Note: Everything in this story is true. Even the part about the ferret peering into my darkened room.
Our last episode left with me going home from a day at the animal hospital nursing a pretty good bite from a patient, a ferret who objected to being stuck with a needle.
I can’t really describe where I was living at the time as home, however. This period in my life was shortly after I had separated from my first wife. She continued to live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, in the apartment with character and charm and a view of Lake Union, while I rented a room in the basement of a 12-room boarding house with a shared kitchen and bathroom. It had concrete floors, a view of a large, unkempt bush, and a pipe running through it that supplied heat from the furnace to the rest of the house. My “home,” at times, was a sweltering sauna.
The perk of living there was that it was in the heart of the Phinney/Greenwood neighborhoods, within walking distance of work, restaurants, eclectic shops, and two bookstores. All those things allowed me to spend as little time as possible in my depressing room, as I was depressed enough already.
The boarding house was owned by a Vietnam Veteran who was missing both his legs. As a result, he stood about four feet on his prosthetic limbs, if they could be called that. They appeared to be homemade from a pair of 4″x 4″ wood posts. He was also missing his left arm. In its place a bare-metal appendage of wire and hinges with a grasping hook-like hand. Besides his duties as landlord, he ran a boxing gym in South Seattle. He manged his tenants, I imagined, much like he coached his boxers – equal parts ball-buster and caring mentor. He looked out for his damaged misfit of renters with a good heart.
Besides me, there was one of his boxers, a bloke whose nose had been broken a few too many times, and whose head had suffered a few too many knock-outs. There was a physically challenged young man who had no neck and limited mobility in his narrow legs, who watched hours of porn from his home country of Lithuania almost every night. I suspect he was “friendly” with the addict living upstairs – the shell of a woman whose bruised arms, sunken eyes, and gaunt features were difficult to look at.
(There were more of us Fellini-esque characters living there, of course – remember, it was a 12-room house – but I think that’s enough to illustrate the scene.)
That night – after my interaction with the ferret at work – like most nights, I went to bed with my door cracked open to the hall outside. The air inside was too stifling hot not to. A short time later, I woke, or I should say half-woke to the sound of…rain on leaves?…someone crumpling paper?…tiny feet on a concrete floor! I opened my eyes and looked deeply around my darkened room. I could hear the pitter-pattering of something that had to be the size of a large rat, trying to follow it with my bleary gaze. Then, it entered the ray of light that pierced the blackness from the hallway. Long, slinky body. Short legs. Bobbing, investigating head in constant motion.
It stopped as though it had heard my inner exclamation, and turned toward me. His black-gray-brown coat shimmered as he moved. He peered at me from the hall and gave a sniff in my direction. In my dreamy-cusp-of-waking state I shouted, “What? Have you come to haunt me?” (Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same!) The little weasel gave another sniff, and scurried off.
I sat up, shaking off the remaining malaise, and got out of bed. I knew I didn’t imagine it. I also knew it couldn’t have been the same ferret from earlier that day – those pet owners lived nowhere near where I was. So I burst into the hall to find the mysterious ferret, and prove to myself I was not delusional. I looked in every corner, under and behind any furniture a weasel could hunker. I finally found him behind a broken-down piano in the lobby upstairs. He was very friendly, as ferrets can be; he approached me sniffing, and I picked him up. He hunkered in my arms for a moment before I looked up to see the addict at the top of the stairs.
“Is this yours?” I asked her.
She gave an awkward laugh and quiet, “Yes.”
I handed him to her. “He’s very sweet.”
“Thank you,” she replied, shyly covering a smile of bad teeth before shuffling off to her room.
Now, I know this story revolves around a freaky coincidence. That’s all it was – a fluke happenstance. But, the writer in me wants to find a connective thread, something that ties it all together, a theme, if you will.
I won’t go into details, but the addict reminded me of my first wife, who I loved. The affection was not mutual, however, and this naturally made for a doomed marriage. Thus, I lived for a time in the sad basement of a boarding house for misfits. My ex-wife also had an affinity for furry critters, the more exotic the better; she encouraged me to pursue work in the veterinary field. So, what do the ferrets represent? The precarious nature of our relationship, the one that ended up biting me hard, perhaps; the one that haunted me later? Do the little weasels symbolize the unpredictable nature of love and relationships in general? Or are they just furry, sweet, and smelly characters? And honestly, does it really matter? I prefer themes that are a bit ambiguous, open-ended, left for a reader’s interpretation. What matters is whether or not the elements make for a good read.
The whole point of this trilogy of blogs has been to demonstrate how a writer sees the world, how his own life can find its way into his writing, where ideas can come from, and how they develop into a narrative.
Oh, and finally, in the grand scheme of events, the chain of life, all those links – my first wife, moving to Seattle, the animal hospital, etc. – connected me to my current wife, and our son, both of whom I adore. A better story I could never write.