Almost two years ago I interviewed Simone Martel on Flora’s Forum after she came out with her first collection of short stories, Exile’s Garden. Before that, I’d featured her work in Greenwoman #3, (a very memorable story about how her rampant garden resembled her chaotic, seemingly untamed-at-times life), and also in an anthology of garden erotica, Fifty Shades of Green. We had much in common; we loved to write both fiction and nonfiction and played in many genres, we both lived in Craftsman style bungalows, we were both mad about the garden.
Simone recently came out with a new book. I haven’t read it yet, but I am intrigued. It’s about a college student named Eliza who embarks on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery following a near-death experience. The twist? She’s trapped inside the body of a cat. The story follows Eliza as she adapts to her new reality, holding onto humanity through holding on to the love of the one man who knows she’s still herself. Of course problems abound and Eliza eventually has to confront the truth about what her love is costing both her and the man she loves.
The cover description: “A Cat Came Back is a moving parable about what it means to be a human being and how sometimes letting go can be the price of holding on to who you are.”
Here is an excerpt of Simone’s sensual prose describing Eliza in a sensual setting—the garden, of course!
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Excerpted from A Cat Came Back, by Simone Martel (Harvard Square Editions):
It’s the garden that inspires me to continue this story. I knew I’d feel better outside, though after so many months indoors it feels foreign to me. When I look around, I see very little of Eliza left in the landscape. Wild morning-glory vines smother entire shrubs in heart-shaped foliage, while blackberry canes shoot out of dead plants and waggle in the breeze. However by the pepper tree five silky tulips glisten against the tree’s rough bark. Their colors look murkier to me than I know they ought to be, but my cat eyes can appreciate the tulips’ chunky shapes; solid, even monumental, standing up on thick stems above the sprawling weeds.
Shortly before the accident last autumn, I planted those bulbs. I used my hands, performing a dance of thumb and fingers, wrist and palm, a sort of a hand-ballet, first digging in the earth with a trowel, forming a smooth-sided hole, then sprinkling a trickle of bone meal into the hole, mixing in some coarse sand, nestling the bulb onto the little cushion at the bottom of the hole, tumbling in the rest of the dirt and patting it down hard.
The shade is chilly here beneath the pepper tree. I want to find some sun. As I cross the ruined lawn, my paws disappear in grass so long and thick it perpetually shades the earth below it. The cool, sticky mud and furry moss disturb my feet. I flinch away from the wet and chill, but then I relax and accept the sensations. They remind me of when I used to garden out here. I didn’t mind getting muddy then.
The stone path is warm, so I lie here and enjoy the heat seeping into my body. When the sun moves from the path, I follow it. Eventually I climb into the lemon tree and drape myself along a limb.
The sunlight hits me in the face. I wake and scale higher up the trunk, all the way to the top of the tree. From the uppermost branch, I leap onto the neighbor’s roof, tilting my head before I jump, to help me judge the distance. The gritty roof tiles keep me from slipping back. As soon as I’ve caught my balance I creep up the peaked roof.
From the gable I see across town, clear to the bay and beyond it, to the enclosing arms of San Francisco and Marin, with a smudge of ocean between them, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Through this gap, the waters of the bay flow out toward Japan.
Sometimes I think about leaving this place. Maybe I will. For now, I’m content to stay in my garden. I can’t pretend the disorder is attractive, but it’s compelling. As the days pass, I explore deeper into it, creeping through the flower borders and finding tunnels in the tangle of plants. The overgrown borders are dark, secret places packed with life. Pill bugs trundle over fallen leaves, while strange bees drag scraps of shredded foliage into pencil eraser-sized holes in the dirt. Around the roots of the lemon tree, snails mate among the moldy powder-white lemons. I lie here in this patch of acanthus with the huge, jagged green-black leaves arching over me. Now and then, more lemons crash through the foliage and thud to the ground.
Below me I feel the roots of the weeds and trees traveling down through the dark soil, overlapping and winding together. I hear the wordless communication between plants and bugs and birds and even the fungus rotting the fallen branches, even the worms tunneling through the soil.
Rain is coming. I climb the lemon tree again and jump to the house next door. From the peaked rooftop, I watch the cloudy sky. I’m up so high that the rain, when it falls, hits me first. The drops etch runnels down my dusty sides as the wet fur shrinks back. Soon I’m clean and cold.
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You can read more about Simone in this interview, and you can buy her book on Amazon by clicking on the cover below.
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