Scratch My Mind

You wake to an uncharted world where there's only one set of footprints and no directions. You walk for miles and never wonder where you are because your heart knows where to go.

This is your territory where the tempest is your home and the cold your hearth stone. I look back and make sure to leave a sense of direction. Nothing here is reminiscent of a decision I made before, but there is something familiar about the nature of this place. Its sinuous shape and untouched scenery, they are reflected in the waters that run deep through the valley. In a way, I am a part of it too. In a way, we're not so different, this place and I.

I come closer to the river, but when I look it in the eye, it simply looks back. Staring at me, the depth of my reflection reminds me of my inner thoughts and the heart that's unrefined. As I observe what I think to be an image of my lived experience, it is in this river, in this stream of consciousness, that I recognize myself for a moment.

This is when I'm inside my room.

Well, it's not my room. It's my grandmother's when she visits on weekends. It's not a guest room either, you see. When she lived here with us this was her room, but now she moved to our neighboring village where there's more for her to do, she says. The garden is much bigger and she likes to attend to it.

I want to know what time it is and I remember there's a clock on one of her old dressers. It's a digital one with shining red numbers so you can see them in the dark. At first, I can't find it but then I realize that it's been unplugged. I continue to search for another clock and think of my cell phone. Then I recall that I've switched it off because the battery was low. I'd have to switch it on first, wait for it to boot, type in the code, wait again and only then could I check the time.

Too much trouble.

Is there not another normal clock somewhere in this room, maybe on this dresser? There are cables on it, my headphones and other cables that I get entangled with. What is this, I just want to know the time!

I don't feel particularly sleepy anymore, but I can't be sure until I know what time it is. I hear rumbling downstairs and assume that my parents must have returned.

It's Saturday.

So unusual. They never leave on Saturday. That's when we have our traditional sweat-bath in the evening. And I can't remember having had a sauna.

Does it mean we're having it late today? Are they preparing it now?

I want to know and get ready to go downstairs but I can't leave the room. I must be so tired that I slipped into a dream because I'm with my grandmother and she is happy to take a walk with me, she says. I'm glad to see her since I too do not live here anymore. I'm just a visitor to an empty room.

We start walking up the main street as I go downstairs to check on my parents. I must have slipped somewhere again.

I move and something's wrong. Something about the way I moved my feet.

What time is it again?

No, that's not it. I know what time it is but why have I not had a sauna yet? The time! You wake up, abruptly, and you were in neither place. The clock says you're alone.

Somewhere outside, there's still noise. The sun's not set, yet. You squint your eyes, breathe in slowly to compose yourself and remember the pain. You bend your left arm to about a 45° angle. That’s where you start.

It’s so unusually bright.

The sun stands unseasonably low this year. At least it didn't strike me in the past that the rays of sunshine had an unobstructed view through the big window shining directly on my bed. And it's penetrating my curtains I believed to be opaque.

I sit upright, sort of in a contemplative state, before bending my arm a little more. Sitting on my notepad Pericth studies me with a scrutinizing look on his face.

Not so long ago, I had a motorcycle accident. The injuries were severe, they said, and the prognosis didn't look too bright. Satisfactory function accompanied by chronic pain. We have to stabilize the fracture with wires and put a splint on.

Thanks.

Then rehab.

I am not to strain my arm in the first eight weeks.

Oh, well.

Doctors, what do they know. You lie flat for about ten days. Night or day, it doesn't make any difference to you. Complete luxation of the elbow and a Bennett's fracture.

Technical terms you hear when being admitted. They don't assume you know; they just don't care. You think back and reconstruct the course of events that caused your machine to steer off the road.

It doesn't matter if it makes sense. There's no sense in looking for meaning. It first struck me in the hospital that people are determined to find a reason for their misfortunes. They construct a meaning to alleviate their pain and bend the narrative to support their beliefs.

X-rays, four weeks after admission, not a scratch on the screen. The doctor asked for a consult, requested to see the X-ray images from a month ago. It's not like they're surprised. Physicians just like to attribute success to their doing. And now they want me to come back in another month to assess my arm's overall functionality and boast about their reduction. It's likely I will develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis still.

They don't use anesthesia when removing the wires. At least the percutaneous fixation makes another surgery superfluous. In four weeks, they expect a reasonably functioning arm with a diminished range of motion in both the elbow and thumb. And I am really to see them again, please.

