- Happy The 3-Legged Ghost Hamster Cat Kidd
Happy the Three-Legged Ghost Hamster
Could we with ink the ocean fill[Rabbi Mayer of Germany, written on the wall
And were the sky of parchment made,
Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill
And ev’ry man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho stretched from sky to sky.
of the institution cell where he died]
This is how the second birth happens. The squiggly lines in my mind, the ones my mother claimed were hysteria or something more sinister, gradually migrate like faraway geese heading south, down into my hands, where they perch and become restless. They slap their leather feet into the meat of my palms, and peck along the small bones of my fingers. I feel them ruffle and settle themselves. I see their footprints, and know them like the back of my hand, their webbed toes figured in bones on the back of my hand.
I become extraordinarily conscious of my hands. I wring them, wring out diapers with them, rub ointment into their knuckles, which are red and cracked like udders. I hold Rose and her stuffed giraffe in them, pace the floor, stop suddenly and weep for all and no reasons. I am seduced by a goose-down comforter, but seek out a mummified storage closet instead, and start hauling out boxes. The back of the closet is full of giant insects, spindly broom-bugs and bucket-beetles, and a machine which cleans carpets with its million legs, and a plastic cocoon to wrap up my mother’s head until it is dried and set.
Finally I find it, the thing I didn’t know I was looking for. That large black beetle of a typewriter my father used to tap out his god-words on, his weird little parables about leeches and what all else. I pull the typewriter out of the closet, then have to reach back into the mustiness to feel around for one of its feet, which has broken off. It is very surprising to find my father’s old typewriter here at my mother’s new place. I don’t understand why it’s here, moldering in storage, instead of with my father. There comes a mute anger, that he’d be so pathetic as to leave his favourite thing behind. Similar to my mother’s annoyance at him for adopting so many three-legged hamsters. We never heard the end of that.
‘Your father is one of those men who believes it’s morally superior to have only three legs, even if you’re supposed to have four,’ my mother would say. ‘He seems to think handicaps indicate depth of character.’
‘Tha’ hamster is nae handicapped,’ my father would defend, ‘it is merely challenged.’
If a thing which is missing is exchanged for a thing which resembles it minutely, it is unlikely that most people will notice the switch. This was why my little brother Gavin believed our parents were actually aliens, and why every hamster who ever lived at the house on Dormier street had only three legs. Because the first one had only three legs. But I always wondered how my father managed to get in touch with so many three-legged hamsters.
Discovering that he had left his typewriter behind, though, I did feel a bit of my mother’s exasperation. Her fury that he seemed to find so much beauty in challenging situations, or especially hopeless ones. Not taking his typewriter with him, as parting gestures go, was a pretty hopeless one. It was even more hopeless than not leaving any good-bye note. As though there were something very noble about leaving behind the one thing which embodies your whole dream plan, my father’s highest aspiration, his typewriter.
Still, I wouldn’t have gone through the whole storage closet looking for that spidery old machine if I didn’t half-expect to find it there. I wasn’t sure whether this half-expectation were a form of disrespect or a form of understanding. People’s expectations can cause dizziness if they are too high, but they are crushing when they are too low. People’s expectations can be like second-hand snow-suits, which don’t fit you particularly well and are ugly, but sometimes you’re forced to wear them anyhow.
On the other hand, my father’s typewriter could only be here at Salmon Court if my mother had taken the trouble to bring it with her during the move. Instead of liquidating it, with the rest of my father’s leftover personal effects, when she sold the house on Dormier Street. I am a bit surprised that she kept it. She never mentioned there being any typewriter at all, at her place, obviously, since I was not to over stimulate my brain with things like words until I was quite quite well again.
But back to the original hand, I wouldn’t have found the typewriter at all, if my mother hadn’t for somereason decided to keep it. My father had abandoned it, deliberately or not, then my mother had preserved it, deliberately or not. So, with some small deliberation, it became compulsive to recycle it, the cumulate process calling in all other hands.
So I am learning to type, Rose. Hands have their own memory, and are hopeful. They reach, they hover over keys trying to remember, they find their pace and scuttle along with purpose until they hit another glitch. But I notice there are certain words which my hands insist on misspelling. Mother, whenever my hands try to type it, always comes out mouther. And father, when I have cause to write it, comes out faither. The typewriter ribbon is bi-chromatic, bisected bilaterally in two colours of ink. I turn the spindles upside down and type in red, to see if this changes anything. Whether typing in red opens more direct channels to the heart of the matter.
Matter, fodder. I set up the typewriter on a yellow milk crate, on the kitchen floor, in the faith that planting myself on the ground will help me connect with what everything is built upon, where everything finds its roots. I have to keep my mouth shut about reasonings like these, having learned that people don’t so much care what private eccentricities you cultivate, but they do care if your reasons for cultivating them are too unironic.
My mother assumed, for instance, that the row of drying apple cores on my bedroom windowsill was simple depressive messiness, until I told her that I planned to collect three hundred of them and plant an orchard some day. Now the row of apple cores is like a pentagram on my door, and my mother suddenly develops superstitions about every living thing in the house. Mouther. Faither. I move the milk crate outside, behind the trees a bit, so my mother can’t see me as I watch her sitting and coddling Rose and breathing in my daughter’s breath. The milk crate makes harlequino patterns on the grass. The froth of spit bugs, and the furred helmets of tall grasses brush my bare legs. My little brother Gavin and I used to fight wars with those grasses, the ones whose heads could be struck off when you whipped them with another piece of same type of grass. It had been a bit of shock to be holding forth your bobbing head, then suddenly be struck and left holding only the stem. The heads had snapped off so cleanly, like asparagus.
Mouther, mother. Faither, father. U and I. Those are the extra letters, the ones my typing hands fill in as a joke on my two half-brains. Faith, the awareness that one’s thoughts and activities participate in a pattern, perhaps even that meaning can be discovered, or invented, by paying attention to the pattern. Faith, like the rhythm of pulse, or the sound of my father rowing back and forth on his rickety rowing machine in the basement. Pull, release.
Mouth, an aperture, a simian crease. A dragon’s cave where stalactites and stalagmites grind themselves in sleep. The dragon-tongue lies coiled, licks fire, spits sparks. It plays with the place where a tooth is loose, the chink in her armour. Mouth, the eventual gateway of utterance. Faith, the rhythm of pulse sustained.