ISSUE 4 · SPRING 2010


 

 

   BACK TO ISSUE 

            HOME

           ISSUES

    SUBMISSIONS

       MENTIONS

  REVIEWS BY AZ

        ABOUT US


Copyright © 2010

Rob E. Boley





Cat and Goldfish

ROB E. BOLEY



The raindrops hammer the ground, but not loud enough to drown out my brother Theo’s solemn voice. “... He was more than a friend. He was more than his size. He watched as I grew up under his eyes. His words were a blessing, his advice solid built. His memory a flower never to wilt...”

We’re standing in the backyard of our childhood home, where Theo, though older than me, still lives. Theo wrote the eulogy on an extra-long yellow legal pad. He’s now on the fifth page. I roll my eyes.

“For fuck’s sake, Theo. He was a goldfish. I loved him, too, but can we just get on with this?” It’s not that I wasn’t fond of the Goldish. Despite his constant fretting and general high-strung nature, the little-finned runt was a great friend. It’s just that Theo has a way of making any situation...difficult.

Theo uses a little green fish net to scoop the lifeless fish out of its bowl. Even dead, the Goldfish’s scales are beautiful, the sort of orange that would usher the evening’s sun into the horizon. Bowing his head, Theo drops the fish into an open cigar box—it lands with a wet flop—and places the box into the shoebox-sized hole. So meticulous, my brother. Always so meticulous.

I smell something reminiscent of cinnamon coming from Mom’s herb garden. The pentagon-shaped patch of earth is overgrown with waist-high, thorny weeds. Theo was never much of a gardener.

He stares at me with his faded, dull eyes, even as he continues the eulogy. “Swimming his laps in his clear glass bowl, he was a goldfish with soul. I’ll miss his wide eyes and smile, his willingness to swim that extra mile.”

Son of a bitch. The legal pad’s just a prop. He’s making it up as he goes. I sigh and begin tossing dirt into the hole.

“Sally, that’s just rude. I never thought you to be so crude.”

“No, rude is using a goldfish’s death to get a captive audience for your half-assed poetry jam.”

“If I wanted a captive to stay here,” says Theo between gritted teeth, “I could have one right away, my dear.”

It’s an odd thing to say, but that’s always been Theo’s way. Dammit. Now he has me doing it.

I pull my hair out of my eyes. “So, have you seen him lately? Since Mom died?”

Theo doesn’t look at me. Instead he shovels scoops of dirt into the grave with a plastic red shovel. The rain intensifies, spraying droplets of mud on our jeans.

“No,” he says. “I haven’t seen him in months, maybe years. And believe me, over it I’m not shedding tears.”

The him in question is a five-foot talking cat that used to harass the two of us when Mom was away, barging in on our lives and causing no small manner of mischief.

Mom was an odd one. She wore lots of red and black, and had more boyfriends than I can count on fingers and toes. As a result, we grew up with many “dads.” Mom was what most would call, I suppose, a witch. That’s how it is that we grew up with a talking goldfish. That’s how it is, I imagine, that we had random encounters with a talking cat. And that’s how it is that I’ve come home from college to attend the Goldfish’s funeral.

. . .

That evening, Theo and I sit in the living room. The room hasn’t changed much in the past two decades. The carpet is still blue, though ragged and stained. The mirror that once hung over the fireplace is missing, leaving behind only a slightly askew rectangle of less-faded paint. I wonder if Theo broke the mirror during one of his tantrums.

I’m trying to read my Western Civ homework, but Theo keeps talking at me. “So, how is it?” he asks. “College, I mean. Do you fancy your classes? Are your teachers keen?”

“If you’ll stop rhyming, Theo, I’ll answer you. But I’m not going to sit here and have a conversation like this.”

“It gets lonely here without Mom around,” he says. He’s wearing just a shirt and pants now, and I can see that he’s lost weight. The skin around his eyes is grey, like the burnt, cloudy color of an old glass candleholder.

“There,” I say, “now that’s what I’m talking about. Let’s have a real talk like real people.”

“I can hear her breath behind every sound,” he finishes. “Her shadow, it seems, is ever near. I see her crying in the mirror.”

I want to tell him to shut the fuck up, but I know exactly what he’s saying. In fact, I thought that very same thing when I stared into the bathroom mirror earlier today. My eyes were red and puffy, but they still looked like Mom’s. Theo and I both have her eyes.