No, thanks.

Pericth starts licking himself. Again.

"Hey, buddy, why don't you try consoling my arm for a change, hm?" He stops as if pondering over it and then continues cleaning himself. For a while you just sit there and wait. For nothing specific, really. It's just time. That's all I need. Almost.

They say early physical activity is very important, long-term-wise. I shall make an appointment, sign up for PT. Rehabilitation. To hell with that.

I ready myself for the sweat and go for 90 degrees, which is rather painless, but every degree past that is not. I become more tense while the cat gets cleaner by the second. You would think he didn't care at all.

At times, I wonder what's going on in that little head of his, in that little room. As of late, not much is going on in my head. That I know.

Pericth stops.

“Meow!”

“Yeye, how would you know? Do you even know what’s on your own mind?”

He gets up, yawns and stretches only to jump down and lie onto his chair.

I'd like to know.

It would take me thirty minutes to properly work my arm. By then, the sun will have set. I better get some air now.

I check my phone like I usually do. No messages. But of course, I already know that."Pericth! Let's go for a walk, what do you say?"

I need to move. These confining walls and my incapacitating arm make me want to run. Pericth just lies there, not a noise. I like to think he's contemplating whether to stay or go.

Sometimes when he's so still but not yet asleep, you'd think he was writing a romance. Reconsidering his every thought and plotting ahead every move. A story of his inner life and in a language of his own.

Sometimes you have to admire him for his stoic presence.

I’m stretching as I look around my apartment. There’s a book in every corner. You couldn’t tell whether or not they’ve been read, I’m very neat like this. If Pericth could read he’d probably scratch the edges as a way of bookmarking and drool onto those pages that he finds intriguing in the way he always does when he gets treats.

This cat …

What an enviable life. You can find pleasure in the smallest of things.

I’m slightly sloping to the left because my ankle suffered from the fall, too. I didn’t say anything in the hospital, you get all kinds of things done to you there including deep vein thrombosis stockings. You have to be careful not to be plastered gratuitously.

It’s not warm enough outside to go without a jacket. I put it on, left arm first, an unusual way for a right-hander. Pericth quickly jumps off the chair when he hears me putting on my jacket. You never know whether he’s decided spontaneously or whether he’s been resolved from the beginning.

“Ye, that’s right, come with me, Peri. It’s lonely here anyway.”

He doesn’t like being carried even though we have to go through a hall and down some stairs. Typical, I guess. Cats. You can’t expect anything and you can’t command them either. Where I live there aren’t many people, you wouldn't think it's a city at all. There's a piece of forest not far away, some go jogging there and you get a bad conscience for just watching them go by the window. There's a bridge too where the train crosses your auditory canal every now and then. That's where the noise comes from.

Passersby might think me curious skewing to the left and with a little black and white cat accompanying me to the right. He’s not hiding in the bushes and gardens along the road, he’s walking right next to me. Proud like a little lion. I look at him and the sight of him just makes me smile.

It’s the end of spring, you can almost taste the summer's heat, but in my heart I’m still leaving footprints. I’m not in favor of the cold, and Pericth can certainly agree with that considering my heating policy. Fortunately, he seems to like it warm too. I wouldn’t bring about a tropical climate if he complained in some way.

The truth is I don’t remember what it’s like not to be cold. I try making up for it with excessive heating.

We take the road along the forest and come to a crossroads where one is paved with briar and the other with good intentions by the road builder. Pericth sits down in front of me and turns his head as a way of asking which one to take. What a cat. With a grin on my face I say, “You choose. Where do we go from here?”

He turns the rest of this body and walks past and behind me.

I laugh and stroke him with my right hand. Where indeed. Where do you tend to tread when you're set to forego what's buried in snow?

Pericth follows me implicitly. We walk for a while and I am lost in thought. I think how every step that we take shortens the spring rapidly and how our feet skip time as they tread on different seasons. It's not that I don't want to be in the moment. It's that I feel like going faster but I can't.

Back home I take off my jacket and then start ruffling through Pericth’s fur, I know it annoys him if you’re also pushing him from one side to the other. For a few seconds, he plays along and taps my hand with his paws, claws withdrawn, and pretends attacking it with his jaw but doesn’t clench his teeth. Then suddenly, time-out. And he starts cleaning himself. Again.

