ALBERT & MILLY
A shaky breath that is hesitant, yet assured in its purpose. He slips from your tongue, whispering up and fogging the glossy surface of a stained mirror. The rifts of your suit wrinkle and dance over your shoulder. You try frantically to smooth them down, force them to disappear into the fabric tattered by hastened embroidery. It’s a lost cause, buried somewhere between world peace and the meaning of life.
*Ahem* The sound struggling from your throat feels foreign in the empty, white, room. The only scent is of sharp, acrylic paint newly smeared over the walls.
- Thank you, sir.”
You try it out, try to piece words together, but that effort is as fruitless as straightening the weathered lapels. It’s like in those novels, when characters are so flustered by emotion that nothing seems right, no sentences are the right meaning, the right choice. You would think an author as prolific as yourself would know better than those characters, a man whose word is his trade, whose words are sold for twenty; displayed in shops and perched upon stacks and sprinkled with dust on a shelf. There is no preparation for this, no way to know when your instincts will kick in, or if they’ll leave you stranded in a public washroom. And you won’t cry, because you’re a man. You’re a man who- who can’t risk public humiliation for fear of failure. You turn on the rusted tap, puddles tinkling into the ceramic basin. You cup lukewarm water in your rusty palms and toss it over the cole you forgot scorched your eyelids. Because you’re not crying.
- Hey man, nice of you to help out…”
Because you’re not crying. You’re laughing, hysterically in fact, at the irony, at nothing at all. Snot bubbles from your nose like a young child’s, your lips pull back, stretching thinly over sharp teeth.
- You know, it’s like they say, ‘a man’s best friend’ ”
Never mind, that’s cats. Dogs. The ones who you walk outside on a thick cord tied around their necks. And the thought of that is hilarious, really this time. Stomach clenching, top notch comedy. Because accidents are truly God’s way of pranks, and this accident was… Yes, top notch comedy.
Because it had been light outside, filtering through the bay windows. And Milly played in the dust floating to the ground like specks of ash. She wanted to go outside, but she always wanted to go outside, and she’d just been outside, so you smiled, and tapped your fingers on your knee, beckoning to her from your seat. She responded, like she always did, and like they always say, a blind cat’s other senses are the height of purity. Or at least, you said that once, some time, a few years back. You’d been bickering with a man who called himself an expert on philosophy in college level classes. His name escaped you momentarily, but that’s of little relevance. Truthfully, this whole roundabout is of little relevance. Rewind. Indeed, so Milly jumped to your lap -
A knock on the door, presently, a voice slithering between wood panels.
- Are you alright in there? We have a couple questions.”
So you step out of the room, your thoughts permanently interrupted by the daily, unceasing rush of human activity and severe inclination toward efficiency.
With little dignity, you wipe away the remaining droplets of water from your hands to your corduroys, and follow the lab coated commander into a room of offensively dramatic lighting. Posters, information pamphlets, scientific diagrams you could go without noting, and would rather not have observed. Your eye for detail, in that sense, is not a forgiving trait.
The lab coated man takes a seat on a wheeled chair, beckons you to do the same on one of sedentary status, yet you stand, preferring it that way. He hands you over a collar, printed with a swarm of blues. The thin, silver metal charm is engraved, and cool without a heart to warm it.
- We’ll just have to organize a payment method-”
Except he doesn’t finish his sentence, because by the time he starts, his audience has vanished. Your coat is half pulled up your sleeve as the halls blur away into an infinite length, as the door swings open and you walk out despite the knee deep snow.
- Sir, you have to pay! And you forgot the cage!”
The desperate lab coat tries to lure you back, to lure you into spilling your pockets from sorrow. Because they did ‘everything they could and it’ll be fine’. It would be fine. And you smirk, lips pinched a little too tightly. But the mask is good enough, the plaster isn’t soaked through, and it should hold until home appears on the horizon from the scratched bus window.
The bay window’s dust floats to the floor unbothered. Unstirred without a cat to paw aimlessly at the air. And you still sit in that chair, a year later, as everything remains desperately stagnant. Her collar is soft and worn in your arms, Milly’s name etched in silver shines with winter light.
Your apprentice leans in the oak doorway, observing as he is meant to. That’s why you’d never let them in before. Before the house became too silent and too frayed and grew a centimeter per second. You look up slowly beneath oval wire glasses. Your mask holds, and you hope the observer can look past the tremble in your words.
*Ahem* The sound struggling from your throat feels foreign in the practically empty beige room.
- You’re excused for the day, if you wish.”
And you say that because no words seem right, because all of them are just as mud is folded by puddles of rain. Full with a liquid emptiness. And the notebook bent open before you, scrawled with your writing, is relentlessly reminding you that you are supposed to be the smith of words. And smiths of words form them, they don’t lose them.
- I meant to tell you that there’s someone at the door to see you.”
The apprentice leaves silently, as with deliberation, you stand. You cross the kitchen, and the parlor, and stop at the front door left carelessly open to the visitor. The stranger smiles meekly, outstretched arms carrying a bundle of gray tabby fur. Slick as that of a kitten.
He shows you her collar, identical to the one which you hold in your wrinkled hand. The address is unquestionably yours. But the kitten he holds is unquestionably not. And you gape openly, because your mask has unhinged from its careful binding.
And once again, your words are lost and trail away.
- She was in my backyard, I live a few doors down. I don’t know how such a baby cat got there, but…”
The visitor, who is really just a boy sheepishly ruffles his blond hair, offering the bundle towards you. And inexplicably, you take her, place her down on the old wood boards, close the door behind you without a word.
- Milly…It can’t be. You…How…?”
But as a writer, you know better than to wonder when answers are not possible. Because sometimes words aren’t enough. As the kitten looks up at you, eyes clouded by a blinding mist. ‘Somehow’, is enough. So you just shrug, and smile, and the right words finally unveil themselves.
- Welcome home.