Tag: biology stories

The Cat Xylem

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.


Plant tissues stick to the mind more more readily when you associate them with human beings. I am a sucker for crafty and convoluted mnemonic devices.


Parenchyma: the most superlative-worthy of three sisters, she is the oldest, the prettiest, the smartest and the most murderous. Sly and dandy Parenchyma, in an unknown man’s Persian blue sweater, stepping out of the family car and turning her head this way and that, getting the full scope. She’s a most dedicated actress, playing the part of virginal scholar in class and fleshing herself out during recess, swelling like ripe fruit. Unflappable, she licks at her love wounds like a tiger (hickeys and scorned schoolboys, she can take anything you dole out, dear).

Collenchyma: the buttery, soapstone middle child, she folds her sister’s clothes, packs their lunches and scrubs their backs in the clawfoot tub. The evening the cat Xylem arrives, paws ripped open like chocolate wrappers, it is she who packs him in newspapers and sets him near the ticking oven, she who feeds him syrup and salted crackers. In gratitude, Xylem grants her a ring of daylily fibers that will protect her from harm; she slips it on sweetheart Sclerenchyma’s little finger. Not long after she is hit by a bus.

Sclerenchyma: the baby for whom one older sister perishes, and another is robbed of her true love (dashing Stoma with his pearl cuff-links and breezy countenance). She is the finicky blonde simpleton always found in family trees, removing the cords of her red hood from the branches of paternal morality and descending into the swept-up, deep dark undergrowth. Dumb but desirable, she is on first name terms with nearly everyone in the two grades immediately above and below hers. Her giggles teeter on the brink of innocence and seduction, drawing males and females alike.