“While talking or even musing as he sat in his chair, he commonly held his head to one side towards his right shoulder, and shook it in a tremulous manner, moving his body backwards and forwards, and rubbing his left knee in the same direction, with the palm of his hand. In the intervals of articulating he made various sounds with his mouth, sometimes as if ruminating, or what is called chewing the cud, sometimes giving a half whistle, sometimes making his tongue play backwards from the roof of his mouth, as if clucking like a hen, and sometimes protruding it against his upper gums in front, as if pronouncing quickly under his breath, too, too, too: all this accompanied sometimes with a thoughtful look, but more frequently with a smile. Generally, when he had concluded a period, in the course of a dispute, by which time he was a good deal exhausted by violence and vociferation, he used to blow out his breath like a Whale. This I supposed was a relief to his lungs; and seemed in him to be a contemptuous mode of expression, as if he had made the arguments of his opponent fly like chaff before the wind.” — Boswell
The night crisped, and I left the friend’s home, placing beanie on head and scratching my beard like one newly grown. I ambled my bike along sidewalks, left out a gate, and then alighted on Taurus. It was dark but not still. It never is. The Vegas day shouts at sunset, “do not go gentle into that good night.” The demons roar against the lanes and alleys and roads, and that good night becomes a series of light and noise. Noise, noise, noise worms its way around apartment complexes and buildings into the ears of the innocent. And those few raise their eyes to the skies and wish that day a very good night.
I heard such a noise behind me, thundering down Tamurus. I passed University, weary, hungry, a belly full of beer, and soon stopped on the side of the road, letting the machine pass me. I swiveled on my back seat and pressed a button. Before long, I was a blinking red light, glowing under the yellow, crisp air of streetlights. On Rochelle, I came home, turned off the light, and heaved the bike up stairs. As I neared the top, I noticed a note shoved in my door. I held my breath. Visions of eviction and thirty days to leave washed over me. Then, I read the note.
It was Cephas.
“Come in!” he yelled as I thumped on his knocker. When I came in I saw his bike.
“Oh, looks like you got a new seat. Did they discount you because it was stolen?” I asked with interest.
“Huh? No. Come in, sit down,” Cephas sat in a small office chair facing a larger chair to which he motioned me. His head twitched back and forth, almost as if he was trying to loose something from his ear. He spoke in his common way, with arms flailing about madly. “It was forty bucks, the whole thing, but I don’t care about that—Say, look at, could you look at Taylor? Could you just look at Taylor?” he pointed with great energy at his cat. “Just look at her for a minute, will ya? See her? Do you notice…? Look, I don’t know if anything’s wrong, but she’s been making this noise with her throat, and I don’t know what it is! I don’t know what it is!” His voice rose as he spoke, and he pointed to the heavens with bulging eyes. “Look at her, will ya? Just look at her for a minute. Come here! Taylor.” He grabbed the wiggling cat and forced her on his lap. “Would you look at her for just a minute? Maybe you’ll know what it is. She’ll do it. Hey! Sit still!” The cat wiggled a bit more, then he eventually let her go. “Look, I don’t know if anything’s wrong, but if you just look at her for a minute, you’ll see she’s been making this noise with her throat, sort of like a gulp. I don’t know what it is! But I was hoping you might know.”
I looked at the cat a little more intently and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I asked him for a few more specifics. “It began last night, but today she was doing it, oh I don’t know, every thirty seconds or minute.” He raised his hands at this. “Would you look at her? Just look at her right there? She’ll do it. Look, look it was like this.” Here Cephas stopped his hand gyrations, pointed at himself, and then placed them by his side. My own eyes widened as I looked at him. In his chair, the old man suddenly seemed to lock up; his whole body stiffened, and his eyes bulged even wider than before. Then, he looked not at me but out, over me, as if a man staring through a dark passageway into the bright, distant light of heaven. And with that fixed gaze and stiff body, all performed within seconds, the man demonstrated with perfect artistry that act of coughing up a hairball. A terrifying glllck-glllck echoed throughout the home. His cats and I watched in horror as the man’s Adam’s apple rose and sunk with the noise. And for three or so terrifying seconds of my life, I imagined Cephas coughing up a hairball.
“Have you seen that before? It’s like that,” he said, releasing his hands from their bondage and pointing to his throat. “Just like this.” He performed the action again—glllck-glllck! “Have you ever seen anything like that? Just look at her; she’ll do it, I know.” I looked at the cat who stared into my eyes, unmoving. “It was just like this, look—glllck-glllck!” Again, I saw Cephas stiffen his whole body but for his Adam’s apple. “Just look at her for a few seconds, will ya? She’ll do it, watch. It was just like this.” Again, the demonstration. “You ever seen that? I swear she was doing it like every thirty, or I don’t know man, every minute. Friggin’ had me worried. Just look at her for a minute or so; she’ll do it.”
Cephas and I studied the cat for about fifteen seconds, and then he spoke.
“Why isn’t she doing it now? I hope she doesn’t, to be honest with you. Look, have you ever seen that though? That sound, like this? Glllck-glllck!” We observed the cat some more, and I explained that the orange tabby sometimes makes the noise too.
“But he doesn’t do it every thirty seconds does he?” Cephas’ question was more of a statement, and his arms flew in the air as if winning a debate.
“See! Taylor was doing it every thirty seconds. It was weird. Look, just watch her; she’ll do it.” We both looked at the cat who now rested calmly on the back of my chair. “I can’t believe she isn’t doing it. Well, I’m thrilled. Must’ve been that butter.” I perked up at this. “I put butter on her paw, so she’d lick it. It’s supposed to help whatever’s caught in her throat to go down.” Cephas, strained his neck as far as it would go, kept his eyes peeled to mine, and pointed at his own throat when he said this. “That’s what that mom said. You remember her? You remember when we visited that mom? You remember when we visited her with Smoky? Hey! Do you remember that?” I mumbled something about remembering.* Cephas’ eyes bulged. “I called her, look, I called her, and she said, ‘just put butter on his paw.’ And I did. It must’ve worked. Well, I’m thrilled. The butter worked. Look, that mom knows stuff. You remember when Smoky’s eye was… what was wrong with his eye? Hey! You remember that?” He touched my shoulder.
“Wasn’t it twitching?” I asked.
“No! It wasn’t twitching… It was all red. You remember that? Hey! You remember that, right? She told me to put… what did she tell me to put on it? Benadryl! Kid’s Benadryl. I put Kid’s Benadryl on it, and that cured him. You remember that? Huh?” Cephas touched my shoulder again. “Huh? You remember that? That mom told me to do that.” He pointed as if the mom was in the room. “Well, hey” he flailed his arms in the air, “I’m thrilled the butter worked.”
I was also thrilled, and the conversation slowly shifted to other things. We chatted about school and his new bike seat. He raged for a few minutes on thieves. “There’s no market for a bike seat! That’s what they told me at the bike shop!” he said with great enthusiasm. “That whole seat was forty dollars! And the bolt—that little bolt. Do you see that bolt? Look at that little bolt. That little bolt costs ten dollars! Did you ever hear of a bolt costing ten dollars? Hey! Have you ever heard of that? Ten dollars! But whatever man. Just praise God that Taylor’s alright. Thank God the butter worked.”
We parted with fist bumps, and I entered my apartment. I half-expected a knock at some point, followed by a wild-eyed man with his cat. But as I scrounged for food and the noise of the day receded into far distant memory, I knew, deep down, my house call had not been in vain.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Friday January 20, 2017
Painting: “The Doctor”
By Luke Fildes
Oil on canvas, 1891
End of Part I
*See Gambler, No. 33, [The Lights]