[Animals] lack a symbolic identity and the self- consciousness that goes with it. They merely act and move reflexively as they are driven by their instincts. If they pause at all, it is only a physical pause; inside they are anonymous, and even their faces have no name. They live in a world without time, pulsating, as it were, in a state of dumb being. . . The knowledge of death is reflective and conceptual, and animals are spared it. They live and they disappear with the same thoughtlessness: a few minutes of fear, a few seconds of anguish, and it is over. But to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days-that’s something else.
– Ernest Becker
While the pragmatic space of animals is a function of inborn instincts, man has to learn what orientation he needs in order to act.
– Christian Norberg-Schulz
When Hillary, the grey coated Siberian husky, appears at the end of The Navidson Record, he is no longer a puppy. A couple of years have passed. Something forever watchful has taken up residence in his eyes. He may be playful with those he knows but whenever strangers wander too close they invariably hear a growl rising from somewhere deep in his throat, a little like distant thunder, warning them away. [79-See Selwyn Hyrkas’ “The
End of City Life” in IntervIew, v. 25 October 1995, p. 54.]
Mallory, the tabby cat, vanishes completely, and no mention is made about what happened to him. His disappearance remains a mystery.
One thing however is certain: the house played a very small part in both their histories.
The incident took place on August 11th, 1990 a week after Will Navidson’s secret exploration of the hallway. Saturday morning cartoons blare from the kitchen television, Chad and Daisy munch down their breakfast, and Karen stands outside smoking a cigarette, talking on the phone with Audrie McCullogh, her shelf building accomplice. The topic of the moment is Feng Shui and all it has failed to do. “No matter how many ceramic turtles or wooden ducks, goldfish, celestial dragons, or bronze lions I put in this goddamn house,” she rants. “It still keeps throwing off this awful energy. I need to find a psychic. Or an exorcist. Or a really good realestate agent.” Meanwhile in the living room, Tom helps Navidson take some still shots of the hallway using a strobe.
Suddenly, somewhere in the house, there is a loud yowl and bark. An instant later Mallory comes screaming into the living room with Hillary nipping at his tail. It is not the first time they have involved themselves in such a routine. The only exception is that on this occasion, after dashing up and over the sofa, both puppy and cat head straight down the hallway and disappear into the darkness. Navidson probably would have gone in after them had he not instantly heard barks outside followed by Karen’s shouts accusing him of letting the animals out when on that day they were supposed to stay in.
“What the hell?” we hear Navidson mutter loudly.
Sure enough Hillary and Mallory are in the backyard. Mallory up a tree, Hillary howling grandly over his achievement.
For something so startling, it seems surprising how little has been made of this event. Bernard Porch in his four thousand page treatise on The Navidson Record devotes only a third of a sentence to the subject: “, (strange how the house won’t support the presence of animals).” [80-
Bemard Porch’s All In All (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 1,302.] Mary Widmunt leaves us with just one terse question: “So what’s the deal with the pets?” [81-Mary Widmunt’s “The Echo of Dark” in Gotta Go (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994), p. 59.] Even Navidson himself, the consummate investigator, never revisits the subject.
Who knows what might have been discovered if he had.
Regardless, Holloway soon arrives and any understanding that might have been gained by further analyzing the strange relationship between animals and the house is passed over in favor of human exploration.
[82-Strange how Zampanô also fails to comment on the inability of animals to wander those corridors. I believe there’s a great deal of significance in this discovery. Unfortunately, Zampanô never returns to the matter and while I would like to offer you my own interpretation I am a little high and alot drunk, trying to determine what set me off in the first place on this private little home-bound binge.
For one thing, Thumper came into the Shop today.
