August 26, 1969
Recommended listening: House of the Rising Sun - Jimmy Hendrix
It really is a cat’s paw. Wow. That is so fuckin’ groovy! I twist my hand around, flexing the paw, loving the deep amber color and long, silky fur. Look! Look! I wave the paw in front of Ken’s face.
Groovy. Where’d you get the cat? he asks.
It’s my hand, I tell him and try to extend the claws.
Groovy. He reaches over and strokes the fur. I tingle all the way to my toes.
I cuddle in under his arm and keep trying to extend my claws. Ken kisses the top of head and goes back to his conversation with Bear, who is as big as a bear, but not at all furry. A beam of light streaks into the car, ricochets off the high bucket seats and rear window until it finds its way out through the open side windows. A cooling green ray passes through, followed by a warm breeze that ruffles my fur.
I check my right hand; it’s just a hand. I hold up my left paw and I think how wild it is that I have a paw, a real paw. I stroke the fur, notice that each hair is black at the root and gradually fades to auburn and then tan at the tips.
Wow, my fur needs a new dye job.
Look, it has black roots all over.
I think it’s supposed to be like that, Ken tells me, and then looks over my head at Bear and continues their conversation.
I think I could, Ken tells Bear.
No way. Not eat or drink anything, at all, nothing?
Sure. Why not? Air has all kinds of molecules which are made up of the same elements that are in food; and you get moisture with every breath of air, especially when it’s raining.
You couldn’t open your mouth and lick at the rain. That would be cheating, Bear counters.
Of course not. I mean that air has water in it, not that I’d drink rainwater. Christ, that would be cheating.
So no food, no water, no nothing for a month. He sticks a big, meaty hand between the bucket seats. Ken takes it and the deal is set.
What you gonna tell your grandma Sunday afternoon? Bear asks.
Bear lets out a loud barking laugh and slaps the steering wheel. I have to see this! No one gets outta your grandma’s house without eating at least three helpings of everything!
Shit. Ken strokes my paw and sighs, I’m fucked.
That you be, come Sunday, Bear laughs. But enjoy the air tonight, my friend. Enjoy the air tonight.
Ken watches Bear and his little brother Jamie finish off a third plate each of flapjacks and scrambled eggs. I’m used to watching other people eat when I’m not, but Ken is usually the first one to start and the last one to finish when it comes to food, especially at Denny’s. I think this must be hard on him, but he just smiles and laughs, not seeming to mind not eating, just breathing air tonight.
Denny’s is a strange place at this time of the morning even when you’re straight, but with a head full of orange sunshine it’s downright bizarre. Old men hunched over the low counter keep telling the same bad jokes over and over to the tired waitress who laughs it up in hopes of a better tip. The lights flicker green then gold then orange and reflect off brightly colored menus that open and close on their own. The counter stools twirl around in circles like little kids are in them without their parents watching.
Bear and Jamie order another round of flapjacks, hold the eggs…they’re finally slowing down. I sip my Coca-Cola through a straw and keep my paw under the table. No need bringing anymore attention to us. The waitress already asked if I was out after curfew. Ken lied, said it was my eighteenth birthday today and that’s why we’re here at two in the morning, celebrating the fact that I can be here so late, legally. She believed him. Most adults do.
A plate of hash browns catches my eye. It’s hovering just above the stainless steel ledge between the kitchen and the counter. I wonder if the cook made it float on purpose. I watch the waitress, betting myself she won’t even notice, just grab it and slap it down in front of someone, without ever realizing that it was levitating right in front of her. Most people take gravity for granted, believe it’s a constant, but I know it’s capricious.
I will the plate a slight bit closer just as she grabs for it. She over-reaches and the plate goes flying back into the kitchen. It shatters. Potatoes and shards of glass bounce high enough to be seen outside the kitchen. The old men at the counter clap and laugh and the waitress looks right at me, her eyes narrow and mean.
I look away quickly wondering how she knew it was me who moved the plate. Wondering if it was really her that made the plate hover, not the cook. It would make sense, if it were her. She works long hours, lifts way too many plates…if she could make them lighter…
I hide my paw behind my back and keep my eyes downcast when she brings the flapjacks.
More syrup? she asks.
Yes, please, Jamie says in his sweetest voice; and I realize Jamie is my age, but the waitress didn’t ask about him being out after curfew.
