Tick. Tick. Tick.
I lay on my bed on Saturday morning, flat on my back with my watch pressed to my ear. I listened to the patient, steady ticks.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The house was empty except for my dad and me, and he was down in the basement, working in his studio. Mom was out on one of her short trips from the house, grocery shopping. Dylan, my older brother, was hanging out at the mall with some of his more distasteful friends. I was glad he was out of the house—he could be incredibly annoying at times—but without Mom and with Dad practically nonexistent in his studio, I was all alone except for Emilia.
Emilia was my new baby sister that was just born a few weeks ago. I had been frequently assigned to watch over her. I wasn't used to a baby in the house. She made me nervous and cried at night so that I hardly got any sleep, and I hardly got any sleep already. That was because of Silver Blue.
Silver Blue had been my cat, my beautiful Siamese cat with her big blue eyes and delicate wedge-shaped face. She had started out as just Blue in the beginning; her brilliant blue eyes deserved a name, my whole family agreed, but I decided she would be Silver Blue. Silver Blue's eyes were special. They were blue, of course, and big and curious; but they had odd little flecks of silvery here and there. I had loved her. I still loved her.
Silver Blue had been a house cat. She almost never went outside, but Dylan had opened the door . . . that morning was emblazoned in my mind. Unwillingly, in my mind's eye, I saw it happen again.
* * *
I stepped down the stairs in just my nightgown, tousle-haired and yawning. The carpet felt rough under my bare feet. It was early, almost five o'clock in the morning, an especially cold, brisk morning in the middle of winter. The house felt icy; I was going to make some hot chocolate for myself before going back to bed.
A flash of creamy white fur materialized at my feet, and a familiar mewling filled the heavy, morning-like silence. I stooped and rubbed behind Silver Blue's ear with the tip of my finger; she liked that. Purring, she nipped my toes lovingly and wove around my cold feet, warming them up. And asking for food. Smiling, I made my way past the door and to the kitchen, talking to her as I went.
"Sorry, Sil, not this early. Better luck later."
Silver Blue mewed again and trotted beside me hopefully as I entered the kitchen and poured myself a glass of milk. Her empty food bowl was on the opposite wall, but I walked purposefully away from it. Clearly she did not understand, but Silver Blue the Siamese had a reputation for being patient. She sat on her haunches, watching unblinkingly with those big, silver-flecked eyes, and mewled. Then she sauntered over, butted her head against my ankles, set her claws into my nightgown and stared up at me. I looked right back at her until it got unbearable. I laughed as quietly as I could and tossed her a cat treat.
"Here you go, Sil, I think you could weasel a treat out of a hungry fox." Silver Blue wolfed down the treat and was back at it again, her odd eyes just shouting for another.
Someone thundered down the stairs, calling my name in surprise. Silver Blue's creamy, dark-tipped ear twitched around toward the noise and back again. She did not turn, but kept watching me. I detached her claws and coolly started to work, getting the chocolate syrup from the pantry and squeezing it into my glass of milk. It was Dylan, not my mother or father; I wasn't in trouble. I pretended to ignore him as he raced partway into the kitchen, causing Silver Blue to leap out of the way, mewling.
"What," Dylan burst out, "are you doing up so—oh, well, I don't care anyway. I have to be up early!"
"Why?" I asked, mixing my milk with the chocolate syrup.
"The newspaper, of course!"
I hid my surprise; Dylan wasn't one to read the newspaper. In fact, he almost never read at all of his own free will.
"Why?" I repeated, taking up my glass and turning to the microwave.
"The hockey game, stupid!" Dylan sneered, "Mom and Dad didn't let me stay up to watch it because I have a science test tomorrow and they said I need my sleep. Ha! Well anyway, I need to see the results in the newspaper! I bet it's front-page!" He leapt for the door and wrenched it open; a flurry of snow blew in as he sprang outside.
"Don't let Silver Blue . . ." Still holding the not-so-hot chocolate, I hurried over just in time to see Silver Blue bounding out. "Silver Blue! Come back, Sil!" I leapt over to catch her, spilling milk and chocolate on the tiles, staring out the door and not caring. What I witnessed next made my heart nearly stop.
