tactile
by leslie vanexel

Arthur stepped in from the garage and proceeded to the sliding glass door to peer out into the darkness of the backyard, always semi-expecting to see something in the yard. It had almost become custom for him, after work, every night. Walk in, peek out the window, check to see if anything was different within the calm of the backyard. Nothing was amiss. Nothing was different. He closed his eyes and exhaled soundly through his nose, allowing all the stresses of redundant work drain through his slowly collapsing body. His shoulders seemed to disintegrate, costing him a couple of inches of height in the process. All he could see were the standard backyard fare: grass, the trees that lined the back cinder block wall. He dropped the curtain back in place and walked into the adjacent kitchen to get himself a drink.

His singular vice of a drink a day was one that he found more than acceptable. If a glass of red wine was good for cholesterol, then a gin and tonic canít be far behind. He mixed himself a pint glass over ice worth and returned to the living room to succumb to a bean bag chair that sat in front of the television. Rolling into the chair without spilling a drop, he dropped his other hand to the rug next to the bean bag to scour for the remote. After a few seconds of tactile failure he stopped, looked down where the remote usually lies, then started scanning the room. It laid hidden on top of the T.V., one of those places that negate a remoteís general purpose. Why the hell did I put it there? He got up to retrieve the item and noticed movement in the reflection of the television. He turned and scanned for its source.

There was nothing in the room, a glimmer of movement turned his attention to the kitchen window. There was a small object, perched atop the shelf outside the kitchen window. As he got closer he could make out the form of a small cat. Actually it was more of a kitten, sitting in the shelf, peering inside with its huge eyes. Itís head, seemingly slightly too large for its body, moved about as it tracked his movements, its whiskers sprouted out in patches, barely longer than its fur. He walked up and leaned on the counter opposite the kitten, maintaining a puzzled look on his face, curious as to how this little visitor got where it is.

It watched him innocently, stood up, and began to rub itself on the screen. Tufts of kitten fuzz poked through the holes as it rubbed back and forth and he could hear the high pitched, quick purrs as it strived for affection from the inanimate. It looked to be a typical tabby, gray and black striped, with a white belly and socks. Very well groomed for being out on its own. Art looked at it with pleasant eyes, a slight smile cracked from one side of his mouth as he moved his finger in a figure eight on the glass, watching the kitten track it with the near clumsiness of youth. It hadnít even grown into its paws yet, and hopped about with the instinctual predatory gestures of its species. The kitten didnít have a collar or any other source of identification so he moved to open the window to bring it in.

The windowpane protested loudly as he slid it open, he then opened the screen only to notice that the kitten was no longer there. The noise must have scared it away. He pulled back the curtain, then opened the sliding glass door and screen door and stepped outside to search for the missing critter. Kittens tend to be rather skittishÖ "Here kitty, kitty, kitty." He searched about the backyard making small circular movements with his fingers in an attempt to lure the kitten out. "Címon kitty. Donít worry. I know youíre scared, but itíll be okay." He walked slightly stooped over, hoping that the closer he was to the ground, the less imposing he would look. There were very few places to hide in his backyard, and although he felt bad about the kitten being lost and alone at night, he abandoned the search after a few minutes and retreated from the growing dusk. Cats and kittens both know to take care of themselves. Heíll be okay. He closed both doors behind him as well as the window, walked over to the T.V. where he had left the remote. He took one last look at the now empty window, and returned in a mildly perplexed state to the comfort of the gin, tonic, bean bag chairs and low quality television.

As he flipped through the channels his trigger finger paused on the credits for some undoubtedly hacked up for television film. He looked at the character and actor names, trying to figure out which bad action movie had the militaristic drum beat for the closing credits when he noticed movement in the upper left hand corner of the screen. There was movementóNo, a reflection. He turned to see the kitten, once again, in the window, looking about the room with its nose pressed up against the screen. He smiled as he stood, and quickly shuffled over to the window. He opened the sliding glass door and then the screen door. Both slid on silent rollers as he kept a finger moving on the window to keep the kittenís attention. Donít be scaredÖ It tracked his finger with a both eyes and an occasional paw; he kept his finger on the glass as he stepped out to pick up the kitten.

