Dragging a Cat Downhill: A Lesson in "Action at a Distance"
by Derek White
The aftermath was awkward. We were lounging around naked on sticky yoga mats on her living room floor. The front door was open so the neighbors could see in through the screen. Charma wanted to segue straight into siesta, but I felt clammy and uncomfortable. Despite the air conditioning, I was sticking to the yoga mats like they were flypaper. I also hadn't eaten lunch yet, but it was too hot to eat.
After she fell asleep, I peeled myself off the floor. From my standing vantage, Charma was a lump of flesh-colored clay with hair sprouting from her head and her crotch. Don't get me wrong, she was a terrific friend of mine--there was just no magnetic attraction. We thought sex might change this. We also both knew it would be a mistake going into it.
I got dressed and snuck off to the Cat Dragged In. C.D.I. was a dark bar with a working swamp cooler. Jesus and John Higgs-Boson were already there. We launched into a debate about our electricity and magnetism exam results from that morning.
"Curl your hand in the direction of the current," I said, coiling my fingers, "and the electricity is in the direction of your thumb." I punctuated my response with a sip of beer, then put my dewy bottle down on the fur-lined bar.
"Only problem," said Jesus, "is that your beer was in your right hand, leaving you to perform the right-hand rule with your left hand, yielding the opposite effect." He took a sip of his Kahlua and milk. "Remember to use your right hand, hombre." Jesus jerked his coiled hand up and down. "Or your little vergita will fall off."
"You would know," I said.
Jesus and John Higgs-Boson clinked their bottles together. "Damn straight," said Jesus.
"Amen," said H-B, taking a handful of Friskies® from the kitty-bowl on the counter. He swiveled on his barstool to face me. "Seriously dude, you should get out of the doghouse once in a while."
"Smell this," I shoved my fingers under his nose.
"Nothing like a little empirical evidence to prove your point," said H-B in disgust.
Just then, Charma entered the bar. Her posture was very upright, her smiling head swiveling back and forth, her chest pushed out.
"Matter of fact, there she is."
Jesus and John gawked in her direction. Charma saw me and approached. I jumped up and met her halfway.
"Hey," I said. "What are you doing here?"
"Hey," she said. She flipped her black hair back, but it immediately fell straight down. "What are you doing here?" She was looking at a space just over my shoulder.
"I actually just stopped by to meet some physics buddies of mine. We were going to catch that skiing movie at the Loft."
"Must be destiny," she said, "so am I."
Ski movies were a popular escape during the summer months in Tucson, especially matinees. But still, what were the chances?
Charma looked me in the eye. "So, does like, what we just did mean we'll like, do it again this summer?"
"I don't know."
She went back to staring at the space above my shoulder.
I didn't want a scene. "I'm confused," I continued. "Now that the dust has cleared I need some time to think."
"Did you ever stop to think about what I want?"
I felt myself rising out of my body, observing her from the ceiling of C.D.I.--observing myself fielding her questions, "no, because this is precisely what I don't want?"
Her lips were moving faster now and she was looking right at me but I heard nothing. Thankfully I was wearing my watch. I looked down and tapped on it. "Sorry, time for the ski movie."
"Are you, like, listening to me?" asked Charma. "I'm going to the movie too. It would be stupid to not like, go together."
Charma was sticking to me like lint on a shirt. I was left with no option except to introduce her to Jesus and H-B. It ended up that Charma already knew John Higgs-Boson because he was her T.A. for Physics 101. She stroked the fur along the bar and asked H-B, "why is it that you guys like, always use cat fur and hard glass rods to like, demonstrate electricity?"
"Cat fur readily absorbs the free ions from the rods leaving them with an excess of charge," said H-B.
"So there's not like some sort of hidden meaning in there?" Charma rubbed the fur on the bar and then touched my nose. If she was expecting a spark, there was none.
"Faux fur," I said.
She was eyeing H-B the whole time. "What's wrong, cat got your tongue?"
H-B laughed, and scooped another handful of Friskies® off the bar.
"What, are we like, not allowed to talk like this? You're like, not my T.A. anymore."
John Higgs-Boson wasn't a bad looking guy with his glasses off. He was the old-school beefcake type that wore undersized T-shirts and tennis shorts. When girls found out that he studied physics they would get all squirmy. He wasn't smart, but could prove things by brute force. I knew him well enough to know that he was about to launch into his spiel about how everything in the world could be broken down to particles and the interactions between them, and men were electrons and women were protons, and there was this field between them...
"Dude, your breath smells like cat food," I said to H-B to throw him off before he got started.
He drained his whiskey and chewed on an ice cube.
"... And like, what's up with Benjamin Franklin like flying a kite in a thunderstorm?" asked Charma, "that's like sexy and all, but do you like, call that science?"
"This chick passes my test," said Jesus patting me on the back. They all clinked glasses together and I had no choice but to join in.
We finished our drinks and went to the Loft. I stopped on the way to get a bottle of tequila. When we got to the theatre we ordered cokes and mixed in the tequila. Charma sat next to me, but Jesus and H-B had to sit two rows back because the theatre was packed with rowdy people.
