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Catherine Roberts Leach
Alex At The Door

THIS IS ALEX. I don’t say enough about my cats, members of my family, you know. I had to take Alex for a cleaning of his teeth a few days ago. I told the vet that I hoped that Alex wouldn’t have to be there long because he has separation anxiety.

When Cathy has to leave the apartment, Alex will stand at the door and howl. There’s probably a better word. Moan. So Alex has separation anxiety. I don’t like using psychological terms, but that's what it seems like. We adopted him from a place called Pet Orphans, a shelter.

When I was six my mother left me with my father and went off to do some shopping on the main floor of Loveman’s in Birmingham, Alabama. My father and I were on the mezzanine, and she went off to do some shopping. I think that I was six. I can still remember the scent of that store, a department store. Right now I remember. I must have cried when my mother went off. I remember that my father tried to calm me with a little magic trick—that trick where a finger seems to be disassembled.

I think that Alex is the smartest cat I know. I think that Alex is the smartest cat I have known. He’s also funny, even though I doubt that being funny is his intent. Alex has a greeting; he flops to the floor and rolls onto his back. You walk in the front door and Alex runs to the middle of the living room and falls onto his back. You rub his stomach, tabby stomach. If your acknowledgment is insufficient and you’ve walked farther into the apartment, in the bedroom now, Alex will run past you, get in front of you, and, again, fall onto his back.

When I think about death all I think about is leaving my home. Catherine, my cats.

My father and I on that balcony. I looked over the railing, pulled myself up to look over the railing of the mezzanine, trying to find her.

The etymology of that word matrix is Latin mater, mother.

Los Angeles is not a matrix; tethers are required. I move through the city hand over hand.

My home. A little restaurant nearby. A bookstore, Dutton’s Brentwood Books.

Dutton’s Brentwood Books is closing.

I went there when I could. We have one car; there’s no bus to Brentwood. I live in the San Fernando Valley; Dutton’s Brentwood is at least ten miles away.

I’ve had a house account at Dutton’s for twenty years. The first Dutton’s Books was on Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood. I had an account there too. That Dutton’s on Laurel Canyon has closed. The building is now occupied by a fitness center. When it closed I couldn’t go there, couldn’t bear to see it close. I know that I should have gone.

My father told me that my mother would be back soon, did that trick with his finger.

Alex stands at the back door and howls.

Los Angeles had four independent bookstores. Dutton’s Brentwood was one of them. Then there’s Book Soup on Sunset and Vroman’s in Pasadena and Skylight Books on Vermont. I’m not sure about that last one. It might be owned by a religion, what’s called a religion and remains unnamed here.

I always bought my books at Dutton’s Brentwood Books, talked to the clerks, spent time.

They had a little coffee shop, a few tables. Scones and bad espresso. But no one makes good espresso. Except me; I make good espresso.

I would talk to the clerks at Dutton’s Brentwood. Poets, scholars, musicologists. I didn’t mind their bad espresso.

Los Angeles Times said Dustin Hoffman and Meg Ryan shopped at Dutton’s Brentwood. I don’t know what that means.

Matrix is from the Latin for mother. L.A. is formless; tethers are required, hand over hand. Dutton’s Brentwood Books is on San Vicente Boulevard; it might be the longest boulevard in Los Angeles. But San Vicente is discontinuous. There’s no bus to Brentwood; we only have one car.

It doesn't matter now.

Alex stands at the back door and howls.


Britt Leach
Los Angeles Times

29 February 2008

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