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The Mournful Twang of Lesbian Banjos

I am at heart a homebody, and never more content than when lolling around the domicile with a cool and refreshing tipple in the company of a cat, though I generally like one in better condition than Mrs. Stellington, the last feline with whom I kept company. One-eyed , three-legged, kink-tailed, and almost certainly brain damaged, she nonetheless fulfilled most of the baseline housecat requirements, like lap­warming and striking various cattish poses around the pad. I'm sure a cat of her age and limitations would have preferred to occupy her declining years stretched to the utmost and bathed in sunbeams, but when you live amongst the redwoods in Albion ol' Sol does not exactly assert himself as confidently as in your more expansive and less fogbound climes. It must be quite dispiriting for the sun to ship its radiance all that way, only to be stymied at the very end by canopy and cloud cover.

So, she appropriated such small oases of warmth and light as she was able to commandeer there in our little shady, unheated nook, generally appliance-, fireplace-, and lap-deprived. When the weather was fine, or what passed for fine in those parts, she could be found outdoors in the company of a horse. The horse belonged to a neighbor who neither rode it nor put it to work, the usual equine occupations, but kept it as a pet. A very large pet whose size and scant capacity for affection hardly justified the space and expense required to keep it. But as they say, it takes all kinds, and you will find a significant portion of those kinds down Albion way.

The horse was permitted free-range access and could often be found in our yard grazing on what was apparently very toothsome vegetation. I landscaped strictly on the laissez-faire model and the yard was as nature intended, therefore attractive to the species. Mrs. Stellington got on famously with her, sheltering 'neath her low-hanging belly as she grazed and absorbing the digestively generated radiance as my foliage was rendered into fertilizer. This simple and vivid object lesson in the circle of life I found pleasing for its symmetry and condoned the beast's visits, so long as she didn't step on the cat.

Notwithstanding my innate domesticity and feline affinity, there are times — altogether too often, really — when the blood of my Ottoman and Visigoth ancestors rallies 'round, boiling up out of my spleen in a fiery stramash of thundering hooves and rattling sabers and usually a precedent to some fundamental change in the status quo, and I must go marauding, or at least exploring. The walls close in, the videos cease to entertain, the cat becomes a scrofulous pest, the very tipple so crucial to domestic fulfillment becomes as ashes in my mouth, and there's nothing for it but to strap on my sword and buckler, so to speak, and venture forth into the big wide and see just what variety and degree of trouble I can get myself mixed up in.

Spoiler alert: it's usually bad, and a lot.

"Mrs. Stellington!" I roared, causing her to blink up at me irritatedly. "De-lap your mangy self, I go a­ranging."

She tumbled off as I stood and she tottered off to the bedroom in her own good time, pausing once to glare back at me with as much rancor as she could muster with just the one eye. Actually, quite a bit. In fact, the effect may have been enhanced by her deficiency.

What to do? How to obey the dictates of the genetic imperative compelling my corpus? I could go down to the Albion store, but really, the kind of adventure commencing from that locale tended to the commonplace, in my experience. I needed more of the unknown and that meant heading off into untrammeled waste, that is, the pygmy forest.

Out the back I went with no more preparation than a deep girding draught of atmosphere, and after ten minutes of walking, I found myself in another world entirely. It was silent, utterly so. Not that Albion proper is such a hullaballoo or anything, but there are noises if you listen; a couple with a snootful of Kessler, airing their differences alfresco in the wee hours, unregistered rattletraps piloted by stoned teenagers bombing up the ridge, the mournful twang of lesbian banjos. Lesbian-played banjos, more specifically — banjos are neither sexed nor sexual, but anyway, there was none of that mess out there in the forest. Stop moving and cock an ear, and you might imagine hearing the low rustlings of grubs and earthworms down there busily mucking about in the humus. Times like those, you see what the poets are getting at when they play at comparing forests and cathedrals — all that silence and grandeur.

I guess I'd traveled no more than half a league, half a league onward when the scenery changed, dipping downhill a bit and clearing somewhat. I double-timed it down the slope and started up a slight rise, and just as I noticed a pungently intoxicating aroma, I felt a narrow band of pressure on my right shin and heard a distinct click. 

Now, although I have never participated  in any government-sponsored combat operations, I have seen a movie or two, and I knew immediately that I'd just armed an anti­personnel device of some kind, probably a Claymore, and the moment I released the tripwire all hell was going to break loose. Pretty much every description of personnel anti-ed by these devices involves the word “hamburger,” and with that in mind, I sent out a general order to cease all motion. No way was I going to relax the tension on that wire, not if I had to have my mail forwarded there. Eventually, someone would come by to check their weed patch, for that is exactly what I'd stumbled on to. I saw it now, several hundred square feet of bushy, robust greenery budded up enough that whoever superintended the crop was not likely to leave it untended for long, unless the place was so thoroughly mined they just came up once a week to dispose of what was left of the bodies. I'd heard about growers like this, tired enough of raiders that they went fully lethal with their security, employing tigers, deadly voltage, punji sticks, and remotely actuated ordnance to thwart them.

I was guilty of nothing but not paying attention and would never interfere with anyone's agriculture, but it appeared I wouldn't get to make that argument. My leg was cramping up severely and would eventually give up the ghost, regardless of my personal resolve to remain as motionless as the Pieta.

I looked around frantically for something to stick in the ground and substitute for my leg, but the area was clean. The wire led to a rebar post about 20 feet away, attached to which was a relay, from which extended more wire, going up a tree, terminating in... a camera? Not a rain of torso-shredding steel balls fanning out in a 270° arc at rifle velocity? Color me relieved. I — very slowly, mind you — relaxed the pressure on the wire. No explosion. I pushed against it again, looking at the camera, and the lens winked obligingly as the relay clicked. Huh. Rather than employ modern digital surveillance, somebody'd set up this contraption to take still photos of whatever interloper happened upon their patch, after which they'd presumably post the pics on the bulletin board down at the store with a “dead or alive” caption. I figured I had better make my absence of criminal intent clear, and using the manual alphabet, fired off a series of shots spelling out S…O…R…R…Y…N…O…T…A…T…H…I…E…F…, capping it with one of me assaying an elaborately apologetic shrug. That oughta do it, I thought, and traipsed off homeward, still exhilarated by my imagined near-death experience.

When I got home, dusk was settling in and the horse was munching contentedly as Mrs. Stellington watched him from atop a chaise lounge. I went inside, fixed myself a mint julep, and came out to enjoy the gloaming with the pair of them, joining the cat on the chaise. She climbed into my lap and settled as the plaintive strains of a distant banjo drifted in on the still evening air. "Hark at that, missus," I said to the Stellington. "Another lesbian's gotten her wings."

Mrs. Stellington looked at me quizzically, seemed to assess my statement as nonsense, and puffed out a small cat-sigh. "You do realize, of course, that you barely constitute three-quarters of an animal, and as such your contempt does not register," I said.

She closed her single eye and commenced a ragged, anapestic purr, as if her firing order were off. You simply can't convince a cat that they are anything less than perfect and deserving of all of life's pleasures, dismembered though they may be. There's a lesson there, though I'm not certain it's applicable to humanity.

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