This is the story of three characters, their loves, and the surprising way in which their lives interact. First, there is Horace, the eccentric, reclusive Past President of The American Metaphysical Society; second, Bernard, an empathic elevator man who works in an old, downtown Chicago Hotel; and third, there's the star of our show, Felix, the irrepressible and impulsive malcontent, lover and poet, whose poetry appears throughout the story. Beyond the aforementioned three and their sweethearts, a seventh character, a bit player named Kyle, a neo-hippie who walks the streets of Madison, Wisconsin holding a sign aloft that reads: "THINGS ARE NOT AS THEY APPEAR" makes his brief appearances only when it matters most.
I’m flat on my back, contemplating the end of my life, which should happen any day now.
I’m not sleepy or unwell. I’m on my bed, propped up on pillows, with my black and white female cat sitting on my chest in her sphinx position. I don’t know whether cats have names in their own society, such as it is. I don’t know whether they have names when they’re still in the litter, for instance; when they share a home with other cats; or when they meet others between buildings, in yards, or in alleys when they live in cities that have alleys.
My current cat, whom I named Lois, is one of a number I’ve lived with over the last sixty years: I was born into a family with cats. That’s with cats, not of cats, though if given the choice I might hesitate. Lois is one of the more friendly cats I’ve known (or affiliative as they’re known in the business), but other than that there’s nothing to distinguish her other than that she is a cat. At fifteen she is old for a house cat, and I’m still not certain if she knows her own name. Like most of her species, she’ll respond to it if I call her in a certain tone of voice; but she’ll also respond if I call her Hildegarde or Gildersleeve, as long as the voice is right. And if she does know her name, it’s not important to her as it is would be if she were a dog. But if she were a dog, she’d never be up here on my bed, let alone relaxed and gazing at me from my chest as I contemplate my rapidly approaching end.
It may have aroused your curiosity that I am going on about cats on this Thursday afternoon in 2002, which may be my last among the living. A question may also have come up regarding just how I know about my future, given that I have claimed to be in good health and “comfortable.” People in good health rarely expect to be dead within a week, unless they’re about to enter the most horrific kind of war, which I am not, or into a hazardous venture of some life threatening sort, which again I am not. And people reclining on their own beds with a cat of their choosing on their chests are typically not those condemned to death by lethal injection, electrocution, firing squad, or hanging, which again I am not. And those who describe themselves as “comfortable” are usually not the ones who are planning suicide—though I can’t speak with any certainty about suicides. It may be that the very prospect of leaving a life of torment is comforting to them; but that’s not true in my case, or in my life, I’d prefer to say, since I don’t consider myself a “case.” All questions regarding my imminent death will be answered in good time.
Beauty is a more immediate concern of mine. It always has been. I consider Lois an especially beautiful cat, and for that reason, she’s not only permitted but encouraged to sit on my chest. She has nearly symmetrical black and white markings on her head and face, particularly when viewed from here on my back. The top of her head is black, as are her pointed ears and the space around her yellow-green eyes. It’s as if she’s wearing a black half mask, but there’s a white diamond on her forehead, and this white fur carries down between her eyes and around her perfectly pink nose and her mouth, and then extends down over her chin, silky neck and chest. Along with this she is blessed with startlingly long white whiskers. She is looking at me intently and purring; the purring leads me to believe that she is content, but I haven’t an inkling, a hint, even a vague intimation of how she perceives me or the world around us. This interests me greatly; there’s nothing to suggest that a cat’s consciousness is any less intense than ours, only more narrowly focused. On cat business. Which is what? And, surprising to say( for you perhaps, but not for me), it is this awe in the face of the unknown, this profound unknowing that has developed through a lifetime of experience that accounts for my present circumstances: the comfortable contemplation of my own death, which I expect to arrive before next Monday or Tuesday—though as with all bets, commitments and promises, one can never be entirely sure.