He be the only one of the litter who lives. I wraps the tiny stillborn bodies in the bloody cloth she birthed them on an carries them out. She rolls way from the muck an pain of it an I takes up the last one in my paws, his skin slick with her insides, so little the curve of his back cups in the fold of my palm. I blows gently on his nostrils, clearing the blood way for the air. I sees how much of my Aidan is in him already: the slanty face, the tawny eyes. I puts my tongue gainst the strip of fur growin down his back an drags it long the length of his body, tastin her blood. She turns to watch me, pushin herself up in them damp sheets, her body tremblin. I holds the cub out to her, his tiny paws with them human fingers curled.
‘You had better be givin him a feedin. Don’t want no mewlin from the wee thing.’
He wiggles in my hands, the blood dryin sticky on his pinky skin. She takes him an holds him gainst her chest, his teeth needle at her nipples, sharp an fierce. She looks fraid, like all new ness do, an I puts my paw gainst her face, wipin way the sweat an tears, kissin her tangled hair.
‘You call him Leo, like the big lion in the stars.’
It were after curfew; the streets be burnin, bright an still. The heat frightnin big, a white wall that falls on you, pressin down on you, the air dry as an old bone. She dragged her moon body through them streets, probably never been outside with the sun up before, too hot to breathe. In the Cradle, the streets a narrow mess of tin walls, slum place where only Feli lives, she came to find us. Her own pride didn’t want nothin to do with her after Aidan. JemBoy didn’t want to takes her in at first, she from under the ground where the unmixed lives, but I growl him down.
‘She a mother of cub. We gone help her. You wanna be like them, decidin who worthy of help?’
After the baby comes, we keeps her shut away. The water gone, after that last war there ain’t be nothing left – them desal plants burned and bombed. Canberra shut itself in behind them walls an now them po-man don’t come up the Cradle too much no more, too hot an Feli been no bothers for some while, but never can be too careful. I seen them once rip a cub from a ness an cracks his skull open on the hard dusty ground, leavin ness wailin while them stomp away in them heat tectin suits. Somethins be worse than death for us though.
Redmond Park. In my dreams I presses my body gainst the wire, my voice keenin his name in the burnin air. There be blood on the dust. Them pulls out his claws with pliers, his teeth. I can smells rot; them line them up gainst the walls an don’t bury them after. The nesses holds the cubs up gainst the fences for mercy, beggin, cryin. But them hates the halfies most of all.
‘You gotta run, girl. You aint know what them do to him, you aint seen. Your Aidan, he done. An you done too now; you got cub. You wanna keep that boy? You run. Them take him out to that island with the others an you ain’t never see him gain.’
I thinks of Aidan’s hands, them cut an broke paws he’d ruined to try an be more like them, to try an hide what he is. His body a mess of pearly scars, crooks in the Cradle tell you them make you look human by cuttin you. Aint no way we ever gone look like them. I looks down at the baby sleepin in her arms, an knows that no matter what them will only ever see the lion in him.
‘We try get you out. Take you out in the Pilbara.’
She knows what it mean. All that red earth an not a drop of water left.
‘Them can’t follow you out there.’
Leo wriggles in her arms. She touch his feline face with her fingertips an he yawns, wide, his tiny sharp teeth bright in the dark.
‘Them put a bag over your head an shoot you dead for what you done.’
She looks long in my eyes, an I sees she knows she dead either way. But she nods an kisses the baby, breathin him in. At least this way him have a chance.
We have to go at night, it’s too damn hot in the day for her, that sun blisterin in the thin air, under that hole in the sky. Feli don’t feel nuthin, we made to be outside. Them put us up here to do what them couldn’t, but it make no difference now. She swallows the water tabs desperately; Leo’s greedy sucklin tears the moisture from her. His face different to mine an Jemboy, got the looks of her well as Aidan. I sees her wonderin.
‘It don’t always come out the same. We Felidae, we all be different. When them were muckin about with all those genes, them didn’t know what them were playin at. Didn’t think we’d be able to breed none.’
Her skin is so dry it’s peelin, salty sheets raspin off. The tabs keep her from dryin out, but only barely. I reckon them hates us partly cause we free from the need of water; that’s why them made us an now them hates us for it.
‘Do you have any children Gammy?’
I thinks about Aidan, mostly mine but not from inside.
‘No baby of mine live. I not born, I made. Cook in tube, little cat fish in glass. Not thirsty no, but damn lot a good it do me. I never been loved by a human man, an nothin Feli make mongst ourselves ever come out breathin.’
JemBoy worryin she gone cause trouble for all us, he chewin on it – he have good reason be fraid. His ness in the Park now, good as dead. He don’t want no one come lookin for her.
‘Where your people girl?’
Her voice flat like the land outside, dry an dead. I knows the story.
‘They lived in the Heather Compound. After Aidan, they didn’t want to see me anymore. They didn’t believe in integration.’
JemBoy huffs a harsh sound.
‘And then them baby girl got Pride.’
I thinks bout how it were before the fences went up. I remembers the rallies, some them wanted us allowed. Them chanted in the streets, not human, still people, but the candles go out when the gas fall on them. Everythin turns hazy in the stingin fog, people screamin, eyes burnin. The po-man press gainst the crowds with them shields, herding them back. The banners go down, those peace wantin words trodden gainst the dirt. The screamin gets louder when the bones begin to break, them evil black sticks smashin gainst the ones who push back. I thinks bout her ma, the dried husk of her body after the compound breached an them rebels took the water. Her pappa, on his knees, cold metal in his mouth. Justice maybe, for all he done.
‘Did you knows them were gonna takes him?’
She turns to me, lookin at me with them blue eyes he couldn’t keeps way from. I feels my voice hard, fur bristlin down my back. The reason Aidan in the Park be that baby sleepin in her arms.
‘I’m sorry Gammy. I loved him. I wanted to believe they would understand that, that they could see him the way I do.’
I’m growlin, for a minute I lose all the words them never wanted me to have. But I thinks bout how he’d come home sometimes after, all lit like, how she made him see that he weren’t an animal to all of them.
‘Him loved you too.’
JemBoy says we gotta leave, we been careful but we all knows them ain’t gonna let it go – Aidan in the Park but the po-man don’t want no halfies goin free. Them comin for that cub, sure as sure. We almost out of the sight of the Cradle, it disappearing into the night behind us and there’s just open sand front of us, when I hears it. There’s a bright moon an the dunes are licked blue in the moonlight. JemBoy roars at me, he off over the sand but I runs back toward her, so fraid I can feel my heart tearin in me.
She holds the cub out to me, her limbs thin like sticks. I puts my claws in her flesh.
‘You comin with us girl!’
She rips her arm from me an pushes the cub gainst my body.
We looks at each other, the whap whap of the copter beatin the sand round us into the air, can’t breathe none. I takes her in my arms, an kisses her with my whiskery mouth.
‘I ain’t never let them find him. Him gone be free.’
She’s cryin, the last water she got fallin gainst my fur. Taking the cub by his scruff in my mouth, I puts all four paws gainst the hot earth an I runs. I looks back once and sees her on her knees with them lights shinin on her, watchin as I carries her son away over the sand, into the desert dark.
When them puts the black bag over her head, I is long gone.