by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Dancing in the Moonlight: Rainfurrest 2013 Charity Anthology
Jason’s brushy tail wagged like a flag as he trotted down the sidewalk in front of his house. He strained his neck against the leash, just a little, to help his master out. His master was always reluctant to go on walks, and the only explanation Jason could think of was that she must tire out easily. Heaven knew, Jason had energy to spare, so it was only fair that he help pull her along.
Inside the house, Jason’s master unclipped his leash, freeing the Collie pup of boundless energy to run from room to room until he found Myra, the aged Siamese cat.
“Myra!” he barked when he found her sitting in a windowsill. “I just went on another walk!”
Myra’s dark ears flattened, trying vainly to shut out the clamor of Jason’s barking.
“There were squirrels! And ducks! And I almost made it into the lake today, but the master’s feet seemed to get stuck, and she got so heavy, I just couldn’t pull her into the water!”
Blue eyes glared at Jason.
“Don’t worry,” he barked, “I’m sure I’ll pull her into the water tomorrow.”
The eyes kept glaring.
Jason felt compelled to make Myra understand how wonderful his walk had been, so he jumped his front paws up onto the windowsill beside her, bringing his nose into swatting range. Myra swatted him.
“What was that for!” Jason barked. “I was just trying to get close enough that you’d be able to hear me tell you about the squirrels and ducks!”
A sound rose in Myra’s throat — low and sinister — that made Jason’s nerves jangle. “I don’t care about squirrels and ducks,” she hissed. “Leave me alone.”
Jason couldn’t believe that. Of course, Myra cared about squirrels and ducks. How could she not? They were so exciting when they ran away from him! Maybe he hadn’t explained them well enough. Or… Well, the more Jason thought about it, maybe explaining squirrels and ducks wasn’t really enough. Maybe, one had to actually see them. Oneself.
“Do you ever get to go on walks?” Jason barked.
Myra skewed one of her ears and stared at Jason scornfully. She didn’t need to answer that question. They lived in the same house, day in and day out. He went on a walk every day. Sometimes their master took him to the beach. Myra slept on the sofa and the windowsill and behind the washing machine. She was in the house when he left on his walks. She was in the house when he came back. She was an indoor-only cat.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Myra,” Jason barked. He’d never thought before about what it would be like to miss out on chasing squirrels and ducks, meeting other dogs on their walks, and splashing in the ocean surf. Suddenly, Myra’s life looked very small to him.
In his moment of sympathy for her, Jason looked up into Myra’s blue eyes and saw the room they stood in reflected in miniature. He saw himself, brown eyes and bushy brown fur, looking sad and concerned staring back from inside the confines of that little world. But, as he stared, he felt himself drawn in deeper, down into the tiny, reflected world inside those blue eyes.
Inside Myra’s eyes, the glass panels of the windows behind her melted away, becoming portals to a magical realm. In that realm, squirrels and ducks didn’t run from her. They chittered and squawked in languages Jason had heard before but never understood. The squirrels brought her gifts of nuts and berries, and the ducks fanned her with their wings, calling her a queen. They held dances in her honor. All night long, the ducks and squirrels whirled and twirled together in the shimmering moonlight beside the lake.
Myra lived years among them, longer than Jason would live in a lifetime, and when she died, her life would only be a tiny part of the great string of lifetimes she would live — each life a pearl on a necklace worn by a great goddess cat Jason had never imagined. A cat who’s ears were black holes and eyes were stars. Her whiskers were gossamer nebulae.
Jason glimpsed snatches of Myra’s other lives:
— a black cat sniffing a bubbling cauldron as a woman poured potions into it and chanted–
— a great striped tiger, running through the dappled light of a jungle–
— a giant beast with a whiskered face, a sinuous spine, dozens of legs, and wings that blotted out the sky–
— a brown dog, an overgrown puppy really, barking uselessly at a Siamese cat he loved but didn’t understand…
Oh! That was Jason. And in that moment of infinite regression, Jason felt himself falling into himself and into himself, over and over again, through the double mirror of his own and Myra’s eyes. There were depths inside those feline eyes that Jason had never imagined.
Then, Myra looked away, breaking the spell and snapping Jason back into himself. She turned her pale blue eyes toward the glass wall of the windowpane, an impenetrable barrier to her frail, cat’s body.
Jason watched her, stunned into silence, for once. She could not follow him into the world outside their house. But she had worlds inside her that he could only barely begin to smell.