Author's Note: They're still not mine! But they certainly are fun to play with ...
For The Muse, because it's enough just to sit and watch and catch some of your light ...
Catching the Light
"He'll fall if he's not careful."
I swear, the number of times I've heard that! So many different expressions. The same six words, but so many meanings.
The older queens sound genuinely concerned. What if he slips? What if he hurts himself? I think they've probably been saying the same thing since he was a tiny kitten, venturing too high up, too far away, too soon. Showing off. Climbing anything that can possibly be climbed.
Some of the other toms sound ... hopeful? As though they half wish he will fall, prove them right, prove he's no better than them after all.
Most of them - toms and younger queens and kittens alike - sound simply envious. Most of them start by saying, "He'll fall if he's not careful," but they end with, "I wish I could do that!" He says it's nothing special, the things he can do. He says we all have something we're particularly good at, something our bodies or our minds or our voices just do naturally, instinctively, without us needing to work and work and work at it. And even when I tell him he's wrong, about me at least; that I certainly don't have a special thing I'm good at, he just smiles that big lazy smile and says I'll find it. I'll find it when I stop looking.
So I've tried to stop looking. But I hope I find it soon.
Two nights ago a new thing appeared in the junkyard. A big thing. Made of the same sort of stuff as a lot of the other things here; but it's huge. It's like a lot of thin poles joined together to make a sort of frame, with small wooden platforms, every so often; and it reaches so high, it makes my eyes water when I crane my neck back to see if I can figure out how anyone could get up to the very top.
Not that I can imagine anyone would want to.
Unless they were -
"Showing off again ... "
I hear the voices and spin round, follow the gaze of the small group standing at the base of the New Thing, all of whom are staring upwards.
Perched halfway between the ground and the sky, I can just about make out what appears to be black-and-white fur. He's wedged in a corner, where two of the poles meet and there's a place that looks marginally safer than the rest of it.
Not that that's saying anything.
I've raced across to the base of the Thing before I've even realised it, reared up on my hind legs and started scrabbling up one of the poles with my forepaws. Not sure whether I mean to try and climb up there or whether I'm just trying to catch his attention; either way I'm stopped before I've even begun. Someone cuffs me hard on one shoulder and Jennyanydots bellows in my ear, "WHAT do you think you're doing?"
"I - I was - "
"Don't be so silly. Bad enough he's trying to break his fool neck without you joining in, and at your tender age, too! Honestly! I've never seen anything like it in all my life, it's enough to turn your fur completely white - oh, sorry, Victoria dear, no offence ... " I let her carry on and sneak quietly away through the crowd, which by now has grown quite large. I emerge from the press of bodies but only make it a few paces before my legs turn to jelly and I sit down hurriedly in a heap on the floor. She's right, I think wretchedly. She loves to be all dramatic but she's right. He probably will break his neck falling off that Thing and then what am I going to do ... ?
"Hey kit, what's going on?" says a voice in my ear. I shriek louder than I think anyone has ever heard me shriek before - which is saying something - and leap back up again, every hair on my body standing on end. I probably look like a complete furball and I'm so furious I don't care.
"ARE YOU TRYING TO SCARE ME TO DEATH?!"
Alonzo throws his head back and laughs delightedly. It makes me even madder; I launch myself at him, thwack him around the head with one paw, then the other, and he yelps and jumps backwards to avoid any more blows. "Owwww! Ow ow owww, claws! What was that for?!"
"I thought you were going to get yourself killed, that's what it was for, you great stupid, stupid - I thought that was you up there, I thought ... you ... " My voice trails off as I realise what I'm saying; Alonzo blinks at me slowly as the same thought occurs to him, and as one we turn and stare upwards again.
"If that's not you - "
" - which clearly it isn't, given that I'm standing here being attacked by a mad kitten for no reason whatsoever - "
" - then - "
" - then who in the name of the Everlasting Ca - "
"Tumblebrutus!" someone screams, as the figure up there on the Thing moves slightly, and I realise at once that what I took to be black-and-white fur is actually brown-and-white; and it's pretty obvious he's stuck. It happens to cats the world over, I've been warned about it since I was tiny - we climb up high and something happens, something goes wrong, and we can't get down again. I feel Alonzo's whole body go tense at my side; Tumble is one of his closest friends. I guess what he's going to say before he says it, and I scoot around to block his path, terrified.
