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A Kitten

Kevin Clay


When he found it in the driveway its shoulder and a portion of its skull had been crushed. It lay in a wide, dark stain in the oiled and word gloss of the asphalt and there were the tracks of tires inscripted in the same dark ink. Yet it seemed to have staggered somewhat about, in its death throes, as if reluctant so soon to be hone, but of course go it did. Reluctant it seemed because of the little curlicues of blood patterned all about it like indecipherable writing in some obscure calligraphy, as if it had stumbled while its life drained out onto the pavement. A totality of earthen incryption there and the single comprehensible message of it the kitten’s dead body.
            He moved it out of the path of cars that came and went so that it might not be mangled further. But he did nothing else just then. He went into his own apartment and sat heavily in his chair in the living room and regarded without expression the three remaining kittens at play within the folds of a soiled blanket. The mother cat sat in her accustomed place atop the television, under the lamp, in her Sphinx pose, outer lids slitted and inner lids also so nearly closed that the barest gleam from her eyes reflected the light of the lamp. He sat so for some while, a book unread in his lap, the television remote control on the table before him, and it was a wonderment that he felt as he did but he had no name for it.
            The door opened and his came in with his current girlfriend just behind and he said, “Dad. One of the kittens got run over.”
            “I know.”
            “Who did it do you think?”
“I don’t know. Whoever did probably doesn’t even know it.”
            “Do you want me to get rid of it?”
            A pause. “No. That’s OK.”
            “Maintenance’ll do it if we don’t do something soon.”
            “I know. I’ll do something.”
            The boy sat and his girlfriend beside him and the girl leaned slightly forward and she said importunately and with some feeling, “Can I have one of them?”
            He started a little and set his book aside and said, “Sure.”
            The boy said to her, “Which one do you want?”
            “I want the red one.”
            The boy went to the blanket and picked up the red one and brought it back to the girl and the girl scratched it behind its ears. It curled up in her lap and commenced to buzz contentedly. The girl cradled the kitten in he crook of one arm and its tailed curled delicately around he elbow and it sleepily blinked.
            The boy said, “You better do something with it pretty quick. It’ll be gone tomorrow.”
            “I know.” the sun was going down now and the boy stood a dark shape in the doorway and beyond his shoulder the man could see the busy traffic on the freeway bridge. in a very short while after moving here the noise of the traffic had faded into the unnoticed background of their lives and seldom registered with him any longer but now for some reason he heard it and it irritated him in some subtle and doubtless and also completely unreasonable manner and he waved abstractedly to his son who bid him goodbye and then was gone and the girl and the kitten with him and he said to the closing door, “Be careful.” And there was more of feeling in it than he would of believed and too of the importunate, not unlike the girl.
            The mother cat blinked sleepily from atop the TV and then settled again and again her eyes slitted to apertures minimal and circumspect in cat fashion, out of which she gazed with that monotonous languor of all cats all wheres and she seemed well content. Or not, for who could say? And the man wondered at her thoughts and what she saw and what she did not see and what she felt and even if she knew. The remaining two kittens played still in the blanket or batted at the air where they seemed to see something there to bat at and for awhile the man watched closely as if by looking harder he might himself see what it was that held them so. But he did not see it.
            The mother cat made suddenly a throaty mewl that was her special call to her kittens and their ears pricked at it. And she leapt off the TV into the blanket in one fluid bound and fell vigorously to licking her kittens. In the end the man rose from his chair and took with him a section of the morning’s paper and went to where the kitten lay dead in the scrubby weeds that somehow forced a way through the asphalt just by the foundation of one of the seeming hundreds of identical buildings that was the mark of this place each one full with apartments and all of those in each separate identical building also more or less identical.
            The kitten was a calico, like its mother. Already the milkfed sheen of its fur had dulled somewhat and in the waning light the places where the injuries were, were as black as a closed eye and the man took the kitten up and wrapped it gently in the newsprint. He walked past the neat doubled rows of anonymous cars toward the green dumpster at the far end and he saw already it was overflowing and he stood before it awhile looking at the mounded plastic bags and spillage of debris—cans, bottles, endless spills of paper—before he hitched his shoulders in what was half a shrug and half something less noncommittal before he strode on past it and walked out into the open fields hard by the apartment complex and the light was failing quickly now.
            The field was a wilderness of weeds and strewn paper and beer bottles bearing up suncured printed labels whose names were like messages not quite received. Within one, a clear one, he thought perhaps a Zima bottle, here was the dried husked corpse of a large grasshopper, and he was bent down into another for no seeming reason a wide single stalk from a crablike formation of like grassy stalks and therein the tip of it had browned and wilted somehow, heat and focused light he supposed, though the balance of that stalk was still as green as the balance of the plant itself. The land rose slowly into a mound and he was nearing the crown of it. In about the middle of the field an abandoned easy chair stood moldering in a rash of exploded upholstery and stuffing retched forth and the intestinal curlicues of ruptured springs. Beside it an old hearth, strewn with the charred butt-ends of firewood, tin cans, the shattered glass of still more beer bottles, the cartons of six-and twelve-packs sloughing softly back into the earth under sun and rain. The hearth was made of rocks in a rough circle around a much larger flat stone, scarred deeply by fire.
            Near this he knelt down and with his hands scratched out a hole in the sandy soil. He worked at deepening it while the sky in the east glowed sullen orange and picked out the feathered rafts of the clouds in the same color and as he worked at deepening the hole that color deepened into a bloodred glow picked out on the windshields of the cars racing yon and thither and picked out also each square frame of the abundant glass in the buildings on or beside the streets and freeways and he could see widely from this high place the city spread out on all sides of him. Presently he judged the hole deep enough and gently laid the wrapped kitten in the bottom of it and paused only for a moment, with his legs ticked under him and his hands upturned limp in his lap and they were bedded almost in the soil he had scratched through, and small shallow scratches wedgeshapedlike cuneiform upon them from the silicate scraping of the sand, until he began to push the soil over the kitten and soon that was finished.
            When he was finished he kicked the small stones away from the hearth-midden and scraped away with his foot most of the trash and the ash there and then he manhandled the large stone across the grass and sat it on the raw wound of the now filled hole and stood then for a moment gazing out at the last light falling violently over the earth’s rim and redshifted into a color still richer than those before, his one hand resting lightly on the back of the chair. Looking down he saw the dirt packed in under his fingernails and saw also where one nail unbeknownst to had split and also the ash streaking his hands, his arms, his clothes. There was a diagonal rip in his shirt from the rock he supposed and a long thread of graywhite ash on his belly. 
            He turned and made his way back down the mound and before he reached home again the sun was gone altogether and if he did not grieve precisely something akin to it moved in him and night was upon the world and too it was upon him. And one by one fits and starts and flickers the streetlights came on and in those pools of light, he moved homeward, to cook some simple meal, and await his son’s return.