her neck to hold her steady and positions himself while she squirms. It takes him ages to make it happen – or what feels like ages to me, standing by and waiting for a signal from Sprocket to whack him with my broom – and she lets him hump away without making a fuss, then suddenly HOWLS, this ear-piercing, I’m-being-tortured-while-you-stand-and-do-nothing scream, and scrambles loose. As he paces around and licks his chops, she throws herself to the ground and rolls around, madly twitching – in pain? to ensure pregnancy? – and then licks herself for twenty minutes and growls if he comes near.

Needless to say, I am traumatized and guilt-ridden, having stood by and let my comrade be assaulted by a ginger tom, and give her milk and all the love I can give while she recovers. And then? She goes back and they do it again. Sprocket, I say. If it’s that awful, why do you keep going back? For the babies? This boyfriend of yours is probably the one that killed the first two! And he’s biting you the whole time! Have some pride, for God’s sake! And Sprocket gives me a look that says “back off, chica, and save your feminist raving for someone who cares. Just shut up and keep giving me those ‘boulettes de boeuf’ twice a day.”

So she obviously has to make her own choices. I counted nine times on Wednesday – NINE! – and that’s just when I was around to hear the awful scream at the end. Who knows how many others, plus the one I woke up to at 5:30 in the morning in the doorway of my bedroom. Sprocket, Henri, I thank you. They’re serious about baby-making, these cats – all day and all night, it would seem. And when big ginger left? She moved onto the next one, whose resemblance to my old cat Minouchka makes my hostility difficult to justify. When he leaves, will she shack up with the third one? I’m getting her a copy of The Women’s Room.

What you didn’t know when I last wrote, as I chose stoically to suffer in silence, is that it was so hot here that I had mostly lost my will to live. To note: 1. La Soufrière, the volcano that people go jogging around because it’s always cold, was so hot that the plants turned black and died. This has never happened. 2. The number of people brought to the hospital for dehydration was four times that of the same period last year. 3. My students finally stopped wearing sweaters to school. Guadeloupe had gone wild!

Now has come the rain, in great, house-shaking storms that last three or four days, keeping you cooped up in a house where everything’s muggy and wet. Matches won’t light, laundry won’t dry, sheets smell unhappily like cottage cheese. The rain stops for a day and you’re smothered with a big, humid blanket, and then the rain starts again. Needless to say, I’m puffed up like a blowfish from the humidity (I dare you to find someone who retains water better than I), I’ve lost my tan and I have a heat rash on my forehead and – somewhere else. Plus, as an extra bonus, the mosquitoes are out with a vengeance, thriving in the rainy weather and focusing especially on my bum. They seem to have moved on from the child’s play of ankles and calves, collectively narrowing in on the parts that can’t be scratched in public.

Fortunately, there’s a garbage strike until they – whoever “they” are – agree to fix up the awful dump, and so there are mass amounts of garbage strewn around the streets in first the torrential rain, and then the Soufrière-melting heat. Sure smells nice.

I spent a week-end with Franck’s friend Hervé and his babies, at the beach during the two hours it wasn’t raining and then hanging around at home the rest of the time. And oh, that soft baby skin – why didn’t I get involved sooner? The problem is that I can’t stop taking pictures – and of someone else’s kids. What will I do when they’re my own? I need to face that I’m going to be a camcorder mom and that most of my friends will stop coming over to see me, for fear of having to flip through Album Number Twenty-Nine: Baby Turns One! Friends, let’s the make the most of these baby-less years, so as less to regret the inevitable fall-out.

I had what may be my last piano lesson with Steve, as he’s going back to Dominika. (They spell it with a “k” because Dominica is the Dominican Republic, for those of you who thought I was just insisting on a wrong spelling.) Last week they invited me to stay for dinner and it was delicious, this fish and potato boiled thing, and Steve felt that my wild dislike of everything to do with cooking could be cured by coming early the next week and making the thing myself. (Mind your own business, I said. Aren’t free piano lessons enough?) (No I didn’t, I’m a wuss. I said okay.)

Remember, a few minutes ago, about the heat? Wasn’t that fun? Their apartment is small and wooden-walled with the sun coming in from 10:30 on, a veritable pressure-cooker by 3:30. Lessons are miserable enough, listening to “Ding Dong Dell – Pussy’s in the Well” on repeat as I watch the humidity puff my hands into Pillsbury Doughboy mittens, so standing in front of a gas flame, stirring stew – let’s just say I’ve been to hell and back, my friends. It isn’t pretty.

Sometimes our different English is fun, like when he uses arcane-to-me phrases like “how do you do?” or when he calls potatoes “Irish potatoes.” (Plus, he doesn’t say puh-TAY-does like we do, but PUH-day-does. Irish PUH-day-does.) But mostly it means that I make endless jokes (my annoying habit when I’m in an unhappy situation) – and let’s tell it like it is, some of them are really funny – and Steve doesn’t get it. Doesn’t even get that I’m making a joke; no sympathy laugh or anything. Now, laughing alone, as I’m sure you all know, makes you either very sad or very giddy; with the head-spinny heat and the stupidity of the situation, I obviously opted for the giddy. I even got all giggly about sexual innuendo that he wasn’t picking up on - though this is possibly because he chooses to act like an adult. Really juvenile, like in grade five when we’d all freak out if Mr. Arnold said “let’s do it”; has my life in Guadeloupe come to this? Giggling helplessly through the haze of sweat and cooking steam every time the guy holds a dumpling a certain way? I’m not proud, I’m just reporting.

The damn thing finally got done – after I butchered my knuckles by kneading the dough to Steve’s satisfaction (I still can’t feel my arms) – and I was even able to taste that it was delicious despite the raw fish smell lingering on my fingers. Steve was all, see? cooking is fun!, which is the dumbest thing he could say. Cooking isn’t fun, Steve. Eating is fun. Just think how much better an afternoon I’d have had if you had cooked the stupid thing yourself. So if anyone wants to taste yummy Dominikan cooking, I’m your girl: I’ll tell you exactly what you have to do, step by step, and I’ll even set the table.

Hey, did you know that cockroaches can fly? Well, they can. Another fun effect of the garbage strike is that I have seen roughly a 600 per cent increase in the number of three-inch cockroaches flying around my home. Yes, please.


ribbit ribbit

p.s. the beginning of a Gordon Lightfoot review by James Adams, and possibly the worst-chosen opening quote I’ve ever encountered: “A famous critic once described jazz as ‘the sound of surprise.’ There wasn’t much jazz at Massey Hall last night or much surprise. But there was much pleasure and not a little pathos as Gordon Lightfoot…”

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