I am the queen of trash and no one should offer me any forgiveness This is my third time editing this fic.
I love it deeply and endlessly; it's the first fic I ever started writing. And while I never finished it (or any fic for that matter) I still return to it. So while the other stories I'm working on continue to sit blocked up in my mind, this one decided to come charging out again.
This is the result, and it's taken quite a different turn from how it was last time. I hope you enjoy.
There is a certain sense of wonder that comes with imagining the unknown. You look at a postcard, Greetings from ITALY!, and you try to imagine yourself there. You look through books and brochures, envisioning yourself on the gondolas in Venice and sipping wine on the veranda of your hotel overlooking the bustling narrow streets of Rome. You imagine the people, endlessly more cultured than you, speaking in a language of love that you have an endless admiration for. You imagine falling in love with one of these untouchable people as you bump into each other while getting espresso, and your glorious Italian lover whisks you away on a grand adventure that you cannot help but tell everyone about.
But then you open your eyes and the illusion is gone. You open your eyes and you realize the Italy you imagine is worlds away, and that you are stuck where you are, rather than stuck in Italy.
In a grimy back alley in the middle of London, there is a soggy postcard with a picture of Italy and a too thin stray kitten swatting at it. The two are entirely unrelated. On a trashcan in the aforementioned alley is another too thin cat, and she is imagining herself being somewhere better. But then the wind kicks up, a siren blares, the postcard flies away, the kitten chases after it, and the cat's eyes open. She is not where she dreams to be; she is exactly where she started.
That cat is me.
I leap down from the trashcan, looking up at the moon bathing the alley in a pale light. It is oddly cloudless for a London night, and that fact is in equal parts a blessing and an omen, as if the moon is both watching over me and condemning me, but I know that somewhere beyond the moon my mother resides in the stars of the Heaviside Layer. She is the only reason I am even considering to go to the Jellicle Junkyard tonight.
My steps are not my own as I begin walking towards the Junkyard. It's a path I seem know by heart, but I've never traversed it myself. But Mother's descriptions are so vivid: through the busted TV and down coffee cup trash pile; watch your step on the sharp bits of glass from the shattered car window.
Even though my conscience is screaming at me to get away, I keep pushing forward. My mother wanted me to come here, and I would have done anything to make her happy. She had always composed herself in front of me. She made sure I had someone to look up to, someone who didn't crumble from insults. I was here for her. I wouldn't crumble; I would stay strong.
As I make my way through the meandering maze surrounding the Junkyard, I can't stop thinking about my mother. Her voice begins to fill my head as the image of her begins to pull itself together:
"Memory, all alone in the moonlight."
I can see her as she holds me in a warm embrace, petting my hair to comfort me. She would sing me the same song all the time. It became a source of happiness and security; my image of my mother was synonymous with this song.
"Daylight, I must wait for the sunrise."
Mother was beautiful. Demeter, a name belonging to a goddess. She was one, at least to me. My mother had this glittering mix of black and golden fur. It was like she was a painting in motion, flecks of red and patches of white popping with just a simple tilt of her head. It was an simple beauty that she upheld so gracefully, even in the face of adversity.
"I must think of a new life, and I mustn't give in."
My mother was popular once. She was one of the most prominent queens in the Junkyard. She was loved and cared for, but even after her fall from grace, she stayed composed. Even as she left her home behind, with a bastard kitten held close to her, she maintained her poise. She didn't let her past define who she was. I always wanted to have that power too.
"I must think of a new life, and I mustn't give in."
I remember Mother's eyes were such a sharp shade of amber that I thought I could see the world reflected in her eyes. And while I couldn't see the world, I could always read my mother's emotions. There was strength, love, and very rarely, sadness. I don't think it was her own banishment that made her sad; I think it was that I would never know life as a Jellicle Cat.
"When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory, too. And a new day will begin."
Until now, of course. When my mother died, she told me that her last wish was that I return home, to the Jellicle Junkyard. It was far from being my home. As far as I was concerned, my home was in my mother's arms. But without those arms to hold me up, I had no where else to turn. I tried to make it on my own, but the streets were a harsh place with little food and protection. I lasted a few months, but I knew I couldn't live like this.
So even the Jellicle Junkyard, where I would face certain persecution, began to look somewhat appealing.
I leap down from a particularly high perch to a busted pink couch. The couch, with springs jutting out from its cushions, was more brown now then anything, but I make my way across it and slip into the hollowed out stove. The back had corroded away, and I crawl through it onto a narrow but relatively clear path.