“You miss her a lot, huh?” I ask.

“It’s a lot harder being the one who remains. I’m covered in memories like blood-splattered stains.”

I roll my eyes. So, this is what it’s all been building toward. He’s laying the guilt on me for leaving town. And he gets to be the brave martyr who stayed behind to handle the family affairs.

“So, fucking leave, Theo. Get the hell out of this little town.”

“But it’s so pretty. And I hate the city.”

“So find another little town. They’re all over the place, you know.”

He shrugs.

“There’s nothing left to stay here for. You need to find your own path, Theo.” He says nothing. I sigh and stand. “I’ve got to crash. I have a long drive tomorrow.”

“You’re so far away,” he says, “the better part of a day.”

I stomp down the hall, shaking my head and clenching my fists. I could really use a beer. Naturally, Theo only has wine.

On the way to my room, I stop and stare at one of the many framed pictures in the hallway, one of Mom and a short, wide-eyed man. She’s much younger, just about my age now. The picture must have been taken before I was born. Even before Theo was born. She’s wearing a black halter top with red lace trim. Her smile looks hungry. The man she’s with looks excited and uneasy, like he’s just tasted the best pastry in the world, and he knows it’s about to devour him in return.

I glance into Theo’s room as I pass. As it’s always been, the room is immaculately tidy. The spines of every book are lined up flush with each other. The bed is neatly pressed. His drawings and writings are neatly stacked on the desk, probably organized by subject matter. My eyes tear up to see that he’s put the fish bowl, still filled with water, back on his nightstand.

When I get to my room, it’s exactly as I’d left it. The same thorny flowers painted on the mirror. The same black satin comforter on the bed.

As I fall asleep, the picture of my mom floats in my memory. She looked so different then. So carefree and, well, naughty. A far cry from the woman who raised me, so intimidating in her scarlet red overcoat and black high heels. I remember the noise those heels made as she walked across the driveway. Clack. Clack. Clack.

Gradually, my thoughts flicker into dreams.

. . .

Tap. Tap. Tap. Well into the night, the noise wakes me. It sounds like rain dripping from a leaky rain gutter, but it’s coming from inside the house. I listen with my eyes in the dark, searching the shadows for movement.

Tap. Tap. Tap. The sound is coming from under the bed, I soon realize. My heart flutters. Swallowing hard, I slowly lean over the bed and look underneath. But it’s empty, except for my old combat boots. The sound must be coming from the basement.

Tap. Tap. Tap. I get out of bed and slide my feet into the boots. They always made me feel stronger. I pull the laces tight and walk out of the room. Theo’s bedroom door is closed. I’m still pissed enough that I don’t even consider knocking on it.

Tap. Tap. Tap. The basement door protests even as it opens. I tip-toe down the wooden, splintered steps. At the bottom of the stairs is a shelf filled with glass mason jars, each labeled in mom’s flowing handwriting. The rest of the basement is piled high with dusty memories of our youth: our tennis racquets, Theo’s bike, a crooked rake, the toy boat that never floated, and the rubber ball with the white star. Leaning shelves hold rows of the thick, leather-bound books my mother collected, the brittle pages handwritten in dead languages. I see fresh fingerprints in the dust on the jackets. Past the shelves are the tool bench and pegboard, where I’m disturbed to see the outlines of several missing implements: a saw, pliers, and a hammer.

Tap. Tap. Tap. At the end of the basement is the bomb shelter, and that’s where I see the Cat. Somehow, I manage not to scream.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Each of the Cat’s wrists is bound by a rusty, thick chain anchored to the bomb shelter’s sidewalls. The chains are the only thing keeping the Cat from falling. His fur is matted with blood. Patches of hair are missing, revealing purple and smoke-colored bruises. He’s still wearing the same red and white striped hat, though it’s stained and crumpled. The Cat is smaller than I’d remembered. Of course, I was much younger then.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Scattered on the floor are several sticky, dark tools: a saw, pliers, and a hammer. Behind the Cat, propped against the wall, is the mirror missing from upstairs. It reflects his back, a crisscrossing of lacerations over bruised flesh. Poking out of the fingertip of one blood-soaked glove is a sharp claw. The claw taps against the chain.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

I clear my throat.

Tap. Tap.