"Don't you dare," I say, trying to sound like one of the older queens, like someone he'll listen to. "Don't even think about it. All you'll do is get stuck up there as well - "
"I will not," he says, indignantly. "Don't you have any faith in me at all?"
"Of - of course I do, but ... "
"I can't just leave him - "
"No!" I yell. "No, you can't! I mean it! If you go up there, I'll - I'll - "
He shoots me an exasperated look while I try to think of a suitably scary threat, and before I can stop him he turns and starts to head towards the crowd. I run after him, practically bowling Etcetera and Pouncival over as I go. "Wait - wait - wait - !"
"Get back, Jemima," he says, almost wearily, without even looking at me, "I'll be fine. Really, I promise."
"I'd listen to yer wife if I was you, mate," says a snide voice from behind me; Alonzo growls a bit, more in annoyance at the delay than in real anger; but still, he spins around, quick as thought, to stand at my side.
Mungojerrie has one of his more irritating smirks plastered across his face. Rumpelteazer stands, as usual, at his shoulder; she doesn't say anything, unusually for her, but every now and then I notice she nudges him a little with one shoulder, silently egging him on.
"She's not my wife," Alonzo says coolly, with just a hint of what appears to be distaste at the thought, followed by a cheeky wink in my direction. I can't decide who I want to hit first, him or Mungojerrie.
"Whatever," Mungo shrugs. "She's right, anyway. There is no way you can get all the way up there and back down again and get your pal down in one piece and not 'ave at least one of you go splat on the floor - "
"Splat!" echoes Rumpelteazer in delight, and giggles. I change my mind and decide that if I'm going to hit anyone, it's going to be her.
"Nobody is going to go splat," says Alonzo, still calmly; but I sense him getting more and more wound-up, which isn't a good idea if he's going to be climbing anywhere ...
"Wanna bet? You ain't the Great Rumpuscat or anyfin', mate, you ain't The Maaaaarvellous, Magical Mister Mistoffelees ... you ain't even bloomin' Macavity ... you ain't anyone special."
"Bet?" Alonzo is quite a lot bigger than Mungojerrie; he steps right up close so he's looming over the still-smirking mischief-maker, and smiles a very dangerous smile indeed. "Fine. Yes, I'll bet. I'll bet anything you want, you sneaky little thief, because there's not the slightest chance you'll win. You watch me. Just watch me."
Mungojerrie glances around as though looking for inspiration; his gaze lights on me and I automatically take several steps nearer to Alonzo. "Her," Mungo says, nodding at me in case he's not making himself clear enough, "Let's bet her."
"What?" I demand, furious.
"What?!" screams Rumpelteazer, apparently even more furious.
Mungo seems unconcerned. Worryingly, so does Alonzo. "Fine," he says, and begins to turn away. I stand helpless for a second, torn; and then I scurry after him, hissing in his ear as he heads back towards the base of the Thing.
"What did you just DO?!"
"It's all right, Jemima, don't worry. I know what I'm doing."
"You bet me! You agreed to - to - you - I can't believe you DID that! I don't belong to you, I'm not yours to bet! And now what happens if you don't - ?"
He glances around to make sure we're not near enough to anyone to be overheard, but the two tiger tabbies are still standing where we left them. A tiny pause; then he darts suddenly around behind a pile of boxes, stops, and turns to face me, unexpectedly serious. "You don't think I'd have done that if there was the slightest chance of losing, do you?"
I shrug. "I don't know ... "
"I wouldn't," he says, earnestly. "I swear I wouldn't. You do trust me, don't you?"
"I ... suppose ... " I whisper, reluctantly.
He heaves a huge sigh, and closes his eyes, just for a second. "Good," he says, so quietly I barely hear him, "because I'm not sure I trust myself." And he scrunches down into a forlorn heap on the ground, shaking. "I'm scared, Jem," he says, not opening his eyes, "I am so, so scared ... "
How does he do this? Every time I'm around him it's like a thousand different emotions in the space of three heartbeats. I've gone from panic to annoyance to anger to fear to anger again through to ... whatever it is I'm feeling now. I huddle next to him, feeling him tremble, feeling all of a sudden like the older one, for the first time since I became his friend.
"It'll be fine," I say, wishing I could think of something more impressive or inspirational. "I trust you, remember? So now you have to trust me." I lean my head against his side and listen to his heartbeat as it skips and skitters with panic. "I know you can do this. I know you can."
"I don't think so ... " he mutters. "Mungo's right ... I'm nobody special. What gives me the right to think I'm the only one who can get him down? I'm not sure I'm good enough."
