The pedalcar whirrs to a stop at the northern side of the superblock. To the south children scream and giggle as they run about the streets, sheltered from the rush of traffic by a line of orange trees, and, beyond those, cement anti-vehicle barricades. On the one side the road is tarmac grey, on the other it’s a kaleidoscope of colours, painted over decades by artists, local families, bored teenagers, anyone craving to leave their mark on this tiny piece of Barcelona.
We can only park for twenty minutes, but I do not rush Zoè. I take my time helping her out of the car, her every step taken as though upon fresh ice. She’s so small she looks anywhere from six to nine years old, and with her little white parasol and matching white vestit, it’s as though she’s arrived from another era. When she sees the other children playing on the street she isn’t jealous – in fact her cataract-clouded eyes shimmer with joy.
She loves the superblocks, yet she will not be distracted. We are on a mission.
“Uncle Àngel…” She tugs at my sleeve as we pass through the trees and the barricades.
“It’s just down here, gateta. Don’t worry.” Though I have never seen little Zoè worry, not in all my time caring for her. She nods, resolute, and looks so like my sister it breaks my heart.
The old woman is waiting for us in the doorway of her apartment building. In spite of her age, she’s tall and broad, originally from Sweden perhaps, or Denmark. She stares at the bright red sunrash on Zoè’s face, which is rude.
Zoè pretends she doesn’t notice, just as Sílvia did, and I want to tell her that it’s all right to cry and scream and shout at the world, but perhaps that’s a luxury for healthy people. For those with Lal’s Syndrome, simply growing older is poison; it makes their bodies unravel, their hearts bleed. It’s a miracle that Sílvia even made it to twenty-eight, let alone had a daughter with the same elfin face, that same shit happens spirit.
“Hola,” Zoè greets, giving the woman more courtesy than she deserves. “I understand you contacted my uncle? About an everkitten?”
The woman is vague, motioning further down the street, her gaze flitting between Zoè’s outsize nose, her prominent ears, her rashy hands. But Zoè is calm.
“You have a good day,” she concludes.
“You don’t have to be polite to people like that,” I say, once we’re half out of earshot.
“Yes I do. Otherwise she wouldn’t tell us anything.”
I want to protect her, like I tried to protect Sílvia, but just like her mother, Zoè knows that’s not possible. We weave among the foot traffic; she avoids the other children, yet calls by every adult we see and asks, “Have you seen an everkitten?”
Some stare, some avoid her gaze, and some few respond with the same respect she shows to them. None know of any everkittens.
Most people don’t want to think about everkittens. There aren’t supposed to be any, not here. They’re banned across the whole Unió Europea, but where there’s demand there’s supply, so everkittens are smuggled in from abroad; whole trailers of cats whose ageing has been suspended, who, thanks to comprehensive cell therapy, will stay as babies forever. Children want them, parents order them, but after a month or two of their home being ruined by a helpless cat – which can’t even be toilet trained – they’re just abandoned.
We rescue as many as we can, but, being so helpless and small, if we don’t find them quickly, we’ll be too late. In fact, most of the time we’re too late, but Zoè insists we keep going. The whole everkitten shelter was her idea.
“If we don’t make it in time…” I begin.
“If we don’t make it in time, then we don’t make it in time. At least we tried.” She looks at me with patience and compassion, as though I’m the one who needs comforting.
We’re in luck: a large, cheery man points us toward an alleyway. Zoè’s so excited she twirls her parasol, and I wish she wouldn’t get her hopes up. Anything could get there before us: starvation, exposure, even a hungry fox or rat.
“Stop!” she orders, as we reach the alley. “Do you hear that?” She peers into the gloom with milky eyes.
It takes a moment, but yes, I hear the faint mewling. Zoè takes my hand as we carefully tread down the alleyway, eyes and ears alert, to find the sad little cries coming from a cardboard box. Zoè doesn’t even hesitate before opening it.
Only, it’s not an everkitten inside. It looks like an evercub – a baby lion perhaps, or a lynx, which is even rarer. Zoè hands me her parasol and picks him up, nuzzling him to her sunrashed cheek. Seeing them together fills me with warmth, and she’s right: this makes it worth it. It does.
“We made it in time!” She grins, her delight so childlike it’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since she had the cell therapy herself; since the doctors stopped the deadly ageing. She may look anywhere from six to nine years old, but soon she’ll be as old as Sílvia was. She’ll outlast us all, given the chance.
“You did a good job, gateta.”
I follow a few steps behind as she hurries back down the colourful street, chattering to the evercub as though introducing him to the world with all its tiny joys. By the time we reach the line of trees which mark the end of the pedestrian zone she’s even given him a name, bringing him into our ever-growing family.
She never runs out of names.
Redfern Jon Barrett is author to novels including the upcoming Proud Pink Sky (Amble Press, 2022), a speculative story set in the world’s first LGBTQ+ country. Redfern’s short fiction has appeared in Booth, The Sun Magazine, Passages North, Flash Fiction Online, ParSec, and Nature, while their nonfiction has featured in Guernica, Strange Horizons, and PinkNews. Redfern has a Ph.D. in Literature, is nonbinary, and lives in Berlin with their two partners. Read more at redjon.com.