Pard and the Time Machine

This blog post is included in:

No Time to Spare
Thinking About What Matters

by Ursula K. Le Guin
Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler

December 5, 2017
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt











Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood Kolischby Ursula K. Le Guin

People who think of me as a Sci Fi Writer will not be surprised to hear that there is a time machine in my study. So far it hasn’t transported me among the Eloi and the Morlocks or back among the dinosaurs. Fine with me. I’ll take the time I got, thanks. All my Time Machine does is save stuff from my computer and provide interest and occupation to my cat.

In Pard’s first year with us he spent a lot of time on beetles, because we had a lot of them. The box elder beetle is now endemic in Portland, having shifted its allegiance from box elders, which we don’t have, to big-leaf maples, which we have lots of. And so we have beetles, who live under the siding-boards of the house and breed, and swarm, and creep and seep impossibly through non-existent crevices of the window frames into the house, where they mass on sunlit windows and blunder about infuriatingly, getting under pillows and papers and feet, and into everything, including cups of tea and Charles’s ears. Mostly they crawl, but fly when alarmed. They are rather pretty little beetles, and harmless, but intolerable, because (like us) there are too many of them for their own good.

Pard used to see them as animated kibbles and enjoyed the chase, the pounce, the crunch. But evidently they weren’t as tasty as Meow Mix or Dental Greenies, and anyhow, enough beetles is enough. He now ignores them as steadfastly as we do, or try to.

But back then, when the Time Machine made its little clicky-whirry-insectlike internal noises he was sure that it contained or concealed beetles, and spent a good deal of time trying to get inside it. It is 7.5 inches square and 1.5 inches high, white plastic, fortunately very tough white plastic, well and tightly sealed all round, and quite heavy for its size. All his efforts barely scratched the surface. As it continued to resist him, and his interest in beetles cooled, he stopped trying to open the Time Machine. He discovered that it offered other possibilities.

Its normal temperature is high, quite warm to the hand (and I think it gets hotter when performing its secret and mysterious connective operations in putative virtuality or the clouds of Unknowing or wherever it is it saves stuff).

My study, being half windows, is drafty and sometimes pretty cold in winter. As he came out of airborne youth and began to spend more time lying around near me in the study, Pard, being a cat, found the Warm Place.

He’s there right now, although today, the last of April, my thermometer says it’s 77º and rising. He is sound asleep. About one fifth of him is right on top of the Time Machine. The rest of him, paws and so on, spills over to the desk top, partly onto a lovely soft alpaca Moebius scarf a kind reader sent me with a prescient note that said “if you don’t need this I hope your cat will like it,” and partly on a little wool fetish-bear mat from the Southwest that a friend gave me. I never had a chance at the scarf. I opened the package at my desk. Pard came over and appropriated the scarf without a word. He dragged it a few inches away from me, lay down on it, and began to knead it, looking dreamy and purring softly, till he went to sleep. It was his scarf. The mat arrived later, and was adopted as promptly: he sat on it. The cat sat on the mat. His mat. No argument. So the mat and scarf lie on the desk right by the warm Time Machine, and the cat distributes himself daily among the three of them, and purrs, and sleeps.

The other use he may have found for the Time Machine is purely, to me, speculative. It involves dematerialization.

Pard doesn’t go outside often or stay long unless one of us is with him. He can’t sleep outside, can barely lie down and half-relax; he remains stimulated, watchful, jumpy. He has Indoors and those who share it with him pretty well under his paw, but he knows that Outdoors is way beyond his knowledge or control. He’s not at home there. Wise little cat. So, when now and then he vanishes, I don’t much worry about his having somehow got out the back door and then found his catflap locked; he’s somewhere about the house.

But sometimes the disappearance goes on, and there is no Pard anywhere, outside or in. He is not in the basement, or the dark attic, or in a closet or a cupboard, or under a bedspread. He is not. He has dematerialized.

I get anxious and call his food call, ticky-ticky-ticky! and rattle the can of Greenies in an alluring fashion that would ordinarily bring him straight up or down the stairs without touching paw to stair.

Silence. Absence. No cat.

I tell myself to stop fretting, and Charles tells me to stop fretting, and I attempt or pretend to stop fretting, and go on with whatever I’m doing, fretting.

The sense of mystery is constant and oppressive.