My chest tightens with each step I take towards the Junkyard. A tower of cardboard boxes threatens to spill over on my right, and a green trash can sits unassumingly on my left. I was so close. It was as if my body knew the way, like a moth drawn to a flame. This should be my home. I know that in my heart, but my conscience is still screaming, telling me it's not too late to turn around.
But I can't. I must think of a new life, and I mustn't give in.
"Listen to me, sweetie. You are strong, brave, and beautiful. You are mine."
"I wanted to go back with you, but fate changed that, huh?"
"You're gonna be fine, Momma."
"Go home for me, my love. Go back to the Junkyard."
I keep making my way down the narrow path, bracing myself for anything that may come my way. I am in Jellicle territory now, and I don't think anyone is going to be giving me any sort of diplomatic treatment.
A mouse scurries between my feet, and my head darts to follow its path. It squishes itself between a broken cable box and a microwave oven, and in my distraction I fail to notice the cat coming up behind me.
I fall forwards suddenly and forcefully, yelping in both surprise and pain. I collapse into a larger clearing, scrambling to stay on my feet. I can barely figure out where I am before my feet are no longer touching the ground. Claws are digging into my skin and a low growl filling my ears, "What the hell are you doing here?"
My eyes must have closed with the shock of it all, but when I open them, I'm surprised to find that I recognize the hateful grey-eyed glare.
"How could you love him, Momma?"
"Oh, he's handsome, charming, and elegant. Tall and stern to those around him, but his silver exterior melted in front of me."
"The past should make no difference, my love. I've told you that a thousand times."
"I know, Momma. What was his name?"
"His name is Munkustrap."
"What the hell are you doing here?" Munkustrap growls once more. His grip on me tightens, and I began to kick my legs, hoping to either hit him or land on the ground.
"Let me go," I huff as a I reach up in an attempt to loosen his grip on me. I need to get away, far away. Being so near to the cat that cast my mother out like a piece of trash is making me sick.
Munkustrap is unrelenting, bringing me closer and bearing his fangs, "I let you go before, and now you've come back. How dare you threaten us."
Us. I look around desperately and I notice that there are others watching us. There are dozens of cats, some perched on garbage and others peeking out from their homes, but none of them look pleased to see me. I am in the heart of the Jellicle Junkyard, and these unfriendly faces may be the last that I ever see.
Suddenly, Munkustrap releases me and I drop to the ground. I scramble for a moment before I can fully regain my balance, and it's then that I am able to truly get a good look at the older cat.
My mother wasn't wrong: he is handsome. Munkustrap is a tall and lean silver and black tabby. He's older now than when he knew my mother, but he's still frighteningly intimidating. He stands at least a head taller than me, and his piercing grey gaze seems to bore into my very soul. He's the Jellicle Protector in every sense.
"If you leave now, I won't use force," Munkustrap sneers, standing tall and firm.
"Oh, so none of that before was force?" I ask, standing straight and squaring my shoulders. In all honesty, I am scared out of my mind, but I'm not going to run away with my tail between my legs. If I was going to be thrown out, I wanted it to be with a fair fight.
Munkustrap's brow furrows and he steps threateningly closer, "You have no place here."
I tilt my chin upwards, in an act of dominant pride, "It's my birthright, just as it's yours."
The sound that bursts forth from Munkustrap's mouth is pure and guttural hatred. He surges forwards, pushing me onto my back and knocking the breath from my lungs. His claws dig into my arms and I yowl in pain.
Munkustrap shifts his weight, reaching out to push down on my throat, but I shift my own weight and knock him off. I take the moment and the surge of adrenaline to pounce, claws out and teeth bared.
My claws slash across his face, and Munkustrap growls as he grabs my arm and twists it behind my back. He kicks me forwards onto the ground and I brace for him to jump onto me once more.
But there was nothing. No sudden weight, no more claws digging into my skin. Instead, standing between me and Munkustrap was another cat, a tall patched black and white tom. His back is towards me, so I can't see his face, but I can clearly see the shock and surprise on Munkustrap's.
"Munkus," the tom pleads, his voice low and dangerous, "Don't you think this is just a bit uncalled for?"
Munkustrap regains his composure, stepping forwards with his anger now focused on the other tom, "She's the one who came here unwelcome. I have every right-"
"And so does she," the tom cuts in, "She's not wrong. She's still Demeter's daughter; this is her home."
Munkustrap bristles, a blazing fury burning in his grey eyes, "How dare you suggest that she's one of us!"
During this argument, I manage to get back onto my feet, but I also take the time to scan my surroundings. The cats watching us are enraptured. Some look confused, even horrified, but others are burning with the same fury and contempt Munkustrap has. Others still look worried, not wanting to see a fight break out amongst their own.