“How do you go from playing to cleaning, mate?“

I keep pushing him and he clearly doesn’t like it. He starts growling and meows but doesn’t move. It’s like those teddy bears you lay down and bring back up and they make a noise. “You should really learn to speak English, it's not very difficult.” I tease him.

“I know. The tough thing is learning to think English.” Pericth counters.

“Did you just … ?!”

“Or any other language for that matter, it’s much more peaceful not to think at all.”

“But, ... since when do you speak, Pericth?"

“Since always, Aiden?”

I look at him wondering whether this might be a dream.

“I'm surprised you're surprised.” Pericth says.

“Ye, it's just that I don't recall hearing you speak, like ever.” Somehow I don't feel as upset about this as I should. I mean, there's a cat talking to me.

Pericth sits in full upright position and doesn’t move one bit, like a statue, as if contemplating his answer. “How would you know?” He comes up to me slowly. I'm too startled to move. "How do you mean?" I ask as he stops at my left foot, looks up at me with a mischievous expression and then bites my toes.

“Ouch! Pericth!”

He backs away and looks rather amused while I’m left puzzled over what’s happening here. “I … why did you … ? Really?”

“I definitely haven't done this before.” he says. "Kinda enjoyed it too."

Trying to find the balance, I turn my head to the clock in the hope it could enlighten me, tell me something I don’t already see. This is so unlike you. You'd never bite me. We stare at each other for a few seconds, but it feels like forever, then Pericth breaks the silence. “Mmh, when is the last time you were ill?” he begins as he watches me.

“What?”

“Quite some time ago, hm? Four years? More?”

My mouth must be open because Pericth is imitating me, which looks kind of funny. Unbelievable this cat. I shake off my incomprehension and say, “Eight years and I'm not hearing anything. Now you're telling me you can speak 'since always'?”

“Do you want me to ... remind ... you again?” Pericth asks with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Whoo!" I back away and stare at him with wide eyes. "Am I imagining this?”

“Mmhh, did you fall asleep somewhere along the road?”

“What? No, I don't think so. I mean, we were ... you're not helping! Why do I even ... ?”

“If it were a dream I'm sure you'd imagine it differently.” Pericth says.

I take a deep breath and try to focus. I hobble over to my bed. That really hurts. “Thanks for that by the way.” “You’re … funny. But … I know that already. Humans like to … use humor … as a band-aid, as … medication for pain,” Pericth says while he’s gnawing at his paws.

I shake my head in disbelief but not because I disagree. I’m simply not prepared for that kind of wisdom from a housecat. “What are you doing?” I ask.

“What do you mean? I’m … cleaning … mh, myself. Quite the … mess … you made of me.”

“I mean what … why haven't you ... eh, cleaned yourself before?” That doesn't feel like what I wanted to ask.

Pericth doesn’t react at all. I’m sitting on my bed staring at him. I’m afraid to even blink because I might miss something. “Pericth?”

A simple grunt is his answer before he swiftly jumps onto my bed looking for a nice spot, it seems. “Meow?” he asks me. And I begin to feel like it's all natural.

“Eh … sure, lie down, be comfortable.” I nod somewhat bewildered.

“You’re using time as your grindstone.” Pericth starts. “You’ve been using it as a means to sharpen your senses for the past few years.”

“I don’t … what?” I say perplexed.

“I think you’re headed in the right direction, Aiden. You’ve become stronger and more focused as a result.”

“You … .” I'm having trouble following this line of thought.

“But” he interrupts me. “There is something we need to talk about.”

Something we need to … I repeat in my head while shaking it.

“I'm ... I'd like to ..., but I don't even understand what you're talking about, cat.” I complain.

“Being a cat is not just a way of life, it’s a point of view.” Pericth interjects. "Now ssh! Look closely! I'm not going to show you this again." He walks over to my nightstand and opens up a book I'm reading. In the middle of a random page he makes nine scratches and says, "Your turn. Nim." My mind suddenly shifts and everything makes sense. I'm not seeing the letters on the page. I'm not wondering why I can't remember. I see the scratches, and they're the answer. "I need to write this down!" I say.

Pericth slowly walks over to me. I'm looking at him trying not to lose my train of thought. "Yes." he says. "But first, we have to wake you up." A sharp breath and the swiping sound of a paw come quicker than my mind can reason.