Inspired by Origami Cat by thousandleaf0001.
I’m asked to explain, and that always makes me uncomfortable. A precise kind of uncomfortable.
A kind that feels, almost, like this:
You and I, we, together, are having a conversation. It’s about, oh, I don’t know, bank holidays. You feel like you understand me. We’re walking on the same path, headed the same direction: nothing radical or confusing is coming out of anyone’s mouth.
You think I’m attractive, or at least nice. Bank holidays, you realize, are not exactly an engaging topic. So you let the topic lapse, looking for something else to say. Your eyes fall on her. She’s still right now, because she doesn’t like it when people look at her.
“Oh wow,” You say, as if you had just noticed her, “What a lovely necklace!”
“Thank you.” I say, and because we were walking on the same path and there are certain social necessities that I’ve picked up after long hard years, I pull her off my neck, my fingers wrapped tight around the bottle she’s sleeping in, and I say, “Would you like to look?”
You smile, you nod enthusiastically. “Please!” And hold out your hand. You simply have no idea. You’re already asking, “Where did you get it?” because you don’t care for silence, so you want me to talk while you examine her. I drop her into your palm, and I struggle for an answer.
And of course, she’s moved in the darkness, because she likes causing trouble. (It makes her laugh.)
“My mother gave it to me.” I say, as you hold her up to the sunlight that flashes through the trees as we pass. But you’re not listening. There’s only one thing on your mind right now, and that’s–
“Did the cat move?” You’re almost laughing. “I thought it was sitting.”
She was. Now she’s stretched up against one of the walls of the bottle, as if it were a table and she was reaching for the salmon.
You’re turning the necklace around in your fingers so that the light can shine through the glass of the bottle and the spun crystal of her body. You’re looking for the trick.
I laugh, trying to put you at your ease. “Oh, a lot of people say that. She’s clear, but she has a different texture then the glass. I think it makes her hard to see, sometimes.” I had to answer you, you wanted it. But I couldn’t bring myself to call her it, or ‘the cat’; terms less pleasant than ill-kept lawns sprouting trash.
“Oh, yeah.” You say, as if you had just seen, while I explained. You’re turning the bottle again, and the sunlight is dancing in fragments across your face and arms.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the camaraderie is gone. We were walking the same path, but now I’m somewhere else, looking down at your haphazard wanderings and trying to guess what’s going on inside of you. Trying to predict you. But you live in a world so different from mine. I’m blind, and you can’t read, and I’m trying to give you directions as you drive at seventy miles an hour down an almost familiar highway.
I just keep feeling like this should be easy.
And it never is.
“It’s beautiful.” You say, and now I don’t like you much, because you didn’t notice that she is a she. But you’ve been friendly, and maybe you were just trying to be normal.
So I say, “Thank you.” And I manage a smile, only it’s a terrible smile. But it doesn’t matter, because you weren’t looking at me anyway.
We, together, hear the tea-lady coming down the aisle, through the compartment door. The rattle of ceramic, and metal on plastic, bouncing over bumpy carpet on thick plastic wheels.
You hand her back, and give me a smile, which I manage to return. I hope it doesn’t look like a grimace, and your smile grows, so maybe it didn’t.
“Your mom gave it to you?” You ask, because it’s gone quiet again and you can’t stand that. Besides, it sounds like a story, and you’ve read enough about people to know that if you can get someone to start telling their stories, they’re much more likely to think fondly of you.
I know what you’re doing. But I have to sit in this compartment with you for at least two more hours, and you’ve been polite. “Yes.” I say, as I slide her back over my head. With all the attention on her, I feel self-conscious. I want to hide her under my shirt instead. But she hates that. “I have no idea where she got her. She’d never say.” Still. To this day. And I can feel you start struggling, because that was all you had and I’m not talking. I want to sit there and watch you squirm, like a mouse caught in a corner. But I don’t have the heart for it.
So I tell you a story, instead.
I give you a sad, distant smile. “It was the last thing she gave me before she died.”
And I see it hit you, but I’ve timed it perfectly. The tea lady comes in. “Tea? Coffee?” She asks.
“Tea please, and milk.” I say, smooth and calm. I don’t want you to think you’ve upset me.
And you do just the same, and the woman pours two Styrofoam cups full of what smells like bitter Lipton, the cheep kind, and leaves us four little plastic containers of probably milk. And the door shuts behind her, and almost before she’s moved away you’re saying,
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
And I know, you’ve never lost someone, not like that. Because that’s not the way it works.
But I smile, because, let’s be honest, bad memories are the least of my worries and you’re trying so hard. “Oh, no.” I say, “It was a wonderful memory. My mother,” And I catch myself. And swallow, although I don’t mean to because I don’t want you to think that I’m sad, but I have to be careful here. Or we won’t even be able to see each other across the depth that separates our roads.
I continue. “She was a wonderful woman, and it seems disrespectful to avoid talking about her just because she’s dead.” And I get out another smile, and I can see you’re relaxing into that kind of ‘what an interesting person’ state, and you’re looking for exactly the right thing to say to get me talking so that you don’t have to do anything but listen for the next at-least-two-hours.
I wait for you.
After all, I don’t want you to feel left out.