The Cat looks up slowly, like a night orchid opening itself for the moon’s shine. Finally, he says, “It’s been a while. A long while.”

“I went away to school. Did . . . Did my brother do this to you?”

“Yes,” he hisses, because it would be too painful to nod.

“Why? God in heaven and hell, why?”

“I don’t know,” he says, because it would be too agonizing to shrug. “Please. Please let me go.”

I step closer. “I want to. But how do I know Theo doesn’t have good reason to lock you up?”

“And torture me? Tell me, Sally. Tell me a good reason to torture a person.”

“You’re not a person,” I say.

“I was once.”

I stare into the Cat’s eyes. Gone are the things I remember most: mischief and humor. All that remains is honesty.

The hammer is heavy in my hands. I use the sharp end to pry the chain out of the concrete wall. It comes free with a satisfying pop of dust and crumbs, and the Cat tumbles to the floor.

“I . . .” he says. “That is, we, we can take it from here.”

With the rusty chain still dangling from his wrist, the Cat pulls his hat off his head. I know who he’s looking for: the twenty-six cats that live under his hat, each smaller than the last, each hiding in the hat of the preceding cat.

I scream when the Cat lifts his hat. Underneath sits a bruised and lifeless miniature cat—what’s left of A. Like the original Cat, A wears a red and white-striped hat, only his tiny hat has a bold letter “A” across the front. But A isn’t breathing. For a moment, everything is still and silent. Then A slumps over on the Cat’s head.

From underneath A’s hat, a smaller cat corpse, its hat labeled “B,” spills downward. B flops on the Cat’s shoulder—its neck at a twisted angle. Then yet another, even smaller, cat C spills out—this one missing its legs.

And so it goes. One after another, the Cat picks up each lifeless body, tips its hat off, and discovers yet another body. By the time he gets to “W,” the corpses are too small to see and the floor is covered in blood.

“Wh-why would Theo do this?” I ask.

Tears spill out of the Cat’s eyes. “He kept asking me . . .” His words trail off into a wet cough. “Over and over, day after day, he asked me the same question: ‘Tell me the secret you’ve told no other. Give me the magic of my mother.’”

“The what?” I ask.

“And when I told him that there was no secret, that I didn’t know what he was talking about, he’d hurt me again. And again. And again. He even tried to use the mirror on me.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, looking at the mirror and seeing my mother’s eyes.

“The mirror is magic, though it doesn’t work on animals. It reflects the secret thoughts that you don’t want to reveal. Your mom probably used it on you kids when she thought you were lying.”

He’s right. Whenever Mom questioned us, she’d sit us in the chair by the fireplace—right under the mirror.

I step away from the mirror, catching a glimpse of myself naked, tangled under the sheets with two giggling college friends. “This doesn’t make sense,” I say. “Why would he do this?”

“Because,” says the Cat, “because he found out my secret.”

I cross my arms and tap my foot. The Cat continues.

“I was once a man. Your mother and I were . . . involved. This was before you were born. As I’m sure you know, your mother was not the sort to keep men around for very long. This simply was not in her nature. I used to hate her for it, for what she had done to me . . .” He gestured at his furry body.

“You can’t be serious,” I say. “Mom turned you into a cat?”

The Cat nods. “She was no longer interested in the . . . romantic aspect of our relationship, but she still wanted to keep me available. For companionship. Of course, rather than a lap cat, she got a five-foot, talking cat. Such is the nature of magic.”

“I can’t believe . . .” I say.

“I’m not her only former lover to join the animal kingdom.”

I lick my lips. “You mean, the Goldish?”

“Yes,” says the Cat. “You’re mother was an exceptionally powerful witch. She was—It was difficult for her to have access to so much power at such a young age. As time went on, she grew even more powerful, and fortunately, more responsible.”

“What does any of this have to do with Theo?”

“He’s somehow under the impression that I can help him to cast spells, gain riches, cheat death. He thinks that I’m keeping him from accessing the magics that are his to claim.”

“Are you?”

The Cat shook his head. “I am a creature of magic,” he says. “Though it passes through me, I can’t control it. I can’t use it. And sadly . . .” The Cat coughs blood into his glove. “Sadly, the magic can’t help me now.”

I can barely look at him. “We have to get you to a hospital.”

“Yes, we almost certainly should,” says a voice from behind me. “But as ideas go, that isn’t so good.” Theo.

