Excerpt: Simon’s Cat

In the C Block of Merigod City, there lived a miller who was the widower of one wife and the father of three sons. He had lived a long and hard life, but one that had been prosperous in its own ways, and at the end of it, he summoned his three sons to his bedside. Amid the hissing of tubes and soft measured beeps, his voice was soft and fading, but all three of them crowded close to hear what he had to say. Some nurse had tilted his bed up to a half-recline, his eyes were milky and filmed over, and his hands trembled where they rested on the covers.

“To you, Harold, I leave the business and its workings. You have worked hard with me for years; it is as much yours as it ever was mine. I trust that you will keep it well.”

And Harold, the oldest son, bowed his head.

“To you, George, I will leave the house and its lands. You have loved it the most of all of us; your hands have poured the most energy and time into its workings and its grace.”

And George, the second son, bowed his head.

“To you, Simon, I leave my heart.”

That was all he said. And Simon, the youngest son, did not bow his head but instead frowned and looked at his brothers, who looked back at him with equal confusion. It was a well-known fact that Simon most resembled his dead mother with her dark hair, her dark eyes, and her soft brown skin, and it was thus also known that the miller doted the most on Simon the Youngest, in a way at which that the young man had sometimes chafed.

“Father,” Simon said, “I don’t know what you mean.”

But his father didn’t answer; his eyes were closed and his breathing was ragged. After a few moments, he breathed no more, and the monitor began its soft tinny wail. And as the doctors rushed in, shooing all three brothers away, Harold and George crowded around Simon in a little huddle. They did not watch the doctors working the body; they had lived with their father for the whole of their lives, and they knew well how settled he could be on a decision when he’d made one. If he had decided to die, there would be no calling him back.

“What could that even mean, his heart?” George said first, and then he put a hand on Simon’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Simon; you may stay with me as long as you need, until you can find yourself a more suitable place.”

“You can work at the mill,” Harold put in as well. “You liked it well enough there, didn’t you?”

“Thank you,” Simon said, and he meant it to both of his brothers, though it came out distracted and trailing. His heart, his father had said and been satisfied with that. His brothers continued to wonder back and forth about what such a thing might actually be—surely not his actual physical heart, faltering and old as it had been and stopped as it now was; and surely their father wouldn’t be so foolish, even in his age, to only leave his youngest son with the affirmation of his affection. That would be utterly ridiculous; that was completely unbelievable.

The answer didn’t come until a week later, three days after the funeral, when their father’s oldest friend showed up just as the sky was turning rosy pink and all three brothers were arriving to their still-shared home from their different places. He was sitting on the doorstep when Simon arrived, the first of the family to come back, and though he smiled, his old familiar face creasing in fond wrinkles, his brows were drawn together as if there was something he could not push from his mind.

“Ah, Simon,” he said. “You’re the one I wanted to see. I’m sorry to spring this on you. Do you have the time?”

“I don’t have anything else particularly pressing,” Simon said, “though my brothers prefer if I have dinner at least started when they come home, so you’ll have to accompany me. I hope you don’t mind that.”

“No,” his father’s friend said, and then shook his head. “No, I don’t have the time—it’s important that I tell this to you, and only you. It’s about the inheritance that your father has left you.”

Simon frowned at that, because in the week since his father’s death, no matter how many times he went over the last words in his head, he could not figure out what they meant. George had suggested it might be a riddle, and Harold had pointed out that as far as riddles went, it was a very poor one with no other clues than the two words left.

“I would like to know it,” he said, “but can it really not be told over dinner? My brothers are also very curious.”

“No, no,” his father’s friend said, and he shook his head like he was trying to clear it of something in particular. “We cannot do anything like that. Here.” He reached out to grab for Simon’s wrist, dragging it close so he could press something forcibly into Simon’s hand. In spite of himself, he let out an exclamation of surprise and tried to pull back—and then he was released as easily as that. He frowned for a moment then looked down, opening his fingers. Against his palm was a key.

“What is this—”

“In the back of your father’s room is a door,” his father’s friend said. “Use the key on that, and you will see what he has left you. Excuse me.” He turned his collar up high, despite the relative warmth of the evening, and strode off. As he did, he nearly ran into Harold, who was coming up the walkway with George at his side. There were exclamations and a bit of shuffling back and forth before Simon’s brothers were approaching him, and the other man was headed off, nearly at a run.

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