Ever since I fell down the stairs, things have changed there. My boss kind of tiptoes around me, playing all low key and far of f, his demeanor probably matching his old junkie days. Even his friends keep their distance, everyone for the most part just leaving me alone to sketch and solder, though I’m sketching far less these days, I mean, with all this writing. Anyway, Thumper’s actually been by a few times but my incomprehensible shyness persists, forbidding me to ever summon up more than an occasional intelligible sentence. Recently though I did get this crazy idea: I decided to go out on a limb and show her that sappy little bit I wrote about her-you know with all that coastal norths and August-sun scent-of-pine-trees stuff, even the Lucy part. just put it in an envelope and carried it around with me until she dropped by and then handed it to her without a word.
I don’t know what I expected, but she opened it right on the spot and read it and then laughed and then my boss grabbed it and he sort of winced -“Now look who’s the dumb mutant” he shuddered-and that was that. Thumper handed me her flip flops and Adidas sweat pants and stretched out on the chair. I felt like such an idiot. Lude had warned me I’d be certifiable if I showed it to her. Maybe I am. I actually believed it would touch her in some absurd way. But to hear her laugh like that really fucked me up. I should of stayed away from such flights of fancy, stuck to my regular made -up stories.
I did my best to hide in the back, though I was too scared to go too far back because of the storeroom.
Then right before she left, Thumper came over and handed me her card. “Call me some time,” she said with a wink. “You’re cute.” My life instantly changed.
I told Lude. He told me to call her at once.
Then I re-considered, then I postponed.
Finally, at exactly twenty-two past three in the morning, I dialed. It was a beeper. I punched in my number.
She’s a stripper I reasoned. Strippers live late.
An hour passed. I started drinking. I’m still drinking. She hasn’t called.
She isn’t going to call.
I feel dead. Hillary and Mallory, I suddenly envy them. I wonder if Navidson did too. I bet Zampanô envied them. I need to get away. Zampanô liked animals. Far away. All those cats he would talk to in that weedy courtyard. At dawn. At night. So many shades slinking out from under that dusty place like years, his years, could they be like my years too? though certainly not so many, not like him, years and years of them, always rubbing up against his legs, and I see it all so clearly now, static announcements that yes! hmmm, how shocking, they still are there, disconnected but vital, the way memories reveal their life by simply appearing, sprinting out from under the shadows, paws!-patterpaws-pawsi, pausing then to rub against our legs, zap! senile sparks perhaps but ah yes still there, and I’m thinking, has another missing year resolved in song?- though let me not get too far from myself, they were after all only cats, quadruped mice-devouring mote-chasing shades, Felis catus, with very little to remind them of themselves or their past or even their tomorrows, especially when the present burns hot with play, their pursuits and their fear, a bright flash to pursue (sun a star on a nothing’s back), a dark slash to escape (there are always predators …), the spry interplay of hidden things and visible wings flung upon that great black sail of rods and cones, thin and fractionary, a covenant of light, ark for the instant, echoing out the dark and the Other, harmonizing with the crack-brack-crisp-tricks of every broken leaf of grass or displaced stick, and so thrust by shadow and the vague hope of color into a rhapsody of motion and meaning, albeit momentary, pupil pulling wider, wider still, and darker, receiving all of it, and even more of it, though still only beholding some of it, until in the frenzy of reception, this mote-clawing hawk- fearing shade loses itself in temporary madness, leaping, springing, flinging itself after it all, as if it were possessed (and it is); as if that kind of physical response could approximate the witnessed world, which it can’t, though very little matters enough to prevent the try-all of which is to say, in the end, they are only cats but cats to talk to just the same before in their own weaving and wending, they Kilkenny-disappear, just as they first appeared, out of nowhere, vanishing back into the nowhere, tales from some great story we will never see but one day just might imagine (which in the gray of gentler eves will prove far more than any of us could ever need; “enough,” we will shout, “enough!” our bellies full, our hearts full, our ages full; fullness and greater fullness and even more fullness; how then we will laugh and forget how the imagining has already left us) slinking back into that place of urban barley, grass, fennel and wheat, or just plain hay, golden hay, where-Hey! Hey! Hey-hey! Hay days gone by, bye-bye, gone way way away. And what of dogs you ask? Well, there are no dogs except for the Pekinese but that’s another story, one I won’t, I cannot tell. It’s too dark and difficult and without whim, and if you didn’t notice I’m in a whimsical (inconsequential) frame of mind right now, talking (scribbling?) aimlessly and strangely about cats, enjoying all the rules in this School of Whim, the play of it,-Where Have I Moved? What Have I Muttered? Who Have I Met?