Friday, December 24, 2010

Speak, Christmas Memory!

 If you can, try to imagine it with snow

This morning, I dreamt I was home on Red Mill Road again, walking the woods behind my home.

It seems an especially barren Christmas for many this year, for many reasons. Sometimes nostalgia, while it fails as an antidote, is a warm balm on a sore soul, a soft orange candle within that provides the only available warmth. I light that candle now.

I remember magical Christmases in upstate New York, northern Westchester County, down Red Mill Road from Mohegan Lake. From when awareness first glittered like a reflecting snowflake to when I was eleven--from the late 1950s to 1965--the season was always magic, even the last one, when snow didn’t fall until January and I couldn’t ride my prized toboggan down our long, steep snow-covered field out back; or down Dr. Friedman’s even longer, slow-winding driveway next door. (He seemed an old man to me in his fine-looking heavy coat and homburg on the few occasions he smiled at me from his limousine; he was seldom home).

I recall that the Burchfields were on better behavior than they were the rest of the year. Sure, we all should know how spotty and slippery memory is, but for once, let’s take that as true; memory provides the only pictures many of us have, especially those who entered the world in Pre-digital Times.

Idealists ask why we can’t be more loving and tolerant all year round, why do we only try to pack away the steel, holster the pistols and open angry fists for a holiday? But what would be the meaning then? Constant ecstasy is no longer ecstasy. Love can become a gray bore, like sleeping in mercury, a dreary hum. Would that we were better, but not too much better.

Over every Christmas holiday, I counted the minutes, the seconds from when the first day after school let out to the last, New Year’s day. More than at any other time of year, even summer, I wondered at time passing, at how events started and ended, how I could never hold on to a second.

We put the tree up on Christmas Eve. (I recall being told it was a Scottish tradition). That night, my mother would make marshmallow fudge and chili, two traditions I try to keep alive in my sputtering way. Like Proustian bakery, the sugary smoke of marshmallow fudge opens up memories like sunlight awakens a lone, drooping flower.

Despite the outward traditional trappings, the Burchfields were piously cynical, religiously atheistic, and not once went to church on Christmas morning (or any morning), even when our Nana visited, futilely insisting that we should, as she fumbled on fine black gloves over her veined, bony, wrinkled hands. I know I didn’t go that morning. I remember how relieved I felt.

I likely would have found church a bore then—all those presents and candy, and bright white snow-draped hills and the acres of soft, silent woods behind our old home, all calling from outside while the adults droned on about concepts I was unable to grasp (and maybe the grownups themselves didn’t fully believe). The one time I did attend Sunday school in those days, it was boring; my memories of a high Episcopalian wedding consist mostly of jaw-snapping yawns; questions of faith and religion, I suspect, are lost on the young, as beauty is often lost on boys, at least in our jittery, impatient, secular times.

Even so, I can say from confidence that comes from experience that atheism provides no inoculation against ignorance, bigotry and violence. That I saw on day one. Thanks to God for the fields and woods out back to roam in.

We had exactly
one Christmas record: a collection of carols sung by some radio choir with an appropriately snowy cover. The album details are lost to me now, but the memory of the plumy rolling bass rolling out the main verse of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” thunders in me as strongly as it did then and our collection of Christmas music grows nearly every year (as you will see here). I about wore that old album out, as I cranked up the record player again and again (Note to you young people: Everything ran on cranks in those days: the Christmas tree lights, the radio, even the toaster.)

Again,imagine snow

Other memories: lying in the dark listening for footsteps on the deep-snow roof over head, trying to stay awake ( I resisted disbelief in Santa Claus to the last, to the genuine outrage of an older brother); the warm colors that seemed to melt together in the light of a snow-blue country morning as I rushed downstairs (of the presents, only one remains now—my copy of The World of Pooh; really, Christopher Robin and I lived in the same world); walking Red Mill Road (pictured below; almost unchanged) with my mother one Christmas night, gaping at the neighbors’ lights--the reds, greens and blues--after an argument with her sister. Again, though I sensed her deep unhappiness, I was too young--and sheltered--to grasp what had happened, even to realize how soon I would be gone from this heaven, both green and wintry.

