Saturday, February 7, 2015

Prosegarden Stories: Couch Potato With Cat

       The story "Couch Potato With Cat" was recently published by an online literary journal called "The Earl of Plaid."
       The journal publishes all its work -- poems, short stories, flash fiction -- in a single lengthy PDF file.It's a bit of work to find anything in this format. You have to look up the author's name in each category and then scroll down to the appropriate page number. Here's the link for the journal:

        But to make things easier, I'm reposting the whole (not very long) story here.

                                Couch Potato With Cat

            I am arranging a selfie. There ought to be an easier way to do it than the ways I have tried. I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. My best light, my best side. But only, it appears, when I am not seeking to immortalize an image.
            It spoils things to know a picture is being taken. This has always been true for me. Why is this not true for everyone? How is that all the world's models and pretty people are able to tell themselves 'look natural' and then achieve a desirable imitation of this state -- at ease, unself-conscious, natural -- when the image is captured on a lens.
            If you try to capture the real, it will escape you. The act of trying pushes it away. The act of observing changes the object being observed. Heisenberg said that.
            I've never seen a self-portrait of Heisenberg.
            I catch sight of myself in windows, passing by on the street. I'm displeased by what I see. Is that what I look like? Why don't I stand straighter? Throw my shoulders back? Who belongs to that sad-sack profile?
            Better, I conclude, straight on.
            On a computer screen, late at night, no one else awake in the house, I see my moment and determine to seize it. The computer screen has gone dark, but a desk lamp has been left on in the room. I catch a shadowy image on the darkened screen. A shadowed visage, but my own. This shadow, this diminution of light is natural; far better than Photoshop. Who is this dark stranger? With his unexpressed longings, his air of melancholy, but also some deeper intimation, a slight inkling of hidden joy. A secret, perhaps.
            What secret?
            Whatever the secret is, it's harder to capture on a lens than my hidden wannabe joyful self could ever imagine. You don't wish to betray the mechanism, the camera, do you? You don't wish the hand that holds the camera to be seen, either, I suppose.
            Awkward, artificial, unnatural.
            That means the arm holding the camera will have to be hidden from the image produced as well. I shift my image to one side of the darkened computer screen. Even better, truer. I am always an off-center, unsymmetrical person. I do not like center stage. Leave that to the shallow, push-forward types. They make jokes, the girls titter. I stand back and observe, with my secret smile.
            They don't know what I know. What I know is suggested, hinted at by the image on the screen. It's as if I don't know myself what's producing it.
            The ultimate prize: the candid self-portrait.
            I lean toward the edge of the screen, extend my hand outside the screen, press the button.
            I consume the result: I've gone too far from the center, my momentum has carried me off -- halfway off. The image cuts my face in two, the right side gobbled up by the universe in which all reflected imagery ultimately disappears. I have given that part of myself to everyone, to all existence, or to the nothing that exists outside of the self: my image, myself.
            Still I am not too displeased. I call this photo, this self-portrait: "Split Personality."
            It appears to be the best I can do.
            I see my image in dark windows. Night has swallowed the world on the other side of the glass but interior light, half-light in quiet rooms, gives back a slender image. Sometimes a multi-layered one. A shadow of me. Other objects in the room float into the reflection as well; a bookcase, a floor plant. My self, my surreality.
            I sit and watch TV, images on a screen.
            My wife goes to bed on her early-schedule life, leaving me alone except for the cat.
            The cat has curled herself, her body, into my lap, as she does each night. The high point of her day, she buries herself into the cocoon of my seated form. Am I softer than anywhere else available to her? I sense the distant presence of some matronly super-cat from which all kittens in their essential Platonic Idea of Catness derive. Her presence there keeps me longer in front of TV screen than I would otherwise choose to remain. I am faceless, mindless. She burrows her head into the crook of my arm, a fetal-like position that suggests also a newborn, as if in some imagined self-portrait of her own she is able to nurse from the inner fold of my elbow.
            I stay put because she does, fingering the television remote, searching for another viewing of the winning shot in the basketball game. The last highlight; or joke; or pithy remark from the late night blatherers. But I grow bored. I am more than a lap. The rest of me demands new stimulus to feed on. The cat does not know this, who in the wisdom of her great age wishes only to sleep.
            I extend my arm again (not the one she has hidden her face against) and discover the camera left beside me on the cushion of the couch. I pick it up and aim it, pure guess work alone, at the dumb middle of me where the black cat has collapsed like a dead mink, a fur piece, across my abdomen.
            I press the button:
            Couch Potato with Cat. A self-portrait. 

[A note: This is fiction. I never did take a picture of myself with the cat in my lap. It seemed impossible; I never even attempted it. The photo below is an attempt at my "seduction by computer screen" selfie.]