9: If cats are wizards

by Jane Carnall

Humans speak with their tongues and their hands. Cats speak with their whiskers and their tails. I communicate with hand to head, pushing down as she pushes up, silently sharing our mutual affection. She makes a place my home: I make a place her territory. I do not know whether she actually likes me, that has never been a great concern: she is a cat, and liking is what humans do. But that I am necessary to her, and she to me, that is certain.

We walk together down the walled road, with hedges and trees following us like kittens: they stand and sway when we look at them, but when we both look away, they walk and we stand still. No one expects to see a human walking with a cat, but it is so: she rides on my shoulder, or she scampers alongside, or paces elegantly and a little disdainfully, and utters, in her small shrill voice, complaints and half-voiced signals, shouting at me in a manner she knows I will not understand.

If cats are wizards, is she one? If humans are wizards, does she think I'm one? Is she ever jealous of the other one, who finds it so much easier to show me affection, who sits on my lap and purrs noisily, singing compliments that she believes I understand. She is no wizard: there is no magic in her fur. She is only a loud, friendly, blusterer of a cat: she is friendly to all and dependent on none, except, perhaps, my special cat, who is mother and sister to her.

The trees that walk after us, mimicking our gait, are not friendly woods nor magical. This is only what trees do, and walls, and hedges, and roads: they move, while we stand still, each of us at the centre of our own universe, rocking and swaying and at times believing that we touch each other. Friendship and magic are both things for those of us who think we stand still.

It may be an illusion, but it is a pleasant one, this dream of standing still. In a quiet place, where we know no language but our own, this silent speech of hands and tail and head, fingers brushing whiskers, whiskers flicking back in signs and portents only half-comprehended on either side; but we delude each other that we speak together, and seldom need to shout aloud, as I and that other do so frequently in our own interactions. But not my first. We stand still and look at each other.

And she and I stand still together, marking each other. We have never travelled beyond the sea together: she has never touched a tree outside our own realm. And yet I see her, crouched and watchful, eyeing a high exotic tree and ready to spring, sinking all her claws into that barky flesh. She loves to climb trees, and I wish that I could let her loose to climb to her heart's content. She would come back to me.

Or so I think: for liking is what humans do, and I like her.

520 words

14th February 2000

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