To be sure, I didn’t like everything—the Wal-Mart across Route 6 from the last school I attended, for one.

The house and land go back to at least the Andrew Jackson presidency and was once--as subsequent owner Arne Paglia told me--featured in one of those House Beautiful magazines in the 1940s. It was always a challenge to keep up. It has been changed and has deteriorated in some ways, though not beyond saving—but I did not regret the visit, only envied the two boys who live there now, roaming the woods and fields as I did, and who looked at me in wonder when I told them I wished I could be them, there, in that place again.

The visit seemed to calm a restlessness in my soul, because the dreams of Red Mill Road stopped for a long time.

But on this still, cold morning, I dreamt I walked those woods again with the same wonder and joy I felt then. I'm grateful to whoever I can be grateful, that I have these dreams, that I knew that world as I did.

(Edited 12/26/10)

Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield

Photos by Author and Elizabeth

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Unfinished Business #3: Two Large Hats, One Very Small Head

Another glimpse of the setting for Dragon's Ark

(In my last two posts, I’ve written about some of the challenges I’ve faced wearing two hats as both an independent publisher and author of the contemporary Dracula novel Dragon’s Ark. I closed with a worried tremble in my voice, concerned with the fate of the publisher/author who’s unable to move on to the next book due to all the work, as publisher, s/he has to do get the current release a decent spot in the tumultuous market place.

I will now continue to finger my worry beads, first, by comparing the past with present.)

Back in the good old days (and I do believe they were truly good) Ernest Hemingway would send one of his many great novels off to the great editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s—what, I’m getting too pretentious now?

Ohhh all right then, goddammit.

Harold Robbins would send his latest boring potboiler over to whoever was the editor at whatever was his publisher. Writer and editor might engage in back and forth over the manuscript (such as it was). There also might be money negotiations between Harold’s lawyers and their lawyers. Next, copyediting and proofreading by Whatever House’s staff or freelancers.

After in-house design did their work, the latest Harold Robbins epic of money-grubbing power grabs, shooting, and fucking would be shipped off to the printers. Before long, it would land in airport and drugstore book racks everywhere to be purchased or furtively thumbed by horny, shifty-eyed teenage boys. (I used to sneak my trembling looks at the copies in the Oshkosh Public Library while my mother worked the front desk, twenty feet away.)

In the time among all this shorthand, Harold Robbins would sprawl on the chaise lounge on the veranda of his 222-room mansion, cozy in his endangered-animal fur robe, boinking bosomy bikinied babes, smoking his cigars, drinking his mint juleps or whatever the hell it was he drank, bragging to everyone that he was the greatest writer who ever lived simply for selling more books than everyone including Hemingway, which in his day—the 1960s through the 1970s--was factually true.

Meanwhile, between the boinking and the boozing, Harold Robbins would be typing out his next book.

Whatever Publisher (Sorry, I can’t even be bothered to Google about this. If the Harold Robbins Literary Legacy Society wants to burn my books, I’ll send the matches.) would meanwhile handle all the marketing and all the distribution. They would make all the media contacts, arrange for all interviews: TV, radio, newspaper, magazine.

In the meantime, Harold Robbins--I'm guessing--drank and boinked, wrote and waited. After the phone call came, maybe from his personal publicist, off he’d fly around the globe to all the media interviews. Perhaps he would haul his typewriter along on his private jet (yes, he owned at least one jet; maybe more) so he could continue typing up The Betsy II or whatever. Maybe he’d stop by Whatz-it House and the entire staff would lick the carpet as he passed because Harold Robbins’s novels were making them soooo much money.

Then back he’d wheel in his rented 30-foot limo to his 6-star hotel, or jet back to the manse, and his typewriter, banging away, martinis lined up like martinets that coolly glistened at his elbow.

He did this for many books over many years. Sweet life, eh?