When he poked his head around the corner he realized that the kitten was gone. There was nothing to see but the dusty wooden shelf, a deceased potted plant and his finger from the other side of the window. Puzzled, he pulled his head inside and looked at the window where his finger was still pressed and there was the kitten returned! He pulled away from the window, startled, then popped his head through the doorway. No kitten. He looked through the window. Kitten.

No kitten.

Kitten.

No kitten.

Kitten.

No kitten.

Kitten.

What the hellís going on here. For all practical purposes (except for the fact that it wasnít), the kitten was there. If he tapped on the glass, it responded. He clapped his hands and it got wide eyed and shrunk back slightly, then would pad back up to the screen and continue to watch him. He could feel the hair on his arms standing up. This is seriously weirding me out. He closed the door and locked it, then took a couple of steps back, putting his hands in his pockets. Only a slight facial twitch made it obvious that something was bothering him, he pulled out one hand and rubbed the underside of his chin, feeling the concept of stubble ink through the smooth skin. He turned and walked away slowly, exaggerating each step to a level of drunkenness, feeling all the while those little eyes watching him. He could almost see the jerky movements of its head as it watched each movement, tracking him as all cats do, like prey.

He turned the corner toward the stairs and, once out of sight, quickly sprinted up the stairs to his bedroom, grabbed the disposable camera that sat upon his bookshelf of randomness. He held down the button to charge the flash as he ran back down. Stopping short of the entrance to the living room and he waited for the red light to flicker, indicating that the flash was ready. He thumbed the wheel, making sure that the film was wound and peeked around the corner to make sure that the subject was still there. It was preoccupied with something on the shelf, and he watched it sit up on its hind legs and bat whatever it was with its free paws. He licked over his front teeth and brought the camera up to eye level. There was the kitten. This would at least leave some photo documentation that he wasnít crazy. As he clicked the picture, the brightness of the flashís reflection hurt his eyes. But when the red glare faded, the kitten was still there, startled at the sudden flash, but watching nonetheless.

He was as satisfied with the current state of things as he could be, and walked over to the television. He depressed the button, and the television hummed into silence, leaving the darkened screen with the kitten still in the reflection. The eyes were clear, and trained upon him; he didnít need to see them to know it. His eyes stayed focused on the rust colored rug as he turned and walked over to the light switch. He looked straight ahead toward the stairs, turned the switch, and walked up into the darkness.

* * * *

Arthur stepped in from the garage cocking his head from side to side to stretch out his neck and walked over to the refrigerator to fix a drink. As was now customary, he opened the refrigerator door reached for the tonic, and looked out the window into the winter night. At the sound of the refrigerator, ears perked up and the numerous cats and dogs that now littered the reflections awoke. They all padded up to the screen from their various beds all over the lawn and sat at the window to watch him. The bottle of tonic water opened with a hiss; he watched the right ear of the golden retriever lift slightly at the sound as it panted in front of the glass door, leaving a foggy spot in front of its face.

Itís so odd that all these cats and dogs get along so wellÖ He had never owned a pet. Even as a child they were something that the family couldnít deal with in the small apartment they lived in. Now in his late twenties and renting a house that was more than big enough, the aspect of owning a pet seemed rather odd. Other peopleís pets liked him well enough, and he could reciprocate, but having to do the feeding and cleaning of an animal seemed a little taxing for the limited reward. There are enough of them in the reflections as it is, why would I want real ones.

He took it for granted that they were there. No one else could see them. He had tried every thing he could short of calling up the tabloids and talk show about spirits. The photo he took the first time came out perfect, except without the kitten. Heís brought friends over and hinted to look out the windows where three cats sat, the kitten, a calico and a Persian; they saw nothing. He tried more photos, video cameras, mirrors, lights, looked for shadows, traces of fur; all had the same analytical outcome: he could see them directly, in real time, but never on any sort of reproduction. They always appeared through all lenses and filters, just not on the actual reproduction itself. He would go up to the glass and slide his finger back and forth on it, giving them something to watch, and wonder why it was that they were even there. Their existence was hardly questionable, he could see and hear them, but the circumstances at this point were, umÖ curious.

