You asked me to write to let you know how I’ve been doing. You suggested I might start, like we used to, with a dream. Well, it’s funny; ever since you asked me to write, I’ve been haunted by a really old dream — maybe twenty years old. I can’t remember when I first had this dream, and I also can’t figure out why I never told you about it before.
I’m sitting on the sleek, yellow fur of a gigantic cat’s back, too high up to safely jump off. I’m always confused about the cat’s gender; compared to its enormous size, its sex is a trifling detail. I am about as big as the cat’s head. And there I am, perched on its yellow back, bouncing.
I’m not bouncing for fun — it’s my job. I bounce to squeeze ooze out of the cat through its mouth and nose. The ooze is bright green. The cat — and I, bouncing on its back like my life depended on it — are in a concrete room like an empty basement or maybe a vault; no windows but a very high ceiling, almost two stories high. The cat takes up nearly all of the first story, cramped quarters for him/her. His huge paws nearly touch the wall in front; her tail curves up the wall in back and thwacks the smooth concrete like a metronome: thwack . . . thwack . . . thwack. . . . There is some room on the sides, but not enough for the elephantine feline to shift position, or to allow for cat languor and cat stretch.
The extra space is all at the top where I am, near the high ceiling. If I were standing on the floor of the room, I couldn’t possibly reach even halfway up to the ceiling. But here on the back of the fat cat, I can reach my hand up and touch the top of this concrete world, slapping the ceiling at the peak of each bounce. It adds a sense of childish fun to the job of bouncing the ooze out. I almost forget how deadly serious my job is in the fun of slapping . . . bounce . . . slap . . . bounce . . . slap . . . keeping time with the cat’s tail.
When I was a kid, too young to drive, I spent summers on the farm. My grandfather would give me the monotonous job of driving the tractor down the long rows of, what was it — hay? alfalfa? I don’t remember. Didn’t care then, don’t care now. The job was deadly dull . . . up one row, turn the tractor . . . down the next, turn the tractor . . . up the next. . . .
To make the job more interesting, I took to lying upside down on the metal tractor seat and pushing the accelerator with my hand. I would try to keep the tractor going in a straight line with my naked knees, clamping them around the sides of the oversized steering wheel. As you might imagine, this didn’t work very well, and after the first or second near-disaster, I straightened up and drove like a serious grown-up farmer for a while.
It’s the same way on the cat’s back. I’ll suddenly stop playing with the ceiling and get serious, remembering my job. I’m not just bouncing ooze out of the cat’s mouth for no reason. This thing has a purpose; down by the cat’s paws is an undersized red door. I don’t mean just undersized for this high-ceilinged room. I mean a door about three-quarters regular size. Normal adults would have to duck low to get through it.
The idea, see, the purpose of jumping on the back of the fat cat and squirting the ooze out, is to make the cat smaller. With each little squirt of ooze running out, the cat gets one squirt smaller, and I get one inch closer to that little door.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably figured out the tricky part. The cat keeps getting smaller — which is good — but at the same time, these little squirts of greenish ooze are starting to cover the flat, hard floor. I can see right from the beginning that this goop is going to build up; it’s going to rise up the walls, inch by inch, so that the closer I get to the little door, the further the green gunk piles up against it. If the sticky goo gets high enough — up to the knob even — I won’t be able to pull the door open against its weight.
Worse yet, maybe this goo will kill me. Maybe I should stop bouncing. I mean, at least I’m alive up here on the fat cat’s back — and having a little fun, too, beating out my rhythm on the ceiling. If I keep this up a minute or two more, the cat’ll have shrunk so much I won’t be able to reach the ceiling. If I keep bouncing after that, more and more slimy, snot green ooze will creep up around the cat. And sooner or later, if I want to get to that shiny, little, red door at the bottom, I am going to have to get down into the stuff.
Maybe it’s acid and will eat me. Even if it doesn’t, maybe it’ll be too deep and I’ll drown in it. But even if I don’t, it’ll be slick and I’m liable to slip and fall and have to fight or swim my way through the horrible slime to the bright, gleaming, scarlet door. And maybe by then, as I said before, I won’t be strong enough to pull the door open against the weight of the green goo. Jesus! I just realized the door might be locked from the outside.
If any of this happens, I could only survive if I got back on the fat cat. But figure it out: by this time the cat wouldn’t be fat anymore; it would be bounced down, flattened like a rained-on eiderdown pillow, no use to me at all. Why, I might even bounce this cat to death and be left like a sinner in a cartoon circle of hell, up to my neck in green goo and rotting, dead cat.
Well, that’s the dream. Like all of my dreams — most people’s dreams, I guess — it doesn’t end with a solution. But writing it down makes me understand it better than I did before.
It’s an old dream, you know, and I’ve changed. Getting out that ruby red door wouldn’t be so important anymore. If I had the dream today, I think I might lift the ceiling or put in a skylight. I think I would shrink the cat and give him/her a cozy place to sleep by the fireplace, where he could thwack her tail to the Miles Davis CD on the new Bose sound system. I might decorate the concrete floor with Oriental carpets, put fresh flowers on an antique lacquered Japanese table. I’d leave the red door open in summer. In fact, I might open one or two of the walls onto my patio garden. Then I’d dry up the goo and use it for compost.
That’s what I would probably do in that dream today. But you know me: I might tire of vigilance after a while; I might feed that damn cat a little too much, stop noticing what she was up to. He might start to grow again. If that happens, I’ll probably give you a call.