“We did it! Kitty! We did it!” Una’s palm descended upon Duo’s paw.
“Compose yourself. I do not do high-fives. How peasant-like. Rule number one: you wish us to get along? Don’t you. Ever. Call me. Kitty.”
“Silly billy. You are a kitty.”
“I’ll have you know I’m an adult, in cat years.”
“Fine!” Una crossed her arms. “I shall just call you Duo. So there!”
“Much appreciated.” Duo cleared his throat.
Una looked away with a frown and busied herself with locking the bicycle.
Duo’s scruffy tail brushed up against her leg. “Hey, kid. Quick thinking back there.”
A chick of a smile hatched from the eggshell of Una’s indignation.
“Thank you, Duo. The Screecher was so creepy. Why do petals change my world? Who put these clues on them?”
“When one cannot comprehend the because behind the circumstances, one is sometimes to accept them and… Mmm. Play along.” Duo did a little tap-dance on his hind paws.
“Follow the petals to get to Paz,” Una muttered the mantra.
“Exactly. Now, we’d better keep them secure, shall we?”
“You’re right. Wait. I have just the thing.” Una produced a shell-covered jewelry box from her backpack. “Paz and I decorated it. Mommy said if we both pressed our ears hard on it, we’d be able to hear the song of the sea. We never got the chance to try.” Una’s voice snapped like a twig.
Duo kneaded her bushy hair with his paws. The gesture provided a small measure of solace for Una.
“Duo! You look like a fake raccoon fur cap! Get down! I can’t carry you.”
“No can do. a) I’m woozy from all that bike-basketing. b) I feel safe up here. c) Your hair looks more fashionable now. Where are we off to, next?”
“To the movie theater! The smell of popcorn was an obvious clue!” Una jumped up, which made Duo sway on her head like a jack-in-a-box.
“Glad you didn’t require assistance for untangling this one. I would’ve guessed the petal is talking about the kitchen.”
“You helped me solve the first one! Oh. What do I do with this diploma?”
“The petal is what matters. What good is a diploma? A piece of paper doesn’t bear witness to the knowledge within you. Toss it away somewhere.”
Una hurled a burrito-shaped paper roll into the nearby bushes. Then she crept away from the crime scene.
“What now? I don’t know how to get to the cinema on my own,” Una wondered.
“Inquire about it, then. It’s not a shame to admit ignorance. I see a policeman around the corner.”
“He might know!” Una hopscotched across the road, being extra careful not to step on the white stripes of the zebra crossing.
It was a Very Tall Policeman was so tall that Una could only see him up to his spindly knees in an ultramarine uniform.
His body, shoulders, neck and head ended in the clouds.
“Oh my. He is mighty high up. However shall I address him?”
“Shout. People always notice loud-mouths first,” Duo instructed.
“SIR! HOW CAN I GET TO THE CINEMA?” Una’s mousy voice scurried up his trouser leg.
The Very Tall Policeman’s body leaned towards her.
Several droplets fell from his raincloud-soaked hair.
Duo shook them off with much haste. “The nerve of some people. If you are the one drowning, don’t pull everyone else underwater too!”
“So-rry. Up rain. Much rain.”
“You poor darling. You must be miserable and cold, all alone, up there,” Una cooed.
“Me hun-gry. Much hung-ry. Do-nut?”
“I so wish I had a donut to feed you! Have some breadcrumbs.” Una emptied the pockets of her overalls.
The Very Tall Policeman kneeled on the ground, chowing down the minuscule morsels.
Una patted him on the head.
“Thankiu. Internal-Tram.” The Very Tall Policeman’s piggish hoof pointed towards the halting vehicle.
“Thank you!” Una waved goodbye at him and ran towards the tram as fast as she could.
Duo wobbled left and right on her head like a clay pitcher full of water at risk of spillage.
The tram door swung open.
The conductor’s neck turned horrifying 180 degrees: “No cats allowed! Shut the damn door!”
“How impolite!” Duo hissed. “No worries. I’ve got a plan.”
