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Cat Got Your Tongue? MAG
"Cat got your tongue?”
God, I hated that phrase.
I hated a lot of phrases.
I hated that metaphor. Why would a cat be holding my tongue. Why not say, “Speechless?” or, “at a loss?”
It was a snobby thought, I guess. Questioning the strangeness of the English language.
But doubtless James just laughed.
He always laughed like he could hear my thoughts, my silly, ridiculous thoughts. I had to smile when he laughed. I didn’t have a choice.
“Do you like cats?”
I grinned. We were laying in the grass in the park down the street. It wasn’t a very nice park—most of it was littered and graffitied.
But it was nice for us, we could be alone there.
“Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering.” Again, I wondered if he could read my thoughts.
“No, James, I don’t think I like cats very much.”
I had to think for a moment. What made me dislike cats? Claws? Shiny eyes? Hissing? No.
“They kill birds,” I said. “I like birds.”
Sometimes, James acted like a cat.
He lounged around as if he owned the world, green eyes always glittering with that intelligent glint. But he never turned on people like a cat would.
He was gentle, maybe the most gentle person I’d ever met.
He cried, sometimes, and I always wondered why. I never cried.
“Do boys cry?” I wondered.
I’d certainly cried before. But not for a while now.
James, he cried whenever he felt the need to cry. He didn’t choke himself on tears or hold back when he was sad.
I always asked him what it was he cried about, but he never really gave me an answer.
“You’ll know soon, Alex,” he’d whisper. “You’ll see.”
The way he said it scared me.
I think cats keep secrets.
I’ve always thought that—they always looked like they were hiding something, with those dark, sharp eyes.
I think that’s on of the reasons I didn’t like them.
“Let’s make a rule, Alex.”
James loved rules, because they were guidelines for him to live on. Whatever it was, if it was strange or unknown, there was probably some rule regarding it he could follow. Whether it was Chutes and Ladders or the Bible, James always like his guidelines.
“Sure, what kinda rule?”
“If we ever fall in love, stop me.”
I froze, because I’d never even thought of falling in love with James, because he was a boy and I’d never thought about falling in love with boys before.
But the world seemed small and certain, then.
Falling in love is a lot like summer.
Because summer is something you wait for, day after day, month after month as you watch leaves fall, then snow, then it melts, then the flowers bloom, and then summer arrives and you hardly notice. Because at first, even though school is out, summer still seems to float between spring and parts of spring still stay and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s even summer at all or if it’s just spring in disguise.
I didn’t notice I’d fallen in love until summer was almost over, and there was no spring left.
“No secrets, James.” I said it because everything was a secret and a mystery except him. Him I knew.
“I don’t keep secrets from you,” James said, sounding confused. We were in my room, and I was laying on my bed and staring at the ceiling instead of him.
“Yes you do,” I said softly. “You’ve always kept secrets, James. You’re just like those cats.” He laughed quietly.
“Okay, Alex. No more secrets.” His voice had tears in it, though I didn’t know why.
“Please don’t cry again, James.”
There was a cat on 21st Street that haunted the neighborhood like a phantom, all black with green eyes like the ones witches keep.
It kept staring at me when I sat on my porch, and I felt like it was some kind of bad omen. When you’re young, everything seems like a sign.
James read a lot.
He read like he wanted to read all the books in the world and he was running out of time. Good books, too, not just the comics like I read. James read Dante and Plato and Voltaire. He liked thinking, thinking about the world and the universe. I always thought that all that philosophy seemed pointless until suddenly, I had questions too.
Like why the universe made me love James, or why it also gave him a rare blood disorder that was creeping up on him his whole life, waiting to take him from me.
“Don’t cry, Alex. You’re always telling me not to cry.”
But I couldn’t help it, I was losing him.
“I’m sorry I broke our rule.”
“It’s okay, I did too.”
The cat on 21st died that same week.
I found it mewing pathetically behind a shrub, and I scooped it up in my arms and started to cry with it. And I hadn’t cried in years, but that week I cried enough for a century.
And that cat just lay there, curling against my body slowly until it lay still and I couldn’t put it down because it looked too much like him, green-eyed and sad and lifeless.
And I didn’t hate cats anymore.
I don’t think I ever really did. F