All the animals seemed friendly enough, the dogs would pant and wag their tails at his approach, the cats would purr and rub up on the glass. Everything seemed okay except for the whole physicality issue. Occasionally he would forget and open the door to let them in, only to be surprised when they disappeared. Other than that, he tried to maintain a standard pet/owner relationship with them, keeping certain not to pay them any attention when anybody else was around. They never seemed to notice anyone else anyways, their eyes were always on him.

Initially, he had tried to avoid them, but it was impossible not to pay attention. Then he tried to close the curtains to hide them. Boy, that was a mistake! He stirred his drink with a finger, remembering all the whining and crying that they all did. He could hear claws clack clacking on the glass in hurried repetition. A sound like thunder as the glass door rattled in its track. That must be the rottwieler, puppy doesnít even know its own strength. The pitch of the increased into a fervor and he could hear them scurrying back and forth to the various windows, trying to get a glimpse of him. He felt bad for them and quickly reopened all the curtains. They instantly stopped and perked up and were happy; all they needed to be happy was just to see him. He smiled at the memory of their instant happiness as he sat down and turned on the television.

He laid splayed out in front of the bean bag (it had become more of a headrest after a few drinks.) He rolled the empty glass back and forth on his stomach, watching the slight arc that itís cone shape made. He let it roll off and it bounced with a slight resonance off of the rug. Itís state of rest seemed so permanent and fixed; he stared at it for some time, watching the shadows and reflections that the television pushed through it. Even they couldnít alter its nature. He rolled over onto his hands and knees and looked down at the glass, then at the window, then at all of those eyes looking back at him. He crawled over to the door, then crouched, staring at the kitten. It always sat in the center, calmly watching his eyes, then mewed loudly at him. He patted the rug with a quick repetition to encourage the kitten.

"Come on. Come here. Come here, kitty. Youíre such a good kitty! Come here. Please. Come here." He wondered why it was that people always used the baby voice with animals. Or, at least, why it was called a baby voice, and not an animal voice or pet voice. "Come here. Donít you wanna play? Come on." The kitten stood up and paced back and forth, anxious to play, but confused as to how to go about it. He bumped his head on the glass trying to go through it. "Oh! Be careful kitty. Itís okay." The kitten mewed more pathetically and just looked up at him. He felt bad for the poor thing, but helpless himself as what should be done. The kitten looked at him, them at its surrounding, then seemed to blur momentarily. He blinked a couple of times to shake off whatever had messed with his vision. Nothing really seemed different except that the kittenís background seemed to have changed. It seemed to be even more of a reflection that it had been, but in much the same way that his reflection appeared. He looked down in between his arms and there was the kitten staring up at him.

"Ah!" He stood quickly, and backed up a couple of steps. His vision was clouded with black spots and his head felt cloudy from standing up too fast. He stumbled back into a sitting position on the rug and took a deep breath. "Ah ha ha! You scared me!" His voice wavered slightly as he spoke. He blinked a couple of times, and licked his front teeth, then leaned forward slowly with an outstretched hand. The kitten stood and turned, making a slight indent in the rug with each paw. He watched his hand shake as it reached out to the kitten, he tried to summon the control to stabilize his hand. It shook even worse as he reached out with two fingers, until they scratched over the kittens head. So soft!

He scratched the kitten behind the ears, then under the chin. It purred loudly and leaned into his hand. It felt so fragile and thin as he pet it. He tried to use as little pressure as he could to keep from hurting it. He could feel the purring reverberate through the tiny body, happiness permeating its entirety. Art sat down cross legged and pet the kitten with both hands, and the kitten stood happily, leaning into every stroke of his hand. He was so pleased to be able to make this small creature so happy; he pet the kitten until it curled up into a tiny ball in the intersection where his legs crossed. He watched the kittenís closed eyes, filled with such a deep satisfaction. He breathed audibly through his nose and leaned back on his arms to look out the glass door.

ĖOh, shitÖ

His living room was full of cats and dogs.

