By Sarah Cadence Hamm
In Edward Gorey’s Whale House, they skitter. A whole family now. Once he wore furs, floor-length, waltzed around New York in his Converse sneakers, patronized the ballet. But Balanchine loosened his grip, and the arm of Cape Cod crooked him like a sheep. This was all after the war, after he bunked with Frank O’Hara, who filled their rooms with rented furniture, a bear-skin rug, and they fancied their Harvard two-bedroom a grand salon. They gave the best parties. Later, Frank wrote:
“Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth?”
The raccoon tails on Gorey's coat would swing as he walked, and the whole world moved in their orbit.
He maintains, always, five cats. It is the perfect number of too many cats— not so few as to be measly, but not so many as to overcome him, the way cats sometimes do. They remind him to be murderous and loveable, deeply bad and an utter darling. But sometimes, finding them asleep in the garden, he's reminded of a war story he'll tell as his own: At Dugway Proving Grounds, the army poisoned thousands of sheep with nerve agents, felled and wasted in the hot Utah sun. And so Gorey learned what it meant to be flayed, reduced to a pelt. He put his fur coat away.
Night time is for television, the warm quippy hum of Buffy, Doctor Who. His hands are always busy, bean bag creatures falling from them, born to their own separates lives of mischief and adventure. In the walls, the familial clatter. When the raccoons first moved in, Gorey heaved the phone book to his knee, thumbed for a solution. But paused, that old coat heavy on his shoulders. Since then, he listens for them every night, appalled and charmed by their snug domesticity, their glee for destruction.
One day, his ashes will be set adrift on woven magnolia branches, bobbing in the bay. Except for one small portion, held back. This, and he was very specific, is to be folded in with each cat, on its death, interred in the Whale House garden.
He was home all day today. Flipping channels in between his stories, he lit on the Montel Williams show, a psychic. Her lavender eyeshadow a color he recognized. She had this to say, before he changed the channel: The doorway to the next world can be very difficult to cross. It is crowded with the souls of dead animals, waiting for their people to come home.
Sarah Cadence Hamm lives in Pittsburgh PA, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University. Her work has appeared in Coal Hill Review and IDK Magazine. When she's not writing, Sarah co-hosts the supernatural sex-positive horror-comedy podcast Ghoul on Ghoul.