…And so it had come to its end; his story. His thoughts were drowned out by gunfire and screams as the city burned. Soldari, his home, his prison, was being erased. He stood speaking in a quiet french tone, over the man who was the cause of all this. The man who stole his youth, who taught him of greed, that man was Sam.
His words never reached Sam. It perhaps was the French or the audible violence of revolt in the city. Sam knew, he knew why his “Kitten” returned home. Sam could feel The Kitten’s words burn on his skin. Their last exchange was Sam’s smile and The Kitten raising his gun. “Welcome to Paradise”, Sam boasted as The Kitten pulled the trigger.
The city was still in chaos as The Kitten exited the mansion. He sat on the steps and placed his .45 beside him. He gazed at the marble sky as the smoke twisted and danced into the horizon. He waited years, a lifetime, to see that sky set on fire. Its blaze a declaration of his freedom.
“Is it done?” An aged man entered with his glasses slipping from his face.
“Yes,” The Kitten said without shifting his gaze, “Did you get Carmen?”
“She’s safe,” the man’s attire was stained red. The man continued speaking but The Kitten was lost to the chaos. His ears only heard the continued revolution transpiring in the background. He wanted to capture this moment in his mind. He wanted to paint that sky, sing those sounds of death forever. Everything was for this moment. The violation, the weakness, the insufferable anger… Each breath at that moment gave validation to every day he bled and cried in that city. Soldari’s death was also the death of his past.
The aged man in glasses sat beside The Kitten on the stairs. He was still speaking, “How many bullets did you use?”
“Three.” The Kitten’s response was automatic.
“Did he say anything?”
The aged man pulled out a single thin cigar from his jacket. He readjusted his glasses as he searched his pockets for a lighter. “Been a long road,” the man found his lighter and lit the end of the cigar. His face was colored with delight as the flavor filled his lips. He let out a long exhale and closed his eyes.
The two men sat quietly as they watched the city burn, this was the finale to their opera. The villain was slain, the world was changing, and the heroes won. They watched, like two directors, noticing every detail, every sight and sound. Years of patience and work were finally playing out in front of them.
“Elton,” The Kitten broke their fourth wall of silence, “I’m going to find her.”
Elton was quiet as he sucked in the final hit from the cigar. He savored that last taste, “I figured she was next. Are you going to kill her?”
“She’s the last piece of Soldari,” The Kitten lifted his .45 and put it in his overcoat.
“So you plan to vanish into nothing?” Elton tossed the cigar butt over his shoulder, “Must be nice to erase your past. Should I worry about Carmen and me?”
“I trust you.”
“You trusted Charlotte.”
The Kitten stood and stepped down from the stairs, “Don’t look back.”
Elton stood up. He stared into The Kitten’s eyes. The color had faded from his face. He was Elton’s symbol, his hope that one day the dream of Soldari would end. He was face to face with the boy he watched raped and tortured for years. The boy he vowed to protect. That boy had become a man and as promised, the dream was finally over.
Love. Respect. Honor. That feeling had many names yet neither men spoke one. Elton turned his back to The Kitten. In the distance Elton’s eyes locked on to the mountains. For the first time in forty years he would see the other side. Paradise.
“We’re free men now. Don’t let anyone take that away,” The Kitten said as he turned and faced his own future.
They were giants in their silhouettes as they walked into the distance. Silent champions with their heads held high. The city known as Soldari burned to the ground that day. All that was left was Paradise. The Kitten set off to catch his robin.
What is a man worth? Those words danced in The Kitten’s head as he sat alone in the English pub. It had been months since Sam’s death and The Kitten”s liberation from Soldari; It was December and The Kitten found himself in a small town outside of Reading. The pub was crowded as distant friends and lovers gathered to send off the year; conversation and alcohol were a constant presence.
The Kitten closed his eyes as his thoughts ran free. With Sam’s death he was free to find her, the woman who escaped Soldari, the one bird who could never be caught. Her name was written deep in his skin. Her body, her scent, and those two bullets she left inside him, they never allowed him to forget. Charlotte. Over and over he said her name for years as if the chant would bring her back. It never did.
The Kitten was a quiet stranger in the pub. He sat far in the back covered with a thick coat and fedora. His sharp French features clashed with the bright round faces of the locals. The simple joy and words they spoke seemed so distant to him. He could no longer understand pleasure outside of violence. Still he continued to chase that dream and it led him to England.
Money had passed his hands so quickly after Sam’s death, there wasn’t a price The Kitten wouldn’t pay for information. The road to joy was through Charlotte. The violence, the pain, the sadness, none of it would end till he had reached her. He would never wake for he was always dreaming of her.
