Nature Always Finds a Way Through

Or: The City Cannot Love You Back

by Jennifer Weatherly

I. The First Illusion Was My Last
(publishing December 20th)
II. I Was Never Mistaken for Something More Noble
(publishing December 21st)
III. The True Meaning of Gaslight
(publishing December 22nd)
IV. When Your Time Comes, You’d Better Be Listening
(publishing December 23rd
V. Some Friend
(publishing December 24th)
VI. That’s One Way to Remember You’re Alive
(publishing December 25th)

I. The First Illusion Was My Last

The wild cat tore through the street.

The wild cat wasn’t that kind of a wildcat, but it was a cat. Feral, you could say. She ran wild; she tumbled like a bulbous tumbleweed across the intersection. She was about as big as one, too, and was caught in a tussle with another cat of the same size. Different color, though. They were two different colors and they blurred and blended together like so much smoke and smog.

From behind the wheel of my car, I squinted as I drove, studying her. She might have been something other than a cat. In which case she was neither wild nor cat nor wildcat. Small dog, storm cloud, actual tumbleweed. You see what I mean? Everything is only as much as it’s allowed to be. I had just moved to the city and that was what I’d recently decided.

I had not decided whether or not I was included in that assessment.

The wild cat tore through the street and spun like a record, and I sped through the stop sign to catch her, to stop him from growing bigger and wider and flattening the other stop signs and maybe even the trees and small dogs. I went from 35 to 50 in a 25 zone and immediately saw, in my rear view, the flicker and flash of police lights. Fuck, I sighed, and pulled over, rolling the window down.

The officer sidled up to my open window. You wanna tell me why you ran that stop sign?

I had to, I said. The cat. She was going to—

I pointed and looked ahead, but the cats were gone.

Uh-huh, said the officer. His face looked like it was made up of flat lines. Maybe it was. Maybe mine was, too.

I’m going to have to write you a ticket, he said. Registration, please.

I pulled the wrinkled document from the glove compartment, handed it over, and slid down in my seat. He walked away to scroll through records until he could fine me properly. Well, fine. I looked ahead and the cats were still gone. Or cat. The intersection was empty. Why had I run the stop sign? I didn’t even remember seeing a stop sign. Maybe it hadn’t been there until the officer saw me pass.

Then the cat was back. Orange, chubby, the size of a possum. One of the big ones, mind. A cat-supial. She was only twenty feet or so ahead, standing on the street corner, but I could tell she was staring at me. Unblinkingly, with her enormous eyes. Pupils probably saucerlike, since it was starting to get dark.

The cat made a face and winked at me. Then she turned tail, literally, and vanished into the bushes.

I barely caught my breath before tears sprang at the corners of my eyes. It wasn’t fair, it really wasn’t.

When the officer returned, I said thanks, even though I didn’t mean it, and drove off slowly, creeping past the trees and apartments and streetlights. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say there were tufts of gold and yellow fur littering the gutters.

But that’s only if I didn’t know better. I’ve been here for five years and I know better now.


II. I Was Never Mistaken for Something More Noble

Tell me, I asked the vulture, why you scavenge.

What do you mean? He scratched at the bark of the tree branch where he was perched.

I mean, I said, you have talons and the scariest beak I’ve ever seen. Scary eyes, too. You could hunt if you wanted to.

Isn’t scavenging hunting? he asked.

Not really, I replied. Although now that I thought about it, it was, in a way. Just not in the way that I’d meant.

So I said: It’s similar but it’s not the same. You don’t do the whole job yourself. You just pick up what’s already been weakened. So it’s a lot easier.

Is it? he asked. Have you ever tried it?

I thought of everyone who’d ever kept me waiting on their sofa when they promised they’d be ready an hour before. I thought of my eating habits. I grimaced. No, I lied.

The vulture knew I was lying; I could tell, because he stopped scratching at the tree bark and dropped to the ground. You couldn’t really call it flying. You could call it swooping if you wanted to, though.

Sometimes, he said, it’s nice when things are easier. Especially when you haven’t eaten in days.

I suppose that’s true, I said. I crossed my arms and grabbed at my elbows.

Does that mean you haven’t eaten in days? He pointed at my middle with his beak.

It didn’t, although I hadn’t, at least not a proper meal. What it meant was, I didn’t want him to pick at me anymore. But he didn’t seem to know how to do anything else. And I was getting pretty good at not telling him the truth.

