Lolita on the road

The flakes are light and harmless. Like confetti they dance as they fall. They twirl. And swirl. The road, the ground, the trees are all fixed in place but the sky’s axis may be flipped at will by a maniacal child playing snow globe, somewhere. Before the dots even have a chance to settle, to accumulate, he upsets it. Does it again. Lo, paws tucked neatly into her breast, lies on the dash, her punch drunk head bobbing, her dopey eyes trying hopelessly to follow the erratic yet delicate movements of these flat-white bugs on the other side of a thick pane of glass. She’s ten months old…

I like to start by getting on all fours and nuzzling my nose along the furry ridges of her cheek—lip to lobe, lobe to lip. She holds firm. Pushes into it. When I get past the flap of her flimsy ear, eventually, I inhale deeply through whichever of my nostrils is less stopped-up, sucking in hair like a hoover and savoring the salty-sweet smell of cut grass and mercury in the back of my throat. It scratches but I’m determined not to cough. “Eeyyp,” she squeaks. I roll onto my back and she hops up. She always shows me the rear first…

Lo: full name “Lolita,” conceived in Tatum, New Mexico, a furry pod-pussy developed in the belly of Mother Cat Tatum, malleable, shaped by every bump on the rocky road from New Mexico to New York City, sung closer to life unknowingly each day by Anya the Siren, born in Brooklyn at dusk on May first in the back of the same old VW van she copilots now, number one in a litter of five but third overall to open her teardrop blues, calico, white knuckle-length hair with orange & black spots, brave like a lion, so brave, in fact, she has to sit atop every tree like an angel, the first to get a name, her moniker lifted without hesitation from a book I was reading during the trip, some passages having been recited aloud for Tatum and Anya’s benefit, like this one:

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

Goosebumps. Her claws extend and contract as she struts figure eights over my chest looking for a spot to claim. She kneads below the nipples, suckles on my shirt, and playfully bats my eyes with the bottom half of her hairy wand. Fine, I’ll close them. The pain is mild but grating. I jam the crown of my head into the floor, causing the lump in my throat to swell and jut out like I swallowed a shark. “No milk, sorry.” She settles on my rising belly, her head dangling innocently over my lap. My belly sinks. I think I can feel the miniscule force of a warm breath beating down…

Then at five weeks, before the June heat would become totally insufferable for a family of five kittos plus their mother plus me confined to a van and only days after they had started on solid food, Lo and her sister Mo, a hefty by kitten standards grey tabby with gold-orange highlights, were taken from Tatum’s side, detached at the nip, and whisked away in the night by my sister and I for their first fully conscious trip across country. This left Mother Cat in the loving arms of Anya. Goodbye Tatum. Goodbye New York City. Hello Interstate-West. Hello Sunny California.

I bear down on her narrow spine, careful to keep the tips of my fingers firm. Tiger claw position. Sometimes I zip-zag between vertebrae and sometimes I play power chords on her back like she’s a piano. Ow! The waves of vibration start in her rib cage and slowly diminish until they’ve reached the rubbery under soles of her pink padded paws. I pinch them with two fingers to relieve the mounting pressure…

The sun lagging behind, notice the dots on the highway get painted over in white. Road work? Doubtful. Lights can’t focus past a flurry of frozen reflectors. Icicle prisms in rainbow-white through the eyes of a mantis. Trying to swat flys with wiper blades only makes matters worse. Hang your head out the window. Let the cool flakes fall and melt directly on your tired eyeballs, dulling the unavoidable monotony of sunup to sundown bumper gazing. Road trip! It’s okay to cry. Wink to wipe clean. You see. Alternate eyes as not to fall asleep. Not yet. Did one of your tires just slip? Shit. GRAND CANYON JUNCTION 15 MILES. Take the next exit and pull into Denny’s before the ripe orange squeezes further behind a curtain of rock. Play in the snow with Lolita for the very first time while the final block of light retreats into the forest. Run. Fall to your knees. Relax in the backseat as another day of grey highways and colorless gas pumps gets overshadowed by the magical and transformative properties of this ubiquitous white powder. Cheers to uniformity. Almost looks warm out there with every fluffed-up SUV basking under the same amber glow of a nocturnal lamppost. But don’t forget: beneath the surface tire tracks are lined tread-deep with compacted ice, then covered over again in fresh snow, forming god knows how many slip-slop booby traps along the dark road home. Looks like you’re stuck here for the night.