That day, during the cold end of December, he had finally caught her. He waited in that pub, waited with anger and love to steal back his dream, to catch Paradise. The steel door of the pub opened. The people shouted at the rush of cold air. The Kitten opened his eyes and saw his robin come home.
Charlotte was wrapped in a dark coat and scarf. Her once familiar long hair was cropped short and framed her sharp features. Her large brown eyes met The Kitten’s. She stood in place, still hesitant of their past together. The crowded noise began to fade away between them.
How long was it since the day they tried to escaped those mountains behind Soldari? How many years since Charlotte left The Kitten for dead? How many years since they laughed and made love? The years of absence divided them in that small bar. Even so, a single thought was shared between their glances, What are we now? As if a label could mend those years apart.
An answer was reached but never shared. With that, Charlotte made her way towards The Kitten and sat across from him. The Kitten watched as Charlotte’s eyes traced over his face. His appearance changed little since their youth in Soldari. Charlotte on the other hand was nearly a different woman.
“Comment ca va?” Charlotte began in French, “On dirait que le chaton a finalement quitté la maison…” Charlotte said with a smile.
“Il est venu pour prendre le rouge-gorge,” The Kitten responded.
“Chaton–” Charlotte began before being interrupted.
“English. I don’t want to stand out,” The Kitten said.
“We’ll always stand out. We don’t belong on this side of the mountains,” Charlotte relaxed, “You look good.”
The Kitten ignored her compliment, “Are you hungry?”
“No,” Charlotte’s eyes wandered down to the small wooden table between them. It was empty, they never ate during business, “You could be a gentleman and order me a drink though.”
The Kitten caught the attention of one of the young women darting between tables. He placed an order over the noise of the crowd, “Gin.” The young woman smiled and nodded as she left towards the bar.
“Old habits…” Charlotte smiled, “Then again, you always had a hard time of letting go of a good thing.”
“I’m not drinking.”
“You shouldn’t let a lady drink alone.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Perhaps you’re hoping to take advantage of me?” Charlotte traced her fingers over one of the craved obscene words in the table. It felt familiar.
The waitress returned with a bottle of gin and two shot glasses. She offered to pour the drink but The Kitten intervened. He paid for the drink and gave her a look that expressed a need for privacy. She smiled and took the hint.
“Are you sure you’re not going to drink Chaton?” Charlotte pushed her glass towards him.
“Yes,” The Kitten poured her a shot.
“Your loss.” She swallowed the shot and smiled as its warmth tickled her insides. “You’re quiet,” she offered her glass to him again. The Kitten poured her another shot. She downed it with ease like the first.
“There’s no need to rush,” The Kitten pulled back the bottle. It was his way of controlling the conversation. The only control he could ever have over Charlotte.
“You should relax,” Charlotte removed her coat. Her body thinned over the years. She was wearing a simple red turtle neck that clung to her breasts; red was The Kitten’s favorite color.
“You look taller then I remember Chaton,” Charlotte smiled as she squinted her eyes at his frame. She touched her lip playfully hoping The Kitten will return to pouring her shots. He didn’t.
Charlotte was playful but also tactful, pulling The Kitten’s desires and feelings across the table. She wasn’t ignorant of his hatred for her or the .45 he had under his coat. She however had something he wanted and as long as she kept that she was in control.
“It took you a long time to find me,” Charlotte said.
“I was busy.”
“Another woman?” She smiled.
“Do you still love me Chaton?” Charlotte put her weight on the table as she leaned forward.
The Kitten poured her another shot. Charlotte smiled and swallowed it as she relaxed back into her seat.
“Sam is dead,” The Kitten said as he pulled the bottle back.
“Good,” Charlotte returned her focus to the cravings on the table.
“Soldari is gone.”
“I heard you burned it to the ground,” Charlotte kept her eyes away from The Kitten. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“I did.” He nudged the bottle hoping to get her attention back.
“You never could be subtle. Did you do it for me Chaton?” Her eyes returned to him, “Did you think about me when you shot Sam?”
The Kitten offered to pour her a shot. She leaned over the table again, “How much did he bleed?” She leaned closer, her voice became lower, “Was it everything you dreamt about? Did you laugh? How long did you stand over him and watch him die? Did you see Paradise?”
The Kitten didn’t move. He inhaled the gin from Charlotte’s breath. Her eyes were glossy; her skin looked so smooth at this proximity. Charlotte smiled as she grabbed the bottle of gin and poured her own shot. She drank it with a grin.