* * * *

He stayed sitting where he was, not wanting to upset the kitten that was now sleeping so soundly. The animals had formed a loose half circle around him, all eyes were on him. They all had a look of contentment, there were tails wagging and seeming grins upon their faces. He watched them for a while, somewhat unsure of what steps he should take. They definitely couldnít stay. After all, his place was too small for so many pets. And thereís no way he could afford all the food they would eat; some of those dogs were pretty big. Not to mention that they would tear up the place after a while. Pets are even more like kids in that respect. Oh, and all of the crap that would get produced.

"Thereís no way." But I canít keep some and not others. That wouldnít be fair. He was already feeling sad for them. They just now have their freedom and can finally be around him, and they already have to go back. It seemed so unfair. But then again, what could he do? This was a definite catch 22 that he wouldnít be able to resolve to everyoneís satisfaction. No one will be happy about this. Not them, not me.

He sighed loudly and got up, the kitten mewed in protest as it was unceremoniously rolled off onto the rug. "Come on guys, itís time to go! Come on." He clapped his hands loudly to get their attention. Their ears perked up at his voice and motion flowed through the mass as they grew excited by his interaction. "Come on." He made waving motions to shoo them back. "Letís go. Back up. Back up now. Letís be good. Come on." They seemed mildly confused at his gestures, but slowly backed up anyway. The dogs were far more receptive than the cats, thinking that some sort of game was taking place. "Go go!" The golden retriever ran back into the reflection, stopping short on the lawn outside and turned, waiting for the game to begin. The other dogs followed suit, tails wagging as they went, trotting back into the reflection as if it were an open doorway, some laid down on the grass, others turned and sat, a few stood at attention with perked up ears. This is going to be easy! "Come on kitties. Time to go! Come on." They reluctantly turned with an air of indignation (as cats usually do) and meandered slowly into the reflection.

He watched patiently as they left, relief permeated through the rug and up his legs. The last flick of a tail drifted back into the reflection and he began to feel a sigh of relief when he felt a light rubbing on his ankle. He could feel the kittens purrs against his skin as it rubbed back and forth on his leg, all full of love for him. His stomach seemed to flinch with pain at the thought of casting out this poor creature. Itís eyes closed with satisfaction just being near him. He wanted nothing more than help this odd little thing, shield it from cold, shroud it in happiness. His eyes drooped with the thought as he picked up the kitten. It opened its eyes, startled by his touch, then purred more loudly. With resignation he shuffled over to the glass door, crouched down and placed the kitten in front of the glass. "Go on." It looked at him for moment, and with a quivering paw, took the first step and passed through the reflection. The tail twitched for a moment, then slid through as the kitten turned to sit facing him.

He stood up tight lipped and crestfallen and sighed such that he recognized the cliché. He turned back to the television, and before he took a step, felt the familiar vibration against his leg. He could hear the purring as he watched that little frame shake with joy. "NoÖ you canít come back in here. You need to stay outside." He picked up the kitten and turned back to the glass when he was nearly bowled over by the golden retriever. He held the kitten up as he stumbled backward, making sure the kitten remained protected. His foot slid off the end of the bean bag and he back pedaled momentarily before rolling backwards over it. As he laid on the rug the kitten still purred at him soundly, happy to have gone on the ride. He could feel the hot, moist air from the retriever as it panted on his neck, waiting for the next game to be played.

He didnít want to get mad. He didnít even want to get frustrated. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the slightly out of focus blur of the dogís tongue as it moved back and forth. The foamy spittle caroused upon the tongue, hanging with such tenacity that he could only watch it with mildly glazed eyes. The movement coincided with the moist breath; it came in quick bursts upon his neck and cheek. He watched the mouth open and close in an attempt to corral the drool, but it instead launched a glob in a high arc over his head. He could see it undulate and morph as it soared up and over. An end reached out to cling to his far cheek. Itís coldÖ The main contingent of slobber followed suit and wrapped down and around an ear, completing a circuit to the rug.

