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They packed the tools and left Flora’s booth. Josephine led the way. She, being ever so fearless, had no problem walking without supporting herself on the rope and hugging the bright cobalt fanny pack with the kitten in front of her. That was no surprise.
What did surprise Flora was that she didn’t feel the need to hang tightly onto the rope or to keep touching the wall. The kitten functioned like a magnet and as long as Flora followed Josephine with the kitten, she had no worry in the world. No fear of falling into the chasm, or others falling; no feeling insignificant at the overwhelming scale of the pit.
That kitten, right there, in the fanny pack out of Flora’s sight, was worth taking all the risks in the world. It was her beacon.
The right combination of water and soap revealed the first filth-free spots on the kitten. It was a he, a male orange tabby. Even his eyes were orangy-yellowy. Flora and Josephine let out an amazed, deeply touched “Awwww” in unison.
During the subsequent process of removing the coat of filth, the kitten fiercely protested against being soaked. He cried at the top of his lungs, so loudly that Josephine had to put her screen on manual mode and play some noisy cat videos to mask the authenticity of this cat.
Strangely, the cat didn’t attempt to run from the two humans’ grasps. He seemed to know that he needed a bath; he just didn’t think it necessary to hide the fact that he hated bathing nevertheless.
When the kitten had exhausted himself and his crying had subdued enough to be buried by the noises of the recorded cats on the screen, Josephine left her booth briefly.
Meanwhile, Flora finished bathing the kitten’s tail. It really was like a rodent’s: thin and graceless. Flora had seen many such kitten tails on Firmament. Soon, this kitten would grow a gorgeous coat of awn hairs, undercoat, and guard hairs. Then how proud she’d be! Josephine too. But probably not as much as Flora, because Flora was the cat person. If the animal crying from the duct had been a dog, Josephine would’ve been even more excited. So, primarily, the pride for the kitten’s gorgeous tail would be Flora’s.
The kitten had chosen Flora; their meeting hadn’t just been a coincidence. He’d heard the many meows of long-dead cats playing on Flora’s screen, and known: this booth belonged to a cat mommy.
Josephine soon returned. She’d visited some of her friends. One of them had been willing to give her a single clean but dispensable towel. (Both Flora and Josephine didn’t want to return the towel later, if there was the slightest chance of missing an orange hair hanging on the fabric. That’d lead to questions and undesired attention. The kitten was their secret.)
Because Josephine’s social life resulted in frequent visitors to her booth, it was decided that Flora should keep the kitten in hers.
Later, Josephine kissed the kitten goodbye, and kissed Flora, too, on the cheek.
“Isn’t this exciting,” Josephine said, half to herself, half to Flora.
Flora nodded, her cheeks flushed.
“Let me know if you need anything,” Josephine said.
Flora nodded again and left with the kitten wrapped in the towel.
© 2022 Ithaka O.
All rights reserved.This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.