Cats In The Cradle

Luna Silvereyes

"Mom, I'm back,"

Shizuku shut the door behind her as she shoved her bag inside, removing her shoes in the entryway. Bundled up on the couch beneath the window, her mother opened her eyes wearily and sniffled, "Oh, hi Shizuku. How was school?" she wheezed, sitting up with a heavy cough.

"It was good. Yuuko's a bit loopy these days since Sugimura started dating that Inoue girl from class 3. But she'll be fine. How's your cold doing?"

Her mother rubbed her bleary eyes and sighed, masking another cough, "Terrible. Did you get the tea I asked for, honey?" she moaned.

"Sure did. I'll make it for you now," Shizuku said, hurrying into the kitchen. As she grabbed down the teapot and some cups, setting some water to boil, she happened to glance out the window at a wall of black clouds slowly moving over Tokyo.

"Looks like we're in for some rain," she called.

"Uh-huh. Weatherman says we're in for a long haul. Today might be a good day for me to snooze and for you to snuggle up with another book,"

"Actually, I was thinking of doing a bit of writing,"

Her mother wrapped the blanket around herself again and sniffed, "Really?" she said with a smile, "What's this week's title gonna be?"

Shizuku poured a little bit of honey into the cups of tea she'd poured and stirred it in, setting the cups onto a tray to take over to the couch, "Not sure. I'm not really even sure what I want to write about is the thing. Normally I'd talk to Seiji about it. You know, that boy who reads my work? But he's not in Tokyo right now,"

Her mother attempted to sit back up after laying down again, "That boy from school? Wasn't he the one who checked out all those books?" she asked as Shizuku handed her the cup of tea and then sat down on the floor beside her.

"Yeah. He's studying to be a violin maker. He's going to spend a few years in Italy studying under a master," she answered, taking a tentative sip of her tea. It was hot, so she started to blow on it to cool it.

"Why don't you email him?"

"No computer. We write back and forth. Normally I'd talk to him for ideas, but...," Shizuku trailed off with a careless shrug, glancing away. She was hiding her disappointed face from her mother, but the woman knew better. She was fully aware that Shizuku was rather in love with that Seiji boy. But she was careful not to let her father know about it. Even Shiho had difficulty dating anyone with her father constantly monitoring email and letters that arrived everyday. He was more than a little protective of his daughters, that much was certain.

"So no ideas then?" she said, pausing to cough into her sleeve.

"Nope," Shizuku mumbled dejectedly, "And it's kinda depressing. I haven't been able to come up with any good ideas for a while,"

Her mother watched her daughter solemnly for a moment. Since Shizuku had finished her novel, having finally revealed that as being the big secret to her family some time ago, she'd slipped into a state of melancholy, unable to discover any new ideas festering within her brain. Even though she still read constantly and never stopped daydreaming, she was just temporarily incapable of coming up with anything new to write about.

"Your last book," her mother said thoughtfully, "That one featured a statue from an antique shop in town, right?"

"Yeah, that's right," Shizuku said, drinking her tea. Her mother swirled hers around, humming slightly, "The statue's name was the Baron, right?"

"Yeah,"

Her mother's eyes narrowed in deep pondering, "You know honey, when I was a little girl, about your age, there was a local story going around about a girl who was able to talk to cats. She lived in West Tokyo,"

"Really? Did she go to your school?" Shizuku asked with genuine interesting, turning to look at her mother.

"I kind of doubt it. The story was fairly old. In any case, the story goes that she saved a cat from being run over by a truck and was rewarded by a whole group of other cats. Their leader was so grateful and impressed that he offered her the chance to marry his son, the cat she saved,"

"That's...kinda weird," Shizuku said with a mild grimace, "How can a human marry a cat?"

Her mother chuckled, "According to the story, that's what she thought as well. She turned down the offer and the cats went away,"

"And what happened to the girl?" Shizuku asked. Her mother shrugged, "Who knows? The story never really had much of an ending. But maybe that's what you should do,"

"Huh?" Shizuku asked, crossing her legs, "What do you mean?"

Her mother sneezed suddenly, and sniffled, "I mean, honey, that since that was just a neighborhood story, maybe you should turn it into a real story. Of course, it's going to be fiction. I doubt it was real. No one can really talk to cats, you realize,"

Shizuku grinned, "Yeah, that's for sure. Otherwise, Moon might have answered me when I met him on the train last year," she said with a chuckle. She furrowed her brow, "But how could I make it interesting? A girl saves a cat and then is asked to marry him...hmm...wait, what if the cat was really a prince of cats? And his father, the leader, was really a king who rules over a kingdom inhabited only by cats! And instead of a human marrying a cat, she could be somehow turned into a cat! How's that?"