If I want her to turn, I need only take my knuckles and nuggie her sides a little bit. Ruffle a few hairs. Be playful. She tries to latch onto my pant leg with outstretched toe claws but the worn jean fibers give way immediately. The instant I place a finger or four on her fuzzy navel she wraps my arm up like a frenzied spider monkey—twenty pointed nails and god knows how many teeth digging “X”s into the fatless flesh of my forearm. Oh you wanna play rough? I hoist her arched body a full foot in the air, keeping it parallel to mine, my back arched as well, we float like two crescent moons butted against one another. With a wrist rattle and a few shakes of blood, she let’s go, plopping forcefully into my lap…

Denny’s. I’ll have the talapia. And could I get a bloody mary with the meal and afterwards a margarita? Frozen. Only telling you now so you can put the drink order in before happy hour’s over, but even though I’m ordering it now, if you could wait until after I eat to make it, that would be great, because I don’t want the ice to melt, you see. That is, even though I’m ordering a frozen margarita, well in advance of it being made I might add, I have a hunch that you’ll bring it after the meal as requested BUT you’ll have prepared it on the rocks instead of frozen. And when this minor fuck-up comes to pass, of course, I won’t say anything, just give a you a sort of half-cocked chin tuck affirmative, only looking up briefly from my electronic copy of Ordinary People because I’m finally getting to the part where we get filled in on what happened to Conrad’s brother Buck, and it’s also worth noting that the Kindle I’m reading this on offers the reader quite the effortless consumption experience, more utilitarian, you might say, than a book, especially in situations that involve reading and doing something else at the same time, like eating, for instance— will never get how these hot shots book types read one handed, thumbs all splayed up in the spine of a big fat hunkin’ old book, a fucking hardback, are you joking? have you mastered some sideways Jedi skill of reading text as it crawls further and further away, gettting tinier and tinier as each line draws to its sad squinted end, jesus christ. Anyway. All I know is that by the time I finish my fish and this bloody mary and another passage of e-text laced with well-deserved teen angst, I won’t feel like waiting the extra two or three minutes it would take you to make me a new drink, and I use the word “make” generously considering that making a frozen margarita at a chain joint like this involves little more than pulling a slot-machine handle for four to six seconds, and yes, I know, you have to salt the rim and reach your chipped nails into the lime bin but big whoop, still, hardly more effort than pouring a draft beer, and you wouldn’t ask a bartender to “make” you a beer, would you? Nevermind, you’re the bartender. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it, on the rocks is a-okay with me, really. Believe me, I’m in no rush to go sit in my parked icebox, just that I am getting a little buzzed already because I’ve been driving all day and I’m exhausted and Lolita, poor thing, must be getting lonely and confused, what with being in a rattly spaceship all day and her first steps outside since leaving the beach taking place on such an alien surface and her water bowl fastly covering over with a deepening sheet of ice, impenetrable to someone without the ability to swing even the smallest ball-pin hammer, and sure enough my cell phone has finished charging, so better down this drink, which won’t take long because it’s on the rocks, have the check, and be going.

Facing away, her giraffe neck cranes cloud high and her dark head swivels 180 degrees like a demon child. Hail. She stares at me with glazed over eyes. The room is freezing. I rub my hands together and snap my wrists. She saunters up to my head, taking her sweet time, her body a fishing bobber over restless waters, and contorts herself in such a fashion that both my ears are filled instantly to the drum with warm fur. She makes me muffs. Everything hushed. Hearing the hollow clank of my twittering jaw, I presume, Lolita slithers her ferret-like body around until she’s draped silk over my throat. I struggle to breath, her stomach heavy and working hard to digest a mouse she ate earlier. Together, we fall asleep.

Lo’s skateboarding. I can see her through the window, but for some reason she’s tiny, about the size of a gecko. She rides a wheelie. “Hey, come check this out,” I say to my friends. We watch as she rolls by with her raisin-sized front wheels popped. “Huh, look at that,” someone says. And off she goes again…All of a sudden she’s shreading along a busy street and I’m watching overhead. Top-down. She doing the Mcfly back from the future, grabbing bumbers of speeding cars, sling-shotting past when they brake, but for some reason she’s swerving recklessly into their path, forcing them to flip into ditches, causing a whole goddamn scene. At which time she panics and swings back in the opposite direction, frantically pawing at the polished bumper of a Dodge Ram. I gasp! She manages to latch on for a few seconds before loosing total control and barrel-rolling into the shoulder like a drunken cheerleader. Out of my sight…I’m on the front porch of my parent’s house trying to call for her. But my voice won’t work. I can breath in but can’t get anything out. My lungs are packed, squeezed tight like a balloon. My ears ring. A pitbull comes soaring out of the front door in slow motion and latches onto my surgically repaired left knee. Doesn’t hurt though. Can’t feel a thing. The dog, a grinning Chesire, has stopped chewing. This is how the character that I guess is supposed to represent my mom finds me: lying calmly on my back, cross-eyed, shin bone, half buried and sticking out of the lawn ten feet away with Nike shoe intact. Laces tied flawlessly. “Lolita!” I’m finally able to scream.

I wake up and poke my head out from under the sleeping bag. My breath looms in the air like an extinguished dragon. There she is balled up on the Spider-Man blanket I got from my parents for Christmas. I like to start by getting on all fours and nuzzling my nose along the furry ridges of her cheek—lip to lobe, lobe to lip.