Saturday, February 12, 2011

Betty, the Oracle of Minnehaha Creek

Emma has been reading the Oedipus cycle in English class, so of course that’s the first thing I thought of when I found a dead mouse in my boot on Sunday morning. Shaking it upside down and observing the lifeless little body fall onto the kitchen floor, I knew right away who was responsible. That Delphic Oracle had nothing on Betty the cat when it comes to creepy omens that portend tragedy.

Granted, the ancient Greek lass was probably more impartial then Betty. I’ve never read anything to indicate that Pythia harbored a grudge against Laius and Jocasta, but I know for certain that Betty is miffed with me. In her defense, she’s had a hard year. Her sister, Veronica, was hit by a car; then her Golden Retriever beloved, Hoover, died. To torment her further, we brought in a teenaged rescue hound with a small brain and a large hunting instinct – Betty, meet Boomer – no, don’t run away and squirt nervous poop all over the living room; he’s really very sweet … to us

Betty now lives in exile in the basement, eavesdropping on our exchange student’s Skypes to Rome and plotting her revenge.

So maybe it wasn’t an omen after all, but feline revenge. Still, it was unsettling. When my toes stretched into my Sorel and found something squishy, I knew, given my luck, that it wasn’t a crumbled $100 bill or a cashmere ascot. After shaking out the mouse and dispatching with it, I briefly toyed with the idea of returning to bed and writing the day off as a total loss. But there were miles to go, blah blah blah, so I soldiered on.

That afternoon, Emma and I had one of those brief overlaps of conscious time, like a real-live Venn chart on the intersection of grownup and teenaged wakefulness. I was returning home from my shift at the Crisis Nursery, covered in baby drool, possibly harboring an exposure to pink eye, but satisfied. She was just waking up, looking dewy and refreshed. My yoga class wouldn't start for an hour, and she needed to get her homework done. I prepared a healthful pre-yoga tonic (three-day-old coffee, tepid) and pulled up the chair next to hers. 

She had an essay assignment on Oedipus the King, so we talked about the nature of fate, inevitability and struggle. If the parents had ignored the Oracle and kept their son, would it all still have happened as had been foretold? Or was it the desire to escape that had led to the terrible consequences? I talked and she took notes, amazed that a person who consistently confuses her daughters’ names with those of the household pets could actually produce serviceable prose. It’s the only skill I picked up from 18 years of formal education, I told her – the ability to read something, determine its meaning and develop a credible analysis. Compared to knowing how to land a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier, it’s not much. But, along with an ability to parallel park, it’s all I’ve really got going for me, so I’ve decided to have high self esteem about it.

The day moved on from there, remarkable only in its ordinariness. As I was falling asleep, I remembered the omen/dead rodent that had started my day. And I realized that Betty wasn’t much of an Oracle after all. I’d been assigned a quiet, sleepy baby at the nursery that morning. My yoga class had been restorative for my dried-out bones. And I’d had a chance to sit and talk with my daughter about something other than volleyball schedules and rides to the mall. 

As Freud might say, sometimes a dead mouse is just a dead mouse.

To be safe, though, I shared some tuna fish from my lunch with Betty the next day. Oracles always appreciate a little extra protein, I’ve heard.

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