Warning: Spoilers ahead for the conclusion of House of Cats. Go read that first.
Dear House of Cats readers,
Los Angeles traffic is a bear today; the Lakers are having their parade. Everyone who isn’t on the road for work is skipping work and on the road to see that, it seems. But I’m down here in Inglewood on the backstretch of Hollywood Park Race Track. The Little Red Horse has a work this morning and we–my mother, grandmother, and I–are here to watch.
I like Hollywood Park better than most tracks I’ve been to and I’ll tell you why: the cats here are fat and happy and not at all shy with people. They go about their business in the barns and around the office, alone or in pairs. Outside office doors in the barns, full dishes of water and food wait for them. They will greet you, if approached, with cautious interest and calm dignity. To my way of thinking, the people here can’t be too bad if their cats are this content.
I find myself, as I watch them, wondering if any of them are changing-cats. If they are, when they change, where do they go? Do they disappear into the surrounding neighborhoods to loiter around fast food joints and beauty parlors with faded storefronts? Do they eat at Randy’s Donuts in the early morning? Do they linger in the grandstands at the track in the afternoon, eating overpriced hot dogs and beers and watching the races?
Or do they work here? When I pass by an exercise boy or a groom (they are almost all men here; the track remains a world largely of toms), am I really seeing the face of a cat, hiding in plain sight? I sense at once the real subculture, or several, of this mundane world, of which I am only peripherally aware, and also the possibility of something more fantastic, something not of this world.
There is a part of me, which you may call my Muse, my inner child, or my unconscious mind, which believes every story I tell is true. It believes with a child’s simple conviction. Magic is real. The fantastic exists. Lies told for profit are truth. It believes six impossible things before breakfast. One of those things is the House of Cats.
The House of Cats started life in three places. The first was in a vision I had while sitting in the backseat of a vehicle moving along the freeway in the dying sunset, perhaps on our way home from a horseshow. I imagined a house, boxlike, dingy and rundown, with a scrubby yard out front and peeling paint. I imagined it full of cats. One lived and worked as a human, a professional chef. Another refused to change at all, afraid of something that waited for him on the other side of his skin. It would take a long time, but Heather and Rune would eventually rise out of these primitive images.
The second place was in a challenge issued by a friend. Shousetsu Bang*Bang had an issue coming up, I forget the theme, and I needed an idea. My friend suggested a cat mafia. I asked her if she was crazy, we laughed, we joked, I forgot about it. You might noticed a comment left on an early episode of HoC, referring to just this notion. This same friend was also the one who gave me the starting point for the first story I sold, which was cannibals with a happy ending. I blew that one off too. Every time this happens, I swear that I will believe her the next time she makes a wild suggestion. I’m a slow learner, it seems.
The third place was the last and it came into being shortly after I started the Small Wonders blog, which in turn was started only after I sold that first story and suddenly needed a website rather badly. I wanted to have free content to post on a regular basis. One was the working review columns. The other was Sunday Brunch. I wanted to do something with food, so I could include recipes. I wanted it to be a series of connected short stories about three couples, one straight, one gay, and one lesbian, which is not so much about my interests in diversity or gender balance as it is about my interest in organization, in things which can be sorted and divided up.
House of Cats did not quite end up being any of those things, and it is also all of them. I took Heather’s human life and made it as extreme as I could. I also saddled her with the opposite of my own fears: I’m afraid of losing my home and Heather has a home she couldn’t get rid of. The house got bigger too. Gone is the little suburban box. Instead, I gave them a sort of hereditary castle. I gave them a past and a social structure and a huge community visible, I hope, at the edges of this smaller narrative.
Other things changed as I wrote it. Mysti was supposed to be a bigger character, keeping with my plan for three couples as the leads. But then I wrote Rafflesia, just a throwaway character for the “Society’s Child” episode, a name and a face in the population of the House. But she kept popping up after that point, saying clever things and making a child’s demands and being braver than she had to be. I respected her. She might be the thing that makes me happiest about HoC. She was better than I expected.
The ending, too, turned out better than I could have imagined and I am at something of a loss as to who deserves the credit for it. Certainly not I. I didn’t know until sometime at the end of May, when I wrote the two-part finale, just how it would end. The fire came as a surprise and yet seemed so natural, the threat there from early in the story. But it was when I sat down to figure out the futures of all the leading cast, just as a way of capping off their character arcs for my own reference, that the real ending came out. It is the epilogue. It is a beginning masquerading as an ending. It is the natural conclusion of the conflicts over future versus past, community versus individual, human versus cat. It is what had to happen. I’m glad it did.
Everyone, like Raff, felt like an old friend. I didn’t make them up, so much as remember them. I said goodbye to old friends in some of the characters. I forgave some old hurts too. I would be happy to spend an afternoon, or a lifetime, with anyone in the House.
I talked about things that matter to me more than just about anything else in the world. I got to say things about responsibility, about families and relationships, about growing up. I got to say something about every way that people fail their animals: the hording houses and the declawing and the abandonment. Like Dopple, I got to spit fire and bile at people who made me furious. And I got to make it right, just a little bit.
It wasn’t all seriousness though. I winked at the audience now and then. I said, when your cat is doing this, you only think you know why. There’s something more at work here. I love that feeling of the world behind the world, just out of sight but constantly bumping up against the world we walk in day to day. In that other world, kittens ask for Christmas and catnip is a recreational drug with hidden dangers. It’s a good world and it’s a world I believe in.
I met a calico cat at the track today, a handsome gentleman with a strong chin and a particularly sleek tail. We had a nice time, while the humans talked, just sitting in the entrance of the barn on an overcast morning and watching the busy world go by. I scratched behind his ears and he shed white and black and orange hairs on me. Nearby, a big, long-haired gray tabby dodged the horses being walked and a little black cat contemplated the flock of birds strutting in the sand.
I didn’t say much to the gentleman, but I hope I made a good impression. You know, just in case he gets together with his buddies later and tells them about the new human. Who knows, the next time the Little Red Horse runs, the gentleman might be in the crowd at the track. I might not recognize him, but he’ll recognize me.
That’s the world I believe in. It isn’t gone, now that HoC has ended. It’s just moved out of my head and into the quiet, unnoticed corners of the regular world, waiting for someone to catch a glimpse of it from the corner of their eye. I hope you see it like I do. I hope I helped you to believe for a little while. Thanks for reading.
Summer Solstice, 2010