Wilberforce considered himself superior. By many measures, income, intellectivity, physical appearance, sensibility, gastronomy, even in humility which precluded him from dwelling too much on his station above the common rabble of those around him. His choice of a pet? The most sensible for a one-bedroom urban apartment: a cat. The cat needed little attention other than the occasional meal and a tidy box for waste elimination. No self-respecting cat required nor tolerated a daily walk, leashed and embarrassed to be paraded for others to coo at. With all of his polished attributes, when the cat expired, Wilberforce was left empty and shallow.
The end came of an evening, not unexpectedly as the cat had pranced upon the earth for almost 14 years. Following a scientifically determined portion of wet food, Wilberforce watched Gethsemane preen after ignoring the proffered meal. A creak of floorboards pricked the animal’s attention, eyes bright and fixed on the apartment door. There was nothing uncommon with other tenants coming or going although none of the stopped to visit.
“What is that?” he said, but the cat ignored him, intent on the door. With no further sound, he told the cat to eat, but again, the cat ignored him. After a few unsuccessful attempts to distract the cat, he got up from his chair and opened the front door.
“See.” He held up one hand as if holding an invisible plate. “Nothing there.” And he closed the door.
The cat, rather than being reassured, arched her back and moved sideways.
He picked up the cat and stroked her fur back into place. Many hours later, the cat curled into a ball in the corner by the well-apportioned bookshelf. In the morning, Wilberforce discovered that his feline companion had expired in the night. In a curious coincidence, his own expiration was near at hand.
Each summer began the way it always did for him, a retreat to the family beach house. Other than this one odd expression of privilege, he lived a simple life. A localvore, it was said of him that his impact on the earth was as near to leaving no trace as was possible. And yet, he returned to the beach house this summer as was his custom.
He spent his time in meditation, reading, and long walks along the beach each morning to see what the ocean had seen fit to show him. This morning he found a small octopus wrapped up in a clump of fishing net. The bright orange creature struggled to extricate itself. Impulsively, he reached down and cut at the nylon threads with his pocket knife until enough of an opening allowed the octopus to squeeze its way free. It pulled toward the receding waves. This is when he noticed something different about the creature. Instead of the perquisite eight legs, this one only had seven.
As he walked along side the small orange bulbous creature, he checked again and indeed, there were only seven legs. No space for a missing appendage, so sign of injury. In all other aspects unremarkable, only the lacking of one of many legs. He did not aid nor hinder the creature’s progress as it managed to complete it short journey over the smooth wet sand until the waves could reclaim it.
It wasn’t until the next year, when he returned to the his family’s beach house, that he thought again of what he’d seen that day, and then, only when a similar experience occurred. This time, instead of a seven-legged octopus he cam across a six-legged version. Again, caught in a jumble of a discarded fishing net. He wondered if he should still think of it as an octopus since the six legs were evenly distributed and the head retained its natural size in spite of the decreased need for controlling the complex tentacles. Again, he cut the modified cephalopod free and it returned to the sea.
“What?” The man stares at me, summing up his life with one word, no time to waste, no tolerance for foolishness that the street is so fond of, no patience for the expression of youth that is my art.
I am holding a can of black paint in one hand and a brush in the other. It is my duty to paint circles on plain walls, my calling in life. The circles represent holes. The holes could be portals into other worlds, giant doorways for tiny mice, or just an incentive to be curious. He neither looks into the holes nor acknowledges my artistic genius. It is his wall, after all.
“Holes,” I say. He squints at me as if measuring my character. Can he see through my skin, into the darkness that I fight, does he recognize the companion to hunger, the need for validation? Have I found a cunning compatriot ready to carry the banner into a bright future?
“Damn polkadots,” he says.
He stands in the dark water waves, reaching beneath the surface, fingers sliding into the sand, searching, grasping, pulling up a smooth stone. The stone is placed with the others, cradled in his apron. Clothes are drenched, shoes, no socks, a light heart, alone with his collection. Cobble hold him up as he travels home, a small wooden structure, a stolen extension cord providing stolen electricity, enough for a small lamp and a radio that is stuck on one station that only plays one song. There is a picture frame on the wall with nothing in it so he can imagine other places they never visited.
The contents of his apron disgorge and scatter on the bare floor, clattering and chattering. Even though he washed them in the dark sea, the stones have grown a sandy stubble that he brushes away with his brackish hands. He places the largest three forming a triangular plinth. The rest he speaks to, listens for their song, tastes their pedigree, and arranges them on the plinth building up a precarious babblonian tower. The smallest one, eggshell blue, carries the aroma of wrecked ships and mile-long strands of orange-green kelp. The crown. The capstone. The one that holds the whole story together. His heart.
The castle lived high on a hill in the middle of the town, or rather the town grew up around the base of the hill below the castle. Those in the castle took care of sheep and vegetables and the gathering of water. Water being in short supply on the hill had to be fetched each morning in a procession of buckets perched atop the heads of many young lads and lasses. The town folk watched the parade of the buckets and took it as a sign of the superiority of their castle and the protection it afforded them from the dread Moregridges, a small winged folk that hid in the forest surrounds. Not that there was much to worry about as the Moregridges were, after all, imaginary.