It’s tough to let go of tension once it creeps into you. With Iona relocated to Grandma Apples home and Inspector Brooks dispatched to deal with her daughter’s father, the crisis we were facing was resolved.
Penny was safe, the faceless Changeling Iona had recruited to replace Penny was freed from Iona’s magical compulsions, and the two of them, strangely, were chatting amiably off in one corner of the room with Betty and Rosie.
Akemi was off assisting Inspector Brooks, and everyone else had gone with Grandma Apples and Iona back to Grandma Apples home.
Everyone except my mother and I.
Iona hadn’t hurt her familiar. She’d just bound Autumn into a puzzle box. That’s not terrifically difficult to do to a cat. Even normal boxes are incredibly cozy to crawl inside. With Iona returning to her senses, she’d removed the magics that made the box inescapable from the inside. My mother was still inside the trap but I guessed that it was because she hadn’t noticed she was free to leave. Like I said, boxes can be very compelling if you look at them right. As it turned out though, I guessed incorrectly.
“You can leave if you like,” she said. “I’ll stay inside here until you do so that you don’t have to see me.”
It was odd being addressed by what amounted to a talking cardboard box, but I’d seen things that were much weirder than that so I didn’t let it phase me too much.
“I do not wish to leave,” I said, wanting to go on, but being a cat that was as much an outpouring of emotion as I could allow myself.
“I did not wish to see you again,” Autumn said.
“I know.” I said. Being left alone for years was a rather large clue in that direction.
“You do not know why though,” she said. She sounded small inside the box, but I was sure it was just a trick of the acoustics.
“You were worried that Iona’s mate would sell me for power as he planned to sell his daughter,” I said. It was obvious. Not comforting necessarily, but obvious.
“Yes,” she said. “At first it was that. The need to hide you.”
“Did you plan to ever come back for me?” I asked.
“At first, I did,” she said. “But over time, the urge waned. You were safer without me. Better without me. I am not a good mother.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“I left you alone,” she said. “Unprotected.”
“That’s what you did,” I said. “The mother that you were. How do you know you are not a good mother now?”
“Some mistakes can’t be apologized for,” she said.
“I ask for no apology,” I said, and was silent for a long moment.
Autumn peeked her head out of the box.
“You are still here?” she asked. “For me?”
“I am here for me,” I said. “I want to speak with my mother.”
“Then I will bear hearing what you have to say,” she said, and stepped free of the box, her head held stiff and high and her body tense.
“My witch has forgiven your witch,” I said. “She says that Iona was put in a terrible position and managed to resist doing something horrible in the only way she could.”
“We tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t listen to us,” Autumn said.
“That you came to us was what swayed Grandma Apples I think,” I said.
“She is frightening, that one,” my mother said.
“If she chooses to be,” I said.
“What will happen to Iona’s mate?” my mother asked.
“Inspector Brooks has been dispatched to resolve that issue,” I said.
“Iona’s mate is very powerful,” my mother said. “She could not fight him.”
“In speaking to us, she did,” I said. “And Inspector Brooks has access to resources which your witch does not. It will not be a battle when he apprehends Iona’s mate.”
“What will this Inspector Brooks do?” Autumn asked.
“He will bring Iona’s mate to trial,” I said. “If Iona’s telling the truth, he’ll never see her or her daughter again.”
“And your witch?”
“I suspect she’ll see Iona and her daughter again frequently,” I said. “It sounded as though Grandma Apples was going to setup a special classroom for the new generation of witches.”
“And what of us?” my mother asked.
“What do you wish there?” I asked.
“I wish I could turn back the days and flee with you that day rather than returning to my witch,” my mother said. “I wish I could have been the person I wanted to be.”
“I don’t think we’re ever the person we want to be,” I said. “I think the best we can do is work on becoming them, and forgive ourselves when we fall short.”
“It’s difficult,” my mother said. “There is much I’ve done that can’t be forgiven, and much within me that is more terrible than anything Iona would ever have tried to do.”
I put a paw on her.
“I am weak, and little, and frightened most of the time,” I said. “But today I followed a dark shadow into the lair of a wicked witch and I was ready to fight her if I needed to.”
“I couldn’t do that,” Autumn said.
“You didn’t have to,” I said. “But that’s not the point. There’s more in us than our failings, and our weaknesses, and I think the hardest thing in the world is knowing how broken we are and still cherishing the good things inside us.”
“I don’t know if I can do that either,” my mother said.
“Then, for now, let me do it for you,” I said and stepped beside her.
“You would forgive for me for what I did?” she asked.
“I have,” I said. “Long ago.”
As cats we don’t cry. We simply stand very still.
Neither my mother, nor I, moved.
“And what do you wish?” my mother asked after we stood together for a long quiet moment.
“I wish to have a chance to get to know you better,” I said.
And, like as with many things that one is willing to spend time and energy on, that wish came true.