"I hope all these kids shut up when the movie starts," I said.
"What does it matter? The movie like, hasn't started."
"I said once it starts. It's about as comfortable as a freaking wasp nest in here." Once the level of my mixed drink went down, I added more tequila to bring it back up. "You want some?" I asked Charma.
"I only want you." She gave me a peck on the cheek. "I'm like, just kidding, sourpuss. Then again, maybe I'm not." She was orbiting my spinning head and I just wanted her to land somewhere and shut up.
"Wait until the lights go out."
We waited and waited but they were having technical difficulties. Everybody was whistling and screaming, but it was all in good nature, at least to them. It was an inside joke that I was not a part of. Our cokes were getting diluted more and more with tequila. All the ice was gone.
Next thing I knew, Charma was shaking me, waking me up. "Derek, you better like, just go home."
I looked over her shoulder and a Border Patrol officer was shining a flashlight on his badge. The movie was over. I had missed the whole thing.
The Border Patrol officer didn't speak. I tried to move but couldn't physically get up. My body felt like a wet bag of cement. I kept looking over at the Border Patrol officer hoping he would just disappear if he saw that I was making an effort. But he was still there. Jesus and H-B were still sitting two rows back, otherwise the theatre was empty.
Finally I was able to lift my body out of the seat. It was like lifting myself by my own bootstraps. My body was sleeping but I was able to move it through the power of suggestion. The Border Patrol officer escorted me as I slept-walked up the aisle. The officer pretended to fall, mocking me. Then he feigned beating me up. Jesus and H-B were snickering from their seats. "I bet he would be doing that for real if he was Mexican," said Jesus.
Then the Border Patrol officer searched me with a handheld metal detector. I kept setting the wand off. "It's from the fur back at the Cat Dragged In," I explained. "What's this all about anyways?
"You need to walk around the theatre a few times to sober up," said the Border Patrol officer.
"Which direction?" I asked. But it wasn't me that was asking. I was on autopilot now. "Clockwise or counter-clockwise?"
"It doesn't make a difference."
"It makes all the difference in the world."
"Then choose a direction."
When I left the theatre, it felt more like the Loft was a ski lodge, not a movie theatre. I emerged from the Loft lodge on the summit of Mt. Lemmon and everybody was in shorts and T-shirts waxing their skis. They had charts that told them what color wax corresponded to what coefficient of friction. They were all using Sex Wax® brand wax, which I always thought was for surfboards.
The snowmakers were in full force and the slopes were covered in artificial snow. The snow was dry and electric. Thunder cells were brewing above us. Everybody had skis but me. I was able to ski with just my flip-flops. I was faster than most people with skis.
When I got to the bottom, I took the rope-tow back up. The rope burnt my bare hands unless I committed to grabbing the rope in one fell swoop. I cruised by the exit of the Loft theatre/lodge. Charma was inside chatting it up with H-B. I wanted them to see me go by skiing with flip-flops. Then I started skiing cross-country counter-clockwise around the lodge/theatre, but it required too much work and they weren't even paying attention. Charma kept punching H-B on the shoulder and then grabbing his bicep when he flexed, over and over. At least it seemed that way to me.
I took off downhill, flying over moguls to try to impress her, even though I knew she wasn't watching. She was in my head and she wasn't Charma but a culmination of all the girls I had dated previously. There was a brief moment of clarity when I was on the brink of being out of control--when I had not attached myself to the outcome.
Thunder rumbled and lightning struck a nearby tree. It started to hail. At the bottom of the run, I huddled in to a crowd of unfamiliar faces all speaking Spanish. We were herded into a clearing by an unseen force. There was nowhere else to hide. Lightning was striking the trees all around and we were being pelted.
At that moment, I realized I didn't care what Charma thought of me. I wasn't more important than anyone else. As if she read my mind, the Argentine ski bunny in a fur hat next to me said, "hay mucho pescado en el mar."
The round hail pellets were collecting in the cavities of artificial snow.
The mustached guy next to the ski bunny pulled her in close and said, "estamos todos juntos."
Everybody in the herd was spouting the typical clichés. When I looked again their faces were gone but their bodies remained.
I remembered reading somewhere that it wasn't the electricity that killed you, but the magnetic field that was induced by the shaft of lighting. The magnetic field in turn induced a realignment of cells in your body and could cause your heart to stop. The burns from lightning were a secondary effect. I had read all this somewhere before, but now I was experiencing it first hand. I was jealous of Charma and John Higgs-Boson and knew that counted for something. This was all a materialization of my intentions. I was ready to stop trying to resist. Things would naturally run their course if I could just stop trying.
About the author:
Derek White has only experienced the second-hand effects of lightning, but it's true that the southernmost ski resort in the U.S. is near Tucson where he studied physics. He has other recent or forthcoming work in Post Road, Denver Quarterly, Double Room, elimae, 5_Trope, and Tarpaulin Sky. He edits Sleepingfish and has some publications available through his own Calamari Press. This particular story is from the forthcoming Poste Restante.