And so: Welcome to the 21st century and the world of independent publishing. As the new publishing system is now working, if you’re expecting to live the life of Harold Robbins, you’re in trouble, and not just ‘cause people aren’t reading as much anymore.

I know, because I’m in trouble. The first article in this series described all the work I’ve been doing as an independent publisher to get my novel into your kind and waiting hands. In the old, ideal—and increasingly misty sepia—world of long ago, I might write a brief article promoting my next book, a Prohibition saga I’m calling Butchertown, upon which I would be working away, with yummy glasses of mango yogurt drink lined up on my desk (I’m at that age). Meanwhile my publisher
would be doing all the work described above for Dragon’s Ark. And then I'd go out and perform by song-and-dance for maybe six weeks, my Royal (a brand of typewriter) not far away.

That’s not happening. As burning as I am to rat-a-tat my way into Butchertown, I have done little except key up a draft of Chapter 1 and a scrawl a few notes. My obsession with it is growing to Dragon’s-Ark proportions, but I’m stalled, not because I’m “blocked” or lazy from counting up eggs that haven’t hatched yet, but because ... I’m sure you see it now.

Understand, I’ve not made a penny yet out of Dragon’s Ark, and there are no guarantees I will. All the pennies—and there aren’t many--are coming from my day job. Harold Robbins didn't have a day job.

And so, I don’t believe this model of independent publishing can quite sustain in its current form, at least for writers with more than book—maybe many more—to write, especially if they're just trying to break in, or maybe not selling enough to call it a living.

If anything, the time between one book and the next could grow quite a bit longer. Unless I’m a well-paid professional blogger, it seems to me, my postings--no matter how jolly and clever--won’t be enough to keep whatever fans I may have happy. They’ll want my next book. And I’ll want to get it them.

So, what’s to be done? How might—or should—the evolution of this new field proceed? I’ll propose some ideas of where things might go in the next—and maybe final--chapter of this saga.

(Edited 12/21/10)

Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by Author 

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Unfinished Business #2

 A peek at the world of Dragon's Ark

(Second in a series)

As I wrote here a few days ago, I’m busy.

My proofread of Dragon’s Ark speeds along now, without crashes. After I print out the Adobe file for hardcopy proofreading, I close the file until it’s time to enter the corrections. Then I print out the next chapter and close the file again. Save constantly. Keep all other programs closed, except for music. Finally, at the end of every session, I send the file to my thumb drive. My Adobe program has behaved with exemplary calm and good sense.

BTW: I recommend all writers do a hard-copy, mechanical proofread (NOT a copyedit!) before you send your manuscript over to your interior designer; you can pay to have it done (by me, for example); or, you can take some proofreading courses and do it yourself, so long as you be sure to close off the creative part of your mind—lead curtains recommended--and focus strictly on the mechanics: formatting, punctuation, dropped or wrong words, essential grammar errors, misspellings and minor mistakes only.

Getting your mind in that space is hard and not everyone can do it, but it is possible. I pretend I’m Mr. Computer Voice, flatly droning along aloud, enunciating each syllable and punctuation (“Dot ... com ... Bang!). If you dropped by my office to eavesdrop, you’d think I’d gone mad.

All in all, it means less work for both you and your designer and lower costs for you! Another lesson learned by me.

Now, I’ve been closely following the self-evolution of the independent publishing field, this new model of ultra-accessible literary expression, as it unfolds into the future. Last time, I summarized the great deal of work that this independent author/publisher is doing to get his book to the world in the remote hope that it becomes a success.

As this model emerges in its jury-rigged fashion, I detect weaknesses in the structure, possibly significant ones. This piece intends to further the discussion.

First, I’ll propose that a majority of writers only have one book in them, a good book to be sure, a very useful, well-written, non-fiction work like a how-to book, a memoir of a singular experience, a modest history of one of life's obscure corners. Then it’s back to teaching, doctoring, nursing, building, governing, plumbing, chefing, etc. and all the other Work of the World, all of it more important than anything I could write.