"Demeter was one of us!" The black and white tom roars, stepping towards Munkustrap, "You're the one that acts like she never was!"
The tension is thick between the two toms, and I realize then that this fight isn't so much about my returning to the Junkyard, but rather about why I wasn't here in the first place. This was a fight that started before I was even born.
Munkustrap bares his fangs once more, ready for another fight. The other tom seems eager to reciprocate, but a huffy stout older tabby jumps down from her perch and makes her way towards the two toms.
"Both of you, stop this!" She scolds, pushing Munkustrap and the other tom apart, "I will not have you two tearing each other apart."
"Perhaps Alonzo should learn his place," Munkustrap growls, wilting a bit behind the tabby's hand. Even though Munkustrap is the Jellicle Protector, this queen seems to hold a matronly authority over him.
"And perhaps you should reconsider your actions," Alonzo spits back, his brow furrowing, "You can't have it both ways, Munk. You can't act like this now and then go away later and pretend to be the injured party."
"Both of you!" The queen exclaims, pushing the toms even further apart and physically inserting herself between them, "Why don't we sit and have a calm discussion about this? I'm sure we can all-"
"The time for discussions is long gone," Munkustrap sneers, pulling back and focusing on me once more, "Just send her off and we'll all be happier."
"Will we?" Another queen's voice joins the argument. Her voice comes from behind me, but I don't dare take my eyes off of Munkustrap. I feel that if I look away, then he'll lunge at me again.
Munkustrap's gaze shifts to the queen behind me, "Stay out of this, Bomba."
"No, Munkus," she replies, her voice growing closer, "That fateful day years ago, everything here changed. Can you really say we're all as happy as we were when Demeter was still here? When we were a full Jellicle tribe?"
Munkustrap huffs and rolls his eyes, jabbing a finger towards Alonzo, "This was all your doing, wasn't it? You've planned all of this to make me look like a warring fool."
Alonzo didn't look so much insulted as simply tired and disappointed, "I've no reason to make you look like a fool, Munkus. I just want what's right...what's best."
Munkustrap drops his arm and looks between the three cats challenging him. He sighs, his body wilting in defeat before he looked at me. His eyes burned a bit more softly, but his tone was still biting, "If you want to earn your place here, then prove you're a true Jellicle. You have one month to do so. And then, if it's considered what's right," he glares at Alonzo, "Old Deuteronomy shall decide your fate."
Without another word, Munkustrap storms off. He cuts across the clearing and climbs atop the trunk of a car, disappearing into the dark towers of garbage. I've never felt so equally relieved and terrified.
The show now over, the cats watching return to their regular business, returning home and to the surrounding Junkyard. I stand, dumbstruck, with the three cats who came to my aid standing with me.
The stout tabby steps forwards first, reaching out and tenderly touching my shoulder, "Are you alright, dearie?"
I wince as pain blooms where she touches, but I clench my teeth and bear it, "As alright as I can be in this situation."
The queen frowns and shakes her head, "I'm sorry, dearie. Munkustrap is just a bit..."
"Stubborn," Alonzo offers, his arms crossed as he stands a bit behind the stout queen, "That's the kindest word for it."
I simply nod, unsure of what to say. It seems wrong to agree, but I can't really find anything redeeming in my first impression of Munkustrap.
"How about we continue this discussion elsewhere?" The younger queen chimes. I finally turn to get a look at her, and she's stunning. She's tall and curvaceous, her red and white fur standing out boldly against her black markings.
"Where? Your den? Jenny's?" Alonzo replies, uncrossing his arms and stepping towards the queen with exasperation. He lowers his voice as he continues his sentence, "You know there's voices everywhere, Bomba."
The queen nods and glances away, thinking for a moment before looking back at Alonzo, "Your den then?"
Alonzo shakes his head quickly, "No. Misto is home, and I'm not bringing him into this. He's still a kid, Bomba."
"Then can you think of a better place?" Bomba asks, raising her eyebrow haughtily.
The stout queen next to Alonzo looks a bit nervous as she sees apprehension cross the tom's face, but Alonzo merely sighs in defeat, "Fine, let's just go."
Alonzo turns and gestures for us to follow him, and the three of us fall into step behind him. As we start walking, it hits me rather suddenly that I'm here. I made it to the Jellicle Junkyard, a bit worse for wear, of course. But what's more, I'm actually being offered help. Hesitant help, but help nonetheless.
We make our way quickly out of the clearing, climbing up and over a junk pile before jumping down behind. We squeeze past two towers of tires before coming up to an armoire tipped onto its side. The wood is a deep brown, blending into the trash that surrounds it.