Was The Kitten quick enough? Could he draw his .45 before Charlotte noticed? Could he kill her and put an end to her control over him? Just one shot… He didn’t care about witnesses, he just wanted to be free. Even with Sam’s death he was still just someone’s pet, Charlotte’s little Chaton.
The Kitten moved his hand towards his coat. “Drink with me,” Charlotte said and poured him a shot.
“I told you I wasn’t–”
The Kitten looked at her. Why couldn’t he break away? Why was she able to fly so high above and he was lock on the ground? Why was she allowed in Paradise?
“Drink,” Charlotte said. The Kitten drank the shot. “You worry too much Chaton. You put too much effort into everything. You’re still acting like a child.”
The Kitten was quiet as he pushed his glass towards Charlotte for another shot. He loathed her for that comment. After all these years and everything he’s suffer through, he was still just a little boy in her eyes.
“You’re taking that too personally,” Charlotte poured him his second shot. “It was charming back then. A little annoying, but cute.”
The Kitten put his glass down and turned it over on the table, “Tell me.”
“I told you about subtlety.”
“Stop doing this to me.”
“Am I making you angry?” Charlotte leaned towards him.
“You already know.”
“I want an answer. I want this to end,” an aggression was building in The Kitten’s voice.
“Do you want to kiss me?” Charlotte lowered her tone.
“I’m not asking about that.”
“I am. Do you want to kiss me?”
The Kitten was quiet. They both knew the answer was yes, he said, “No.”
“Liar,” Charlotte smiled as she sat back in her seat, “How long do you expect me to believe you?”
“You don’t believe me?”
“You’re the one doubting yourself.”
“I made it to the other side. I found you.”
“It took you twenty years to catch up.”
“But I caught you.”
“You caught my attention. Give up on me.”
The Kitten gripped the .45 in his coat, “You left, I stayed. That’s all there is.”
“You want to know the truth?”
“I want to know why you left.”
Charlotte’s finger traced the shape of the shot glass, “Let me tell you a story,” Charlotte poured herself another shot. Her eyes drifted about the room and focused on a window.
“Once upon a time there lived a small and agile cat. He was the first cat to ever learn to land on his feet. No matter the height, he would gracefully descend to the ground without a single injury.
“One day the cat heard a lovely song from a large tree. Enticed, the cat decided to climb the tree in order to find the source of the beautiful song. As he got higher, he saw a small robin singing. The cat wished to get closer in order to hear the song more clearly. So he leapt and landed on the branch next to the robin. Yet the robin was far quicker and flew to another branch. The cat followed, leaping from branch to branch as the robin continued to fly higher and higher into the tree. It was no longer about hearing that song, the cat wished to catch the robin for itself.
“Within moments they had reached the tallest branch of the tree. The cat slowly walked over to the robin, the cat was assured of his victory. There was no where for the bird to escape to now. The cat stared into the robin’s small eyes and leapt in the air to deliver the final blow. But the robin simply flew higher, unlike the cat, she did not need branches to go higher.
“There were no more branches to hold the cat as it began to fall from the large tree. And even on its way down the cat could still hear the robin’s song. The cat did land on its feet. However, even it could not withstand the fall. For a brief moment the cat stood as tall as it could trying to reach that robin again. But the song vanished into the heavens. The cat collapsed and died.” Charlotte finished her shot and looked at The Kitten, “Chaton, do you know the lesson of the story?”
“Curiosity killed the cat?”
“No. It was ambition,” Charlotte began to put on her coat.
“Where are you going?” The Kitten was at her mercy again.
“I’m going to tell you what you want to know. Come outside with me,” Charlotte stood.
“Why not here?” The Kitten rose to his feet as well.
“As captivating as I am, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten all these people here,” She began to dig in her pocket, “Plus, I need to smoke.” Charlotte pulled out a long cigarette and with disregard lit it. She smiled at the condemning stares of the other patrons and exited the pub.
The late night sky was purple as snow wept from the clouds. Charlotte’s figure came into view as The Kitten exited the pub. The streets were quiet and empty, filled with the glow of street lights. Charlotte was facing away from The Kitten, smoke escaping from her mouth to the sky. Her shape and posture were beautiful. She appeared like a sculpture that had belonged in this moment, this place for all time.
The Kitten stayed near the door watching Charlotte. How he had waited for this moment. To watch her body, listen to her voice, and to drift again into her brown eyes. For twenty years The Kitten had worked to build this moment, he endure it all for her, to see her body stand outside of those mountains.
