Me, the Moon, and Brutus the Cat
By Julie Carpenter
I first published this two years ago. Brutus is gone now, but I've been thinking about him. So here's my tribute to him. My favorite little jerk, and the inspiration for a small demon named Dennis in my latest novel - here's to you Brutus!
I didn't find Brutus. Brutus found me. I had stopped at the end of the drive to get the mail, when I saw him running across the street from our neighbor's meadow, racing straight towards me with all the focus and fanaticism of John Cleese's Sir Lancelot in Monty Python's Holy Grail. I was somewhat shocked when an unknown cat jumped into my arms. I petted him, set him down, and drove to the house to unload some groceries. When I came back to the car to get some more bags, I found him sitting in my back seat desperately trying to open a pack of hot dogs. I tried to find out where he came from , but in the end it turned out the universe had given me another cat.
I typically have more than one cat. The universe has been generous to me in that regard. I try to make time for each of my cats when I can. Sometimes Brutus and I stand on the sidewalk and look at the moon. I hold Brutus against my fuzzy house coat and he chews on it, sucking and sucking on it, absorbed in safety or contentment or whatever it is cats feel when they nurse. He is an adult cat, far too old for nursing, but he will do this until he soaks the purple robe with saliva. I've heard that kittens removed too early from their mothers develop this habit. Perhaps his mother, with the amoral wisdom peculiar to cats, abandoned him because she could tell he wasn't quite right. (I have not been blessed with the wisdom of a mother cat so I was the perfect sucker.)
I hold Brutus like this - every evening when things slow down - because if I let him sit in my lap, eventually he will bite me. Hard. He draws blood. It's not because he doesn't love me. We think it's overstimulation. The more he's enjoying himself, the more likely he is to snap, the more likely we are to need stitches. We have to warn our guests, "You will think Brutus is your friend and then he will stab you. With his teeth." DO NOT LET HIM SIT IN YOUR LAP! But if I hold him up to my chest and let him push against me with his claws for a few minutes and chew on my robe, he remains peaceful. I can give him attention without bleeding. So, we often find ourselves outside together at night standing in the garden, or on the porch if the weather is bad.
Mostly we like to look at the moon. And so we were one early summer evening.
It's strange to hold a small predator, with fangs and claws, pretending I am his mother, as we stand in the moonlight. But then again, maybe moonlight is best for illuminating oddities like us. The big silver globe transforms everything it sees into something uncanny and familiar all at once. Me in my purple furry robe and pajamas. Brutus pretending he's found his mother again. We are strange in the moonlight, but so's everything - which makes us normal?
As I stand there, trying to love my difficult cat, I start thinking. In the wobbly moonlight, my thoughts wander down strange fantasy paths. The moon- gazing serenely through flat black tree silhouettes - is indifferent to me and my thoughts. Without particular notice it observes me, the cat and some fireflies flickering at random against the inky dark trees. Moonlight lingers with fondness on my white trumpet lilies and the pillow sized moonflowers that have climbed the arbor, perhaps finding affinity with the pale reflective surfaces. I'm momentarily jealous of the attention.
The smell of honeysuckle haunts the air, sweet, sticky and ghostly like the moon. The moon’s beauty is a cliché, a children's book illustration hovering on the edges of fantasy and nostalgia, I tell myself. It's ridiculous for a grown person to pretend it likes flowers more than anything else or that it makes fairies or ghosts just outside the boundaries of vision - another thing I'm fond of thinking. It's ridiculous to think it's anything other than a hunk of rock weakly reflecting light that it borrows from the sun. It's not possible for reflected light to be different in nature from the source. Sunlight doesn't make fairies - here I stop to argue with myself again. Sunlight obviously does make fairies. Still, I'm feeling slighted and petty. No. It's ridiculous, I tell myself. Why personify the moon or give it special powers for simply being a mirror. Also...mirrors are probably magic, the little voice in the back of mind mind says. I try to shush it.