When she leaves I ask Bear and Ken why. They shrug and say it’s not the same for girls and guys. All three of them agree that girls should be in before midnight, but it’s okay for guys to be out later. I don’t remind them that I’m a girl and I’m out way past midnight. They’d only say it was okay because I was with them.
I’ve learned a girl can’t win an argument with a guy when it’s about girls.
Ken and I walk away from the car, leave Bear and Jamie sitting on the hood watching the glowing surf roll in. The sand is cool for such a warm night. I let it pull me down to my ankles with each step, knowing it will let me go; that beach sand isn’t possessive.
Why does desert sand swallow people whole and beach sand doesn’t? I ask Ken.
It wants water. Always wants water. People are mostly water, so it takes them.
We stop at the foot of the lifeguard stand and Ken nods toward the lines of iridescent whitecaps moving towards us. No need to steal water here, he tells me and starts climbing the wood ladder. I follow.
The wood shack is open on the ocean side. Ken takes me by the paw and pulls me close, rubbing his thumb deep into my fur. I start to purr. Nice kitty, he says and kisses me. The waves draw closer and begin to sing; high crystalline voices filled with love and life and all the deep mysteries of the sea. I drop to the floor, lean back and let Ken unbutton my hip huggers. I scoot out of them and slip out of my halter top.
Ken takes his time pulling his T-shirt over his head, unzipping his jeans, dropping his boxers on the sandy plank floor. He looks out at the ocean and back at me, and I know he hears the voices too. He smiles and hums along for a moment. His voice is deep and sure, a nice counterpoint to the siren’s call.
He looks like Poseidon, standing so high above me. He reaches outside the small room and grabs a massive trident from somewhere. I watch as his beard grows longer and his muscles bulge with every breath. The waves become his chorus, warning me of what might happen if I make love to a god.
I reach out to him and he descends.
Making love on acid is epic.
I trace the line of his chest with my paw. His eyes are half closed and he’s breathing slow and deep. I can see dancing molecules float in through his nose and slide down into his lungs. I follow them as they flow through his lungs.
So you can live on air?
We’ll see, he says and pulls on his boxers. We should get back—almost dawn.
I look out the open side of the shack and see a faint pink sparkle riding the tops of the waves. Not yet, I whine. I haven’t figured out how to extend my claws.
He reaches out and pats my paw. Try again next time, he suggests.
I twist my arm and flare my fur, a trick I learned before we went to Denny’s. This is so cool, I tell him.
Ken pulls on his jeans and tosses my pants and halter top to me. Come on. Bear’s waiting.
I flex my fingers and spread the pads, but can’t get the claws beyond the fur line. I can feel them, hard and crisp, but they won’t budge. I pull on my pants and sling my halter top around my neck, still flexing my paw. Why won’t it… I hold my breath and concentrate on the very tips of the paw.
Four tiny claw tips poke out from under fur then dive back. I did it! I did it!
Ken spins around and clamps a hand over my mouth. Shut up! You want to get us busted?
Sorry, I mumble through his fingers. But I did it.
Yeah, so I heard.
On the way back to the car. Come on. It’s getting light out.
We scramble down the low ladder and head back across the long stretch of beach. I keep flexing and pushing and concentrating to no avail. By the time we get to the car I’m completely wiped out, bummed out, and coming down hard off the orange sunshine. So is everyone else. Bear’s asleep on the hood, Jamie’s sitting with his back to the ocean on the sidewalk in front of the car. Ken doesn’t say anything, just climbs inside and throws himself down on the backseat.
I look around and wonder how the hell we got all the way to the beach from Covina; it didn’t seem like we drove that far.
Yeah well we’re not likely to make it back home unless you’ve got some gas money, Jamie says. The car’s on empty. Bear and I are busted flat.
Get in the fucking car, Ken yells from the back seat. I have gas money.
Bear hops off the hood so fast I jump back away from the car. Spooky? he asks. I shake my head and climb in the back with Ken.
Bear bellows, Let’s get on the road! Jamie dives into the front seat. His door isn’t even closed when Bear throws the car in reverse and steps on the gas.
I push Ken’s legs off the seat and lean back, closing my eyes; no longer interested in my paw, already knowing it will be gone by the time I get home. I relive some of the night’s highs and decide if I’d only been able to work the claws this trip would have been perfect.