“Chaton it’s strange isn’t?” Charlotte finally broke the silence, “How many times did we talk about this moment? How many nights did we lay in bed and dream of escaping that hell? And here we are; on the other side of those mountains, far away from Soldari, but still lost.” Charlotte turned her head to glance at The Kitten.
“You’re wondering what became of of those dreams, those wild thoughts dreamt by two lonely children? I still haven’t found them, I haven’t found Paradise.” Charlotte said tossing the butt of her cigarette into the snow. She kept her back to The Kitten, her eyes lost to the deep purple sky.
The Kitten stepped towards Charlotte. He tilted his fedora with one hand and reached for the.45 in his coat with the other. “You took those dreams when you left me there,” The Kitten spoke as he raised the pistol to Charlotte’s back.
“You couldn’t keep up,” Charlotte’s voice was unaffected. She kept her back to The Kitten.
“You never gave me a chance.”
“I couldn’t afford to. Love is a poor substitute for freedom Chaton.”
“You left me there to suffer. You think you knew his cruelty? You think Sam showed any pity after I tried to escape? You left me there to suffer in your place!”
“I left you there to die. I wanted it to end for you.”
“No. You wanted those dreams we had. You stole them and left me with nothing but his cruelty.”
“So you sought me to take back those dreams? I already told you, even I couldn’t hold on to them. I gave you Paradise when I shot you.”
“And that is suppose to be evidence of what?”
“You never left Soldari.”
The Kitten placed the barrel of the .45 against the back of Charlotte’s skull. “Do you want to know how it feels? Do you want to know every painful thing I endured so you could waste our dreams away? I want you to feel this bullet inside you like the ones you left in me!”
“Then why are you still afraid? Do it Chaton. Say everything you want with that bullet,” Charlotte turned to face The Kitten, “Tell me that you don’t love me.”
Charlotte casually pulled out a cigarette from her coat. She lit it in front of The Kitten’s .45. “I’m not going to make that choice for you.” Charlotte exhaled a cloud of smoke in The Kitten’s face, “Don’t hesitate. Sometimes the greatest thing you can do for the ones you love is hurt them.”
The Kitten was motionless under the weight of Charlotte’s words. The snow continued its gentle decedent. The Kitten’s eyes were locked on Charlotte’s face. Her wide brown eyes still pure and unaffected by the gin. It was thirty seconds. A small pause The Kitten took as he watched Charlotte’s eyes. In those thirty seconds he realized he had a choice. He always had a choice.
What was the purpose of all of this? Was it truly ambition and that alone which propelled The Kitten to catch the robin? Was all he wanted was to devour her, to embrace her bleeding body in his arms. Yet he hesitated. Why? What was holding his finger in place?
Fear? Was Charlotte so keen to see that The Kitten was not strong enough to endure, to let her go. Still, his words remained a mantra singing in his head, “I’m here.” More importantly she was there.
Charlotte was a song; a body, a mass whose gravity pulled and locked him in her orbit. The Kitten was always chasing her. Yet, she came to him. For what reason did she appear? She must have know more than anyone that The Kitten would be seeking blood.
Perhaps, as always, she knew The Kitten better than he could ever understand himself. She knew he loved her. She knew where his heart was but shot around it twenty years ago. She kept him alive, kept him hungry.
Was it jest or faith? The Kitten argued those words in his head as Charlotte’s eyes never left his face. In what regard did she hold him? Her face was tight, she already knew his answer even though The Kitten was still struggling to find it. Always a step ahead, always a few branches higher.
What was a man worth? What was all that suffering worth? A reason; a resolution, something, anything that could give purpose to those feelings that always burned so deep inside of him. The Kitten wanted to know, he wanted to shout at her to reveal the secret to all of it. Wanted her to save him again.
That was it wasn’t it? The reason Charlotte came to the pub, the reason The Kitten was standing in the streets with a gun to her face; salvation. To forgive and to be forgiven. He wanted to be told that he was strong, that he gave reason to a place that had none. It was at that point that he understood what Charlotte meant by truth.
No matter how far up that tree he climbed. No matter how many robins he caught it would mean nothing. It was not the chase nor the destination that mattered, it was himself. He had to define his own truth. The Kitten had to believe in his own words. Charlotte was not the answer.
Those thirty seconds ended. The Kitten lowered his arm and dropped the .45 to the snow. He let go. Charlotte was still, the cigarette had burned to the filter as she waited for him to move. She tossed it to the snow on top of the .45. They stood, and for a second they were those children again, the lonely boy and girl who dreamt of Paradise. And he smiled.