-the frolic and the drift, as I go thinking now, tripping really, over the notion of eighty or more of Zampanô’s dusty cats (for no particular/relevant reason) which must implicitly mean that no, it cannot be raining cats and dogs, due to the dust, so much of it, on the ground, about the weeds, in the air, so therefore! ergo! thus (..): no dogs, no Pekinese, just the courtyard, Zampanô’s courtyard, on a mad lost-noon day, wild with years and pounce and sun, even if another day would find Zampanô elsewhere, far from the sun, this sun, flung face down on his ill-swept floor, without so much as a clue, “No trauma, just old age” the paramedics would say, though they could never explain-no one could-what they found near where he lay, four of them, six or seven inches long and half an inch deep, splintering the wood, left by some terrible awe-full thing, signature in script of steel or claws, though not Santa, Zampanô died after Christmas after all, but no myth either, for I saw the impossible marks near the trunk, touched them, even caught some splinters in my fingertips, some of their unexpected sadness and mourning, which though dug out later with a safety pin, I swear still fester beneath my skin, reminding me in a peculiar way of him, just like other splinters I still carry, though these much much deeper, having never been worked out by the body but quite the contrary worked into the body, by now long since buried, calcified and fused to my very bones, taking me further from the warm frolic of years, reminding me of much colder days, Where I Left Death, or thought I had-I am tripping-overcast in tones December gray, recalling names,-I have tripped-swept in Ohio sleet and rain, ruled by a man with a beard rougher than horse hide and hands harder than horn, who called me beast because I was his boy though he wasn’t my father, which is another story, another place I’m here to avoid, as I’m certain there are places you too have sought to avoid, just as one of Zampanô’s early readers also found a story she wanted to avoid, though she finally told me it, or at least some of it, how she’d departed from the old man’s apartment at nightfall, having just endured hours of speech on comfort, death and legend, not to speak of mothers & daughters and birds & bees and fathers & Sons and cats & dogs, all of it distressing her, saddening her, confusing her, and thus leaving her completely unprepared for the memory she was about to find, abruptly returning from her childhood in Santa Cruz, even as she was trying to reorient herself in a familiar setting and the comforting routine of a long walk back to her car,-it had been raining there; pouring in fact; though not on Franklin & Whitley-suddenly noticing the unnatural heaviness of a shadow slipping free from the burnt dusk, though not a shadow at all, later translating this as the sight of an enormous creature trespassing on the curve of a Northern California night, like the shadow she saw hiding in the bottom turn of Zampanô’s stairwell, moving too, towards her, and so causing her to panic and scramble into the comforts offered by a local bar-or that night scramble through the gate of Zampanô’s building-away from all that gloom, until only many hours and many drinks later could she finally fall asleep, her hangover the following day leaving her-“gratefully,” she said-with only a fleeting memory of something white with ropes of sea smoke and one terrifying flash of blue, which was more, she told me, than she could usually share even if-which she wouldn’t share-she knew it still wasn’t even the half of it.
And so now, in the shadow of unspoken events, I watch Zampanô’s courtyard darken.
Everything whimsical has left.
I try to study the light-going carefully. From my room. In the glass of my memory. In the moonstream of my imagination. The weeds, the windows, every bench.
But the old man is not there, and the cats are all gone.
Something else has taken their place. Something I am unable to see.
It is hungry. It is immortal.
Worse, it knows nothing of whim.