What does it mean, to live? Not just to exist, but to be happy in that existence? To be content?

Does anybody know? Can anybody tell me?

Many years ago, I was a child. Not a boy, not a girl, not a man or a woman, but a child. A person whose gender is meaningless to those closest to them. A precious gem in my parents lives.

"Sometimes, I see a face in the window."

The room was silent, except for the gentle humming of the computer that was nearly drowned out by the fan and the ringing phone that went unanswered. The dead bird in the cage was bloodied, and the alley cat that had taken its left wing was on the windowsill, looking pleased with itself. The grind of teeth against bone was barely audible.

The ringing stopped.

I told the cat, "If you'd move, I could pull the window down and maybe she'll talk to me again. Then you'll believe me. . . . I think."

He started to clean himself off. His pink tongue licked his paw and he moved the appendage over his face.

"And why'd you come here, anyways?" I asked with complete innocence. The cat stopped licking his paw and looked up at me. I thought that there was something distinctly . . . human looking inside that gaze. But people called me crazy all the time, so it might have been my imagination. "I mean, I don't own you, and yet you came in here a while ago without my permission and killed my bird and started eating her."

Then I felt ashamed. It wasn't right for me to question other's motives or ideas, so I dropped my gaze. "I mean, did you want something to eat? Because you didn't need to kill my bird for that. You could have asked."

Is it odd, to tell a cat he should have asked for food?

I got up and spared a glance for him before dropping my gaze. "Are you hungry?"

He jumped down to my dirty floor and picked his way through as though he owned the place to rub up against my bare leg. Maybe wearing only a shirt and boxers with the window open wasn't such a great idea, for although it was summer there could be rapists out there.

"All right," I said softly. "But first I must dispose of the bird."

I picked my way around the junk but the cat got there first, and he was already reaching in by the time I was still a yard away.

"No," I whispered softly, reaching out to the cage gently. He hissed at me, and I wondered if he had rabies. "Please, don't." I didn't want to touch him for fear that he had some sort of cut or internal bleeding and I'd hurt him. My hand hovered above his ears that were flat on his head. "I-I need to burn him, like I said I would. So that he can fly like he used to."

The cat did the strangely nice-human thing and jumped off the desk to allow me access to my pet.

"Thank you," I murmured and took the bird out of his little cage, and left the room to put him in the incinerator.

I stumbled into the kitchen and opened a can of tuna. I set the can on the ground, but the cat jumped up on the counter as though offended. I put it up there instead.

I politely didn't watch as the cat practically swallowed his food whole, and instead caught up on the dishes that I hadn't done for three weeks. I jumped when something furry brushed between my legs.

"D-did you want some more?"

The cat walked away, ignoring me in favor of the couch in the next room over.

"I'll take that as a no."

I finished the last bowl that would fit in the drainer after another hour of slow scrubbing, and then moved to see how my new, furry roommate was doing. He was sleeping on the couch, strategically placed on a chunk of sunlight with his tail placed over his nose.

"You're asleep," I observed. I wandered over to the window and pulled it down. The cat jerked up at the sound. The face wasn't there, so I turned to face the cat. He glared at me. "If you want out, just tell me."

His gaze did not waver, and I felt as if I were being judged. Apparently I was worthy of whatever-it-was, for the cat yawned, showing all his teeth, and snuggled back up to the couch.

"You shouldn't trust him, you know."

The cat jerked up, ears forward and his whole body tense and ready to fight. His eyes flashed into thin pinpricks that scalded my skin, although he wasn't looking at me. I turned to the face in the window and asked, "Why not?"

"He's not what he seems."

"He's not a cat?"

"Of course he's not a cat."

I couldn't help but point out, "He looks like a cat."

"He's supposed to."

That made sense. I turned to the cat. "If you're not a cat, what are you?"

He didn't answer, but his gaze shifted to me. I stumbled back until my back hit the window.


"Sorry," I said to the face.

She rubbed her nose and glared. "See if I come again, this is the greeting I get."

She was the only one to really talk to me at all, and I panicked a little bit. "No, wait, please—"

But she was already gone.

I didn't exactly understand how she could have felt my back hit the window, but I knew it was my fault anyways. I sighed, and turned to the cat. "Well, I know it wasn't a great first meeting, but she's very nice."

The cat didn't look convinced.

"She talks to me."

The cat got up from the couch while giving me an incredulous look. He dropped gracefully onto the floor and stalked down the hallway to my room with his tail twitching.

I'm not a precious gem anymore.