If I stay where I am, everything will be alright. He watched the texture on the ceiling. It didnít change, it was unmoving. Stoic. He could hear the movement of the animals around him. The sound came in a perfect circle, as if they were aligning themselves around him. As if? Of course they are. All around me in a perfect circle. Perfect. He refused to move his eyes, to give affirmation to the sounds that no one else could hear; he tried to keep from blinking. If he blinked he might look, if he looked he might see all those forms that no one else could see. The spittle on his cheek started to become less cold, less indifferent to his bodyís temperature. He didnít want to feel it anymore; he watched the ceiling. The ceiling started to blend together in some places, and separate in others. The shadows and darkness and lumps and light that made up the texture of the ceiling seemed to morph. He refused to check if a light source had changed. His vision began to blur. Dry. Donít blink. Donít move. He couldnít tell when the slobber had ceased to exist. There was no longer a distinct pattern to the ceiling. It didnít form images or symbols or words or signs or anything. It didnít give him any answers to any of the problems he had. It wouldnít give him a resolution, salvation. The ceiling smeared and sweat before him. He could divine nothing. All he could see was confusion. All he could feel was the fuzzy vibration of the kittenís happiness in his hands. Feel nothing. See nothing. He tried to focus his eyes on the changing obscurity before him. His right hand cupped the kittenís body, his left curled under and around the tiny head. The kitten continued to purr as he began to squeeze his hands together. Feel nothingÖ He could feel the fur between his fingers, the separation of the ribs as his fingers attempted to push through them, thin like straws between his fingers. His eyes began to well up and beige garble of ceiling shifted into focus, then back to nothing. The kitten jerked, limbs shaking, but unable to move change its position. His hand was big enough to keep its mouth closed. It didnít purr anymore. He could feel the pressure as it tried to open its mouth. The scratching as its tongue brushed harshly against its teeth. He still couldnít squeeze away the stifled mews. He squeezed harder and began to twist his left hand. The kittenís limbs were useless and stiff under the pressure. He could feel each attempted breath and he squeezed harder after, compressing the tiny body even further. He could feel the soft ribs, not fully developed, bend and distort within his hand. He tried to push the soft popping sound of cartilage out of his head. The bones felt sharp against itís skin. His index finger pressed into the back of its neck as he twisted. He could feel its vertebrae slowly stretch and separate. The tension increased at a threshold. He pressed the form into his stomach and brought up his arms. The form didnít move anymore. He watched the nothing slide around in front of him as he pulled and twisted. The salt from his tears trailed a mild sting down both sides of his face. He didnít hear the series of cracks. There is nothing to hear anymore. The form seemed to shrink and compress. The tension no longer existed and he continued to twist and push the form together. All went soft and pliable, with random bits of hardness that shifted and submerged at will. Only the ceiling continued to move. Wet. The little peaks seemed to be getting slowly displaced by the troughs and shadows. He closed his eyes and watched the red smear of light permeate through his eyelids. Just like the ceilingÖ He raised an arm above his head and the dull red turned more to burgundy. He shifted his fingers about, feeling the changing texture in his hand, the thick liquid pool momentarily in his upturned palm, then slowly drift down past his wrist. He cocked his arm back slightly and threw the mass. He heard the patter of drops released from the sudden acceleration sprinkle his clothes. There was the loud initial thud, then shudder of the glass door as it vibrated against its guides. He watched the red shimmer and wave, then slowly fade to white.

* * * *

The silence startled him out of the stupor he was in. He opened his eyes and looked at his hands. Yup. Those are hands. Sitting up quickly he looked at the glass door. Nothing there. Nothing on the rug. No animals. No nothing. He stood up and walked over to the glass door. The darkness was average in its assumed emptiness. He focused on the glass. Nothing here but us ArthursÖ There was no sound to hear, and not really a whole lot to see. Not an cat or dog in sight. Nothing to interrupt the silence. He rubbed the tips of his fingers with his thumb and could still almost feel the vertebrae collapse and twist like iceflows under them. He listened to his own breathing, the air seemed to scratch and claw through his nostrils. He rubbed his fingers hard, then shoved his hands into his pockets. Keeping one hand in its pocket he silently walked to each window and closed the curtain, they screeched in their tracks as they closed. The sound made his face twitch slightly. He turned off the light and returned his loose hand to its pocket. He kept his sight focused down where the rug should be and, without looking up at the darkness, walked straight to the stairs and up toward the allure of unconsciousness.