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Kittenhood

by Ray Miller


Everything around me is soft. It is dark, and there is no more weeping. I try to look around, but I am immobile; my muscles barely respond. This is hardly surprising, given the circumstances.

I trudge through the mud of my most recent memories: the motorized bed, the nurse and her endless paper cups of pills, my daughter’s forlorn face. The fading light, my fuzzing vision, my veins losing their vigor.

And now I am here.


Is this the close? Where are the towering gates, where is the carpet of clouds? Terror begins to set in, and the only familiar thing is the fear of unfamiliarity. It is just so dark—no walls, no beginnings, no ends. Somewhere, there is the sound of a door opening. In vain I strain forwards, trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything. And then there is a voice, gentle and beckoning—is it you, Mother, where are you, have you been waiting for me all this time, I can’t see you, I can’t see anything thing at all—


Hit by a wave of exhaustion, I collapse back into the warmth.


***


I am not alone.


I have found myself in a tangle of bodies, chest on top of spine on top of neck. Our contours enmesh and intertwine. I cannot explain it, but I feel safer, though I never would have wanted to be this close to so many others just a short while ago. When was that? How long ago? It is still dark and now I wriggle with these somehow familiar bodies, like I am woven into Rodin’s Gates of Hell; is that where I am? It cannot be. I wasn’t perfect but I was decent. Besides, Hell is meant to burn; this warmth is solace. I suppose this place does not need a name, not for now. For now I must sleep. I am so very tired.


***


The need for nourishment—a limb reaches out from somewhere and draws me close. Is this love?


***


I cannot remember my daughter’s face. I know her individual features, but cannot put them together: her round brown eyes, her slightly curved nose, her mouth. What did her mouth look like? I focus on the thought so hard I grow dizzy, yet I can do nothing but fail. I hear her glasslike laugh from the back of my Chevy, tucked in her car seat as I drive her to school. I see the ends of her hair catching the light as she twirls in our living room, wearing a princess costume, dancing to a movie soundtrack. But when I try to look at her face it hides from me, ducking beyond the corners of my sight. I cry out, my voice unrecognizable. The bodies beside me cry out as well, but I cannot understand them. Someone please hear me, tell me what her mouth looked like, I want to see her, I want to remember—


***


It must be morning. Light is creeping its way through the cracks over my eyes, forcing its way in until it is so bright I am certain I will go blind, until I remember I already am. And then, just as suddenly, I am not.


It feels like an age has passed since I saw. That must be why I’m not very good at it. The forms around me are indistinct, so blurred that nothing seems to have edges. It is as if I’m in the midst of a watercolor painting, too near the other shapes to make anything of them. I try to ask the bodies around me if they can see now, too. I can feel them writhing beside me, crying out, same as I, but their words are not words, or if they are I can’t understand them.


I make another attempt to move, a regular exploit of mine. I’m slowly improving, but my limbs are uncoordinated. My body is not the same as it used to be, arms and legs and an upright torso. My steps are trembling. It takes so much energy to move. I am so weak. I am so hungry.


A palm lifts me off of the ground. I am so small within it. I have given up the notion that it is God. I nuzzle into the space between the thumb and forefinger. Skin feels so different from my familiar bodies. It feels naked.


***


I can now see that I am surrounded by blankets. Flannels bearing cartoon dinosaurs, overlapping zigzags, poorly drawn trees. I can stand now, for what feels like a full minute, but I always lose track of numbers when I attempt to count. I’m driven to walk around, to discover—perhaps I am regaining something I lost long ago, back in my youth, when everything in the world was new and exciting. The other day I found the corner of a blanket and was fascinated to find an end to something. Then I felt rather foolish. But the next day I was quite excited again, and spent some time at the corner with one of my familiar bodies. I think we were playing. It was joy.


***


A sweet scent wafts in from beyond the doorway. Chocolate? I cry out, begging for one more taste. My siblings are shifting beside me; two of them are mewing, too. I don’t know what they’re asking for. Not-God reaches out for me; my legs buckle and I fall.


***


I have been given a small object with a bell inside that jingles whenever I touch it. The object is strangely familiar. I’ve spent the morning chasing it, but I can never really catch it. When I notice my limbs before me I think I can tell what they are. But it feels unimportant. My mother calls; she will protect me.

***


I am being spoken to. The sounds—maybe words, maybe something I can no longer reach—seem far away, as if coming from a distant world.



Ray Miller (she/her) is a writer, semi-competitive Pokémon player, and pasta enthusiast from California. She believes in the power of fairy tales and Garamond. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at Columbia University and is a first reader at Reservoir Road Literary Review.

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