woke to the sound of the cat puking.
With a groan I rolled over, pulling a sofa cushion over my head, tipping an ash tray over my chest. I don’t smoke. Cursing through a throat that felt like the Mojave I rolled over and brushed ineffectually at myself, squeezing my eyes open just enough to watch my shaking fingers move over a sweater that didn’t look familiar. My eyes felt like they were filled with kitty litter, and in my head was a junior high marching band on the first day of practice.
I closed my eyes and willed my heart to stop. For a moment I thought I had won, but after a second or so it thumped again, the pressure almost popping my eyeballs out of their sockets.
I took off the sweater and threw it across the room, along with the blanket and anything else that had ashes on it. I laid back, closed my eyes, and reflected on what I had just seen.
The sweater had hit a painting I’d never seen on a wall I didn’t remember. I opened my eyes and looked up at the popcorn stucco ceiling (could be anywhere) punctuated by a moose antler ceiling fan, wobbling slightly as the antlers lazily spun. Now there’s something you don’t see every day. No wonder I felt like crap; I had been sleeping under the thing while it blew a steady stream of antler-dust over my helpless form. God only knew what sort of sick mojo had been visited upon me in that sinister chamber. As soon as I could get off the sofa, I was out of there.
I didn’t chance another glance at the painting; if memory of my first brief glance served it might have induced vomiting no matter what condition I was in. Some genres should not be mixed, and impressionist/western nudes riding bulls was the new top of my list of Very Bad Ideas. Vargas, Renoir and Remington in a horrible collision that left no survivors.
At least, some perverse voice in my head said, it’s not on bleck velvet.
The cat began heaving again, a mighty sound for such a small creature, breaking the otherwise perfect silence of the place.
“You all right, bud?” I asked the cat. My voice sounded like I was the ogre under the bridge, but the cat took no notice of me, and kept right on heaving. “I feel for you, man,” I said. “I’ve been there.”
The cat. I rolled over and, careful not to look towards The Picture, or any wall, or the ceiling, I opened one eye and watched the tiger-striped cat cough up another load onto a Navajo rug. When it was done it turned to stare back at me. I had seen the cat before, I realized, recalling a dislocated image of the yellow eyes staring at me over a potted plant. “I told you not to eat those flowers,” I said. “Now you’ve yacked on the only thing in the entire room that’s not ugly as hell.”
The cat turned and left the room, tail high.
I summoned all my strength and sat up, putting both bare feet onto the cold saltillo floor. I put my elbows on my knees and hung my head, staring at the dark grout between the earth-color tiles. I ran my fingers through my hair and over my grizzled face. Somewhere in this house was a careless smoker with unspeakably bad taste. More important, somewhere in this house was bacon, eggs, and potatoes. And a toilet, I added as I stood. Most important of all.
My peripheral vision warned me of the monstrosities that surrounded me, so I was able to avoid looking directly at any of them. Some more resilient part of my wounded and cowering brain cataloged them, a mad collection from plastic to solid gold (and, yes, John Wayne staring out from black velvet), all somehow western, unified by the lack of any aesthetic whatsoever. It was almost brilliant in its awfulness. Blinders on, I plunged forward, through the portal the cat had used.
And stopped short, mouth hanging agape, my mind struggling to turn the messages my eyes were sending it into some sort of image. Gone was the western theme; I found myself in Van Gogh’s worst absinthe nightmare, art deco gone mad. I was not in a house, I was in a museum. An art museum with a blind curator.
The cat was watching me from across the room. “Where’s the litter box?” I asked. Tiger-stripe just watched me, unblinking. Something about the annoyed kink in her tail told me she was female. I continued my search, squinting my eyes now not because of the dry grit that still clogged them, but because after deco came primitive, and then the bathroom itself was almost as bad as the western. (If you guessed nautical, no points for you. Sports.) I stood before the shrine, trying not to be distracted by the baseball bat flusher, and NOT LOOKING UP at Kareem Abdul Jabaar staring down at me, a mild sneer on his face, his crotch at eye level.
Screw bacon. I wanted my shoes and a ride home. The shoes were optional.
I washed, splashed my face, and stepped from the Chamber of Manhood Diminishment. The cat was sitting tall, waiting for me, her tail wrapped around her front feet. I crouched down and she allowed me to rub her ears. “Listen, Tiger,” I said, “It’s not your fault, I know, but this is the most bug-ass crazy place I’ve ever seen.” She looked at me for a moment, then rubbed her head on my hand. “Whachya say, Tiger? Let’s bust outta here.”