Updated: Oct 26, 2021
Ocelots. Ocelots holding steaming cups securely in their furry paws, one cup per cat, glass eyes appearing animated in their vague reflections upon the coffee’s surface. This frozen moment, this crouching of an ocelot over a mundane, glossy, dark liquid that steams, moistening the pink and orange nose, feels like something I need to write about. I’m in a museum exhibit, a contemporary taxidermy show, with my leg wobbling in the air to prop up my notebook. The ocelot’s coffee is real, and it’s actually being warmed by some device. I can smell its acrid heat. My daughter is at the museum coffee shop eating a carrot muffin and reading a fantasy novel. She doesn’t call it fantasy, she just says “I’m reading.”
“I’m reading, mom.”
“I want to know what you think of the literal, real, dead ocelots with actual hot cups of coffee in their paws, come on. You can read later.”
“But the muffin is huge, it will take me forever to finish.” It comes as no surprise, the resistance to the seemingly minimal movement, to the deceptively simple action of walking into a room of strangers and of strangeness, a room vibrating with anxious, repressed confusion, and pretending to wholeheartedly engage with the discombobulation of art piece here, art piece there. Never a unified whole. At the very best the art itself feels grotesquely intimate in a place like this, and anyway one daren’t drip fresh human tears onto the polished floors, amid the slow clicking of heeled boots. But it does happen. One cries and then combs one’s hair forward and stands closer to the wall. I understand my sensitive daughter and her preference for a carrot muffin, half eaten and yes, frankly, enormous, over a dead ocelot and the compounded fears of a hundred mortals. The museum is busy today. The coffee shop is much more chill.
“Ok. Can I have a bite?” It’s because of me that my daughter eats to avoid discomfort. I know I caused this. It’s a good muffin. It holds shape as I peel off a greasy chunk and wonder semi-consciously where she would rather be. “What’s happening now in the book?”
“The dragons have returned, just in time. It’s incredible. You wouldn’t get it.” I want to understand the return of the dragons, too. I look away from my daughter, who is still deep into her book, and dab my cheeks with a napkin. What happened to me? Why am I lost unto myself? I used to pray, I used to kneel and graze flowers with my nose and collect the transparent bits of sand in a special box. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know.” Nature, contorted into creepy mirages that pay homage to anything but nature. I am suddenly angry at the artist who created the ocelot sculptures. It’s a mockery, making the corpses of wild cats pretend to drink coffee in this place.
“Mom.” I must have spoken that last part out loud. “Let’s go check out the damn thing. Seeing as you ate the whole muffin.”
Later that day we are at the park. It’s bright and sunny, and we’re laying on a very blue picnic blanket. Legs and arms and fingers spread wide as we watch the city birds. We both have light brown eyes, pink lipstick and curly hair. Our fingernails are short, unpainted. I fold myself over horizontally, my fingertips as the axis, closing directly, neatly over my daughter just like a notebook would flip shut after a young woman has had enough of scribbling onto its stained pages. I prop myself up on my elbows and look past the front cover of my notebook to see my eyes, and also the whole sky, reflected on the surface of a cup of coffee. If I ever have a daughter we’ll create our own sanctuary of creativity. A true safe haven, where big cats will roam and dragons will spit fire at malicious intruders. We will dance in the rain among tall flowers, never stagnant, never encrusted onto the surface of the earth with overstuffed bellies. I sigh and reopen the notebook. It starts to rain. The cup of coffee overflows, no longer hot. Purple rivulets form at the cusp of words, draining away their meaning. Clouds sing in raspy, electric voices, reminding me of whatever my old friends and I once attempted at drunken city bars every weekend. Hoping to be jolted into something more alive, replacing the challenge of facing ourselves with the violence of not doing so. Electrocuting life out of our lazy bodies one last time, and then again one last time. I never chose to give that up, the bars just closed. I had to think of something else. Some other drug. A muffin as a healing balm for all the torture I’ve ever endured, as well as all the torture that is being endured currently, at a museum or within a story. It works, you know? Maybe this isn’t it, maybe writing things down isn’t the whole freaking shebang, but it’s a step. It’s many steps. It is like going in and the pen becomes something else, a secret weapon, a laser beam dissection device. It starts playing tetris with my inner world. It shoves aside dusty flower vases whose sides are crusted with black leaves, and reveals… more dust, usually, but sometimes a key to the dresser cabinet, and inside there's a crowbar with which to smash a window open and parkour the heck out of the house. That kind of thing. I stare at the ink puddles, blinking the rain out of my eyes, breathing, lapping the watery coffee with my tongue like an ocelot.