So I said, No. It’s just something humans do.


III. The True Meaning of Gaslight

I wondered where the stars went once they disappeared for good. I wondered out loud, because it seemed to have happened overnight. A city’s a terrible place for stargazing, certainly, but one or two usually made their way through the haze.

Not this night, though. And not any night after.

Some people raised their eyebrows and said, They’ve been gone for ages, haven’t they? Hell, maybe they never even existed.

Others bit their lips and sighed, because they didn’t know what to think, but had ideas as to where they’d gone, be it light years away or swallowed by a black hole. String theory, they said casually, tossing out the words like they were tossing confetti. Quantum mechanics.

Others still looked at me with wide eyes because they’d not even noticed. What, they asked, could have erased them? Light pollution? Ordinary pollution? Or maybe another act of careless overreach by the central government. It must have been all of that.

Maybe, I said, with a shrug, as if I cared less than I did.

Well, they said, we’ve got to get them back!

Stunned, I asked, Well, why? If you never noticed them until they’d left, then why?

We deserve them, they said, and repeated. So we’ve got to get them back. It’s our duty. We’ll build a tower to the sky if we have to.

I never found out if they built that tower. I didn’t wait around. I had plenty of other shit to deal with that wasn’t star-related. Sure, the stars had vanished, and I used to watch them every night. But without them, I was still someone. I just didn’t know what sort of someone. Someone who didn’t deserve the stars? That was a start, I suppose.

Either way, I was still breathing, and maybe, somewhere far away, the stars were breathing too, in their way. Pulsing, rather. Or maybe they weren’t far away. Maybe they were waiting beyond an unreachable layer of cosmic fabric. Whatever space it was, it was their space, and I’ll never tell the rest of them, but they have exactly what they deserve. Who’s to say, after all, what any of us needs to have?


IV. When Your Time Comes, You’d Better Be Listening

There was a light that sprang out from the middle of the street. I staggered when I saw it, because it happened right next to where I was standing, ran toward the sky parallel with my posture. I nearly stumbled off the sidewalk when it happened.

Honestly, for weeks, I’d assumed the hole in the pavement from which it’d emerged was the start of sinkhole. I’d even called the city about it, something I never do. Of course, they never followed up or got back to me. I hadn’t seen a city-stamped truck or van on that street even once.

Maybe they knew all along what it was.

Whether or not they knew a thing, the light flowed through, and jumped up, and forced its way into the neighborhood and thereby the world. It was a single beam, round like a small PVC pipe of light; it was heavy, dynamic, and yet so gentle. It knew it was doing, even if the city didn’t.

I don’t recall why I’d been walking by at that time of night. It was late, or midnight-late, anyway. I was there, and so was a sort-of neighbor. He’d been standing out on his front porch. I didn’t know his name then, and I still don’t, but I often saw him outside smoking or watering his plants.

He wasn’t doing either of those things now, I noticed as I cast a glance his way. He was staring as intently as I’d been.

The light held steadily for several minutes, or for what felt like it. Much like everyone, I don’t wear a watch; I didn’t have my phone in my hand, either. Actually, it was the first time in a long time that I hadn’t.

You’d imagine, I found myself thinking, angelic music might pour from a light like that, or maybe extraterrestrial chatter, but there wasn’t anything of the sort.

There was, instead, one sentence, or statement, really. One statement delivered in a businesslike, matter-of-fact voice. It sounded like a woman’s voice, the kind of woman who would stand at the daïs of a lecture hall or sit at a mildly important front desk.

She—or, the voice—said:

What are you still looking down for? Look up.

And then the light snapped off. Vanished. The hole remained, steadfast as always, but its light was gone.

I looked at my sort-of neighbor again. He looked at me and shrugged.

Perhaps there was nothing to be said. I certainly couldn’t think of anything. So I did the same—I shrugged, waved at him, and walked away.

I don’t know why you have to look down to start looking up. Save for the would-be sinkhole, I’m not the most observant person; usually, I don’t look anywhere but straight ahead. All of it would probably have meant more if it’d shown up in a dream.

Maybe that’s why it didn’t, though. Maybe.