Gasping, I turn to see Theo standing in the entrance to the bomb shelter. He’s holding a rusted knife matted with blood and hair. The Cat hisses—a thick, knotted sound sprayed with blood.

“Of course, medical science won’t know what to do,” says Theo, “with a magical cat that’s black, red, and blue.”

“Theo, what’s wrong with you?” I ask, surprised to find myself standing defensively between Theo and the Cat. I never even liked the Cat.

“Sally,” he says, “there are things at work here, things that are quite beyond your means and ends. Go back to your school, dear, to your mass-produced books, and mass-produced friends.”

“You’re insane,” I say.

Theo steps closer. “This . . . Cat is not worthy of your pity. But if you must feel this way, feel it back in the city.”

“Knock it off, Theo. Can’t you see that the Cat doesn’t know anything? He’s not hiding anything from you.”

“Oh, I think he’s hiding something deep inside. It’s time he be inspected, poked, and pried.” Theo grins and holds up the knife.

He lunges at me, grabbing me by the hair. Before I know it, he’s spun me around and has his forearm under my chin. He’s stronger than he looks.

“Theo, please–” I say, but the last word is choked off. The flat edge of his blade is pressed against my temple. Smells like rust and burnt hair.

“Now listen, you Cat,” he says, “or there’s going to be pain. Tell me how to get magic, or you’ll see Sally stain.”

I drive my heel down into Theo’s foot. He’s only wearing slippers, so I’m pretty sure I break a bone or two. His grip loosens as he screams. I turn, elbowing him in the jaw. He pushes me away, takes a few steps back, and picks the hammer up off the ground.

“You meddling little bitch,” he says. “Mom was . . .”

But his rhyme is thankfully cut short by the Cat, who lunges at Theo from behind. Though one of the chains still binds him to the wall, the Cat has enough slack to reach Theo. The Cat hisses and digs his claws into Theo’s neck. Wincing, Theo screams and swings his hammer backward against the Cat’s head.

With Theo distracted, I step forward and kick my combat boot straight into his groin. He falls forward and I kick him again in the side of the head. I take a deep breath, hoping it’ll help me stop shaking.

It doesn’t.

. . .

Two pairs of padded handcuffs are still hidden in the back of my closet, right where I’d left them. Enough said.

Theo and the Cat are both unconscious for a long while, long enough for me to fasten the cuffs on Theo’s ankles and wrists. I take off the padding first, and then fasten them nice and tight. The veins in Theo’s hands begin to bulge almost instantly.

After Theo is bound, I use the hacksaw to take the chains off the Cat’s wrists. Aside from an occasional shallow breath, the Cat remains still. I want to call the hospital for the Cat, or the police for Theo, but either option presents the same problem: what will the authorities do with the Cat?

The shadows on the floor, cast through the security glass windows, grow longer as I ponder what to do. Finally, the Cat stirs.

I fight the urge to scratch him behind the ear. “It’s me. Sally. Can you hear me?”

He licks his upper lip. I take that as a yes.

“Look,” I say. “I want to help you, but I don’t—I’m worried if I take you to the hospital, that—I don’t know what they’d do to someone like you. Do you want me to take that risk?”

He whispers something. I lean in closer.

“What?”

“Magic,” he says. “Spell. Magic.”

“Um . . . M. A. G. I.—”

“You imbecile,” says Theo from behind. “He doesn’t want another letter. He needs a spell to make him better.”

I turn and face Theo. He’s struggling with his cuffs, wincing as they dig into his wrists.

“Nobody asked you,” I say. “Don’t make me get the ball gag.” Theo sneers.

“He’s right,” says the Cat. “The magic is within you, Sally. It is passed from woman to woman, through the generations. It is your birthright. Your gift and your curse.”

So. I’m a witch, too. Yee-fucking-haw.

The Cat explains to me that there’s a counter-spell that can undo my mom’s spell—to make him human again. He says that old magic is a lot like caulk; it gets older and harder with age. So the spell will be brittle and easy to break, but it’ll also take a lot of effort to completely scrape away.

I find the spell book on one of the shelves as directed. It’s bound with what looks like eel-skin. The pages are made of a yellowish fiber that I don’t recognize.

