From Book 3: The Spanish Civil War, Part 2

            The spring unwound under slow fingers. Franz and Catherine left for the Pyrenees, taking Aleron with them; he had been ill and Franz thought the mountains would help him. Desnos was working with André Masson on a new book, Les sans cou. Youki and Louis both worked on their art galleries and most of my friends struggled financially, and Artaud stayed often with me. I hardly minded my neighbors who, bypassing the often-drunk caretaker, complained to me instead. I sailed through my day at the bank, my mind only on the time when I could close my ledger of mostly ladies’ names joined to mysterious metal boxes, push back my chair, and walk through the slanting shadows toward home. The oblong square of light on the third floor would tell me that he was there and awake; he would be reading, or feverishly writing, or sitting in silence, once hand absently stroking a cat.

Artaud was so odd about the cats; he ignored them not out of meanness and would pet them finally if they begged enough. He seemed to enjoy stroking their fur, but if they stole the chair from him or sat on his papers he stood by helplessly, having no idea that he could remove them. If they sat in his lap or climbed on him as he slept—Dart kept doing this—Artaud remained pinned where he was, and if they nosed into his food he felt they should have it. He had no concept of disciplining animals or training them, or treating them as portable objects, and certainly he could never be cruel to any creature. In fact he told me Anais Nin remembered her own father killing a cat with a cane, but as far as I knew Antoine-Roi had never been violent in front of the young Artaud. To him, animals were not inferior to man and animal behavior was as inevitable as nightfall.

“Your cats purr, but they don’t meow,” he told me one night, because Centipede had launched into another of her eerie, complex soliloquies because Artaud had denied her human food as I’d requested. That took considerable effort on his part even though neither cat was underweight. “They have a vocabulary. I suppose it is because you and Justine spoke to them.” Artaud had no concept of talking to animals, either. Whenever I stood at the open kitchen window urging Centipede, who usually pawed at the glass, to come in finally while she then sat and stared without moving, Artaud would pretend to be writing but he perceptively sniggered the moment my back was turned. I thought I heard the word portable being mocked too but he was busily working when I whirled, trying to catch him making fun of me.

            I spread my hands. “What do you expect, with names like Centipede and Poison Dart? Do you remember Arf? He barks and runs at Aleron’s heels. He sits at Aleron’s feet in the café where he plays chess. That cat thinks he’s a dog.”

            “Trust Justine to raise Surrealist cats.” His smile died. “I miss her.”

            “I do, too.”

            Worried, Artaud then showed me a letter Justine had written him. Justine was becoming obsessed with politics in Spain, the recent depression and the reforms now being undone by the right-wing government. She was delaying her return again, this time perhaps until autumn, and I wondered if she had remained in Italy with her mother or was doing a little traveling, and perhaps some journalism. While the tone and attitude of her letter did not surprise me, this new emphasis did.

“What is her concern with Spain?” Artaud asked me. “She has no tie to that country.”

            “Spain is drawing the attention of young people around the world,” I said morosely. “All I can tell you is she stopped writing and became more serious about politics over the last few years. She dropped out of working with Lise on Le Phare de Neuilly. I care what happens in the world, but Justine wants to join a movement and I don’t. I don’t trust any group.” In her letter Justine was also telling Artaud things she did not tell me: she was writing to André Breton, asking about Communism, its tenets, its requirements for membership. I found it a supreme irony that her political sense was growing at a time when Breton was increasingly at odds with the Communist Party.

            Now that Artaud had learned Poison Dart’s name he paid more attention to that cat. “Come here, Poison Dart,” he would say, and watch in sardonic amusement as that enormous feline, rotund no matter how I restricted his food, waddled jovially across the floor to him. Both cats fawned over any human in the vicinity but Centipede was high-strung, falling off the back of the sofa sometimes when she was sleeping and chasing her tail for long minutes, and she made Artaud nervous. Dart was so steady and unperturbed that at times I wondered if the animal was actually deaf.

One day Artaud wanted to take Poison Dart for a walk along the Boulevard Montparnasse. We tried it early in the morning when there was little traffic and Artaud, instead of holding the leash, wrapped it around his neck and strolled down the sidewalk to the sound of Kiki’s laughter. The cat would take a few steps, then sit down and look up expectantly at the man, and Man Ray readied the camera for a photograph.

“They’re not making any more progress than Nerval with Thibault,” joked Louis, naming Gerard de Nerval’s famous lobster. “I’m not sure who is leading who, and I suppose that’s the point. I didn’t know Artaud had any affection for animals.”

            “I don’t think he does for pets. He sees animals as manifestations of Nature,” I said. “Like Pythagoras, Artaud sees a mind in living things. I do, too.”

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