V. Some Friend

I decided to make friends with the lizard who kept skittering back and forth across the kitchen in my apartment. It had taken so long to get him to trust me, I thought I might as well try. Even so, when we finally spoke, he told me I had his name wrong.

You’re saying it like a plebeian, he said. It’s Henri, not Henry.

Oh, I said. I’m sorry. Or, I guess, je suis desolée.

It’s fine, he sighed, before adding, Also, I’m a skink. Not a lizard. There’s a big difference.

Really? I asked. I didn’t clarify which part I was surprised by. Probably because it was all of it.

You know, you could learn something from that, he said. You humans are obsessed with the wrong kinds of names. You want nothing to do with specificity.

What? I said. What do you mean, wrong kinds? We over-specify everything. We apply in equal measure bullshit terminology and Latin titles. What about that is not specific?

The lizard-now-skink, Henri, sat up and folded his tiny arms. That’s not specificity, friend. Surely you know that. You know a great deal, actually, save for your own name and occupation. What do you want to be called? he asked. How will you use your brief time on this small patch of earth you’ve been granted?

His time, I realized, was so much briefer than my own. My heart sank as I noticed the crepey patches on his elbows. Or whatever elbows were called on a skink. No wonder he took this so greatly to heart.

I guess, I said, it’s to be determined.

Yes, that’s all well and good, said Henri, but when?

And suddenly now seemed to mean a great deal more than I’d ever imagined.


VI. That’s One Way to Remember You’re Alive

Here’s one lesson I’ve learned, with more heft than nearly anything else: Now means a great deal, but only if you believe that that’s true. Try believing in before or tomorrow, and you’ll see things differently. Here’s another one: Nobody knows anything, but they’ll pretend they do just to get by.

Sometimes you only realize how little you know about the world when you get thrown into one of its quieter corners.

Because, sure, most people will tell you you’re bound to get wise from stumbling through city streets and noise, from shoving your way into late-night whispered conversations, from grinding out hours upon hours of work. That’s one of those things they pretend is true. Me, I thought they were right. That’s why I moved here. But the last lesson I learned is this one: They’re only a little bit right, the people who spout those ideas. They’re missing, if I had to assign numbers to it, about sixty, sixty-five percent of what matters.

And I’m not prone to digging into those pockets myself, not at all someone you’d call earthy. I do clerical work; I don’t like getting shit in my fingernails. So when she invited me home after we’d gone for drinks, and home turned out to be a garden, I was almost speechless. Almost.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I laughed. So no house? Not even a hothouse. Just plants?

She smiled, and it was irritatingly coy. Yeah, she said. You’ll see.

What do you mean, I’ll see?

Her answer was a flicker of a kiss on the mouth, one that made its way down my neck. Then she started unbuttoning my shirt. Already she was moving so fast, like a high school girl on a second date who’d been kept under her parents’ thumb too long. But I didn’t stop her. She was rapturous, I was getting hard, and I didn’t want to stop her.

But by the time we both were naked and down on the ground, in the grass and the dirt, I just about wished I had. I could feel the earth between my toes and hear its gentle thrum beneath my head. And it said—well. I couldn’t really tell you what it said. That’s the point, I guess. But it was so damned loud. It’s so loud, and we never really listen, we don’t hear it at all.

Then we finished and I gasped, rolling over onto my back. She turned herself onto one side, facing me. I craned my neck and saw that she was smiling again, but widely now, beatific. The full moon lit up her eyes and I wondered how I’d failed to notice them at all. They were amber, iridescent.

Thank you, she sighed.

No one ever says thank you afterward, at least no one I know, so I just stared at her. Until I saw it. The reason why. Her hand closest to me was sealing itself to the earth, or really, into it; it was flattening, turning pale, then pale green.

The aroma of tomato vines had never nauseated me before.

What’s happening? I asked, but I didn’t need to, because that was when her eyes lost their pupils. Her face started changing. Her body was falling away from me, twisting upward into ropy strands that spiraled around one another. More vines. She was covered in tiny white flowers, and suddenly I realized she had stopped looking like she. It must have happened when the fruit replaced her eyes.

Then I was alone, undressed, on the ground, in a garden I’d never been to before and didn’t ever want to see again. That’s what I meant before, I guess. There’s only so much you can gather from being around everybody else. They all follow the same rules. Except one. They forget that when you leave your cells behind, they have a mind of their own, and grow into something else whether you like it or not.


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