It didn’t occur to me I was different from other cats until my boy, Joe, began to read a story about a dog who taught himself to read and talk. I learned by mimicking Joe’s voice.
Joe kept my secret, and when he reached adulthood, we moved to study law. After graduation we ran a one-man practice, me his secret partner. He did the face-to-face, and I did the research and some of the calls.
We were at the height of our game when the pandemic hit. Joe was among the first to fall ill. I begged him to let me call someone, but Joe said he’d spent his life protecting my secret and since that meant isolation, there wasn’t anyone to call. I lay on his chest reading to him until his chest rose no more.
You may think cats unfeeling, and, after reading this you still might, but I tell you it hurt. I’d lost my friend, familiar, colleague… but I needed to survive. If his body was found I’d be taken to a shelter. I’d worked too hard to end like that.
As I looked down at his ashen face my spirit roused. I idly batted the virtual reality gaming device we’d often played in, forming an idea. I could use his body scan to create an avatar, like a phone filter, and use that to conduct conference calls from home. Normal practice, thanks to the pandemic and it worked.
During a call, I noticed the faces on the screen twist in shock and confusion. I peered at the tiny box that showed my video feed. Instead of Joe’s (my avatar’s) face, my own peered back at me. I pounced on the power button.
Once my avatar was reinstated, I called again: “Sorry about the last call. My phone does this cat filter… A malfunction or something. Then I knocked coffee on my keyboard…”
“Didn’t you just say you were on your phone?”
“I’ve organised for the Police to see you’re alright.”
I maintained my poker face until the call ended. When the knock on the door came, I panicked and scrambled into the garbage shoot. I was spat out just another stray.
Months later I sat watching a young girl holding a bewildered puppy by the cheeks.
“C’mon! Speak! I won’t tell!”
She gave up and resumed reading a book. I’d recognise that cover anywhere. This was my chance!
“Hello.” I rubbed up against her.
“You can’t tell anyone, or they’ll do nasty experiments on me.”
She glanced at the book about the talking dog that would confirm my fears. “I won’t.”
“Even to your parents?”
“They died, and Grandma’s old.” She sobbed. “Social Services say I won’t be able to stay if she can’t remember to answer the phone and pay the bills.”
“I can help with that.” I purred.
It turns out being part of a family wasn’t a bad way to spend your days, after all.
By Catherine Pratt