Aaron woke up the morning after Jaime’s funeral face buried in his pillow, one leg hanging off the side of the bed and Rambam exerting her considerable weight on his upper back.
“You know I can’t get up until you let me,” he said. Rambam readjusted her position, but made no effort to clear out. “I said some really awful things to Alice last night, Ram,” he told her, which, for some reason convinced her to clamber off his back and onto the floor. Aaron rolled over and fished in the bottom drawer of the nightstand for a bag of weed and a bowl. Mildly stoned by the time he hit the shower, Aaron found the prospect of facing the day much more manageable. It was another armpit of a day and as he pulled a teeshirt over his head, it clung wetly to his skin.
He adopted Rambam at Alice’s insistence. Given that she was allergic to cats, it should have been the first sign the relationship was coming apart, but looking back on it, Aaron wondered if the whole nine months they’d been together wasn’t a series of signs the relationship was coming apart, right up to the day he came home to find she’d removed all of her things from his apartment. She’d said a cat would give him a way to talk to himself out loud without feeling like a crazy person. Aaron had initially dismissed the idea. He argued it was wrong to bring another life into the world, as if this theoretical cat didn’t already exist but would be brought into being by Aaron’s need for feline companionship. Whenever Aaron moved a personal decision into the world-impact stage, Alice went into the kitchen and poured herself a drink.
They’d argued about every aspect of getting the cat. Alice pushed for a pet store, but Aaron would only adopt from the SPCA. Alice liked the Siamese with the shifty eyes, while Aaron fell for the pudgy tab who pissed on his sweater. Once they got her home, they put the kitten on the living room floor and sat together on the couch to come up with a name.
“Maimonides,” Aaron said. The kitten looked up at him puzzled and Alice crossed her arms.
“He was a Jewish philosopher in the twelfth century,” he explained. “A Guide for the Perplexed?” He got up to find try to find his copy on one of the bookshelves.
“First of all, she’s a she. Secondly, what would you call her for short?”
Aaron tried diminutives of Maimonides in his head (Deez? Mami? Moni?), none of which seemed to work. He remembered Maimonides had also gone by the name Rambam, which, if nothing else, was much cuter, and offered it to Alice. She rolled her eyes and shrugged.
“Rambam?” he asked the kitten. She mewed in affirmation. “See, she likes it.”
“You two will be perfect for each other,” Alice said, then walked into the kitchen and poured herself a drink, slamming the cupboard door.
Aaron puttered around the house, Rambam trotting along at his heels, the pendulum of her belly swishing across the hardwood floors. He considered pouring himself a bowl of cereal but fed the cat instead. He smoked another bowl, then set about working on a project he’d been putting off but knew would take several days of his attention. He began sorting through years of blog entries by a client, a Chicago bike messenger who’d met his end on the front grill of a Goose Island Beer truck two months ago on one of the first hot days of the season. The entries ranged from diatribes on traffic patterns and the certain collapse of any city designed primarily for automobiles rather than people, to a Slothropian mapping of secretaries and administrative assistants bedded across the city, although more often than not it wasn’t a bed involved but the boss’s desk. Not one to kiss-and-tell-everyone, the client had kept the blog mostly private, but he had apparently been more worried about his own honor than that of his paramours. His contract with DIS called for the entries to be collected into a manuscript to be printed and shipped to several prominent publishers in New York. Aaron read each entry and ruminated on it until he found a classification for it. Chapters formed in his mind and he tried them out on Rambam.
“Conceptual Failures of the Radiant City?” he said. “Polyamory in the Age of Interconnectedness. Fractures, Scrapes and Sprains. Tesseracts of Downtown Chicago. The Kama Sutra of the Ergonomic Office.” Rambam, sitting on the living room floor starting up at him, contorted herself and began cleaning her own asshole.
The work took over a week. Some days he worked on this at home, others at the office. He tried to spend more time at the latter than the former, but the strict no smoking rule he enforced at the office made it less enticing. After he clocked out each day, usually an hour or so before the sun crept into the lake, Aaron went home and smoked himself up again. He threw himself into massive but abortive reading projects. He fell asleep reading Shakespeare’s history plays with The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society playing on the stereo. He fell asleep reading Proust in the Lydia Davis translation with Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson on the stereo. He fell asleep reading the DSM-IV with Pink Floyd’s Saucer Full of Secrets playing on the stereo. Each night, a different tome slipped through his fingers and fell open on his chest as he dropped into the shallow, dreamless sleep of the habitual pot smoker. Rambam, jealous of any physical object other than herself that might get to sleep on Aaron, shoved each book onto the floor with her forehead. Aaron woke each morning with his weighty literature replaced by a weighty feline, and the needle scratching rhythmically against the record label.
One evening, looking for a book to take to bed, he came across a copy of Native American Myths and Legends, a large book, maize cover, that he’d probably had since college. He pulled it from the shelf and leafed through it, half-sure he was looking for something, and came across a passage.
The trickster is a rebel against authority, he read, and the breaker of all taboos. He is at the same time imp and hero — the great culture bringer who can also make mischief beyond belief, turning quickly from clown to creator and back again. He skimmed a bit further until he saw the name Iktomi in a quote from a Sioux medicine man named Lame Deer.
Coyote, Iktomi and all clowns are sacred. They are a necessary part of us.
Aaron tried to think of a Jewish equivalent to the trickster god, but Jewish religious tradition wasn’t big on laughs, and was certainly more centered on authority than a lot of Native American traditions. Why create a god to be a spanner in the works when people did such a bang-up job of it themselves?
Iktomi came to a place where many people were encamped fishing, Aaron read. He entered a house and asked what they used for bait. They said, “Fat.” Then he said, “Let me see you put enough on your hooks for bait,” and he noticed carefully how they baited and handled their hooks. The next time they went out, he walked off behind a point and went underwater to get this bait. Now they got bites and pulled up quickly, but there was nothing on their hooks.
That night, Aaron went to bed without smoking up first, and left the record player off. He read story after story of Trickster, the bait thief, the culture bringer, until he fell asleep.