Across the hidden room (no longer secret now that I and Zoeasta had broken the code) the back door opened onto a giant spider web blocking a small opening in the annulus surrounding a wellbore encased with cement. I had wondered about the absence of spiders as I had worked my way from the basement under Hotel Julian through the tunnel and into the underground room. A few webs I had seen, hanging like frayed tapestries depicting the scene of some ancient battle or site of seduction. But I have no fear of spiders (snakes, yes, but not spiders), and I quickly swept the web away from the door, careful not to harm the spider’s anchor thread, the easier for her to weave a new web. A ladder affixed to the inside of the vertical well shaft invited further exploration. But what to do with Zoeasta? She rubbed against my leg, arching her back, and rubbed her head on my calf, telling me something in cat speak. I could see rays of light at the top of the shaft. I dropped a rock, and several seconds later heard a splash. I could leave Zoeasta in the room and hope she made it back to her kittens, or carry her up the ladder with me. Either way, she probably knew her way back to her litter in the basement of the hotel better than I did. I decided to carry her up the ladder with me, thinking the tunnel into the hidden room might be too dark to navigate even for a cat. Once out of the well, I would hurry her back to the hotel and her kittens. We began our climb. I counted 40 rungs on the fixed steel ladder, about 10 inches on center. At the top, we climbed out of the well shaft into an elaborate wishing well cover, complete with spindle wound with rope from which hung a wooden bucket under a shingle hip roof held up by wooden beams sided half way up with horizontal, painted slats. On one side was a hinged gate. I opened it, stepped out, Zoeasta still in my arms, and was flabbergasted to suddenly notice an old woman, sitting apparently nude in a forest green Adirondack chair, knitting a long narrow tapestry that rolled across a yard of bermuda grass. I was standing in the backyard of a house, presumably across the street from Hotel Julian. The old woman had stopped her weaving or knitting and was staring at me, bemused, while I gazed back at her, bewildered. Disoriented, I absentmindedly let go of Zoeasta, who dashed across a grassy space and out of the yard. You found Zoeasta, I see, the old lady quipped, and she’s had her kittens, I see. Oh, my. Down below are they? Oh, my. I can see you’ve had quite the adventure, Glaucus. Hand me my robe there, on that side table. I’m just sunning, you know, getting my daily dose of vitamin D. I hope you don’t mind. Sorry if I startled you. What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Oh, don’t worry about Zoeasta, she’ll find her way back to her kitties. She visits us everyday, and she crosses the street to the hotel very cautiously. Smart cat, that one. Oh, yes, I know who you are, Glaucus. You’re staying at the hotel these days, and have even taken on some part time work there, though I’m damned if I can understand why. Yes, I see everything that goes on at the hotel. And you should be out adventuring, exploring the real world, not hiding out in these secret dream rooms buried beneath childhood’s ruins. What are you doing, anyway? Why have you so disappointed? What a waste, what a waste you are, Glaucus. And what have you done with Sylvie? Abandoned her for some flower girl? Though I rather like Florence. She’s had a hard go of life, so far. But I don’t see how you can be of any help. But we’ll see, we’ll see. How many kittens, by the way, in Zoeasta’s litter? Still 5, I hope.
“Minerva” is episode 32 of Inventories
a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)
Note: With episode 30, the title of the novel was changed
from the original working title of “Ball Lightning” to Inventories.