In school there was a girl who believed she was a cat. On the playground, she pounced on blowing leaves and batted at insects. After lunch, she sat at her desk, licking her palm and running it over her hair. She hissed at loud noises and sudden movements.
The girl’s name was D____ but she called herself Katchen. She was fashionable and pretty and wore a pair of velvet ears on a headband. A furry tail like a bottle brush peeped from beneath her skirt and was tied at the tip with a narrow strip of blue ribbon.
The principal, determined to cultivate a climate of complaisant camaraderie among the student body, began hosting midday assemblies in the auditorium. These mandatory gatherings were conducted with many declarations of the school’s position on welcoming students who did not fall along the conventional continuum of boy, girl, human.
Katchen was interviewed by a local television station once. In homeroom, we watched a videotape of the reporter asking Katchen to translate several sentences to cat language.
“How do you say, ‘What’s the math homework tonight?’”
“What about, ‘I forgot my gym clothes?’”
Shortly after holiday break, the principal brought a new student to our room. The boy stood behind the principal and curled his lip, baring his teeth. As the principal urged us to welcome him, the boy pointed his nose in the air and sniffed dramatically. Students in the front of the classroom heard him vent a minatory growl. In the back of the room, Katchen, who had been loudly licking the spaces between her spread fingers, froze, hunching her shoulders.
Assemblies increased and after-school sensitivity classes filled with students who objected to the new boy’s habit of leg humping and crotch sniffing. The cafeteria served brownies cut into dog biscuits.
Katchen visibly suffered. She spent recess perched atop the jungle gym, watching him with eyes like lasers. She took to hiding in the art-supply closet, beneath the hanging row of paint-speckled smocks, and threw up a hairball in the library.
We were having an assembly when the fire alarm sounded. The terrible clangor blared through the auditorium, turning our blood to syrup with adrenaline. Students filled the aisles, chest to back, pressing as one toward the doors. A sudden motion boiled up from the center of the stream.
Spooked, Katchen scrambled wildly through the crowd. Students parted to make way.
The flow churned again and spat out the new boy. He surged forward after her, eyes white, tongue out.
Eventually we made it outside, clustering at the edge of the lawn. The teachers, heedless and blasé, were last through the doors. Katchen lay facedown in the wet grass; the boy knelt on top of her, tense and shaking. His knuckles were white on her shoulders, his teeth at her neck. The principal, catching sight, dashed forward, yelling curses at us.
Mute and ashamed, we could not take our eyes away. We suffered the agony of outsiders, afraid to betray our bias. Nature made the catgirl flee. Nature made the dogboy give chase. What place did we have in this, standing on our two legs?
I blinked rain out of my lashes and forced my eyes from the chaos on the lawn. In the grass a few feet from me: a headband with cat’s ears, the velvet spiky with wet.
We had a full week off school. When we returned, counselors visited classrooms to take questions, but they were rattled and stymied and no help at all. The sisal scratching post was gone from our homeroom. Also missing was the litter pan in the girls’ restroom.
At morning assembly, the principal informed us the new boy would return after a ten-day quarantine. In the meantime, we would write him letters of encouragement. An expert in canine psychology was coming to instruct us on safety. A tree would be planted on the lawn in honor of Katchen.
About the Author: Sandy Smith lives with her family in Las Vegas, Nevada. She has twenty-five years of experience as an editor of young adult fiction and has written several short stories, hundreds of articles, and two novels.