When the vehicle moved forward, Duo leapt off of Una’s hair as an elegant swimmer performing a swan dive.
He let the three tram cars draw past him.
Then he jumped on the coupling-hook of the last car.
Una had no choice but to follow.
“There’s The Very Tall Policeman!” Una glimpsed a towering figure after some see-sawing. “This tram goes in circles! We are in the same place.”
“Balderdash. You can never be in the same place. Full circle reflection provided, free of charge! We are not the same Una and Duo from minutes ago,” mused the tomcat. “Time to jump off the Infernal Tram.”
“That’s what I said.” Duo frogleapt, and Una hopped after him.
A derelict concrete rectangle unfurled before them.
An old-fashioned neon sign winked at the pair:
The letters “M” flickered in-and-out-of-existence in a foreboding fashion.
“That building wasn’t there before.”
“It’s there now, because of a new insight we gained,” Duo explained.
The door handle beckoned in a come-in motion.
Semi-darkness reigned inside, reluctant to hand in its crown and scepter.
“I don’t like this.” Duo’s fur stood on end, giving him a trendy spiky hairstyle.
“Don’t be such a Fussy Pussy.”
“This decrepit place harbors creepy crawlies. That petal was wrong. No smell of popcorn. I’m allergic to dust mites! A… A… A-choo!”
“Bless you.” Una fished the petal from the backpack. “Let’s have another look. Maybe we got it all wrong.”
They leaned over the flowery leaf, trying to read the writing in the poor light.
As if on cue, the cinematic screen lit up before them, showing a black-and-white movie scene with a cat-girl-silhouette at its bottom.
Somewhere at the back of the room, the whirring of an old projector accompanied the show.
The beam from the projector reminded Una of a lighthouse emitting a mighty column of light. It guided the ship laden with moving pictures and sounds, hurrying towards a safe harbor.
First they saw a woman holding a three-leaf clover, saying: “He loves me, he loves me not. He loves me!”
A male voice added: “Let us hope you never find that four-leaf clover, eh?”
The two of them lying on a rooftop, heads huddled together, watching the sunrise. The man’s voice reverberated around the movie theater room: “I feel you so much in everything. Do you know what empathy is? Empathy is your pain in my heart.”
The couple preparing dinner together and shouting: “Spaghetti kiss!”
“That’s something Mommy and Daddy do!” Una smiled.
“Ew. Do not. Remind me.” Duo shook his head.
In the ending scene, the man and the woman wore wedding attires on top of the Ferris wheel, rubbing their noses.
The canvas went black.
Then, the sequence was set in motion once again.
“Where is the petal? I don’t understand.”
“It’s under her.” Duo hissed.
“Who are you talking about, Duo? There is no one here but us!”
In the front row of the mahogany-colored cinema seats, there was a statue of a woman.
The woman had a shapely body and pleasant facial features.
“She is such a pretty lady. Who is she?”
“Former Mrs. Muving. Her husband Mr. Muving left her for a meteorologist girl. It was quite a scandal in its time, it was.”
“How do you know that?” Una frowned at a chimera tomcat.
“I get around. Plus, a cute Persian White told me.”
“Duo, you said the petal is under her! What do we do?” despaired Una.
“She is sitting on it! I wouldn’t risk pulling it out. We might split it in half.” Duo mused. “She is not a human being anymore. She’s turned into stone, her skin painful and brittle. Mrs. Muving is petrified in the past. She has to be moved.”
“Moved where? Moved how? She is too heavy, Duo.”
“Moved on the inside.” Duo patted his chest.
“We need to moisturize her. A tiny tear is a pointy chisel that reveals one’s authentic form under the stone.”
“Mrs. Muving?” Una addressed the woman gently.
Her statuesque lips parted with a dry crack, and she spoke:
“Life is funny. When you are young, time runs by your side. Then it stabs you in the back with a rusty blade. While you tend to your oozing wound, it gets ahead of you. It gets ahead of you so fast, like a 200 m racer, tossing the slides of memories behind. It leaves you on your knees, gathering them. Do you think that’s fair?”
