by John Hansom

 

A white cat with fur smooth like porcelain leads three children through fragrant streets at night. All around them are outbursts of love. A horse chestnut falls and hits one on the centre of her skull. The others laugh. It’s warm, maybe thirty degrees, but the children are too young to wish they were by the sea. They marvel at street art, street art glazed by lamps. Wolves with sable eyes and switchblade teeth. The ghost of a crippled dog. Astronauts bunched in balls. The cat doesn’t care. He keeps his round head straight, staring forward. The children pad on tar, behind him. They point at things in the night. One of the kids keeps trying to get the others interested in the shape of the cat’s head. It’s almost perfectly spherical (“almost” perfectly since a perfect sphere doesn’t really exist in any part of nature, but to the child the cat’s head is indeed a perfect sphere, something he finds wondrous, though his companions are for some reason or another less enthused). They pass under wisteria. Now they’re all under the spell. They can’t get their heads around that particular shade of blue. The trees’ petals are wet and they fall fast, burdened with raindrops. It’s raining, but very lightly.

The cat hooks left, they follow it. Still no cars. None mobile. They sit kerbside like sleeping pigs. One of the kids, the girl, is getting drunk off the strong smell of flowers, in the way that you can, when you’re a kid. Back then alcohol wouldn’t have appealed to you, even if you’d been allowed to drink it. For this reason the girl stops to stare at an arbour, flaring with blue stars, morning glories. Lights are on in the house, one window is ajar, the kind of window that opens at the bottom. Thick Arabic conversation enters the night, through the window. The children like it, since they rarely hear a language that is not English (except for one boy, whose mother is Italian, who gets to hear her yelling over the phone every once in a while). He walks under the arbour, pretending it’s magical, and that he’ll feel different, feel special, like something that happens in a film, when he passes through. He doesn’t, and he tries a few times before resigning himself to this, not particularly bothered by it in the end. The cat sniffs the kerb. The smell of cinnamon mixes with flowers. Those people cook well. Now all three kids are drunk.

The oak trees make them feel safe, that and the familiarity of the streets. Their parents left them in a different room, while they got drunk together. Drunk in that other way. They forgot to lock the door. They’d be screaming through the streets if they knew what had happened. They will soon. Luckily the cat’s not leading them far. The oaks canopy the road, their branches touching like lush fingers. Like the fingers of giants, as one kid sees it. Still no cars. The children aren’t great friends, not like their parents are, but they like each other well enough and never fight. Initially they’d chased the cat. He wasn’t having it, so they took to trailing behind, compensated by the damp museum around them. The cat might have somewhere in mind to go, but he knows he’s got an entourage because he waits until the children have stopped staring at the foreign house with its eggshell weatherboards and perfumed greenery to continue. They’ve been walking for half an hour, and soon they will be swept up in larger arms. More petals fall, on pale red bricks. The clouds draw back. The moon is in a sliver, or a sickle, or a fishing hook, or a curled toenail, or a mascaraed eyelash.

 

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John Hanson’s work is in Bop Dead City, The Eunoia Review, The Literateur and other places. He floats around Hanoi these days.

 

 

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