Copying The Cat

Entry by: Attic Statix

18th November 2022
Lauren slinks onto the school bus without a backwards glance. Black ballet pumps, leggings (despite the rules forbidding skinny fit), winged eyeliner: the definition of feline indifference. A ‘bring it if you dare’ vibe; she is Sekhmet personified - my favourite of the Egyptian gods. Lioness. Fearsome. She who is powerful.

Me, I couldn’t be less warrior cat goddess if I tried. I hitch up my polyester trousers too late - a chill January already soaking up my ankle from the puddle I’m stood in.

Mum knows not to hug me now, she did that at home, note pressed into my blazer pocket. I finger the folds as she whispers, ‘You’ll have a great time, I know you will.’

I won’t open that note until lights out but I can guess its contents. 'You are enough, just as you are. Go on being your wonderful unique self.'

Bless her loving delusion but, no. My wonderful unique self isn’t cutting it at school. I spend break times being talked over. Lunchtime in the library while everyone else gapes at Vinnie Jackson. Only getting a look-in when it's time to do French homework. Or Science. Or Maths.

I’ve spent the last four months studying - and I’m a pro. Special subject: Lauren at school.

Lauren on the bus, face set to flirtatious smirk as the Year 10 boys flick tiny paper balls her way. Lauren in form time, eyeliner out, friends competing for a, ‘Yeah, same’. Lauren in English, an unlikely fan of Thomas Hardy, raising her hand with cool ownership of the room. When I answer a question even the teacher’s bored. No surprises: it’s what I do.

This trip promises a new start. The weekend’s purchases radiate promise from my rucksack. Ballet shoes, leggings, eyeliner. Buying them was the easy part. Who knows, maybe they’re enchanted… maybe I’ll put them on and feel that easy belonging Lauren must feel every single day.

We arrive just before lunch with half an hour to unpack. I dash to the bathroom. End cubicle: bag, travel mirror, make up remover wipes (I’m a realist about the steadiness of my hand). My elbows and ankles bang the sanitary towel bin as I battle with trousers. There’s nowhere to balance the mirror except the toilet lid, so I end up kneeling on the floor, thanking the gods (Egyptian, pagan, cat, whatever) I got there first so at least it's clean.

My attempts at cat's eyes use up half the wipes, but it’s only three minutes until lunchtime and the silence outside tells me everyone’s gone. Do I scrub it off and forget this whole thing? No. It’s time. Fists balled, I channel warrior goddess vibes and head to the dining room.

A quick scan and a dash to the one seat left on the girls’ table. And, oh gods, Lauren’s opposite me. A glance across, then a swift double take. Stares me straight in the eyes, brows arched.

Next to her, Ivy sniggers, triggering a cascade of head turns. Time stops.

I’m going to throw up.

This is the end. The actual end of me. I am, for once, the centre of attention. Lauren’s gaze is the sun and I’m about to be roasted alive.

‘Shut. Up.’ Her words are ice, and I blink, stupidly.

She’s not looking at me. Ivy shrivels under her glare, tears her bread roll into pieces. What is happening here? Lauren’s eyes flash across the table.

‘You. Toilets. Now.’

Back in the bathroom, though, thankfully, not that tiny cubicle, she sighs.

‘What the hell are you doing, Sophie? Where did you get this stuff from?’

Before I answer, her face softens as she pulls a note from her blazer. Mum’s handwriting. Its creases are soft from multiple reads and refolds.

Lauren, love, have a wonderful time! I’ll miss you both so much.
I see how you’ve been finding it tough these past few weeks,
what with all these assessments (even if you don’t want anyone
to think you care!). Know that we love you exactly as you are,
you don’t need to be anyone else, okay? I know it’s hard right
now - but you’ll look back on this and wonder what you were
stressing about, I promise. Look out for Sophie, she needs you as
much as when you were little. See you Friday. Love you. Mum.

‘Did you get one too?’

Sophie, sweetheart, have a wonderful time! I’ll miss you both so
much. You’ve done brilliantly on your assessments, but I worry
you’re forgetting to be yourself and have fun. Grades are not the
most important thing in the world, honestly. Use this trip to
relax with your friends. Know that we love you exactly as you
are, you don’t need to be anyone else, okay? Look out for
Lauren, she needs you as much as when you were little. See you
Friday. Love you. Mum.

Lauren’s eyes are glassy. I’m not about to hug her, can’t remember the last time we did that.

‘I just want to be normal for once. It’s so easy for you. Everyone likes you, all the girls want to be you.’

‘Me?! Easy? I’ve been playing catch up with my genius twin my whole life. Do you know how late I stay up studying? God, I’d give anything…’ she trails off.

We stare at each other in the mirror. She grabs the make up wipes from my pocket.

‘You look ridiculous.’

But it's her own reflection she’s talking to. Two decisive pulls against each eyelid and the cat’s eyes are gone.

Somehow, though, I have a feeling Sekhmet has just doubled her power.