Morning. Krazy rolled up the rice-paper screens on the windows near her breakfast table and surveyed her world, her hemi-demi-semi-sandy paradise, her Coconino. This A.M. the harsh light transformed desert rocks into huge cacti, the cacti into tall church spires, split a mesa in the background into triplets, turned the triplets into maroon bells for the spires, and left only the Jail (empty now since their retirement) unchanged, eternally itself, the Pup said, like the Law. She no longer knew if the light was her friend or her enemy; not that the light played tricks, but that others, she now knew, could play tricks with the light, could make a light brighter than a thousand suns. Once she had used simply to like tricks, all tricks, unsuspiciously, indiscriminately (but the Mouse's especially, of course). No more. Standing by the window, stretching lazily, she stared at the raggedy edges of the sun, as if to force it to tell her the truth--feel me at a distance and you live
, it said. Inside the sun she saw a smaller more compact ball of flame, falling inward into itself--come too close to me and you die
. Her stomach turned. Was it others only that made mischief with the light? Since that day at Alamogordo, Krazy felt that she, too, might be rotten. But she
hadn't done anything. (Had she?) Anyway, uncertain about herself, she had had to quit the strip, for her act, like a moral trapeze, required singleness, and even one drop of guilt was gum-in-the-works. (But she was
She waited for her insides to settle to the point where breakfast was imaginable, and, turning away from the light and its constant gifts of metamorphosis, she looked around her house. She loved her one large room, the five windows, the whitewashed walls. She liked her house's bareness, its "japonaise" quality: five translucent tan-colored screens, with widely spaced bamboo ribs; one square, thin-legged, low wooden table (almost mouse height) that reminded her of Japanese furniture, its sense that things were neither overwhelmingly solid nor foolishly fragile, but rather that their existence was a miracle; one Hopi rug, where she also slept, its delicate earth colors and sun pattern eccentrically perfect--the daub here
rather than there
making all the difference, though no one could have predicted it before the daub was made. Plus one set of Zuni eggshell-blue tea things, the small Indian cups broken and patched, and broken and patched again, the more precious the wider their tracery of lines, showing all the life they'd experienced together. She didn't have many things, but what she had was, as Tracy said about Hepburn's body, "cherce." In olden, pre-ettom days, her furniture had been overstuffed chairs you trustingly sank into, and lampshades with burlesque braided tassels. Then, one afternoon she had thought, This stuff is in bad taste; cooperatively, her disgusting things had disappeared, and these new spare items had moved in. (Only her plumbing had remained old-fashioned. Just as well, she would have hated for anyone, even an unknown force, to have gone into her private place, her toilet.) Less suddenly seemed like lots, and next to nothing was best of all. Stay close to the ground. Don't show yourself.
Before the bomb, Krazy thought, I didn't spit things out, I didn't have taste
. Still, she loved her new house because it was hers
alone; and she hated it, because its emptiness could become too vast, too echoing--hers alone
. Bareness or barrenness? Time for some tea? She heard the Lawman's kindly voice: No
So she picked up a pile of newspapers and magazines and brought them to her breakfast table. Maybe, she thought, she would even have a gander at Variety
, and the Hollywood Reporter
. She still (though she pretended indifference when the Mouse was around) pondered the comic pages, still studied the entertainment section, where their strip, moved from the funny pages, had, to Ignatz's and her mom's delight, run for its last ten years, placed alongside articles and reviews about the couples who she, too, liked to think were their colleagues--Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Laurel and Hardy, Buck and Bubbles, Baby Snooks and her dad, George Burns and Gracie Allen (Oh, them especially!). It wasn't that, like Ignatz, she had gone high-hat--after all, his aspirations were much mightier. And it hadn't been her
doing when suddenly, in 1933, their work had begun to appear on the entertainment page not just in one paper, but in every paper that Mr. Hearst owned. It hadn't been her doing, but she had immediately understood and accepted it: the move, she thought, had been a simple recognition on Someone's part (could it have been Mr. Hearst, himself?) that their art--hers and Ignatz's and the Pup's--was as legitimate as George and Gracie's. Surely in a fate so consistent one might fairly see a god's judgment at work? (Perhaps, she considered, in finding them her colleagues, in making a mental home for herself halfway between the panel and the stage, she was only accommodating herself to the world's choices, as she had always done--for she knew that the more popular strips had remained on the comic page itself. And some, she knew, had said that accommodation itself was her true
art--the art, anyway, of her relationship with that difficult Mouse and his endless arsenal of well-aimed bricks.) But really she was no snob, she loved the comics as much as she loved vaudeville, or movies, loved nothing more than to lie on the floor, stretched out, and press her nose close to Snuffy Smith, Terry and the Pirates, and the beautiful pajamaed adventurer Little Nemo, whose exploits in Slumberland were more perilous, more vertiginous, more imaginative even than Terry the flyboy's go-rounds with that awful--yet seductive!--Dragon Lady. (Little Nemo! That was a long time ago. Does anybody, she wondered, still remember Little Nemo? Does anybody, she thought with a pang, still remember Krazy Kat?)
