Fantasy Magical Realism magic cats flash fiction short fiction familiars


By Laura Anne Gilman
Apr 7, 2019 · 788 words · 3 minutes

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From the author: Originally published in the anthology FAMILIARS, edited by Denise Little, it was born out of hearing a man say that he would never date a woman who owned a cat....

There are some lessons we know from birth.  When to sleep, when to rise.  Who to love, and who not.  When to watch.  And when to strike.

He shouldn’t have touched her.  It’s that simple.  He should have wandered by, handsome-man amble, taken one look, and moved on.  I was given to her at birth, hers were the first hands that held me.   She wasn’t for the likes of him.  Most of his kind know better;  they are not fools, not by any shot.  Most look for other partners, more accommodating.  More uncomprehending.

He thought she was alone.

That was his worst mistake.

Food came from her hand, and comfort. She touches, mends.  We grew together, came into our strength together.  The harmed come to her without effort, without volition. I watch, lurk, tangle underfoot.  But some will not be healed; they hug their wounds to them like stigmata. I understand, but she cannot. 

It is a blindness in her; she does not see the movement in the corner of her eyes, the gathering of smallness, small minds, small hearts, small souls.  She always sang; to her plants, her pets, her friends.  Total strangers in the street.   Nothing held back.  And her voice matured with his passion, the notes gold in sunlight, soft and true. And with that passion came new strength; she opened doors inside herself we had not seen before, found rooms there that made her laugh with delight.

Like sunlight, I bask in her song.  It is electric and balm, earth and water and air and fire.

But in dawn and dusk she still whispered to me in the voice of silver and moonlight.  And we had secrets of our own.  As it was meant to be. 

Love is the magic of layers; no one greater, no one the same.

He had to learn that.  I suspected he would not. 

You’re so beautiful,” he said, laying in the bed a lazy morning, touching her hair, her face, her stomach.  The comforter is shoved to their feet, the scent of lovemaking heavy on the sheets.  “I can’t believe you’re mine.”  She smiles, stroking his hair, her eyes sad and knowing as they meet mine.

I see what others only guess at.  I know the secrets speakers have forgotten.

Passion is a possessive.  Love isn’t.  Magic can’t be.

We sit, eye to eye.  He folds the newspaper, ignores me.  He would prefer a dog, something obedient, trained.  It bothers him that I do not look away. 

She laughs at his grumbles, touches my spine lightly.  “Cats are reminders of our pride,” she tells him.  I groom fur back into place, blink knowingly at them both.   

He puts the paper down, leaves the room, and she sighs.  “Patience.” 

I don’t know which of us she’s talking to.

Mid-afternoon sunlight dapples the greenhouse.  She moves through rows of green, her mind distracted.

“I don’t want you spending so much time with him.  With her.  With them.”

With anyone but him.

She sings to the herbs, but they will not grow.

When he sleeps, she wakes.  Still-silent in the moonlight.

She loves him.

I don’t trust him.

He is playful, charming, and the radio plays as they tease and play over dinner.   He reads the newspaper out loud, asks her opinions, doesn’t step on my tail.  I should be content. 

My whiskers twitch.  I don’t like the way he sits.

She sings softly under her breath, trails of moonlight under florescent tubes.  I stroke against her knees, perch on the windowsill, wait.

All it takes is one misstep.

“You can’t do anything right, can you?”

A bitter fight, ending with anger, slammed doors, silent accusations; she is a peaceable sort, there is no other way she could be different. 

He thought that meant she was weak.

She loves him.

I hate him.

The sky is thick and cold.  Artificial lights fill the greenhouse, but make no difference.  Nothing grows.

“You’re such a stupid bitch.  I can’t believe I put up with you.”

I watch him now.  Room to room, out the window when he leaves.  Not hiding what I’m doing, not pretending to be anything but what I am.  He was warned. 

She breathes quietly in her room.

I waited.  She’s ready now.

Love is magic of layers.  Hate is a narrow edge.  Whisker of cat, tear of woman.  Some spells need only a whisper of assent, and a slow feline wink.

He should have learned that.  It’s too late now.

This story originally appeared in FAMILIARS.

Laura Anne Gilman

Speculative fiction. Sometimes dark, occasionally slipstream. 100 words to 100,000.