First I gather the ingredients. Most of the herbs are still growing in between the weeds in Mom’s garden. I find the other odds and ends—bat wing, dried elk blood, crushed wolf teeth, bear claw shavings, and so on—in the mason jars at the bottom of the steps.

“It’s not so much that you have to pronounce the words correctly,” says the Cat, “or that you even have to know what they mean. Think of the words as a garden trellis. They are merely the gateway that lets you into the garden. The real work is the planting of the flowers. Or in this case, the pulling of the weeds.”

“So, that’s what the magic does? It pulls the weeds?”

“No,” says the Cat. “You pull the weeds. Your will.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Okay, how about this. Think of the words as the sail that you raise to begin a journey.”

I stare down at the foreign words on the page. Then I look back up at the cat. “So, what’s the wind, then?” I ask. “The magic?” “No, my dear,” he says. “You. You are the wind. And if you’re to unravel this spell completely, you will have to be a raging, mighty gust.”

I nod. The spell is before me. The appropriate ingredients are in their proper locations, arranged in a crescent shape arcing around me and the Cat. I clear my throat.

That’s when Theo speaks up, “Pardon my intrusion but it seems safe to say that since you’re a rookie about to play, perhaps you should practice a little bit first, just in case what’s worse becomes worst.”

“What’s he talking about?” I ask the Cat.

“Magic can be unpredictable at best, Sally,” says the Cat. He waves a hand in front of himself, to prove his point. “And in the hands of a novice . . . Well, there’s always the chance that the spell could have unintended consequences.”

“Well, how am I supposed to practice?” I ask the Cat.

“You can’t,” he says, “unless you have another victim of the same spell.”

The Cat’s words pass through my ears. I stare Theo in the eyes, and we have the same thought at the same time. I climb to my feet and walk toward the stairs.

“Sally, the Goldfish is resting in the ground,” protests Theo, “where he cannot hear a sound. He’s left this painful world behind . . .”

“He’s dead,” I finish. “He won’t mind.”

. . .

A short walk to the backyard and two shovelfuls of mud later, I’m holding a water-logged cigar box in my hand. I take the box into the basement, toss the Goldfish on the floor, and sit.

I chant the words over and over: “Carnitotale. Mirrazorba. Gluni-porous.” Gradually, the basement melts away in my vision, becoming a vast ocean. The Goldfish floats on the green water. The waves are tipped with thorns, and they smash into me like a hurricane, leaving gashes on my mind. This is not what I expected.

The Cat’s voice echoes in the starless sky, but I can’t make out his words. I try to focus on the waves, pushing them away. Gradually, my will becomes a wind, parting the ocean. The Goldfish’s corpse falls into the gulf, tumbling to the ocean’s floor. Thorny seaweed crawls over the fish. Taking a deep breath, I push harder. The wind strengthens to a full gale, stripping the seaweed away. It grows back as fast as I can remove it.

This goes on for quite awhile.

I push and push until there is no more ocean, no more weeds. Only the basement, the Cat, the Goldfish, and my brother. I realize I’m still chanting. “Carnitotale. Mirrazorba. Gluniporous.”

The fish lies there, same as before. My brother laughs. I lower my head.

Then Theo’s laughter stops cold. Looking up, I see the Goldfish begin to twitch and bubble, like his scales are boiling. The spell is working.

At first, he begins to swell, like a sponge that’s been dipped in water for the first time. Except he grows remarkably bigger. First the size of a cat. Then a dog. Then a small child. All the while, fins melt into hands. A tail splits into feet, then legs. The dead fish is becoming a dead man.

I’m filled with pride until I see the fish-man’s reflection in the mirror. My jaw goes limp.

I see a nervous, wide-eyed man in the mirror, the man from the picture in the hall, staring down lovingly at his infant son, Theo.

I see that man years later, now the Goldfish, circling his bowl on my brother’s nightstand, whispering little rhymes into Theo’s sleeping ears. Planting the seeds of conspiracy, fear, and anger.

I see the Goldfish faking his own death, gills aching inside the cigar box. Waiting with wretched patience for the rain to leak inside.

“You son of a bitch,” I say to the fish-man before me. “You manipulated Theo. Your son. You made him think the Cat was his enemy because the Cat stole Mom away from you. You orchestrated all of this, used both of us, to get your revenge and trick me into reversing the spell.”

The fish-man giggles, then struggles to stand on his scaley feet. “The hardest part,” he gurgles, “wasn’t pretending to be dead, but keeping a straight face.”

