The cat Xylem is older than you, that’s for sure. But then again, the cat Xylem is unsure what words like “older” or “younger” even mean. He does not see them as independent terms, corresponding to items of human concern, but rather as amalgams of the alphabet, floating beyond his comprehension. He does understand the gist of the language of humans, (in fact, at one point he could even speak it, like all of his kind) but what he and most have can hardly be called “communication”, not even its primitive ancestors “sound”, “gesture” and “feeling.” Like a derailed train chugging hopelessly along a seashore, the cat Xylem functions without a vital component. His vocal chords have been ripped out.
In the unrecognized micronation of Nounaim, the cat Xylem is something of a phenomenon. He travels on the underside of horse carriages, he feeds on children’s candies. All doors in Nounaim are built with compartments specifically for his use. All drainpipes are painted purple (a color he despises) so he will not, in a fit of disorientation, attempt to crawl into one. The cat Xylem is a lot of things, but he is not particularly slender.
The cat Xylem, despite his quick paws and careless stare, is not a free agent. The cat Xylem goes to wherever his paper collar indicates. It is always an address in Nounaim, printed in the Scientist Phloem’s neat small caps. 3 OSMOSIS STREET, that was the very first, a skinny panelled house sandwiched between the glossy pastel shingles of 2 and 4, belonging to Cambium.
(a brief tangent for the uninformed reader: Cambium, who in a daguerreotypes of old is a young lady of exceptional and expert grace and liveliness, a female to put even Parenchyma to shame, sending any fellow into fits of weeping at the very sight of her rainbow bow and ankle-length velvet skirts. Today, almost three hundred years after the cat Xylem’s visit, neither he nor she have aged visibly at all, but her rainbow bow lies shredded at the bottom of a landfill.)
Cambium had knelt before the cat Xylem, offering him first salami, then hunks of discolored bread, then a bowlful of milk (no? Are you minding your figure? Two percent fat, maybe?), until finally her butler Trichome (Stoma’s elder brother, taking up the mantle of Cambium’s care like a true lovelorn gentleman) had dropped half a sheet of drying salt water taffy into the cat Xylem’s maw. He had bent down and, pinching the edge of the paper collar, ripped off Cambium’s address. 3 OSMOSIS STREET crumpled up into his fist, revealing 6 PHOSPHATE DRIVE underneath. Thus began the cat Xylem’s love affair with sugar and his long voyage.