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Fig

There was a girl whose fig was stolen by Only Cat. It was a ripe green fig, not brown and wrinkled. Firm and lush, it bulged against the borders of its figness. Only Cat was a carnivore but would make an exception for such a fig—containing such a sharp and breathless world of red within.

The girl cried. An Army of Little Men was marshalled to find the fig. They sweated and cursed in the mud of the world for many years. The girl couldn’t grow up without her fig. Every year when the Army’s dour lieutenant climbed onto her thumb to report their failure, the girl brought him close to her ear so she could hear his little voice. The girl would nod and curtsy humbly, holding her skirts with one hand. The lieutenant balanced on her thumb and loved her.

Only Cat didn’t feel safe enough to eat the fig; not yet.

Years passed. The universe grew too small for all the longing and disharmony of the people in it. It was crammed and jammed with longjohns and boats and petticoats and twine. The girl could not bathe or do her sums. She could only think of her fig. She pulled at her lips and cheeks with frustration. She grew rubbery.

Only Cat breathed a new universe only for himself, where everything was red. There he would feel safe enough to eat his fig. But he still didn’t feel safe! So he made a trillion ripe green figs to hide the fig among. A trillion figs and only one was the right fig. The girl’s fig.

The Army Of Little Men found Only Cat’s red universe hidden in a coffee can in the pantry. Only Cat had set dragons and puzzles and harpies to guard the entrance. The Little Men killed the dragons and solved the puzzles. But the harpies seduced them and married them and killed them. Each harpy struck while dancing at her wedding. They killed the Little Men with their tongues. Only the dour lieutenant escaped. His chaste love for the little girl protected him.

The lieutenant returned to the little girl and climbed onto her thumb to report the Army’s failure. He loved her. He blushed and stammered and clenched his little fists, wretched with shame that Only Cat had bested him, and with grief for his men. He looked to her for consolation.

She was thinking of her fig and could not concentrate on his words. She grew impatient and ate the lieutenant in one bite. She licked him up with her tongue and slurped him down.

(Oh little girl! What you lost then! Years later, with the angry honking of the car in the street outside, gathering up your things and dropping them—dropping the bag of coffee beans, dropping the wallet—just that once, when it’s so clear that the gentle bloom of blood you feel at the first kiss will always, always end up gagging you on selfish bitter dregs, you will half-remember—just that once—the tiny pleading eyes of the man on your thumb.)

In the end the girl’s passivity prevailed. Without the Army of Little Men to chase him, Only Cat grew more and more unhappy and agitated. His red universe receded into a dream, where he sorted an endless pile of figs while the harpies cried for their husbands and cursed him.

Only Cat brought the fig back to the girl on a chilly December morning, three hundred years after he had stolen it. She ate the fig and sighed. Now she could go on growing up. Only Cat curled up in her lap. “Bad kitty,” she said. She petted him. He purred.

And that is why girls like cats.