This is one definition of Good. There may even the profoundly self-aware novelist who writes one excellent novel and says, “That’s it! I’ve said my say! See ya at the fishin' hole!” (Harper Lee comes to mind.) These individuals are to be admired, respected and maybe even followed.

Further, these writers can go on marketing and publicizing their single contribution forever and never have to worry, because that’s their thing and their proud, and satisfied as are the readers who read it. It may even provide a steady, if minor, income stream—pay down the publishing debts; pay down the mortgage; occasional dinner at Chez Panisse.

But then there’s the rest of us. The writers who can’t shut up.

What about us?

(To be continued)

(re-edited 12/18/10)

Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by Author 

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Unfinished Business #1

I’m busy these days.

Busy getting my novel Dragon’s Ark ready for its publication date of March 15, 2011. I’m proofing the final manuscript version in my Adobe program, which, I am only now learning, crashes a lot—crumbling like adobe buildings in old westerns in such a way that it corrupts the file. So I have to start proofreading all over again. A review of online documentation reveals few workable solutions, at least for someone who’s not a computer jockey, like I’m not.

This has happened twice.

Meanwhile, I struggle to get my marketing and distribution campaign up to speed. I’ve been e-mailing both bookstores and potential reviewers, sometimes up to four a day, sending an e-mail version of the Dragon’s Ark webpage as a press release, all the while collecting their names in addresses in
both a Word file and my Thunderbird address book. Twice a month, I will mass e-mail everyone on the list.

I also should be sending out more advance reading copies to stores and reviewers, but, as a freelance editor, I’ve hardly seen a paycheck since October, so I’ve had to freeze spending until that ship sailing somewhere out there in the fog finally lands . . . if it doesn’t sink in this hurricaning economy.

So, I keep doing the free things.

Once the ship docks, though, the orders for books go out again. With the check last week, I dashed to my local copy shop to whip up another batch of postcards and add a stack of business cards on top. Delays there, too. 

I’ve got a notion to make up a flier and post it around various neighborhoods, encouraging the curious to tap that bookstore a block away to order a copy of the novel, or—if they really have to—order it from Amazon, or download it to their e-reader.

I revived my Blogger page about a month ago, to, I think, very fine effect. (I really do like the new Blogger: increased flexibility, great stats.) I hang out on the two major social networks, trying to leave amusing or sensible comments.

I have my loyal readers from the Red Room, my e-mail list, and a couple posting sites I visit. Still, my Blogger page doesn’t seem to get too many visitors from TwitBook. I can only hope those fine few are ones that count (and I do love you, make no mistake). To the rest, I’m probably another
blurry signal in the blank white noise. A fair number of readers seem to wander in from somewhere out in Google. There are also readers trickling in from a site called "Blog Carnival" (to which I was steered by the estimable Joel Friedlander.)

Hello. Nice to see you all again. Please keep stopping by, Thank you.

Last Saturday, my wife and I attended  the holiday luncheon of the Berkeley Branch of the California Writers Club--the one Jack London started. We had a fine time. Former club President AL Levenson, a fan of this page, kindly suggested I make these articles shorter.

Maybe he's right. Maybe I'll try that.

The club has been very helpful; in fact, I’ve scheduled my first public reading from Dragon’s Ark for this March with them (Details will follow). But I barely fight the itch to get back to proofreading and marketing the book, plus working on editing projects to keep the money coming in.

Elizabeth and I have to move out of our house now, too.

But enough of urolagnic self-pity. I have a new novel to work on, right? After all,
my first positive review blurb has arrived from this fine writer.

Oh that. Been thinking about that. I’ll write about that next time. Like tomorrow. Or the day after. I have this piece to post. My manuscript to proofread. Marketing to do. Books and other matter I have to edit to make to money to keep the roof over our heads. A house to clean. Best of all, there's a wife to love.

In short, I’m busy these days.

