Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly. Ta’s gotta play with words.
English is Mathilde’s third or fourth language, though she speaks more fluently than some native speakers I know.
Mathilde: When someone wakes me up before the alarm, I want to throw them out the window!
Tata: There’s a verb for that in English: to defenestrate.
Mathilde: What are you talking about?
Tata: In Italian, finestra means window.
Mathilde: Yes, French – finetre –
Tata: Right, so the infinitive is to defenestrate. I can’t remember exactly who it was, but this word didn’t exist until some important man started throwing people out his windows during the Middle Ages, I think. Killed a bunch of people. Must’ve worked for him the first time, and you have to go with what you know.
Beth: I can’t breathe!
Mathilde: I don’t know what you are talking about either. What?
Tata: Can’t remember who it was. Sorry. Threw people out the window. Verb! That’s what’s happening.
Yes, I burst into song. Thought I wouldn’t?
About an hour later, my new assistant filled the doorway of my cubicle. He is a giant of a man. When he sat down for the first time at my desk, I knew he was at the right place when I asked, “Are you left-handed?” and he said, “Yes, I am.” Half the room muttered, “What?” “What was that?” “Did he say yes?” Exactly: in ten years, I’ve trained dozens of assistants and co-workers and not one ever said, “That mouse placement makes my ever-lovin’ day.” This really happened: my co-workers stood up, smiling hopefully, as if Trump Plaza landed on a wicked witch. I laughed like it was my week with the ruby slippers and the Munchkinland Prom was Friday night. We jumped up and down, clapping our hands. I can’t explain that, other than youthful exuberance. My giant assistant thought we were crazy, but thrilled by his presence. As he stands in the doorway now, blotting out what little sunlight peeps into the basement, he clasps his hands across his chest.
He: I couldn’t help but overhear your discussion of history and etymology. I hope you don’t think me rude but I believe you were talking about the Defenestration of Prague –
I jumped up, grabbed the hand of this giant man who’d met me the day before and ran around the cubicle wall to Mathilde’s and Beth’s shared cubicle.
Tata: Tell them! Tell them!
He: There some turning point in Church history, something was at stake and some official thought achieving his ends would be easier without the bishops, so he invited them up to talk and threw them out the window. Unfortunately for him, they landed on a pile of manure and survived. They got up, brushed themselves off and walked away.
Tata: History is stinky!
Beth: I can’t breathe!
Tata: I bet those bishops wished they couldn’t!
He: And that’s called the Defenestration of Prague.
Mathilde: You’re kidding!
Tata: Right, even though Prague plainly was not thrown out the window, and that guy wasn’t the heavy weight champeeeeen of defenestrating I mentioned earlier. Thank you! Thank you!
He: I’ll be here all week…
Another man, a different image.
He: You are as beautiful as your pictures.
I stop cold. This could mean several things in so rubbery a language as English, where intent is all. This could mean: You are not so photogenic, Mrs. Lady; or Your image delights my eye and it amazes me that you draw breath. When someone says You are as beautiful as your pictures, it is impossible to determine what is meant without offending the speaker, though I am dying to know with every fiber of my being.
Me: Thank you.
Then I change the subject.
Lovely Thing 2 has a weepy right eye, so I took her to the vet yesterday.
Thing 1 is affectionate and loves me openly. She walks around my head while I’m writing, settling across my chest, where we sit nose to nose and she turns into the sweetest, purringest Princess Kissyface and my icy heart melts and she lies against me like a tiny five-pound baby and I have to muh-muh-muh kiss her nose and forehead and because I hate cute I could just KILL MYSELF. I feel pretty confident that Thing 1 would be okay going to the vet’s office with me, and if she were frightened, she could sit on my chest and we could have a talk about boys in her French class. Thing 2, shy and reticent, I wasn’t so sure about, but there we were, and I shoved her into a cat carrier the size of a Barcalounger, and off we went. Only once did she make a single distressed peep. The vet’s waiting room was full of dogs and their people, and an older man sat down knee to knee with me so his Shetland collie, my new best friend, could lean on my leg. I didn’t mind, so long as Thing 2 remained calm and watchful, and not freaked out and hissing. The older man was chatty and handed me a card.
He: Here’s something you’ll like.
He couldn’t have been more wrong. His business card read: Joyce Kilmer Centennial Commission. Ugh. He seemed like a nice man, so I said something bland.
Tata: I had to memorize that poem in third grade.
He: Did you?
Tata: I did. My father had a piece of that tree.
Tata: Yes, I know. Everyone had a piece of that tree.
He: Yes. It was cut down in 1963.
Tata: The year I was born.
He: Was it?
Fortunately for us both, before I could blurt, “I’ve written better crap on fucking parking tickets,” it was suddenly my turn to drag the cavernous cat carrier down the hallway to an examining room, where the able assistant, the same woman who tried to talk me out of putting Larry, the little black cat once bent on stealing your soul, to sleep, took out a new file. Hey, two months ago, we were traumatized. I haven’t held that against her. I opened the carrier door and out popped tiny Thing 2. The assistant, who has the whitest skin I’ve ever seen without pink eyes and whiskers, went all liquidy. I actually saw ripples pass through her body.
She: Look at those eyes!
It’s true: Thing 2’s eyes are a golden orange I’ve never seen before. I actually wondered if there might be something wrong with her because they just seemed utterly surreal. While Thing 2 and I waited for the vet, she scampered around the room, over and under and inside and through things, while I watched from a few feet away. Her curiosity was charming. She came to me now and then for reassurance, but she wasn’t afraid. I watched her and thought: Topaz. Maybe her name is Topaz.
So the kitten has eye drops for her lovely tigerlily eyes.