The spell is almost complete. His scales are swollen and stretched, and they begin popping off to reveal . . . a very old man. His skin is wrinkled and sagging, pocked with sour spots.

“Something’s wrong,” he says. “I should be in my forties . . . not like this.”

“You lived the life of a goldfish,” hisses the Cat. “And you aged accordingly in fish years, not people years. Fish only have life expectancies of five or ten years. You were a very old fish. The spell could have been tweaked to account for the difference with some extra dove’s tail . . .” For the first time tonight, the Cat has that twinkle in his eye. “I guess I should have mentioned that to Sally.”

“Goddamn you,” says the fish-man. He tries to kick at the Cat, but something snaps in his hip, sending him sprawling forward through the mirror.

The magical mirror ruptures with a flash of sharp light, and its fragments ripple and tinkle across the floor. A good many of the mirror’s shards find their way into the fish-man’s neck and chest. He lies on the floor, covered in blood, twitching and gurgling. At the last, only his mouth moves, opening and closing for what seems an eternity.

I can’t help but think it appropriate that he dies drowning in his own blood.

. . .

Theo sobs while I repeat the spell, this time using extra dove’s tail, per the Cat’s instructions. When the spell is complete, the Cat sheds his hair, loses his tail, and eventually becomes a middle-aged, badly beaten, bloody man. He is quite tall, but is built on a lean frame. I am relieved to see that the twenty-six dead, miniature cats simply disappear. When the transformation is complete, the man smiles weakly at me and nods. I begin to drag him out of the room.

“Sally,” says Theo. “You’re not just going to leave me here stuck? I didn’t mean—I mean, I didn’t know–”

“Fuck!” I yell.

Theo jumps. I toss the key to the cuffs just out of his reach. He’ll be able to get to it, after a very painful bit of stretching and wiggling.

“But what,” says Theo, “what do I do now?”

“Think about what you’ve done, Theo. Draw it. Write it. Find something redeemable in our story, some way to atone. And make the world better.”

These are the last words I say to my brother.

It takes a while to get the battered man to the car. After I ease him into the passenger seat and toss an armful of Mom’s books into the trunk, I get inside. “So, what should I call you?” I ask, backing out of the driveway.

“It’s too soon for that,” he whispers. “I haven’t worn my old name in so long, I’m not sure if it’ll still fit.”

“Theo and the fish were a lot alike, both high strung. Both of them always trying to control everything around them . . .”

“You’re not like that at all, are you?” he asks, with a sly grin. “You have a rebellious, mischievous streak in you. A delicious restlessness.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I can’t imagine where I get that from.”

“I really couldn’t say.”

. . .

That first night in the hospital, I sit by his bed, watching his stomach rise and fall with each breath. I hold his hand, and I swear at least a few times he purrs.

Over the next two weeks, I visit him every day. As he regains his strength, the hospital staff grows increasingly tense. The antics of the patient known only as John Doe soon become the stuff of hospital legend.

Like the time he fills the therapy tubs with Jell-O.

Or the time he cut the rears out of all the surgeon’s scrubs. “See how they like waltzing about with their bums hanging out,” he says.

Or the time he rides the dinner cart through the pediatric unit.

Of course, whatever the prank, he always sees to it that the resulting mess is cleaned up with surprising ease. Such is his nature.

On the day of his discharge, the staff is both relieved and sad to see him go. I wait by my car as half a dozen nurses wheel him out, laughing and joking all the while. He looks a world of better. He’s put on a bit of weight, and his rounded cheeks are a sunset pink.

As we drive away, I clear my throat. “So, have you decided yet? What I should call you, I mean?”

“How about ‘Dad’?” he says, as he fiddles with the radio.

“I think I’d like that.”

He settles on a rock station, mouthing along with Grace Slick’s haunting voice. He begins to pull at his hospital bracelet, which simply reads, “Doe, J.”

“I hate these damn things,” he hisses. Yes, he hisses.

I wave a hand over his wrist and whisper. The bracelet falls off his wrist, landing on the seat unbroken.

“You’ve been practicing,” he says.

“I still have a long way to go,” I say.

“You have no idea, my dear,” he says, patting my knee and staring ahead at a road that seems to extend further than the horizon. “Oh, the places you’ll go.”