I don’t sleep well. Ever. I can count on one finger the times I’ve closed my eyes and gone unconscious with ease. It was a problem for a long while, ‘til someone with the same problem suggested I do crosswords in bed. Crosswords keep my mind focused, releasing the day’s struggles with each Down and Across, helping me to surrender to the bed. My grandmother told me about crosswords. She taught me how to sleep.
Her name was Marion Dampeer. Her grandkids called her Mama D. She was the mother hen of my mom’s side of the family, inviting every relative to her house for every holiday (even if the house’s square footage didn’t always allow the amount of bodies she attempted to squeeze in). She added sugar to nearly everything she cooked and a smile to everything she said. She was the sweetest person I have ever known.
Mama D died on June 14th. Her body wasn’t able to take the chemotherapy she’d been receiving for her inoperable pancreatic cancer. But in the months before she left, before she was too weak to take care of herself, it would’ve been hard to notice that she was fighting for her life. Her smile and laugh were the only thing that the god-awful chemo couldn’t touch. It wasn’t like she was trying to hide her anger or fear; I honestly think she didn’t know how to be a negative person.
I flew back home to Columbus, Mississippi to be with my family this past week. I’d lost my other grandmother (Mama C) around the same time last year, so I knew my job at this kind of thing was to not cry while others in my family cried. We stayed upbeat by telling funny stories about Mama D, like how she’d get angry when my granddad would eat full tubs of Cool Whip (which he still does).
We buried Mama D on June 16th, my parents’ 31st wedding anniversary. The funeral home was full of elaborate flower wreaths and bouquets sent from loved ones, but the coffin, Mama D’s coffin, just had a single yellow rose wrapped in silver paper with a white ribbon. Simple, pretty, perfect. Like Mama D.
Right before visitation, my Great-Aunt Bettie Jane said she wanted the rose to be taken out of the paper, so I unwrapped the rose and carefully placed it back on the coffin, pocketing the ribbon. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the ribbon, I just know I need to keep it.
I’m on the plane back to New York as I write this, alone and crying for the first time since she died (whatever, I’m a wuss). And I’m remembering what my mom asked the pastor to say at Mama D’s eulogy: When we were little, Mama D would tell the grandkids cat stories before we went to sleep. The stories were simple, never anything too scary or upsetting, just pleasant little yarns to end the day. To help us sleep.
And so even though I’m not very fond of cats…this one’s for you, Mama D.
I love you. I miss you.
JAKE THE FAKE DOG
by Nathan Cosby
Buttons hated her name. Buttons. What were her humans thinking?
Bad enough she lived in a little house with three humans. Bad enough she had to pee in a box everyday, never being allowed outside. And bad enough that she had to deal with that dadgum dog all the time. On top of all this, every time someone saw her, she had to hear the name Buttons, and know the name was hers.
That’s why Buttons didn’t really see any downside to her escape plan. Best-Case Scenario: Freedom! Worst-Case Scenario: Stay Here With That Dog! There really wasn’t any controversy going on in Buttons’ tiny cat mind.
So Buttons woke up that morning before everyone, before the baby started crying, before the big humans yawned and made their hot black wake juice. She went downstairs and peed in her stupid box (This is the last time, she thought). She went behind the fridge and ate the extra cat food she’d hid yesterday. And then she quietly crept under the couch near the sliding door that led to the unfenced backyard. And waited.
Wonder what my new owners will name me. Something more respectful. Teresa? Nah. Yolanda! That’s totally sophisticated. I kind of look like a Yolanda. Maybe if I-
Buttons’ head slammed into the bottom of the couch, nearly giving her a cat concussion. It was that dang dog.
“Ooh, did that hurt?” the dang dog said.
“Hush! I’m in the middle of an elaborate escape plan!” Buttons hissed.
“Neat! Can I come?”
“Can you—the humans let you out five times a day! You could escape whenever you want!”
“Why would I try to leave? The humans give me food and bones and water and treats and rub my belly and clean my ears and let me run outside and dress me up for Halloween and give me table scraps and—“
“They do that for you,” Buttons said, “They make me stay inside all the time and eat the same nasty wet kitty food everyday.”
“But…you’re a cat. That’s what cats do.”
“Maybe I’m ready to be a cat on my own terms. There’s a whole big world out there, just waiting for me to grab it by the paws and shake the life out of it, like a farm mouse!”
The dog thought about this. “So, you’re leaving?”
“Yes,” Buttons said in that way that she said things to the dog when she knew the dog was trying hard to understand the simplest stuff in the world.
“For good. Get away from the couch, I’ve got to surprise the humans when they open the door for you.”
The dog walked over to the recliner on the other side of the room, jumped up on it, circled twice, sat, and gave a satisfied PHWMPH. He stared at Buttons.
“Can I ask a question, please?” the dog said politely.
“If you’re angry at the humans because they treat you like a cat…then why do you think your new owners will treat you any different? The humans will have changed, but you’ll still be a cat.”
“Grah, you stupid dog, because I…I…”
Oh no, Buttons thought, the dadgum dog just made sense.
“Why don’t you just act like a dog?” the dog offered.
“It’s easy. Just start biting everything and eating your food real fast and sticking your tongue out when you see humans and pee on the rug. They’ll treat you like a dog.”
Buttons considered this. Such a simple plan…but would it work? And could Buttons live with herself after going against the Cat Code established so many centuries ago, which expressly forbade cats from acting loveable and nice?
“Believe me, Buttons. The first time you beg for food at the table and they give you a french fry, it’ll all be worth it.”
Buttons cringed at hearing her name, but knew the dog might be right. And she’d always wanted to try a fry that’d been frenched.
“Would you…help me? With trying to be a dog?” Buttons asked.
“No sweat,” the dog said as he licked his butt.
“Ok. Then I’ll stay for a while, Buttons said. “But can you call me something different? I really hate being called Buttons.”
“Totally! You need a dog name. How about Jake?”
“Jake? That's not a girl name.”
“Who cares? Humans can’t tell what we are unless they look up under us.”
The dog leapt off the recliner, stuck out his paw and said, “Welcome to the dogs, Jake.”
Jake the Fake Dog stuck out her paw and shook the dadgum dog’s paw.
“Nice to be here.”