(Re-edited 12/15/10; 12/19/10)

Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by Elizabeth

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Thrill of the Hunt

“Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot!”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“The Adventure of the Abbey Grange”

My wife’s smoke-sweet voice sings through the door ahead of her one cold mid-November night: “I say, Thomas! You’ve got a package!”

The package--ten uncorrected, advance review copies (meaning mistakes remain) of that roof-breaking bestseller that I know you all will line up in twos around the block to buy when it bangs into bookstores on March 15, 2011—Dragon’s Ark.

(At the exact same moment, servers everywhere will melt down into gooey rivers of silicon as you e-readers download it by the hundreds of millions, enough for me to build my mansion on the highest hilltop on Mars).

Cathi Stevenson’s cover--the snare that will grab your eye in the bookstore--is a sensation far beyond my original, clich├ęd expectations, an illustration so close to a scene in the novel—one she knew nothing of--that I tweaked the episode once more so cover and moment would entwine to shiver and twirl down your spine: His face, his eyes, hungry on you, a moon watching coldly as you scream, trapped, knowing it’s over, that it will be horrible and the only afterlife will be your screams. Joel Friedlander’s interior design is perfect for a story like this-elegant font, well-spaced, seems error free but for my own oversights. They both make me look so good, I almost want to write the whole damn thing one more time, but I can't.

I gasp and sprawl on my back upon the cold terra-cotta tile floor, struck down by the reality of my actions. Fear and Thrill roust about like monkeys around my heart, as though it were the highest tree in the forest.

Everything can go wrong. Nothing can go wrong. The book is great. The book is terrible. The book is everything in between, gray and forgettable. The book will sell a million copies and be despised. The book will sell zero copies and be loved. All possible movies reel through my mind, except Oprah, the Pulitzer and a visit from Homeland Security.

My wife’s fine pretty face shines upon me where I lay: “Come, Thomas, come! There is much left to do! The hunt must go on!”

The hunt for the reading world’s attention; the hunt for readers. I hunger for them. I'm looking at you. See my eyes glitter with hope?

And remember: even if I was with Random House, I'd still likely be doing this all myself.

That Saturday morn we tuck the box into the back seat of the RAV4. Elizabeth chauffeurs me to five bookstores scattered around Oakland-Berkeley, all indie stores, cozy enclaves where beloved antiquated objects still thrive.

A long line stretches along the street outside the first store. I ask someone in line the score. “Cookbook signing” and a name and title not Amanda Hesser, not The New York Times.

“Let’s go,” I growl like Parker. “They’ll look right through me, resent the interruption and forget me like flat beer. Come back later.”

But as we leave the line behind, I wish I had my postcards to pass along the row while I slap their surprised faces with the novel. Maybe it wouldn’t get me more than a shove on the beezer, but there’s no bad publicity. Not now. Not until I throw up and pass out at my first public reading (if I get a first reading; if every Bay Area bookstore doesn’t lock its doors and pull the shades against me: NO BOOKSTORE HERE!).

The next bookstore goes bingo. They’d just moved to a new spot, I haven’t shopped there in years and the place looks swell though still unpacked; the owners, friendly and interested; their duo of cats bow before me. My gut clenches when I hear I missed an event on vampire fiction the night before, the kind of happening I need to know if, to be at. I buy a John Dickson Carr novel as a token (tokens are all I have to pay in return).

On the way out, I say hopefully, “At least you’ll find me a competent writer.”

“Already looked inside.” Owner smiles. “Yeah, you are.”

Another solid drop at the next store, another famous genre shop and the most book-jammed of them all, so booked up, I tremble. What if my single effort drowns beneath the roiling paper-and-board sea of stock, like a small child in a big swamp? Oh well. I buy Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts.

Store number four, late afternoon, rain low across the sky. I walk in, start my spiel: “ . . . and it’ll be out in March 2011 and it’s available through Ingram—”

Ingram” is a black magic word. The store owner’s head balloons and explodes the second it’s spoken, a match to a short fuse  Bone, blood, and gray everywhere, windows shatter, shelves topple.

