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wheninrome
March 27, 2017 | by  | in Features |
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When In Rome

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My mother used to say I never fell in love with the things that mattered. When I was fourteen, I brought home a little cat from the street, named him Julius Caesar. His fur was matted with dirt and blood and last night’s rain. When I searched for a collar under the fur of his neck, all I found was hair. When I told my mother, all she said was, that’s ridiculous, it’s a kitten not a Roman dictator. I stuck my tongue out, said, you’re hurting his feelings. 

 

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Julius Caesar had a small pink nose. Every morning, he nudged it against my skin and mewed softly into my hair. He left golden brown fur everywhere like dandelion wisps, and I found bits of it all over my clothing. I told him everything: how we went on a class trip to the ocean, how the water could never quite catch on my fingers, how if I squinted enough I could pretend to see a whole new city. At home, I spent hours sitting in the garden, gluing sticks and leaves together into a crown and putting them on his little head. I pretended it was the Olympics and that we won, every time. When I saw my mother glaring at me from the kitchen window, I quickly went back inside.

On my fifteenth birthday, my mother baked me a chocolate cake. I was halfway through my second slice when Julius Caesar coughed up a hairball on the dining room floor. My mother had been in the middle of telling me about a new bookstore that had opened up recently. She stopped and stared, her mouth slightly parted as Caesar padded away to the living room. I jumped up, dropping my spoon on my plate with a clatter. When I went to put Julius Caesar’s rubbish in the trash, I saw the scrunched up plastic package of a cake from New World.

Stop spending so much time with that kitten, my mother said to me, and I said instead, watch this, look what we’ve been doing. Then I said something in Latin she didn’t understand and Julius Caesar raised his paw up to me, tilting his head slightly as he waited. I shook his paw softly and said, nice to meet you, then looked up at my mother. Isn’t he smart? I said and my mother whispered, yes, smart just like you, and walked away.

 

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Julius Caesar died in 44BC and Julius Caesar died in 2014AD. The first was cremated and the second was buried in the garden. When my mother asked where he was, I just said, gone, and brushed leftover cat hair from my shirt. I turned another page in my textbook and went back to repeating conjugations in my head. A week later, the scholarship offer came in the mail.

Julius Caesar had been dead for two thousand years and Julius Caesar had been dead for two months when I took the taxi alone to the airport. My mother stayed standing at the doorway of her home and I told myself not to turn around. When I finally gave in, it was far enough away that she’d turned blurry and I could pretend her eyes were red with tears. After the four-hour plane ride, I sent her pictures of the buildings and the ocean and the sky, said, isn’t this place beautiful? I’m in love. She didn’t reply.

 

Emma Shi is a writer and poet. You can read more of her work on her Facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/emmlexx/.

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