Seating herself as comfortably as she could (the table was closer to mouse than cat size and her knees had to be scrunched beneath), she turned to Variety
. She brought her paw to her mouth to put a little saliva on the soft rubbery gray pad. To turn the entertainment bible's pages she needed some extra leverage; Krazy lacked Ignatz's almost human dexterity with his claws; besides she didn't like to let those menacing, almost . . . mechanimule things show. Distracted, she went on licking the fur around her paw, and up her arm, for a cat--even a krazy one--is a clean sort. Strands came loose, but didn't form hair balls; special stuff, it dissolved on her rough, pebbly tongue, leaving black spots, like freckles. She turned to Variety
's second page, wanting to see how her friends were doing at the box office and with booking agents, to keep in touch (but why did she want to keep in touch? It wasn't as if she'd been excluded. Stopping had been her choice--though choice was hardly the word, it had been so instinctual, almost intestinal; she just couldn't
anymore). Still--when she was sure, as now, that Ignatz couldn't see her--she checked the grosses of the various acts in the various media. She would admit freely that she liked to read gossip, and grosses were, to her, really, just another kind of gossip--the numbers spoke of romances, poisonings, and Queen Audience's whimsical favors. Ignatz read reviews, read the critical essays about them, rummaged through novels looking for plots--towards the day (which, by the by, only he
imagined) when Krazy would be ready to work again. But Ignatz, too, checked receipts. He said that they were a form of criticism, the judgment of the marketplace. The Pup was the only one who didn't care about the numbers. He read history, read big books of philosophy and moldy-oldy bluebound works of theology. He said that all serious work was a vision of the Law--the enduring reality beyond the changing fashions (by which he meant the box office) that only the small cared about (by which he meant Ignatz).
And the numbers, nowadays, did just add to Krazy's confusion. Over the years Krazy had watched uncomprehendingly the slow shift from vaudeville to motion pictures, to radio, to television. . . . and next? computers? video games? How would the next generation tell its stories? She knew she wouldn't be a part of those stories. But would she even understand them? She felt forlorn. Was it too early, she wondered weakly, for a little of that deliciously dangerous tiger tea? Pup warned--and she heard his kindly voice in her ear--that she was drinking too much tea, that it would build up in her blood and might cause hallucinations. His large face, his sorrowful eyes loomed in the air in front of her--proof, she thought, that affection, too, could cause hallucinations. But she supposed she could postpone her next drink a little longer. Till dark anyway.
It was Ignatz's influence, she decided, as she turned to the list of this week's top ten video games in Billboard
, that had made her so
conscious of the box office--but she knew that that was a lie as soon as she thought it; she tried to say
that it was Ignatz's influence, and, of course, the words wouldn't form properly in the air in front of her. It wasn't in her nature to blame others; and she still, no matter how much else had changed, couldn't say what wasn't in her nature. Anyway, it wasn't as if the box office were her god, that whatever-sells-is-right attitude that she sometimes felt lurking behind Ignatz's spiteful judgments on other performers, the outward show on his part of what was really an inward biting sense of his--their
insufficiency, he would end up saying, after working himself up into an angry little snit; her blithe, unrealistic lack of concern for the marketplace, for what the audience wanted. Why wouldn't she vary the plot? he would scream. Why must she always forgive him? Then the black cloud settled round his shoulders: it's my fault, he'd say, that we're so flat and insipid. Followed by: the world is a dung heap. But even to make him happy, she couldn't vary the plot. Ignatz showed his love for her by beaning her with a brick. Offissa Pup drew his valentine for her by arresting Ignatz. And the readers adored her by reading about her. The plot was she herself! Her art had been what she was--how could she have been otherwise? done otherwise? But in his rage Ignatz forgot the essence of her heart--the very axis of their work. For only the Mouse, of all of them, gnawed at by some deep dissatisfaction, could dream that anyone could even imagine changing his nature. (Did Ignatz, spinning about in his discontent like a Comekissthedoor, almost have sides? Was that
why she loved him?)
