creature comforts

“Let’s walk.” I chirp to no one in particular and a peculiar parade begins. This is a daily stroll with a long list of rescued partners. At first it was just the leaden sky and I. Then my beloved aging terrier, Ollie. Later, the foolish neighbors’ hapless boxers and pit bull warriors. All in finer homes of late.
With Ollie resting in the garden plot, I began to train the tiny kittens I salvaged from the shelter to totter after me. I tried it with halters and leads but they did best independently: skulking along from hedge to shrub. Now Charley is with us, a shelter mutt with a quirky smile and disconcerting limp. Acquainted with what passes for entertainment during the long winter months, I know the neighbors are amused, peering from their shutters as still one more stray cat joins. The convoy follows me more or less past park, churchyard, and cemetery as I cluck a familiar note, reminding me of the soft “giddy up” sound reserved for horses. That inspires the castaway troupe more or less. Eventually I will carry one or two as the game grows old and they tire.
I chuckle at myself and this unruly sled team that scampers and skates atop the encrusted drifts around me:
Black cat tangles with white dog, both wanting to be alpha. Side by side the cats tugging and chewing on the dog’s leash. “Mush, Perro, mush!” They snicker to each other in a foreign feline tongue.
My mirth is not without atonement as I slide on the glaze of ice and frost that seems to cover every inch of this frozen tundra, and tumble painfully through onto the only square of cement in a district. They turn to gather in the spectacle and slither bemused glances at each other, conferring in what I perceive as a universal creature gossip. “That’s just what you get for clipping claws and walking all upright like that. Try balancing your weight on top of the snow like we do.” They divert their condescending eyes, politely, waiting for me to rise. I dust off snow, rub sore elbow and knee, and we finish our mile.
It means nothing.
Perhaps it means everything.
I can’t walk alone this path alone. I need distraction. I am startled by the images that lurk behind mist, arbor, fog, and tombstone. I must wrestle every day against the odds of ice, insanity, ire, and infirmity to stay alive. I need company and solace. I train wise beasts to foolishly walk near me without fearing that which frightens me, while they mind only the ages-old clucking sound of mother hen. So I soothe myself.
It’s the home stretch now with heavy flakes falling once again. I am carrying some creatures and encouraging some as our parade straggles for a block. Passersby and neighbors snigger, somewhat enviously, I think, at a bizarre cluster of beasts tiptoeing across this glacier.
It means nothing. It means we will do it again tomorrow and tomorrow.

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