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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Saturday
Jan262013

« In Which We Circle What It Is We Want »

After Breakfast

by DAN CARVILLE

Six of them came riding up.

There was something that began that way already. He left this thought and came back to it, and the idea had been changed to Five baying wolves approached out of the darkness.

He could give no real consideration to the rewarding symbol that the digit five provided. He also found it was difficult to write about or even imagine a cold place while he was in a warm climate.

He drove the rental car from the hotel to his father's modest cottage after breakfast. (He always fasted until lunch.) In the backyard, a grey armadillo haunted the modest garden. The armadillo's behavior accomplished four discrete things.

1) The first was that his father became so bothered by this desecration he had to start taking a higher dosage of his blood pressure medication.

2) The second was that the armadillo's numerous bowel movements created strange reactions from the plants in the array.

3) There was no longer the possibility of an ant problem.

4) The fourth was that the armadillo was agitated, possibly by his father, possibly about something completely unrelated in the animal's own life.

The wolves that approached (in his story) were unexpectedly kind. The underlying message was that even the most harshly regarded unconscious thing possessed, within it, the opposite virtue as well. He explained this idea to his mother in her hospital bed. It was difficult for her to talk, but she did listen intently. After awhile she croaked, "That is a cliche."

The next day, his father had fallen over in the garden looking for the armadillo with a small shovel. His body was fine, but his pride was injured. Reclining on his couch, his father kept saying, "The devil! The devil!"

His mother's nurse was a lovely woman of about 43 named Vela. She told him a story the next day while they waited to have an x-ray of his mother's torso taken. It went like this:

A great detective arrived at a typical scene - a messy, bloody body. Three calico cats continually circled the deceased woman, spooking some of the detective's fellow officers. Animal control was on the way, and the cats did not look particularly friendly, but they did not do anything aggressive except for their pacing. He told his men to make sure the cats did not molest the body. The detective stepped outside and, using sticks he found nearby, planted three makeshift grave markers in the ground.

When animal control arrived, they would not touch those calicos.

It turned out that the dead woman, before her passing, had eaten a large breakfast. Her stomach ruptured out her undigested pancakes, eggs and sausage. The cats were going to have it if she could not. He could not really find a moral for this story, but he wondered if the detective had meant to save the cats or solve the crime. Possibly both, but also, he may have just been having a laugh.

In the ensuing week his father became increasingly agitated, and more determined to rid his yard of the offending armadillo. He asked his father if he knew for certain there was only one armadillo. His father replied, "If I kill the one I see, the rest will vanish."

More events revealed themselves. When he saw his father, he saw the grey armadillo. When he saw his mother, he saw an old woman with breast cancer. When he saw a cat he ran away.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about running in place.

"Black Tongue" - Feist (mp3)

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