Sunny day. First Sunday of summer break. Sarah corralled the kids and took off to the park. They were waiting their chance to cross the street when they saw the neighbor's cat get hit by a car. She dragged everyone back inside and summoned me from the top of the kid’s fort (I was shingling.) “We need your help with something,” she lobbed with the last part of a running breath.
To hear this — to be needed when I’ve spent the afternoon on a fort that’s taken weeks longer than it should to build — was glorious. I mean if I were a contractor my clients would be suing me by now. But my kids don’t yet have that wherewithal. Sarah, however, is keenly aware of the time I’ve spent cobbling leftover wood together to create something like a chicken coop for the children. So to have her want my help while I’m smashing shingles onto an otherwise superfluous structure — or at least unnecessary compared to the things I should be doing to our actual house — is pretty exciting. This sensation would subside.
The neighbor’s cat, an animal that had found them and, using it’s beguiling kitty ways would convince them to adopt her, was hiding under a bush. A gaggle, which is at least ten teenage girls, stood in a semicircle around the animal. The man who’d hit the animal had a single tear on his left cheek. Eliot had been quarantined to the house and the boys were bounding around the yard trying to figure out what to do.
The driver was clearly disturbed by the incident. He apologized to no one in particular while he clutched the leash of his dog. Just five minutes prior he’d been on a routine trip to the dog park across from our house. Now he was responsible for the terrible suffering of a neighborhood pet. Right now I know he’s thinking about it. It’s going to be a while before he can shake it. Because the cat didn’t die immediately. I’d have to shoot it, which is kind of why they needed my help. I never thought I’d be the gun guy; the suburban sniper, but I’ve been in the position of numbing injured animals before. This, however, was a pet. And I wasn’t sure my BB gun was going to do the trick. And by trick I really mean magic, because this beautiful tabby was in agony. It had dragged itself by it’s forepaws off of the street — the gaggle screeching and wailing. The guy in the car stumbling back to the scene. My wife swooping the kids to some other place than sadness.
It screamed with its meow. I pet it and talked to it and I wondered what it was saying. I mean there’s some pretty obvious verbiage here — “oh shit this hurts” — but I thought I heard anger. I thought I heard disappointment. I don’t know, it was deep long meow and it seemed to be pretty damn mad that we could love and feed a cat, but we were too damn dumb to end the pain. Like there’s been a rumor about us, about humans, but this particular cat had ignored it. Passed it off as heresy. She’d found a home and loving hands scratching her ears on cold winter nights, but when it came down to it we were as helpless as she’d once only heard. She shrieked at her own disavowal. Her being sucked in by our material world. The convenience of being a house cat diluted her senses. She’d once caught a squirrel and didn’t know what to do with it. That sort of thing. And now she was at the bottom of a half circle of these goddamned lies. Lies about safety and shelter if only she relinquished her savagery. If only she pooped in a tiny box of chemical sand and ate whatever in the hell was in that bowl, she’d be OK. She did all that. She loved. She made the absolute loneliest species feel connected to something other than themselves and computer devices, yet here she lay dying on the side of the road with weeping idiots more involved with their own issues than her fiery battle with the night.
I pumped my childhood BB gun until I could barely engage the compression lever back to the stock. It clicked into place and the girls gasped at the little pop of the pellet. I really don’t like shooting things. I grew up with the venerable threat that whatever we shot we had to eat. This came with the story of my father’s father making him prepare and eat a backyard bird he’d gunned down for fun. I don’t even like generously seasoned game animals so that was a very effective parable. Today, however, I was hoping the cat thought, “Holy shit, finally,” as I sent a tiny metal ball through its neck and into its brain. That was the hope. In real life it sent the animal into a series of slow tremors, almost like it was reanimating. And then it stopped. It’s right front leg gently setting down to the ground. It looked like a needle dropping on a record. This time the classic hit of remorse. Of wondering if we’re doing it right this human thing. The B side: Are we the shittiest creature on the planet?
Before I shot. Before the BB could deliver it’s shiny message about death. There was much clamoring on of the whereabouts of the cat’s owners. The gaggle spoke all at once about how they’d pounded on the doors of the house but no one answered. Sarah had tried as well. No one was home. We know these people. They’re nice. They like the Grateful Dead.
I was petting the cat, and the man with his dog was telling me how it happened. The cat ran right under his car and into the wheel. He was mortified. It was then when our neighbors came walking back from the park with their dog. They couldn’t make out what was happening in front of their house, but they didn’t need long. The excited gaggle and my two sons ran to meet them with the news. Giddy suburban doings whirling around the body of a broken and frustrated and dying tabby. The apex of millions of years of physical and social evolution dying under a plant we’d trimmed earlier that day. It had been unwieldily and leaning into the sidewalk. Now it was square and tame and hopefully made more appealing the greeting that our neighbors were about to receive. The woman broke down immediately and ran into the house. Her boyfriend kneeled with me and talked to the animal.
“Fucking Christ just shut up and do it,” I imagined the cat saying. “Fix me or ditch me. Or…OR…use the same minds that came up with the infernal automobile to make me better.” And we didn’t.
“We only know how to use the cars,” I might one day add to an afterlife panel of murdered animals. The squirrel I hit in Farmington and the little dog that ran into our car on south Broadway. “We don’t know the consequences. We sometimes don’t know how to channel our perceived mental superiority into positive or constructive fixes.”
And it would be strange for the animals seeing the top of the food chain plead ignorance. On varying levels they all know how to hunt and to smell the air. Dogs and cats, for example, all seem to speak the same language. The birds in our backyard talk trash to each other all day.
Humans, on the other hand, are kind of scattered, I’d explain. “These tools for which we’re renowned. Maybe we don’t understand them as much as other species would think.”
It would be one of those moments where I’d want to stop talking but couldn’t. Like the job interview going terribly wrong as I dwelled too long on my list of weaknesses.
“I’m sorry, but it’s a lot I’m realizing right now,” I’d look down after addressing directly the little dog from South Broadway. He’d been mortally wounded under our Camry. And then, to the floor, I’d utter, “I have a feeling that maybe we’ve lost sight as to certain important responsibilities in being top dog.”
I’d later apologize to the non canines. By then they’d already acknowledged that the whole conversation had not gone well. I would be doomed.
And so this little metal ball — one that I’ve since researched to find is steel coated with zinc — made it’s way somewhere into the mind of the doting creature. The breakers gradually turned off. Thousands, millions of electric circuits went dark, a city as infinite as all the stars shot black across the body and the paw of a curious kitten flexed, froze and dropped. The gaggle turned and left. My kids had taken off to the park with their mom. The tabby’s human mother stayed inside. In the street, three grown men were left to fight back tears and consider our task as pallbearers.