We creep through a paddock, alert for flickers and swaying blades of grass. I’m never fast enough to catch crickets before they fly, but I love the luscious uncoiling of his muscles as he springs and snaps one in his jaw. There’s the furious whirring of wings, a quiet rumble in our throats. The cricket chirrups once, twice, is silent.
I blink, and there’s a pressed-metal ceiling spooling with vines above my head. By my side is a man, his body white in the moonlight, hair dark against the pillow. No summer heat, no blue sky.
In the kitchen, I make myself a cup of tea and drink it at the sink. When the dream recedes, I rinse the cup and return to bed. My man, half-woken, pulls me into the crescent of his body. I breathe, in and out, in and out, until I have forgotten the way the world shivered with Mirram by my side.
We were wee things they said, but we grew fast. There was string to play with, and stretchy hair twisties that we caught mid-air. Mirram chewed my fingers and ambushed my legs. Sometimes there was a pain in our heads, but we went to sleep and then it was gone.
Words shifted between our minds. Mirram couldn’t understand them until I did, but that didn’t bother him. We napped in patches of sunlight, Mirram curled in the hollow of my back as I lay on my stomach. If he woke first, he crawled up to my shoulder and bit my ear. It tickled, and I laughed.
When people came to visit, they peered at Mirram, whose head reached my thigh.
‘Will he get much bigger?’
‘I hope so,’ I said proudly.
‘No, that’s purring.’
They straightened, stepping back. Mirram and I smirked.
The first time I opened my eyes and found the world was silent, I started shrieking, No sound! No sound!
My mother and father rushed to my room and sat beside me on the bed, but in my distress I couldn’t concentrate on lipreading them.
After an hour, Mirram sauntered in with wet paws, bringing sound with him.
Where were you? I shouted.
Hunting. Sorry. He leaned against my calf, rubbing his cheek below my knee. I smelled the earth in his fur and sensed his residual excitement after swiping a bird. I moved my leg away.
I have to hunt, Phyllis.
Take me with you, then.
Later, when you’re older. You need to sleep at night.
I touched his head. You promise?
I pushed my hand down his back, over and over, until he finally purred. After that, he always came back before sunrise.
Not long afterwards, I put Mirram in a backpack and sat him in my lap in the car. He chewed shoelaces that I dangled in his face. My mother drove. When the car stopped, she said, ‘School.’
‘School,’ I repeated.
Your voice is too loud, Mirram said.
I repeated the word, softly.
My mother handed me a sachet of meat. I tore off the top and fed Mirram with my fingers, piece by piece.
Mum says you need strength, for today, I told him.
Alright, then. His rough tongue licked my skin.
At school there was so much listening, not just to learn, but because they wanted me to speak. I couldn’t do that without Mirram telling me if the shape and volume of my words was correct. Sometimes, he fell asleep on my feet and his dreams of skittering rats interfered with the teacher’s dictation. I kicked him awake, telling him, I can’t hear.
At night, he hunted less often. We slept together for longer.
If you’d like to finish reading this story, you can buy it for $2.99 from the Review of Australian Fiction. Or, better still, you can take out a subscription with the Review of Australian Fiction and get two new stories every two weeks!