“Slides of memories are a beautiful thing. They are pretty picture-books of past moments,” Una said.
“My slides are more than memories. I use them to direct my own movie. You see, my movie always has a happily-ever-after ending.”
“Sitting in the dark and staring at the same four scenes is a strange notion of a happily-ever-after.” Duo sneered.
“Here, in this dark, he is mine. He tells me he loves me. We witness the sun stretch out its arm-like rays and leave its bed. We have a spaghetti kiss and an Eskimo kiss.”
“What’s an Eskimo kiss?” Una inquired.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older. When you are not the same Una of today,” Duo teased.
A lamp ignited inside Una’s mind.
The feed spool and a take-up spool of her brain projector whirred.
Her words lit up the theater.
“Mr. Muving of the present isn’t the same Mr. Muving of the past. He doesn’t love you now. You have to love yourself. Your story is not over. You are not on the screen. You are here, see?” Una touched the stone-cold shoulder.
“I am nothing without him.” Mrs. Muving moped.
“How pathetic. His absence is clouding her presence,” Duo said.
“There is a way to show her!” Una gasped in revelation.
She pulled a pointy pencil out of her schoolbag. “Daddy used it once to rewind his cassette tape!”
“Daring. I like it. Let’s give it a whirl.”
Duo leaped on top of the projector and wedged the pencil into the spokes of the reel-hole.
The tape began rotating counterclockwise.
Catty eyes obsessed over its spinning.
“You do that when Mommy turns on the washing machine!” Una squealed.
“Must… observe… circular… patterns,” Duo muttered back, focusing on the motions.
“No! Please don’t! It took me so much time to find those perfect moments! Oh. Who is she?” Mrs. Muving pointed towards the woman on the screen who was cradling a flower between her palms. “It can’t be. That’s me. From before. Miss Woodward. I liked gardening. Movies were Mr. Muving’s thing, you know.”
“It can be you, again. Do gardening. Find your lucky four-leaf clover. Follow the sun on your own.” Una squeezed statue’s rocky hand.
“I can recommend a good spaghetti restaurant. I don’t like to brag, but I am quite the connoisseur.” Duo purred.
“Get up. Please,” said Una.
“I don’t know how to, anymore. I forgot to walk. To live.”
“Accept the pain of loss. Immerse yourself in the imperfect reality. Don’t live in a perfect dream. He’s gone,” Duo recited.
“My sister disappeared.” Una’s voice trembled. “I always imagined she will run into the kitchen and say: ‘I’m back!’ Why cry, I thought? Nothing is wrong. She isn’t gone. Not really. Now I know it is true. The pain has won. I am so very sad. And it’s good that it so. Do you hear me? I admit I am in pain. I lost her. When I find her, I will be happy again. When Mrs. Muving finds Miss Woodward, she will be happy again, too.”
Salt of Una’s soul peppered Miss Woodward’s cheeks.
A single stony pebble from the statue’s eye corner rolled downwards.
Many followed, setting off a mini-boulder avalanche which collided with Una’s tears.
The glistening mixture eroded the cracks on the sculpture.
Miss Woodward stood up.
Her shaky legs emitted petite earthquakes as she did so.
The projector turned towards the massive entryway.
Its light dissipated the door in a glowing mist of light and dust particles.
“Come on!” Una yipped, seizing Miss Woodward’s hand.
They tripped the light fantastic towards the exit.
Once outside, Miss Woodward’s golden-haired head began turning on its neck-stalk like a sunflower tailing its life source.
“I have set the Ferris wheel of my élan vital into motion. And I have you to thank for it, Una.” A seedling of a smile sprouted from the woman’s lips.
“You should shower, presto! A change of clothes is in order, too! You’ve been wearing that dress for years! Yuck.” Duo wrinkled his triangular nose.
“I will follow your advice, wise tomcat. Look after Una, will you? Good luck to both of you in your search.” Miss Woodward read a mahogany-colored petal out loud:
Imperfect buy at
Where wooden mannequin plays
To spite the red car