A crack formed in the porcelain of the Cat Lady’s mind as she drank in Johnny White’s. Or maybe it had been there for years, laying dormant—waiting for the right word from the right lips to birth the tectonic tremor that broke the dish. (But let’s also be real, the Lady’s blood type was and is psilocybin; the Pangaea of her consciousness had long split into drifting continents.)
Regardless, the Cat Lady sat alone in the bar on her 58th birthday, tabby on her shoulder, drinking a glass of house Chardonnay when a palm reader approached. She wore her typical black slip. Her hair frizzed into a natural fro, and her face gleamed with aquamarine makeup. Per usual, no shoes concealed the soles of her hobbity feet, which she bounced playfully from a high bar stool as she bopped along to the music.
As the bar was dark, and the street cat upon her shoulders had fallen asleep like a shawl, the psychic couldn’t read from a mere glance that this aged Merry Prankster might be possessed by the souls of the thousand dead hippies she’d fucked to death. She absolutely was the worst mark you could pick. However, hearing it was her birthday from the bartender, the psychic grasped her upturned hand and offered a free reading, which the Cat Lady accepted. He examined its crags and theatrically said “ooh” and “uh-oh” in response to topographic elements, no doubt zigzagged with cat claw scratches.
Finally, the man spoke: “You’ll live to be 115.” Hearing this pronouncement, the Cat Lady screamed, and the cat on her shoulders, awakening to its owner in a panic, lunged and attacked the reader, who was forced to toss the feline to the floor. (Unsurprisingly, the cat landed perfectly.) It must have been something for the psychic to realize he’d been attacked not by this woman but by a creature she’d been wearing. The bar went silent as the psychic ran bleeding to the john, and the Cat Lady shrieked and shrieked until the bartender refilled her Chardonnay. She downed it with a gulp, wiped her hand across her face and proclaimed, “Man, if I’m gonna live to be 115, I really better start taking care of business.”
I caught up with her the next morning as I walked my dog past her unmistakable abode, with the “SUPPORT THE ARTS, HELP KEEP CRAZY PERSONS OFF THE STREETS” sign and the flaking pink paint.
“Good morning,” I said. “How are you?”
“Fine, well, except for this nervous breakdown,” she answered. “Did you see all the glass?” She pointed to the sidewalk in front of her house, where no glass presently shimmered.
“No,” I responded, and knew better than to inquire further. I meant to cut the Cat Lady off before she strolled through one of her emotional hell-gates, but she leapt soles-first into the flames before I could impede the story. She apprised me of what happened with the palm reader the previous evening. “You know what it was? It was one last straw on this camel’s back,” she elucidated, pointing a thumb past her bony shoulders. “And a single word took over my head: Purge.”
For months, the Cat Lady had been gathering antique windows to paint into faux stained-glass mosaics. Word got out, and people began bringing what amounted to a deluge of free windowpanes to her place. “I’d been asking the universe for years,” she laughed madly. “And of course, there’s God going, ‘Well here’s your order!’” Soon, the stacks of panes overwhelmed her hallway, her side porch with the cat dishes, and the kitchen table where she painted.
Rushing home from Johnny White’s on her birthday, laden with the knowledge that she’d live to see 115 with all of those windows, those fucking un-manifested hallucinations, those “partial-birth abortions,” she began weepily, noisily throwing all of her art and art supplies through her front door onto the street. It was as if all of her lights had become weights, and all of the treasures in her porcelain mind had cracked like eggs and surrendered their gleam.
Three next-door neighbors, alerted to the showering cascade of glass but loath to call the police on a friend (this is New Orleans), sprinted outside to find the Cat Lady weeping and apoplectically staring at her mess. Snapping their fingers and ringing a cat bell to attract her attention, they distracted her with questions about her youngest tabby while one of them peeled off, snuck into her house, and hid the rest of her art behind a sofa. The others alternately took turns hugging her and sweeping up the shards.
Eventually, they lifted her in her slip (she was paper-thin, and they worried she’d cut her bare feet), carried her to a nearby porch and poured her another Chardonnay. Sip by sip, she said, she’d glued her head back together—and re-grasped the thread of her birthday.
I let her finish her story and ran, I admit. It was fucking 8:30 in the morning. The next time I saw her, a drizzle set in above just as the sun set pink, refracting what the Cat Lady called “popsicle colors” across the grey. I ran on my way to the river and waved just as she stood dancing, eyes closed, in the rain.