12 Days of Significance (9)
By: James Parker | Categories: Fiction

Ninth in a holiday-season series of posts that will reprint short fiction written — by twelve HiLobrow contributors — for the collection Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, eds. Rob Walker and HiLobrow’s Joshua Glenn (Fantagraphics, August 2012).

The following story is by James Parker. Enjoy!

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KITTY SAUCER

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“You know, of course,” said the periodontist, as he bore down with his scalpel, “that Nancy Pelosi is insane?”

Floyd Haruspex, gaping and nearly prone in the chair, made no answer. The question had been rhetorical anyway.

“She is, excuse me, batshit crazy… Any pain?”

“Ngh-ngh,” answered Floyd, emphatically. Halfway through this operation to fix his receding gums and he was feeling no pain at all. The left side of his mouth and face had in fact become a miraculous region of pure psychology. No sensations, only… impressions, intuitions, insights. Ah, Novocain.

“Let me know,” said the periodontist, whose name was Dr. Soundgarden.

But now Floyd like a saint was gazing beyond this earthly scene, gazing over Dr. Soundgarden’s meaty white-clad shoulder and out through the window. Rainy ocean sky. Undifferentiated sub-glare. A vast range of numbness. Somewhere out there was Diagnostic Jones with his pack of Harley-riding Illuminati, all pushing their hogs through the last frontier of mechanical endurance en route to the big kahuna, the king burrito, the cosmic giggle-osaurus. And Prima Materia, alchemical sex-siren. Tying one on in some cheesy maritime bar no doubt, with several new friends of the fishing or dope-running persuasion. Would he, Floyd, ever get the chance to dissolve and coagulate with her — to produce with her the philosopher’s stone? Yeah, right.

“What’s happening with this country right now, I’d like to go to sleep for ten years.” Dr. Soundgarden was talking again, while his hands in their bloodied plastic gloves made squinching sounds in Floyd’s mouth. “Sleep for ten years, wake up, maybe things’d be back to normal. Know what I’m saying?”

Floyd inclined an eyebrow à la Errol Flynn. He was at the shoreline, and some sort of John Bircher was fixing his gumline. Karma was a pretzel sometimes. And he hadn’t even begun to think about the kitty plate. Why had someone left it in his car last night, this little milk-saucer with the face of a cat painted on it? He had floundered heavily into the driver’s seat, with the bar-reek on him, to find it propped on the dashboard like a rebuke. The cat was ginger-ish, with a distant, unreadable expression. “And the same to you, partner,” Floyd had mumbled, tossing it onto the back seat and scraping at the ignition. He’d never owned a cat. He didn’t like cats. Which was not to say that he didn’t understand the cat thing: he knew any number of ex-radicals and tired misanthropes whose single connection to the world-as-commonly-experienced was via some sullen feline. Barney Breaks, for example, the P.I. he’d hired to spy on his first wife. Pissed-off to the core. A disenchantment with humanity that was truly cosmic. Now there was a cat guy.

Could it have been Barney who left the kitty plate in Floyd’s ’66 Chevy Impala? As a message that his darkest apprehensions re: Prima Materia were about to be realized?

But Barney had joined a cult three years ago: the Joy People, out of Humboldt County. Never been heard of since, poor bastard.

Besides, the cat on the plate wasn’t giving a message. If anything, he was withholding a message. That’s what cats did, right? Unlike everything else, they refused to signify. And Floyd, in the periodontist’s chair, began to shake with unphraseable laughter.

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James Parker is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.