Saturday 21 June 2014

'Curiosity' by Meg McNulty

The box sat on the porch for three days.

Henry didn't look in it. Curiosity killed the cat, his Nan used to say. “Which cat?” he'd asked. His Nan just laughed and ruffled his hair. “Always so literal,” she'd say. He didn't know about that. He just believed folk when they said stuff. He didn't understand when they laughed.

So he was careful about curiosity, just in case. He'd take care not to look out of window too many times. Twice was okay, in a day. To check the weather. Or to see if the postman was on the doorstep.

Buses were tricky. Once he'd been sitting next to an old lady in a pink floppy hat that matched the colour of her cheeks and with lines in her face so deep they looked like they'd been gouged with a pen knife. She kept staring at her book, sighing and shifting about in her seat. So he peeked over her shoulder and the words he saw made his ears go red. He didn't know grown ups did things like that.

But he didn't die. He thought maybe it was because he hadn't been that curious. It had kind of been an accident, the peeking. Or maybe it was just that he wasn't a cat.

He was nearly a man, though. His Dad had told him that. His Dad said he needed to get rid of the blanket he wrapped around his fist at night. The thought of losing it kept him awake for three nights, rigid with fear. It wasn't that he didn't like change. It was just that change terrified him.

That's why he didn't find it hard not to be curious.

If you were curious you found stuff out and sometimes when you found stuff out it meant things changed. Like when he'd walked in on Mum and the man from the Church and saw them all tangled up together without any clothes on, grunting like hamsters in a wheel. He asked Dad about that and then next thing he knew, Mum left. Now he just saw her on Saturdays and between times he wound his blanket round his fist as tight as it would go.

And now the box. Why was it there?

He caught himself asking the question and a splinter of panic stabbed him. Curiosity, that was, when you started wondering about things. He ran past the box into the house and slammed the door so hard the hall light swung. It was then that he heard the mew, so faint it was barely audible. It was coming from outside.

Henry's heart started to thump. The palms of his hands felt clammy and he wiped them on his shorts. He heard the mew again, desperate now. Trembling, he pulled the door open, reached down and tore open the box.

Two ears poked up, black and pointed.

A cat. It was a not-dead cat.

Curiosity hadn't killed it at all.


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