For a few days, there was a pretty terrible smell in the hallway by the elevator near the entrance I use to get in and out of my building. Then the smell was gone and there was a whole bunch of furniture stacked up by the garbage bins out back. Apparently the forensics unit had stopped by somewhere in between the disappearance of the smell and the appearance of the furniture but I hadn’t noticed them. Or maybe I had — I often see the police here, I just don’t pay close enough attention to them to see what units are showing up. To be honest, I didn’t even notice that the cat who is usually sitting in the window of the apartment by the entrance had vanished. It was only when a neighbour pointed in the window that I noticed that the cat was gone and the room was half gutted.
They say she killed the cat before she killed herself.
One of my neighbours said that he once found her crying on the front steps of the building. When he asked her why she was crying she said she was hungry and had no food. He asked her if she had any parents who might help her out and she had told him that they wouldn’t help her anymore. They said maybe next month. They said she had to be more responsible. He was appalled and put together a big box of food for her.
She wasn’t all that old. Younger than me by half a dozen years, I reckon. She wore glasses and had short red curly hair. I think she had some sort of developmental disability. She was always friendly with the kids and I. I know another woman in the building was bullying her. Everyone else knows this other woman. Most, except for a few of the hardcore drinkers who are always lounging around out back, avoid this other woman as much as possible. The last time I spoke with the girl who is said to have killed herself and her cat, she told me that this other woman had threatened her life and told her not to talk with any of the men in the building. The girl who is said to have killed herself and her cat said that the other woman wanted all the men to herself.
I remember thinking, “Why would anybody want to bully you? How could anybody feel threatened by you?” And I felt sad and angry and helpless.
Sometime around the time she stopped being who she had been, sometime around the time she stopped being at all, we were laying in bed, all mixed up together — limbs and heat and breath and thoughts and silences all tangled up together — and I was tracing the lines on your face. The curve of your brow, the dip of your temple, the line of your jaw, I was tracing you in space, when you asked me to tell you a story. I didn’t know what story I would tell, I did not know this story until I told it, but this was the story I told:
Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in the forest. He made a house out of cans he had found but every night the wind would blow the cans down. They would fall with a crash around him and wake him up and then he would lay in the dark, exposed to the night and its creatures, too scared to move. He would cry until the sun came up. When the sun came up, he would set his house of cans back up and then go looking for food. By the time he came back, the cans would have fallen down again and so he would set them back up in the evening before he fell asleep and before they fell down around him and woke him up and left him crying in the night. And this went on and on, day after day, night after night.
Some days, he would walk to the road that passed through the woods, and ask the people who traveled on that road to help him or feed him or take him away with them. But they never seemed to see or hear him. They passed by him like the wind and he was less than the air the wind passed through.
Other days, when out looking for food, he would discover families of people who did not live in the forest, who had stopped in this or that clearing in order to have a picnic. Sometimes they would throw scraps to the animals — a piece of fruit for a bird, a nut for a squirrel, bread crumbs for the ants — and he would try to snatch the scraps away. But the people would throw rocks at him and beat him with sticks. “This food is for the animals! It is for the bird, and the squirrel, and the ants! Go away!” And he would go away, sore and hungry, and back to his house of fallen cans.
One day, he decided that he would go onto the road and follow it out of the woods. He walked and he walked and he walked until his feet were sore and blistered from the pavement. But the woods were still all around him, so he continued walking. He walked and he walked and he walked until his blisters had burst and his feet were trailing blood. But the woods were still all around him, so he continued walking. The sun began to set and the night, along with its creatures, began to awaken and, finally, he was unable to walk anymore. He could not stand and so he crawled to the side of the road. He was a long, long way from his house of cans. But the woods were still all around him. Night came. The wind blew. And he was less than the air the wind passed through.