And then, there he is. He has rematerialized before my eyes. There he is, with his tail curved over his back, and a bland, friendly expression suggesting permanent readiness for Food.

Pard, where were you?

Silence. Affable presence. Mystery.

I think he uses the Time Machine. I think it takes him elsewhere. Not cyberspace, that’s no place for cats. Maybe he uses it to open temporal interstices, like the impossible window-frame non-spaces by which box elder beetles enter the house. By such secret ways, known to Bastet and Li Shou, lit by the stars of Leo, he visits that mysterious realm, that greater outdoors, where he is safe and perfectly at home.



Pard and the Time Machine — 11 Comments

  1. Beware! All the magic may leak through such cracks in reality – should not we send some wise sage to seal them? 😉

  2. “Not cyberspace, that’s no place for cats.” … have you /seen/ the internet?

    • Actually, contrary to what some might like us to believe, it was cats who invented it.

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  4. What wonderful imagery in describing the life of Pard! As always the amazement in language, the mysterious made real. And of course Pard is inter-dimensional. Anyone who observes cats knows this.

  5. I can see why the Egyptians worshipped cats. They are mysterious, observant, and probably all-knowing. My two black and white sister cats are as mysterious as any…except when they are hungry. Their meows communicate loudly as they urge me to follow them to the food bowls.

  6. Our Turkish performs the same magic trick. How a 16-pound Turkish Van can make himself disappear in a 1,100-square-foot house has remained a mystery, until now.

    I, too, have a Time Machine. And clearly, the Turk’ is using it to escape the tyranny of the harness we make him wear when he goes outdoors in our company. Maybe he and Pard use the TM to visit Heinlein’s Petronius the Arbiter, help him look for the Door Into Summer, which just opened today.

    The Turk’ got to walk through it, but he was wearing the uniform of the day. I expect the vanishing act to commence any moment.

    • Our cats – I will give them names, Hollyhock and Chrysanthemum (they are both males but we gave them flower names anyway) have their own mysteries – they used to be the world’s hungriest cats and would try almost anything. But these days they are reluctant eaters of anything except Iams dried food (we call them munchy bits); they have to eat wet food because otherwise their kidneys don’t cope and Hollyhock used to go into sessions of crying in pain when trying to urinate. They do this with reluctance, but come running when the munchy bits container is rattled. They do love warm places – Chrysanthemum sleeps close to the radiator outside the bathroom, which has a carpet which the hot pipes run under. Hollyhock is a bit bigger and thicker furred and has a favourite basket. Both will occupy laps.

      Other cat behaviours – Hollyhock chews his claws just like Pard. I thought this was because he was chewing out the grit that gets caught in them – some cats certainly do this because I have seen it. Hollyhock ranges widely and probably does get grit in the pockets where the claws retract. But I think it’s mostly to remove the outer layer of the claws as they grow.

      Warm time machines? well I have a similar sort of box but it (a QNAP NAS box which backs up my photos – essentially similar to Ursula’s Time Machine in function) is too tall and angular for cats. They do try and get on my big desktop, and Hollyhock did once accidentally turn it off – the off/on switch is on top and just has the right (lack of) resistance for a paw. But the best example I have seen was my sister’s Sky TV recording box. One of her cats used to occupy that – I am not sure if she (Molly) still does because Andrea has reorganised her TV area.

      Cat moods? Well last thing at night sometimes one, sometimes both or sometimes neither go totally crazy and race around crying for us to play with them. The cats are brothers from the same litter and tolerate each other, sometimes have growl-fests and quite vicious-seeming fights, but never really harm each other. But two things do freak them out. Fireworks and thunder. A couple of weeks ago we had a brief rainstorm at about 8 on a Sunday morning (so we were still in bed but awake). One quite distant rumble of thunder, and Hollyhock growled and dived for cover under our bed. But nothing scares them like fireworks. They vanish under things and cower. I just wish that the people who let them off would realise just how frightening they are to animals. We have our big fireworks celebration around Guy Fawkes day, November 5th. While we can enjoy the displays, the cats go to ground.

      Where are they now? I don’t know, but shortly I will go rattle the munchy bits and feed them before feeding ourselves on Mushroom Risotto with a side of courgettes (zucchini to Americans) stewed in plum tomatoes … must stop – I am making myself seriously hungry and I have my partner Stuart who must be getting that way too.