Rosemary lives in Lonely Town, in South San Francisco where the earthquake hit (the earthquake, there were always earthquakes, but this was the big one) in 1906. Later they would attribute it to the fault line, to transform boundaries, plate tectonics: movements deep below the surface where the unseen crust of the Earth grinds against itself, moving Rosemary and the other inhabitants of her lonely town ever so slightly away from the fault line, away from the states, out into the ocean where billions of years later, the land they once inhabited will float freely. Its residents will scratch their heads and wonder where their country went, it all happened so slowly, they’ll say, staring out at the eastern coastline that never used to exist into a vast ocean that engulfs them and sigh, and feel lonelier than ever.
The earth is changing, there’s no doubt about that. In another lifetime, Rosemary had been a geologist, had read about plate theory and other contributions to the changing face of the world: global warming and solar variation, ozone depletion and the rise of greenhouse gases, slow, gradual things caused by infinitesimal shifts in the density of tiny invisible particles that were said to be at fault for the changes in the earth. Rosemary with the crow’s nest hair and the tattered layers of clothes, Rosemary who lived in a house whose floor slanted this way and that, defying common sense and physics (subsidence they said it was, subsidence, ha!), Rosemary of the Hundred Cats, has learned of these things and laughed and sprayed her aerosol cans high into the air with reckless abandon, for although the land is sinking, rising, falling, shifting every day she knows it is no human hand carving its portrait into the ever-changing landscape of the earth.
They say cats always land on their feet.
A piece of common folklore, demystified by science: they say it can be explained by biology, anatomy, physics. The cat has an acute sense of balance and a flexible body—its vestibule apparatus allows it to determine up from down in order to enact the ritual, always the same, as it has learned over time, through evolution. Bend in the middle, tuck the front legs, extend the front legs, bend the back: a little show of flexibility that lets its back and front halves move in different directions, find the right footing, and land flawless, provided it has enough space to do so—about three feet for most felines.
Rosemary has seen this ritual enacted millions of times, by hundreds of cats. She alone knows the truth: that it is a miracle of magic, not physics, that when a cat lands the earth itself bares the scars unfelt by the cat’s uninjured body.
They say Rosemary has let herself go.
She putters around, aimless, dragging one after another formerly feral cat into the vet’s office, squandering her social security checks on sterilization procedures because she claims she simply can’t afford to have them multiplying on her, despite the fact her collection of strays grows by the day. She doesn’t seem to notice. She simply must have them fixed.
In truth, she finds it a bitter irony: as if she could fix these great powerful gods, destroy their magic, diminish their powers. They run rampant in her house, uprooting floor tiles, offsetting chairs and tables, sinking the sink and raising the roof. In their persistence, over time, her kitchen has caved completely, the remains a remnant from Dali’s divine nightmares.
No, to fix would be impossible, even for wise old Rosemary. She can only prevent them breeding. In her efforts, she has spared the city countless earthquakes, summer hail storms, even trace increases in UVB ultraviolet light due to ozone levels, all the while affecting the caricature of a hobo, lunatic, cat lady. Her disguise is of utmost importance: it would mean murder if the secret escaped her, thousands of cats ripe for the slaughter of furious ecoterrorists and environmental guerillas. She cannot let them take her seriously; she must protect her darlings, her beloved reckless creatures who she refers to in good humor as Great Rift Valley, Island Arc and San Andreas.
Cats are clumsy magic creatures. They twist and turn and let limbs fly, knowing what will come of the fall. Watch them drop and see the changes, subtle bumps and rifts emerge appear beneath their padded feet; the earth grinds against itself and the fault lies with you, San Andreas.
They say that cats always land on their feet, and they’re right. Cats are ancient gods and goddesses; they do not slip or stumble. When they fall, they needn’t change direction, conform to the earth in its clumsy contours.
It is the earth that conforms to cat.
Rachel Kempf was named one of the “Best New Voices of 2006” when her essay “Tricycle” was included in Random House’s AnthologyTwentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Authors. She graduated with an MA in English from Truman State University in 2010, and has since moved to Austin, Texas, where she works as an e-book editor, watches copious amounts of horror films with her husband, and writes screenplays. Two of her short scripts, “7 Minutes” and “Jeff and Wendy” have been purchased and are scheduled for production in 2011. In addition, her award-winning plays have been produced in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and various cities across the Midwest.