What I Write
In a faraway city, a butcher’s son waited for the cat to come around after dinner. He clutched a greasy cloth napkin containing bite-sized wads of chicken.
When the cat failed to come two nights in a row, the boy had begun to worry. He’d climbed into his father’s lap and confided about the stray he’d been feeding with scraps.
His father had told him that cats were clever at surviving, and capricious. “It might come back,” his father had said. “But if you don’t see it for a week, I think you can assume it found a new home. Maybe one with a nice warm bed, out of the rain.” He’d patted the boy’s back. “I can talk to your mother about getting a cat for our house.”
Tonight made a week. In the boy’s mind, the deadline was absolute; if the cat didn’t come back tonight, she never would.
The boy had been right to worry. The cat had died. She wouldn’t have missed her free chicken, or the amusement of baiting the boy: almost letting him pet her, most nights, and every once in a while, allowing a clumsy stroke or two. The boy’s hands left salty, greasy, chicken-smelling deposits for her to relish later when she cleaned herself.
“Cricket!” The boy’s first call was soft, but the pitch and volume rose sharply. “Cricket! You have to be there! Cricket!” A surge of longing welled in the boy; his eyes were wet.
A thread of deistuff curled off of him, bright, appetizing.
I took hold of the thread, and we connected.
Until that moment, I’d had no body, no shape, no name. Now, I ran out of the shadows on firm, light paws.
I swerved from the boy at the last second, as always, and offered him a forward stretch to be friendly. My eyes fixed on the greasy napkin. Usually he made me take a piece from his hand before he’d lay out the rest of the chicken. This time, he was so happy to see me that he immediately set the chicken packet on the stoop. He opened the napkin, then scooted back to sit just far enough away for me to feel secure.
He knew I liked it when he sat at that distance. I could feel it through a strange thread of connection, as I could feel how happy he was to see me. I’d never felt his emotions before, but they were much less interesting than the chicken, so I settled down to eat. Every once in a while, I pinned a bigger chunk down with my paw as I ripped a small bite for myself—ahh, the satisfaction of tearing and chewing!
I pretended not to notice as the boy scooted closer—close enough to make a gentle swipe at my head with one of his hands. At the right moment, I ducked to grab a piece of chicken from the side of the napkin. Instead of my head, his hand stroked my shoulder, where I could more comfortably lick off the chicken grease later.
The boy knew not to push his luck. After the one stroke, he sat back happily and watched me finish eating. I swung the curled tip of my tail back and forth a bit in lazy pleasure and approval.
When I finished, I turned toward the boy. Something was different from the last time I visited him. It wasn’t just that I could feel what he felt. I also didn’t remember how I’d arrived. Had I come through the alley near the sour-smelling place? Had I run along the top of the bumpy wall-as-high-as-a-roof? I washed one of my paws, watching him sideways, contemplating. I didn’t know how to explain it, exactly, but I felt I wouldn’t see him again.
I let my shoulders roll forward, out of my seated posture, and the boy sucked in a breath as I approached in slow, mincing steps. I was a little confused about why, still, but it felt (mostly) right.
When I put a tentative paw on the boy’s knee, he let out a little gasp. He reached for my head, but I ducked back, pulled my paw back, and he pulled his back as well.
I didn’t like the quickness of his movement, but it didn’t bother me the way I knew it used to. I put my paw back on his leg, more firmly, and let my claws relax out in a stretch.
An instinct led me to play with the strange thread that connected us. The one I could feel, but not see. I toyed with it in my mind a bit, pulling, letting it loose, then—hmm—it almost seemed as if I could push. Not as one would push a limp heap of thread around the floor. More like a squeezing—squeezing toward him—
Something had worked. I could feel new thoughts in him. My knowledge that this was our last meeting had been passed on. I saw an image in his mind: a warm bed in the home of another, faceless little boy. A string of quiet human sounds that went up and down in pitch issued from his mouth. I felt he was upset I wouldn’t be back.
Still, there was something satisfying. A sense of completion. Some fundamental shift. It felt deeply right that he knew I wouldn’t return. I pulled my paw back. I felt less real, less solid. Less “me.” A yawn came over me, and the curl of my tongue spread the heat of the yawn from the edges of my jaw all the way back through my body, in a delightful warm shiver. Then I turned from the boy, tail high and happy, and trotted away into the darkness.
The physical world around me dissolved.
My Write-a-thon Goals
Edit and rewrite some chapters of my novel-in-progress.