Her mother smiled, "Seems like you're on the right track, Shizuku. So what happens next?"

She watched as Shizuku stood up and started to pace with her arms folded, as she'd begun to do whenever she was on the verge of a good idea, "Okay, the marriage offer is good, but it seems a little sudden," she muttered, "What if, in their gratitude, the cats offered the girl all their greatest treasures? Gold, silver, and precious gems!"

"That seems a little unrealistic, Shizuku," her mother pointed out, pausing to cough suddenly, "Would cats keep human treasures like that? Gold, silver, and precious gems only have real value to humans,"

Shizuku's shoulders sagged slightly, "Yeah, you're right. Okay then, what do cats value the most? Oh! Food! Cats love to eat! So they'd probably love things like mice and birds! And catnip! Things they can catch and eat! They'd give the girls hundreds of these! But they've got no value to her and all these gifts do is annoy her! So she tries to send them back! And that's when she gets the marriage offer!" Shizuku cried, "The king himself visits her and says that if she's unsatisfied with the gifts, maybe she'd be happier marrying his son, the cat she saved from death!"

Her mother nodded, "Sounds good, sweetheart. So what happens next?"

Shizuku flopped down on the floor, gazing up at the ceiling with her arms spread-eagle beside her, "Hmm...," she mumbled, "Obviously the girl doesn't want to marry the cat. She needs help to get out of this,"

She scrunched her face as the gears turned at a breakneck pace in her mind, struggling to come up with a working solution to the new character's developing problems.

Suddenly, Shizuku's eyes snapped open, "The Baron! Yeah, the Baron! He can be in this story, too! And...oh! And Moon can be his friend! Moon can lead the girl to the Baron just like he led me! And the girl is exposed to some type of magic in the cat world and transformed into a cat! And the Baron has to help her escape!"

By this time, Shizuku was on her feet with a spoon in hand, one hand behind her like a fencer as she waved the utensil through the air to block the attacks of an invisible opponent, "And he can be good at sword fighting! Just like Zorro or something! He can be cool and...and...um...mom, what's a good word?"

"Elegant? Mysterious? Suave?" her mom suggested.

"That's it! That's it! Suave! A smooth talker! Hehe, I can even dress him up like a mysterious phantom to sneak into the cat's ball to rescue the girl!"

She dropped the spoon on the table and rushed over to hug her mother, "Thanks a bunch, mom! I love it! I'm gonna start it right away! But I need a name for it. Something good. Hm..." she mumbled, scratching her chin as she began to pace around the kitchen again. Her mother frowned thoughtfully, "Well, if this one features the Baron too, how about...The Baron Returns?" she suggested.

"No," Shizuku mumbled, "That's on the right track, but it doesn't really roll off the tongue well. What about...ah! The Cat Returns! Yeah! How about that, mom!" she exclaimed.

"I like it," her mother said, grinning, "Sounds like those creative juices are flowing again, honey? I'm glad for you,"

"It's all thanks to you, mom! And to show my gratitude, I'm going to name the main character after you!"

Her mother shook her head, "Oh honey, my name's not all that glamorous. Your character should have a name that fits her," she protested.

"But mom, your name is perfect for her! My character is just an ordinary girl who has an extraordinary adventure! It's perfect! Oh, hey mom, what was your maiden name?"

Her mother frowned, "Yoshioka. Why? You aren't going to name her that as well, are you?"

Shizuku grinned, "I am now," she said, "Thanks a bunch, mom! Soon, you'll be introduced the start of my new story, The Cat Returns!" she called as she ducked into the next room.

"Shizuku, wait, I really don't think Asako is a good name for her," her mother called, "But I have a better name suggestion if you'll hear it,"

Shizuku poked her head around irritably, "All right," she sighed, "Lets' hear it,"

"How about you call her Haru Yoshioka, instead?" her mother said, "That just has a better ring to it,"

"Haru?" Shizuku said questioningly, "Hmm...yeah, that does sound a little less like a tongue-twister. Wait, wasn't that my grandmother's name?"

Her mother smiled enigmatically, "Yes, as a matter of fact, it was. In fact, your grandmother, my mother, used to tell me that old neighborhood story before I'd go to sleep at night,"

Shizuku hummed, gazing at the ground, "Wow," she breathed, "I guess I get it. Okay, name change! Her name will be Haru Yoshioka!"

She dashed into her bedroom and slammed the door. Her mother chuckled lightly, coughed a few times and then snuggled back down into the covers with a weary sigh.

"Hear that, mom?" she whispered into the air as she began to drift off to sleep, "Looks like the Baron is still watching over you after all,"

A/N: I can't really think of anything to say about this one. I just hope you all enjoyed it.