"Of course you are! Alonzo, you have no idea!" I cry, louder than I meant to, but once I've started I find it impossible to stop. "No idea at all! You - you're - " and then it all comes out in a rush " - the most amazing cat I've ever known in all my life. Even just watching you walking across the junkyard, I know that sounds ridiculous but it's true, I - I just - you're wrong, Mungo's wrong, there is something special about you. The way you dance - do you remember that night? The night you took me to that People-place and we just went crazy?"
"I remember," he whispers. "That was ... a good night."
"It was the best night I've ever had, ever! And not because of where we went or what we did, not really ... it was just because ... because it was you, and it was me, and - and - the way you looked, the way the light just shines off you sometimes and I feel like I'm going to get blinded, it's so bright ... "
I stop, horrified at having said so much. Look up, finally, to find him staring back at me, golden flecks dancing in his bright green eyes. He looks stunned.
For a horrible second that drags longer and longer until I think I'm going to burst, neither of us moves. And then, suddenly, he's on his feet and gone in a flash. I squeeze my eyes tightly shut again, willing myself not to cry. Climb heavily to my feet, and walk slowly back out to where the crowd around the base of the Thing are still muttering and squealing and staring upwards, all of them waiting for the inevitable.
Poor Tumble ...
I spot Demeter standing in a group with some of the older toms and queens, including, I see to my sudden relief, my mother. I lower my head and shoulder my way through until I'm standing at her side, and without a word, I lean heavily against her. She glances down in surprise. "There you are!" she exclaims, "I thought you'd have been out here watching this! Where've you been?"
"Nowhere," I shrug.
"I can't believe you haven't been here all the time - I thought you and he were friends!"
"I don't know him that well, really, he's more Alonzo's friend than mine ... "
"He's - no, I didn't mean Tumble, you daft kit! Look!" And she gestures upwards. I follow her gaze and almost drop dead from shock on the spot.
It almost seems as though he's dancing upwards, not climbing at all. Flying, perhaps. A streak of black-and-white, a flick of tail, higher and higher. I practically have to pick my jaw up off the floor. All around me I can hear the others gasping and whispering and every now and then exclaiming aloud as he gets nearer to the shivering mess of fur that is Tumblebrutus; but they don't sound like they used to. They don't sound envious or disapproving, not any more. It's a strange sort of sound; a hum of admiration and awe.
Finally landing lightly beside his friend, Alonzo crouches down to whisper something in Tumble's ear, and the younger tom's head comes up, slowly, to glance down at all of us waiting below. Even as far away as I am, I can see a shudder run through his whole body. But Alonzo simply shifts a little closer, keeps talking, calm and easy, and eventually Tumble makes it to his feet, wobbly as a newborn kitten but apparently willing to try. I hold my breath as he takes a few steps, almost slips, catches himself; and always Alonzo is there, watching, leading, encouraging, guiding him down. So sure-footed it's ridiculous. Tumble tries to tread where Alonzo treads, literally following in his footsteps, painfully slowly, but gradually getting nearer and nearer to the ground.
We're all waiting to meet them at the foot of the Thing. Tumble lands, unbalanced, on terribly shaky legs, and immediately collapses into a bedraggled and boneless heap. Everyone crowds around him, fussing and cooing and, in the case of most of the toms, mocking him slightly, but not unkindly. I spot Munkustrap weaving through the groups of anxious Jellicles to make sure he's all right; satisfied that Tumble will be taken care of, I step back, and walk straight into someone behind me.
"Oops, sorry - "
"Not a problem," Mungojerrie says, casually, and gives an exaggerated wink as I cringe away from him. "Guess I won't be collecting on that bet of ours, after all ... pity, really. You're sweet ... if a bit on the titchy side." And he saunters back to where Rumpelteazer waits for him, her tail lashing slightly from side to side. Guess she's not impressed. But she's probably used to it by now.
Standing alone at last, I tilt my head right back and look up.
Alonzo stands at the edge of one of the lower platforms, looking down with a strange sort of glow in his eyes. Those that aren't fussing over Tumblebrutus are staring up at him, beaming with pride; but he hardly notices them. He's searching for someone or something, and it isn't until our eyes meet, and a huge grin spreads across his face, that I realise it's me.
I smile back up, prouder of him than I could possibly say. And grateful just for the chance to be here, to see him like this; the chance to catch some of his light.
It's a cloudy day; but it feels as though I'm staring straight into the sun.
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