Ignatz had often ended up taking out his anxieties on her; he couldn't help himself. Why couldn't they do sex in the strip--as if it were her fault that neither of them knew what it was. Well, why couldn't they have insides, have souls, like high artists
did?--naming two more impossible things before breakfast. She shrugged, motoring him to fury. For it galled him that they had never won the Pulitzer or
scored the big killings, the enormous Gone With the Wind
grosses, even in their cartoon days, their Hollywood years. She had chided him about his envy of others' big money and prestige. "Frankly, Krazy, I don't give a damn," he had said for a week. (He loved to do voices; though every voice ended up sounding like his.) It was a joke, supposedly. But it hadn't been a joke. He did
give a damn. And, of course, because it was a lie, it had never found its way into the strip.
Yet it wasn't the shifts of the marketplace that most upset her--their slow fade from the public memory that was measured out in the widening disparity between their slowly diminishing (now quickly diminishing) royalty statements and the much larger figures next to other, newer names. Thut, thit, thot didn't bother her. (Did
it?) No, most upsetting these last years were the comic pages themselves. They
depressed her. Cartoon cats today were just as popular as in her time, perhaps more so--some of the cats, she noticed, even got top banana position, the upper right-hand corner of the daily page, the first strip in the Sunday supplement. But those cats were cute
! In her art she had instinctively revolted at that sickening state. (If she worked again, though, she felt that every sinew of her imagination would have to fight off cuteness like the simpering disease of the spirit that it was. For now she would want
to be cute! Why? Was it to say that little bitty innocenty kitty couldn't have done nothin' bad? Or was it the Fall Out! in the drinking water that made both audiences and actors want what wasn't good for them?) Think of it! To have so little dignity that you threw yourself like an infant on people's mercy, their protectiveness towards the bitty itsy thing--a tenderness that was only another face of their unconsidered overweening power. There was no deep involvement in such feeling. That
kind of tenderness was one more cream puff of self-congratulation spooned up by already overfed burghers.
Burgher? she thought. Sophisticated word! Can I say
that? (She no longer knew for certain what she could and couldn't say. No longer knew, from moment to moment, if the charm that was
her still held, if she could not now suddenly send herself awry from her most basic nature.) Stroking the tips of her whiskers with her paw, she tested: She tried the word aloud.
"Burger!" She laughed to hear what had become of the sound. She saw Wimpy chasing a fat German down the street, trying to trap him in a fluffy bun. The boorshow as food. Not where he eats, but where he is eaten!
Was she a radical, she wondered, anti-boowash? Or did she really covet the big audiences the new cats got for themselves? Or was she just irritable because it was time for breakfast? Have I changed?
she wondered, have I truly changed? Am
I guilty? But of what? She was like a tongue poking about, looking for a black spot in her lovely white teeth that hadn't had a day of cavity in their lives. Well, now I'm capable of worrying my motives, finding them as mixed up as a ball of yarn! In the old days she would just have acted, and known what was important to her from what had shown up in the morning paper, read the true gist of her thoughts from what had appeared in the next day's strip. She put her jaw down to the table and rubbed it across Billboard
, making the tablecloth slide askew and putting a black streak on her white front fur. But no, she decided, the disdain she felt wasn't her
problem. It wasn't hunger, and it wasn't envy! Cats today were
servile. They acted like wise guys, certainly, but that was the most slavish position of all, aping the pet owners while pretending to yourself that you were mocking them, and so--like all ironic court jesters--leaving everything just as it had been before. Those cats never created a true realm of the imagination, a world elsewhere, as she and the Mouse and Bull Pup and Kolin Kelley, the brickmaker, and Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, the tattler, and Don Kiyoti and Joe Stork and Beau Koo Jack Rabbit had done. They were Cute Cats, not Krazy Kats, sentimental Hallmark cards of cats, tasting of cardboard sentiments cooked up on assembly lines by anonymous hands, each one indifferently adding a saccharine word to a feeling that no one had ever had! Krazy lifted a paw into the air, as if saluting herself.
Excerpted from Krazy Kat by Jay Cantor. Copyright © 1987 by Jay Cantor. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.