Silver Blue, looking exultant and mewling excitedly, the sound I knew so well, was in the middle of the road. "Silver Blue!" Heartbeats, that was all, and then a car careened straight into my cat, my faithful companion for years that I loved so much; and then she was gone. The glass slipped from my numbed fingers and crashed to the floor; I didn't notice my alarmed father rushing down the stairs because of the noise, or Emilia wailing upstairs. Still barefoot and in my nightgown, I raced out the door and onto the street, ignoring cars screeching to a halt as I came running. The car who had hit Silver Blue had stopped, sideways across the road, and someone was getting out of it. I looked around wildly and my eyes fell on a limp, huddled figure on the ground, creamy white and unmoving. I was beside it in an instant, turning it over and feeling it and caressing the fur that had felt so warm when I had rubbed it just a few minutes earlier. I knew she was dead; not only by how her little perfect nose didn't flare and wrinkle as she breathed, but by the wide blue eyes, silver-flecked, that were staring off listlessly into space as if surprised. I shook with sobs; I cradled my cat in my arms, begging her to breathe, to make the little mewl I knew I would never hear again. I didn't even look up as the man in the car hurried over. . .
* * *
Memory swirled. Angrily, I brushed tears that had been forming in my eyes. Silver Blue had died almost a month ago. There was no reason to think about it still. But I had to. I loved her so much; now that she was gone, I kept having to remind myself that no warm purrs would welcome me home in the afternoon after a long day of school; no more would there be a cuddle under the covers on cold nights, or soft fur to pat and stroke when you were stressed. Never again.
Never, I thought fiercely, not even with . . . I had been so sad and despondent that Dad had bought me a new cat, a cute Siamese kitten that we hadn't named yet. He had said it was beautiful. No, my mind snarled, not cute. Not beautiful. Not as beautiful as Silver Blue. I refused to like the kitten. I shoved it away when it came near. I stepped out of its way when it asked for food. It didn't have eyes like Silver Blue; it wasn't special like she had been. No cat would ever be as special as her. When Silver Blue died, I decided to give up liking cats altogether, and that's exactly what I was doing.
A wail from Emilia broke my thoughts; I scrambled off my bed and hurtled to her room. She was on her back, awake from her nap, her red face wrinkled with screaming. I smiled foolishly at her and made funny faces; she screeched louder. I fetched her rattle and shook it in front of her face; she batted it away with surprising strength and I ducked as it was knocked flying from my unsuspecting grip. I yelped. As soon as that happened, Emilia's wails cut off and she actually giggled. I glared at her, and her lip trembled. Uh-oh.
Three blind mice,
Three blind mice,
See how they run . . .
I patted her near-bald head and started backing out of the room. Emilia seemed to quiet down immediately at nursery rhymes; I tried to think of another.
There once was a woman
who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children
she didn't know what to do . . .
Emilia smiled like the sun and chuckled in her baby way. Free! I retreated back to my room to resume my position on my bed. As I went, I pressed my watch to my ear again, listening to the reassuring ticking. It was the only way I could be completely calm and content since the accident. I liked the ticking. It was so steady, so continuous. I rounded the corner to my room and made to go in, but I took one look at my bed and stopped dead in my tracks, framed in the doorway and staring. There, perched jauntily in the middle of my bed, sat the kitten, looking for all the world like she owned the place. Exactly the way Silver Blue used to. Anger bubbled up all at once, hot furious waves rushing over me. I leapt into the room and swept the kitten into my arms.
"No!" I cried fiercely, right down the kitten's black-tipped ear, and it yowled. I tossed it out, not too gently at all, and slammed the door shut. Then, sobbing with rage, I threw myself upon my bed and beat at the covers. How dare that kitten do the same as Silver Blue? How dare she even try to take her place? I hated the kitten, hated my dad for bringing her. I stayed in my room all afternoon and didn't come out, even when the kitten scratched at my door at its feeding time. Let it be hungry, I thought to myself, I don't care.
It was five-thirty when I heard footsteps, murmurs from down the hall and Emilia's familiar gurgles and chuckles. A few seconds later, Mom poked her head in the door. Her face was gentle.
"Are you still sad about Silver Blue?"