I stagger out the smoking door, my garments charred and shredded: “Mmm. Guess not everyone gets their books through Ingram.” Can’t know everything, can I? I say, my chin aloft, chipper with hope. Onward, Jeeves, onward!

By the time I cross the street to the next, last store, I’m miraculously cleaned up. It goes so smoothly, I now remember nothing of what I said, probably a good thing. By now I’m out of money, the only real book I want is Le Carre’s latest, but I must walk out one book less and pray I haven’t left a retailer’s resentment behind with my creation.

On Thanksgiving, I drop a copy at an excellent store in Burbank and later, back up here, leave one at my favorite independent local store, then another at a store in downtown Berkeley, which may not work because the store’s new fiction section is a small, discrete, huddled, facing away from the
waves and walls of used books rising behind it.

You try this, you try that. If something works, you try it again. If it doesn’t, try something else. It’s not the falling down, the slammed doors. It’s the not getting up, not knocking at the next
door. Sometimes they say yes. Nobody loses all the time.

Checks from my business haven’t arrived in for awhile, so spending is a frozen stream, but the hunt goes on, the free things I can do, whether by strung-together tin cans or Internet.  Bloggers and bookstore sites, each gets the news release, then is placed on two lists, one in Word, the other in the e-mail address book. I receive my first blurb, into the news release it goes. I sit at a bar, my book and cards displayed. Like the hunter, I watch for movement, my ears open and perking: “Say, pal, what’s that you got there?”

Maybe you’ll see me, my eyes fevered and focus, my hidden tale curling a grin my face, eager to be told. Maybe you should ask. Many have. Get in line. Maybe I’ll buy you a beer.

(re-edited 12/11/10)

Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by Author

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Luminous Wonderful Friend

In my last article here, I mentioned how Elizabeth and I cut short our Thanksgiving visit due to an approaching storm and concern about our “adored and elderly friend.” It turned out we were right on both counts.

The day after we returned, dear Flo started showing the first signs of kidney disease. On Monday, we took her to the pet hospital. By Wednesday evening, she was gone.

“There’s something about Flo,” Elizabeth said one day sometime ago, as we were driving off on a weekend trip. I’d said “Bye Flo!” moments before, as she sat looking up from our bedroom floor, her paws tucked neatly under her small, elegant figure, her round, green eyes infused with a gold blush, wearing an expression of . . . sadness at my leaving? Wondering if I would stop to pet her once more or scoop her feather-light body into my arms?

I don’t know and I doubt it matters. Any one of those guesses would be enough. What matters is that when we got home from wherever we’d gone, she’d scramble downstairs, or be waiting by the piano bench, greeting us with the loveliest meow I’d ever heard from a cat, a soft bird-like chirp. Just
by walking in the door, we’d performed yet another of the endless flash of miracles that Flo seemed to believe us capable of: “Oh my gosh! You went away! And then you came BACK!”  At times, I could've sworn she was about to faint  from ecstasy.

Flo and Her Water Dish
Once we were walking across the front lawn, arm-in-arm and heard a cat cry. We looked around, puzzled—was that another of the cats who live around the compound?--and then up, and there was Flo, wide-eyed and calling from our second-floor bedroom window.

After a long trip, it might take her some minutes to recollect exactly who we were, but once we’d spoken our doting endearments while scratching her favorite spots, the luminosity that was there, grew brighter again. (In case you're wondering, she wasn't an especially food-obsessed cat.)

Before out first long trip together, we left Flo at a pet care center in Walnut Creek. When we returned home that evening to pack for our trip, Elizabeth looked around and sighed: “Boy, it feels empty around here already.”

Now, we’re sad to say, this house is empty for good. Everywhere I go in this big box, I look for her. It was always “Flo’s House.”  Without her, it's darker and feels like it’s time for us to find a new home.

Flo was seven when Elizabeth introduced us eight years ago on a January evening in 2002. Not long after we all moved in together, we bought a new bed and moved the old one
into the office. Flo, used to the old mattress, moved right along with it. I know it sounds pathetic, but after a couple nights of this innocent abandonment, we closed the office door before retiring. It took Flo awhile to understand many things.