That doesn't work. I give in to the illusion. I certainly believed as a child that the things I saw in the moonlight were real, just tucked into pockets of the space/time continuum that aren't always accessible.The moon has a face and I can see it, for one thing. It feels sentient, if not caring. Moonlight must mean something, leave some residue of magic behind. I think the moon itself would confirm this if I asked. Before I can stop myself, I ask the moon out loud, “Do you mean something? Are you magic?” There's no one to hear this absurdity and Brutus pays no attention.
Of course it does. Why not? I think. It's a simple question. Certainly wouldn't be any skin off the moon's nose to answer it.
After all, I'm not asking the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, though I suspect the moon has the answers if I could get it talking. I doubt the moon wants to be bothered with all that stuff so I've kept my question simple. I also understand that I have to ask now because words still cut through the air in the early summer. In late summer, they would be muffled by the velvety heat, wouldn’t rise a foot in front of me. I imagine the moon can still hear me this time of year. Why not? The cat shifts to find a dry spot and purrs badly; he sounds like a small pig.
I'm satisfied that I've asked the right question at the right time. Whether the moon has meaning is not a question to be asked in daylight, in a classroom, or in a church, where meaning is prearranged and agreed upon. You cannot consider important things in that atmosphere. The significance of a full moon in early summer can surely only be understood under the full moon in early summer. Whether the shining moon really changes anything, means anything, leaves anything behind but fairy dust and illusion is an important question, only the moon can answer it, if it will. It doesn't. I feel small.
I look at Brutus again. He still tugs away at the purple fur. His mother probably understood how wide the universe was, how small she and her children were. (Like all cats, she probably has firm ideas about your place in the universe as well. If you value your self esteem, do not ask her.)
I am a mother, to human children, and this strange adopted ball of fur and fangs. It's easy to think that the moon loves me and my children - the human ones well-fed and tucked into bed, the feline one tucked well-fed and tucked in my arm - that it spreads happy fantasies everywhere it goes. But I remember that it hovers aloof over every child on the planet, giving no heed whether they are happy children or sad. It’s all the same to the moon whether it pours its melted silver light over chubby toddler sleeping safely in the backseat of a car, a six year old going to bed hungry, two teenagers making out on a park bench by a fountain, or a burned out car in a war zone. The moon will bestow eerie beauty and or grim fantasy wherever it falls. To the moon, perhaps we are all almost too small to see, too small to care about.
I have a moment of grief. As a mother, I find it outrageous to imagine the universe large and uncaring, the moon unresponsive, children anywhere who have no food, no beds. The gravity tug of birth has pulled my universe into to a tight, small center, and yet...makes me feel that every child ought to be the center of some safe, happy world. The moon, seeing all it does, should feel compassion. I hold Brutus, my silly cat, more tightly. We are defiantly important to each other. We will be us, whether the moon cares or no.
The moon can see all of these things. The moon must know. Perhaps the peculiar light it sheds is meant to put things in a different perspective. Every little thing takes on meaning when moonlight sticks to its skin. Maybe there's some paradox that once illuminated would forever resolve the war between size and importance. Maybe. Maybe there is magic in that if nothing else.
"What do you think, Brutus?" I ask, "Is there such a thing as moon magic?"
He doesn't answer, being more involved in the moment in imaginary milk magic.
Anyway, it's a question for the moon, not for a cat with abandonment issues.
I wait for my answer. The moon does not dignify the question. It too is busy pretending that there is beauty in the ugly, and mystery in the ordinary. It has illusions to dispense.
The cat purrs, badly. The night is warm on my skin. The fireflies flicker here and there.
"Fine," I say, "I can pretend as well as you can. I can imagine my answer." The moon, I imagine, shrugs. I imagine its great eye focusing, smaller, smaller, smaller, smaller...until it can finally see me. I wait until I have its attention.
"Well," I ask, "Does all of this fairy light and nonsense mean anything? Does is leave anything behind?"
The moon sighs out a vapor thin cloud across its own face. "Why not?" it says, "Why not?"
Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website and author of Things Get Weird in Whistlestop. She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and has been included in The New Guard Literary Review. She is currently working on a novel titled The Last Train Out of Hell.