Johnny’s father glared. “That damned thing better be gone by the time I get home tonight.”
A few hours after his father’s car left the driveway Johnny picked up the skinny kitty. Hundreds of fleas slithered in and out of her sparse fur. Clear fluid dripped from her tiny nose. The corners of her eyes were caked with a yellowish discharge, and her “meow” was listless, weak.
Kitty did not struggle at the mouth of the large mayo jar. She was passive and trusting and went in easily. Johnny’s hands trembled as he struggled to screw the lid down tight. He put the jar into a wrinkled, brown paper bag, and hid it under some boards in the basement. He climbed the stairs, and sat on the couch in the empty living room.
An hour later Johnny went back to the basement. His hands again trembled as he took the jar out of the bag. The glass was fogged, making it hard to see Kitty. He turned the jar. Her mouth was open, revealing tiny pointed white teeth. Her fur was wet. Her eyes closed.
He should have just taken her to the grassy field up the street and turned her loose. But then she was sick and dying, and she’d suffer a long time. It was better to make her suffering short. Wasn’t it?
He buried the jar behind the garage. Nobody would ever know what he’d done.
When his father came home from work he asked the question right away, he hadn't forgotten at all:
“Hey, did you get rid of that damned cat like I told you?”
Johnny nodded. “Yes. She’s gone.”
As usual Chester appeared disappointed that Johnny had done exactly as he was told, because deep down he really wanted another excuse to take off his belt and start whipping the kid’s ass. And, as expected, he didn’t bother to ask his son where. Or how.
Forty years later I shared this story with Elizabeth. She shuddered. “Jesus! Your father should never have put you in that spot,” she said. “He should have taken the cat to the vet. That’s what normal people do. You shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. You picked what you thought was the better of two painful choices. It makes you human, not evil.”
A few weeks before I suffocated the kitten Marty Rodginski showed up during recess one day. He had a brand new Daisy b-b rifle. Billy asked him where he got it. None of your fuckin’ business, Marty replied. Now it’s time to break it in.
He saw me, and grinned. “YOU.”
“Want me to shoot you up close?”
I ran in a zig-zag pattern, hoping he’d miss. They all stood around laughing their asses off. But immediately I felt the sharp stings in my back. Once, twice, three times. Marty was a good shot. Caroline, the next door neighbor lady, used tweezers to pull the b-bs out of the flesh of my back. She said somebody ought to teach that Marty a lesson. He’ll get his one of these days, she said.
One time Marty and his cousins put on heavy jackets and work gloves and got two cats and tied their tails together with duct tape. Ha-ha-ha-ha. You shoulda seen the spittin’ and howlin’. It was Marty’s bright idea to throw those tail-joined cats onto a clothes line. Now that was something. Then another time they caught some stray and shoved a big firecracker up its ass, and lit the fuse. They dropped the cat, and it went like crazy up the street. Pow! Ha-ha-ha-ha.
One day Marty said, hey, watch this. He put his fist to his mouth. Then he put it down at his crotch and made rapid pumping motions. Ah, yeah! He suddenly flicked his thumb, and the spit flew out. Ha-ha-ha-ha.
Down in the church basement at a dinner party Marty sat next to me at one of the white-paper-covered tables. There were a bunch of white cardboard boxes, one at each setting. Marty took two boxes and shoved them together. He scribbled wildly with a pencil. A hairy pussy, he called it. In the crack between the boxes he inserted a knife and slid it rapidly it back and forth. He threw back his head and groaned. Then he grinned and got up and wandered off. A minute after he left some big adult came by and saw the knife, and the hairy pussy.
“You goddamn pervert!” he said.
“I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!” I said.
“You disgust me, you little shit,” the adult said. He summoned a few other adults. They all agreed that I was the most twisted and disgusting and filthy-minded kid they’d ever seen. Wait till we tell your father! Just wait till he finds out what you’ve done!
On leave from the Air Force I went into Tiny’s Bar on Division Street. Tiny weighed about 300 pounds, and he always seemed out of breath. Hey, Johnny, you look good in that uniform, he said as he brought me a beer. He asked me if I’d seen any of our old St. Xavier crowd. I said I’d run into Billy and a few of the others. “But what about Marty? Is he still around?”
Tiny wheezed. “Yeah, he’s still around. Back there.”
Marty was motionless in a chair near the door of the men’s room. His head tilted back and rested on the wall, his mouth open, front teeth missing. His shirt was filthy, unbuttoned. On the table was an almost empty bottle of Gallo Port. An empty glass.
“He’s totally fucked up,” Tiny said. “Wet brain. He don’t recognize nobody anymore.”