In recent years, arthritis emerged making it harder for her to come down to say hello, always with that sweet mew. We started carrying her upstairs whenever possible. She’d always purr, because she loved to be held, her body a perfect snug in our arms. Soon, she took to staying mostly upstairs, where it was warmer and brighter.

She didn’t talk much. Didn’t need to. Her near-constant purr and daffy wonderstruck look said plenty. What a wonderful world it was to Flo! One darn happy thing after another, practically all of it brought about by Elizabeth and Thomas, the miracle-making gods: We made the wet food appear from
the giant white box in the kitchen and the crunchies from the magic bag! We made the sun come out, just to keep Flo warm! We never failed to make Flo feel good. And she, in turn, made us feel good without even knowing. I’ve never known a cat so devoid of that infamous cat-ego or one who seemed to enjoy Being so much. Unlike many cats, she stayed a kitten to the end.

With her jewel figure and fine calico coat, Flo always looked lovely and “ladylike,” as Elizabeth put it. We often called her a “tchotchke kitty” and joked about renting her out for store window displays. Many a stranger marveled at her beauty and fell for her innocent charms.

Flo and Boris

It was especially amusing to watch her effect on so-called cat haters. When my friend Greg and his strapping son Erik first came to visit, sneers stole across their faces as Flo trotted down the stairs to greet the new giants who’d come to her house all the way from Arizona. A half-hour later, both men had turned into puddles of goo. By evening’s end, Flo was happily snuggled on the couch between Greg and I as we watched a movie on TV, Greg looking down at her with wry astonishment. (Note: Greg is now a cat owner.)

With Flo, resistance was truly futile. The Borg could have picked up important tips from her about conquering the Star Trek universe, the way she did the affections of most everyone who came through our door. Sometimes a simple photo was enough. It was easy to find sitters around our compound who wanted to sit with Flo when we went away.

To be sure, Flo was a cat. She fiercely loathed other cats and, before we moved in together, was allowed to stay out late to do battle with neighborhood felines. As a bird lover, I ordered her indoors for good the first time I found a dead cowbird by our front door (with a handwritten note on the door pointing to the perpetrator of the foul deed “Flo is now a murderer!”). The house was big, windows were plenty and she never seemed to mind at all. The world remained always wonderful.

Flo and Her Hand

Elizabeth raised Flo from the palm of her hand. I came along to complete the set. As Elizabeth and I have no children, you can imagine the towering and plunging waves of grief we’re riding right now. I’ve worked from home for the last five years, and whenever times became stressful and boring, I could always walk into our bedroom and find Flo asleep on the coverlet, often with her paw over her eyes to keep the light out. She always woke up happy to see me. Late in the afternoon, she’d wander into the office, and raise her paws up onto my leg and cry for me to come sit with her. In the evening, as we went to bed, she’d run just ahead of my feet, chirping and glancing hopefully over her shoulder, until my discipline melted away and I picked her up with an “Oh my . . . .” I was about the only person she'd let scratch her tummy.

Every night, especially during winter, she’d spend maybe twenty minutes with her nose in the warm perfumed salt of my armpit before returning to her own corner of the bed. Sometimes, I’d awake at around 4:00 a.m. and she’d hop across the bed to spend time by my side.

Flo truly loved us both. To her, we were gods. The hardest thing about being the kind of gods we were, is that moment when you must recognize that some miracles are beyond you. 

Flo seemed to believe that Elizabeth and I could do anything and for many years, she was right. But as she grew ill and I finally held her still form for the last time on Wednesday evening, I had to say I was sorry, that this time, Mom and the Big Friendly Giant had no more miracles to perform for her, this luminous, wonderful creature, now gone from us.

"She was the best pet I've ever had," Elizabeth said afterward. 

She may have been the best pet anyone's ever had. 

(re-edited 12/11/10)
 Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield

Photos by Elizabeth Burchfield and Author

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.