I jerked my head violently; it might have been taken for a nod. Mom came in all the way, revealing Emilia slung around her neck.
"Would you like to be left alone, then?"
Another grunt, another jerk. "All right," came the quiet answer, "I'll bring your dinner up." The door closed gently. In a few minutes Mom came in, delivered a plate of stew and mashed potatoes and left. I hardly touched the food, though it was my favorite kind of meal. Instead, determined to put my mind on something else, I got my big book of short stories and tore through the first ones. I was just starting on the fifth when Mom came and said it was lights out; it was a quarter to eleven.
After grumbling a bit, I got under my covers and put out the light. It was still January, and very cold; I shivered under my blanket and wished Silver Blue was here. It was one of those nights where she would come and curl up under my arm and warm me up. But not anymore. I fell asleep after some time and dreamed of Silver Blue coming back as I came home from school; there she was, peering out of the glass on her usual vigil on the windowsill every day, watching and waiting for me to come home. Her delicate wedge-shaped head, her dark little paws and ears and tail-tip, her creamy white fur and, most of all, those big bright blue eyes with their silver flecks. Oh, how I loved her. I ran to meet her, burst through the front door, but as she came running to greet me, she faded away, wisping to nothing in my arms . . .
And I came awake in the middle of the night, stiff and cold with my blankets all twisted up; from thrashing around in my dream, I supposed. It was one of those times when you wake up after sleeping awhile and you can't move at all; you'd be stiff and frozen and so dozy and droopy; I could hardly keep my eyes open. I listened to the raindrops pattering hard on the roof and listened to Dylan snoring in the next room over; I listened as Emilia gave a faint wail and fell silent. Oh, I was so lonely, so lonely. Effortfully, I put my arm up against my ear and tried the watch trick, but, to my shock, no ticking came from the watch. It was broken—it had to be broken! Oh, I knew it could be fixed easily in the morning, but now, on this cold night when I needed comfort the most, the watch was broken. No calming ticking; no reassuring steadiness. Nothing at all.
"Oh, Silver Blue," I whispered, tears in my eyes, "Oh, Sil . . . I miss you so much . . . why'd you have to go out, Sil? Why? Why?" All at once, I burst out crying, and the harder I tried to stop myself, the harder it came. I muffled my sobs with my blankets; I didn't want Mom or Dad coming in now. I wanted to be alone. Oh, Silver Blue. . .
And then, something—something furry and soft and warm—slipped up under the covers past my leg, and slid under my elbow just the way Silver Blue used to do. My heart skipped a beat. Had my dream come true? Was Silver Blue . . . ? I lifted the covers and for a second I thought it was true. Gazing back at me were big eyes glowing in a wedgeshaped, creamy-furred head, with delicate black paws sticking out underneath, but it was too small for Silver Blue. I was faintly disappointed, but, to my surprise, I felt a rush of pleasure as I stared down at the kitten that I had come to hate so much. Was the little thing such a nuisance? Did it deserve to be disliked so? It was cute—it was very cute, in fact. And that was when the rush of pleasure turned to a rush of love.
"Pussy pussy," I whispered to it, just as I used to do to my old cat long ago, "pussy pussy under my covers, who are you?" It mewled back, and remembrance tingled. I couldn't stop myself; I burst into silent tears again, but tears of happiness.
The kitten, which I have named Blue because of her eyes, became special to me all at once. She reminded me of Silver Blue all the time, the way she looked and did things, but in a good way. I laughed when I saw her do something that my cat had done before and said, "Why, she looked just like Silver Blue then!" I sat talking to Blue for long hours about Sil, recalling the times she and I had spent having fun and even telling her about the day Sil had died.
To this day Blue and I are best friends. I know that she could never equal up to Silver Blue, for Sil was the best of the best, but Blue was good enough. She may not have had silverflecked eyes, and she may not have been as special, but she had done something miraculous to me. For on that cold, rainy night in January, she won my love and showed me that all things had to pass on. I let Silver Blue pass on. I remembered her with love and joy, not sadness and gloom. I recalled her capers laughingly to my family and friends. But never once in all my years did I ever forget an inch of the creamy-white cat with the big blue silver-flecked eyes.