She was a spiritual pestilence.
Every time I begged for the sound of silence, she would sit with a book between her knees and shout, I am king, I was king. Her paws would pull against the pages and she would continue to sing the prose.The days I could take the noise, she would stand before an easel, her paws caked with dried paint, hushed.
She was an unusually exuberant Wocky.
"And you are a very boring Wocky," she'd tell me. Every Tuesday, we would sit in at the Neolodge for dinner. We would remain side by side as she pawed her meal. Our Nimmo waiter would expect us every week and sit us by the third window from the exit. He would stand patiently over her as she looked at me, her cheek resting on her balled paw. I wouldn't say much on Tuesday, and she would speak endlessly.
A dark red curl would usually poke out from the ice blue hat she wore. Take it off, I would tease. She didn't enjoy the teasing very much, or at all. But I didn't care much. I never understood why she wore it.
Once through the door of my home, she'd pull off her hat and a red sea would fall to the small of her back. I'd pull the key from the lock and throw it in the clay bowl she made. My artist, I'd muse and her shadow furred face would grow hot.
The days were long that fall and winter. I worked most nights at the garden centre in the bazaar, cataloging inventory for the morning. Arty would hand me the keys to the plant room and wag his large Blumaroo head at the books.
"How plants become you," she would mock, her red locks tumbling over my torn couch. But she never saw the garden under the moonlight. I used to bring my pen and journal in my satchel. When the numbers were logged, I'd sit next to a daisy or two and pen my thoughts. I would look at the gnomes on the shelves, one was a Wocky like me, and see toy soldiers out to champion Meridell. But my pen would stay poised over the crisp paper, no ink blotting the margins.
The sun would rise and the flowers would wake and open to the warm caress of the rays. I would wait outside as Arty would march up the streets to his shop. Tonight, the Blumaroo would call as I walked home.
I'd cross the drive to see her on my stoop, her hat placed firmly on her head. She wouldn't smile at first, but as I leaned on the iron railing, her face would beam. I'd open the door and I'd see it all over again, the sea raging against the wind.
We'd play this game again and again through Gathering, Collecting, Storing, Celebrating. By Sleeping, I've seen less of her and my pen would stay stuck in my paw, only now a blot would appear on the page. She said she was finishing her pièce de résistance and needed space. Space. The word echoed in my skull for a moment and pushed itself out again. Right, I said. After a few weeks, she was back. Her painting of Lord Kass hung over my fireplace.
Tuesday again. It's Awakening now and we were sitting at the third window from the exit. This time, neither of us are talking. I heard her telling the Nimmo something and saw him walking away slowly. She reached over the table and gently stroked my face. This was her way of telling me, Let's go, but I shook the touch. She got up from the table. I was alone again.
Two days later, she appeared on my door step.
"I had written a bold You on my paper tonight," I told her.
"Good," she said. Again, the sea, and again the book between her knees and the shout, We are kings.
By Running, it was good again. The dinners, the moonlight. But one day was different.
As I was passing through the square to begin my day from a night at the garden, I saw a figure. She was standing in the middle of the square, posing, her head resting on her shoulder. I saw a Scorchio graze the red mane, and return to his own easel. I saw her face light up at the touch. As I moved closer, I put my paw through her hair and the statue turned. There she stood, her wide eyes fixed on me. I turned out of the square and off to my stoop. I stood there for a while, seeing her ghost.
As I turned the key and closed the door behind me, I saw Lord Kass's red eyes bearing down on me. I guess he wasn't the only one with invisible demons to face.
I pulled her painting off the wall and tore it through my knee. I doused the broken pieces in fluid and scratched a match. The pieces burned and I watched them smolder as the day turned into night. Red sparks shot from the pieces of wood that held the canvas and I sank to the floor.
It was Hunting now. I sat dutifully this Tuesday at the Neolodge. I had lost what little appetite I had left. I was living on tea and the moonlight. Tonight, I watched my tea leaves grow cold in my seat at the table. I didn't see her ghost anymore. I guess I wasn't like Lord Kass after all.
The Nimmo waiter approached the table quietly. His thin finger touched my coat and pointed at the tea. I shook my head quickly and wrapped the cup in my paws. I felt him hovering over the table, breathing sharply. I pulled out my journal and looked at the You written between the lines.
The waiter's voice startled me. I couldn't even reply before he slipped into the third chair at the table. He repeated his question. He must have registered my quizzical look and rose from the table. I did the same, threw some coins on the table, and walked out.
My nights at the garden centre were now spent mostly pulling the petals off of the flower closest to my shoulders. Storing was upon us and the chill from the brisk wind blew through my fur.
Six months had passed with no sight of her. I would go home and sit with the splinters of the wood frame of her art.
Standing here now in the garden centre, I took a deep breath. I turned silently toward my satchel and pulled out my pen and journal. The hard plastic of both felt strange in my paws. I had resisted writing these months. Nothing would stir me. I retired from dinner at the lodge, but I often saw the Nimmo waiter passing through the doors, his uniform neatly pressed. His life went on without us.
Tonight, I felt the knot in my chest. I saw her face for the last time and wished for those locks again.
Pressing the tip of the pen to the crisp paper, I wrote a few words. I continued to write until the sun reached its apex.
"Go home," Arty said, reaching around and patting my back.
Standing before the fireplace, I read the words I had written over and over again until the embers began to smoulder. Crumbling the paper, I tossed it into the smoke. The smoke rose and wafted over the hot bricks.
She was gone. I felt fine.