From "Cat People among Us #6"

Contributor: Kyle Hemmings

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I take a bus into the heart of the city of neon shams and unforgettable faces. It's a rickety old bus that wheezes and whirs and I imagine the headlights as two big eyes that can never see but provide some kind of light. The way I think about the medium who lives five stories up on Grant Avenue. Imagine if those headlights are eyes that are wired to a brain that can remember everything.

Not like mine.

Some years ago, I was diagnosed as brain damaged. It was very late at night and I was driving to see a woman who broke into night sweats or incomprehensible soliloquies at the thought of being alone. I was the psychiatrist on call and I made the mistake of sleeping with her, of becoming too close, of being wrapped in her own nightmares. She was once a prisoner of a war her ex-lover invented. That's how she explained it. Love turned into torment and all kinds of ingenious tortures. He made her confess to crimes she never committed, such as taking in stray cats and starving them. He made her wash his clothes on the wrong settings until the colors bled.

My patient/lover used to tell me that she wanted to keep my smooth baritone voice in a glass jar at night. It would help her sleep. She later died by her own noose.

On the way to her house that night, I had made a wrong turn and crashed into a tree. For months, I couldn't see. I kept hearing my mother's voice. She said "Son, just open your eyes. Do it for me." She had been dead for some time. But that was only a manner of speaking.

With a slice of moon in the medium's eyes, I lay all my cards on the table. The floor is not a quivering mouth. It's never as dramatic as in those movies directed by obscure Leftist directors who died in North African prisons or on islands too tiny to think about. I close my eyes and see the women of my life scurrying around the house, digging dirt under nylon loop carpets. My sister has the voice of the tabby cat who died under my bed. Some form of feline cancer. Whenever she talks about her life, she describes it as a series of casualties, or of aborted love affairs with what she calls "matchstick men," more often than not, with her being the one who was burned.

In the séance, I am standing in the middle of the living room and I say to the women of my past, "Can you come back and stay?" My sister acts as if I'm not there or anywhere, really. She disappears into rooms of unused closet space. My mother turns around, drops the dustpan and corn whisk broom.

Her face is glass perfect, as if behind an unscratched TV screen, bold close-ups of gleaming smiles and beautiful planet eyes. "No one ever helps me with these house chores. And that son of mine hardly ever writes from that manufactured war." She opens a bolt lock, retrieves the mail. She reads aloud a letter that must have been written by me. I can't make out all the words. She mocks my "Sincerely Yours," and improvises her own "Insincerely Yours." She thinks sons make up phony wars to get away from their mothers. I want to shout that "I'm coming home." She closes the door. At some distance, over the years, we die unnoticed, the blink of a cat's eye. We die in some form or another. We continue on as zombies. My sister, who does not survive an accident on Interstate 90, continues to walk underground. I open my eyes. I hear a distant knocking, of jars shattering. The sounds fade. I'm cursed again with tunnel vision.

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Kyle Hemmings is the author of several chapbooks of poetry and prose: Avenue C, Cat People, and Anime Junkie (Scars Publications). His latest e-books are You Never Die in Wholes from Good Story Press and The Truth About Onions (Good Samaritan Press).
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