By Laura Schiller

Based on: the Hermux Tantamoq series

Copyright: Michael Hoeye

"I think I should apologize to Tucka," said Mirrin thoughtfully.

Hermux switched his tail in a gesture of surprise. "For the love of cheese," he said, "Whatever for?"

They were taking a walk through Willow Park, with its winding gravel paths, whispering trees and fragrant lilac bushes. It was a cool spring day, with a frsh wind smlling of erth and growing things. A sparrow soared by above them, caroling out loud along with the song on her headphones. A heavyset mole jogged past, huffing and puffing, followed by a family of squirrels with a young cricket bouncing along on a leash. Hermux had been enjoying the weather and people-watching; the last thing he needed right now was a reminder of Tucka Mertslin.

Mirrin shrugged, looking chagrined. "Well, you remember my cat paintings, don't you?"

"Oh, boy, do I!" he muttered. How could he forget?

"The mayor almost closed the museum," Mirrin went on. "The press went wild. I was painting and exhibiting something we weren't allowed to talk about. People thought it was vulgar, tasteless … if I were an art student, my professor would almost certainly have banned me from the course."

Hermux threw her a sharp glance, putting two and two and two together. So that was what this was all about. He rolled his eyes.

"Don't tell me you're sorry about Tucka's – mousetrap installation!"

"As a matter of fact," said Mirrin ruefully, "I am. Her project was controversial, yes. It broke some social taboos, yes. But was that any reason to call her a barbarian and throw her out of the studio? And now, here I am, having done the very same thing I punished her for. It's not really fair, is it?"

He had to admire his friend's sense of justice, but in his opinion, worrying over Tucka's feelings from an incident one generation ago was taking it a little too far.

"It's not the same thing," he blurted out.

She looked up at him inquiringly. "How?"

They walked in silence for a few steps as Hermux reflected. This was Mirrin's way; he supposed it came from being a teacher. A very good teacher.

"Well," he began, "For one thing, you had the best of intentions. You explained it yourself at the press conference: your cat paintings were to make us face our fear, wrestle with it, bring it out into the open rather than hiding it in the dark. What sort of explanation did Tucka give?"

Mirrin closed her eyes with a grimace. "Art is dead," she quoted. "You could be next."

"There! You see?" Hermux was warming up to his subject now. "She wanted to shock you, nothing more. She probably loved you screaming at her – there's no such thing as negative attention for Tucka. She soaks it up like a sponge.

"Your paintings are beautiful, Mirrin," he wound up. "Eerie, but beautiful. You worked on them with all your heart and soul for six months. And I saw the way you made those cats' eyes gleam in the shadows, as if they were alive. Even I know it takes a lot of skill and practice to paint like that. Somehow I can't see Tucka constructing that mousetrap by herself."

The two friends shared a crooked smile at the thought of the millionaire celebrity engaged in manual labor.

Mirrin linked arms with her younger friend. Her tensely flattened ears relaxed; she lifted her head and turned her nose to the spring wind.

"Thank you for that, Hermux," she said. "I'm glad I have you to tell me these things. And I'm definitely glad you talked me out of eating humble-pie for Tucka."

"A gruesome prospect for any sensible rodent," Hermux remarked, with a laugh and a shudder. "No, Tucka's ego doesn't need us to inflate it any further."

"Especially not her dear, dotty old professor," said Mirrin.

"You could never be old and dotty to me, Mirrin," said Hermux gallantly.

Squeezing the arm of the friend who was like a son to her, Mirrin walked on into a patch of sunshine – a warmth she could feel on her fur and (an incredible sensation, still, after three years of blindness) a light she could see with her eyes, gilding the trees and Hermux's round, smiling face.