Alonzo nudges the door open and gestures for us to go inside, "Ladies first, please."
The stout queen practically chirps as she offers Alonzo a curtsey before stepping inside. The other queen follows, a grateful smile on her lips. I can't even manage to take a step forwards.
Alonzo tilts his head and frowns, gesturing towards him once more, "Come on, no one in there is going to hurt you."
I nod meekly and step forwards, taking a deep breath before stepping into the armoire.
It's much bigger than it looks from the outside. The back of the armoire has been taken out, so the front of the furniture only acts as a doorway. Inside is a much larger den, quilts and blankets of all different patterns covering the floor. I turn slowly, admiring the fairy lights strung up on the walls and wondering how the hell Alonzo had gotten them in here. This den was warm and well lit and filled with knickknacks collected over time.
It was a home, but it couldn't be mine.
Alonzo steps in not soon after, scanning the den and letting out a sigh of relief, "You better be thankful that Misto isn't here, Bomba."
"He would've been fine, Alonzo," The red and white queen replies, gesturing towards me, "Now let's get back to the topic at hand?"
Alonzo presses his lips together and nods, moving his arm in a sweeping gesture, "Let's all sit first, yeah?"
I nod, settling down on top of a tartan patterned quilt. The other cats settled around me, each of them looking at me steadily. I swallow hard and look down at my hands, "Can we start with names at least? If we're going to be having a discussion, I want to at least know what to call you."
The stout queen answers first, reaching out and tenderly touching my shoulder once more, "I'm Jennyanydots, dearie, but it's just Jenny to you. I'll have you know that we're all happy to have you here."
I wince, not just from the pain of the touch but from her words. Everyone was certainly not happy about my being here. I'm fairly certain Munkustrap was willing to do anything to make sure I left and never came back.
"Definitely," Alonzo continued, not really seeing my quiet distress, "I'm sorry if I seem like kind of an ass, it's just...there's a lot going on right now. But I'm Alonzo, and you can count on me to keep you safe from Munkus."
The red and white queen, more attune to my discomfort, speaks slowly and carefully, "Don't you dare blame yourself for this. Munkustrap is far from the cat he used to be, and it's his own doing," she pauses, and the tender look in her eyes reminds me of my mother, "I'm Bombalurina, but just shorten it to Bomba. Less of a mouthful."
I nod, her name sounding familiar. Perhaps my mother had mentioned her in passing, just as she had mentioned Munkustrap.
"And you?" Bomba prompts, "We knew Demeter, but she never had the chance to tell us what she named you."
An odd pain began to bloom in my chest. These cats must have been my mother's friends, and she had never even gotten the chance to tell them my name. She had been kicked out so swiftly and completely, and I could only imagine the pain of she had felt. I suppose that's what I was feeling now.
"Jezzabella," I mutter, lifting my head slowly, "She named me Jezzabella."
"That's a gorgeous name," Jenny supplies, a soft smile on her face, "You look a lot like her, you know. Your eyes have the same sort of shine."
"And you've got the same type of swagger," Bomba grins, her emotion clear on her face, "Demeter could be timid, but she was also one of the bravest cats I knew. It took a lot for you to stand up to Munkustrap like that."
I offer a smile, feeling a bit more comfortable being surrounded by these cats. They knew my mother, cared for my mother, and now they cared for me.
"That won't be enough to convince Munkus," Alonzo mutters, a frown on his face, "I hate to say it, but Munkus won't allow you to stay until one of the Jellicle toms steps up and says he's your father."
The smile I had managed to offer falls quickly from my face. Bomba and Jenny both begin to scold Alonzo for his bluntness, but I know he's right. This place is far from being my home, because I don't even know who my father is. Mother never told me, she never told anyone. How was I supposed to find him without a single clue to go on?
Suddenly someone is holding my shoulder, and I wince and swat them away. My voice is low and rough, and it hardly sounds like my own, "I'll leave. None of you owe me anything."
"But we do," Jenny pleads. She must have been the one holding my shoulder. She must mean it to be a sign of matronly care, but it still hurts like hell because of my wounds, "Let's patch you up at least. Then we can worry about everything else."
I sigh and look between Alonzo and Bombalurina. They both share the look of concern in Jenny's eyes, and I know that I can't say no. And besides, getting care for my wounds is certainly something I need.
"All right, but just a patch up. You don't have to do anything else."
That opening paragraph was the most drawn out thing I've ever written and I don't know if I can ever pull that off again.
Plus, I don't know whether to address the appendages at the end of their arms as hands or paws, and I will skirt around that issue as long as I possibly can.
Yours till the milk duds, SerendipityDreamer