“He’s such a nice boy!”
David, who, unobserved, is listening to the two old ladies from a secluded part of the adjacent garden smiles. Nice. He lets the word drift through his mind. Nice. ‘Nice’ is a nice word. His smile has a mild, distant quality. Nice. For a moment or so he dwells on the idea of old ladies regarding him as nice.
“When Tims, lovely Tims went missing, he was SO supportive,” Alice, his neighbour continues. “He printed off posters with my favourite picture of poor Tims on it and stuck them up on lamp posts. He spent SO much time looking for him in places where he might be.”
She paused. David imagines her composing herself, as she represses a tear. Did she dab a small silly handkerchief to her eye, he wonders. It would have been good to check. Checking even in small matters is part of his evolving method – comparing predictions about people’s behaviour against the facts. But, for the moment he accepts that it is better to remain out of sight.
The old lady is talking again. “Cats sometimes seek a solitary place to die – when they feel the end is coming. I imagine him lying down under a bush somewhere… lonely and alone, peacefully drifting away.”
Another female voice – soothing – breaks the momentary silence. “But Tims had such a good life.”
But anything but a good death, David thinks, smiling again as he replays the scene of Tim’s final moments, as it struggled, its head submerged in the tub of water, straining every atom of its cat being against its fate.
David takes a deep breath as, second by second, he replays the joy of destroying Tim.A new thought: Fate had decided that Tims should die. Fate? He decides that he will have to give more thought to ‘fate’.
He re-focuses on the voices in the neighbouring garden.
“You could get another cat,” the visitor suggests.
“David suggested that. Another cat just like Tims. I thought about a kitten, but he said that I should get a cat from a shelter. What do you think?”
“You would give it a good home.”
For a little while! David thinks.
“The pain of losing another cat would be too much to bear,” the neighbour says after a moment.
New possibilities,David thinks. A pain that is too much to bear.
The conversation in the adjacent garden draws to a close and now sure that he would be unobserved David emerges from his place of concealment.
As he sets out on his Saturday walk he reflects again on the need for careful planning. No detail is unimportant. Luring Tims to the tub of water, the execution, concealment of the body, the follow-up – all visualised, rehearsed, refined, again and again. He takes pleasure in knowing that he can plan well.
A new thought emerges. Images and memories are important, his memory of the moments of Tims’ final struggle – so good! But what about the image of the dead Tims? In his mind’s eye he sees the old neighbour surveying the mouldering body and the look of horror and of grief on her face. The image would stay with her for months to come. Perhaps it would be too painful to bear. He quickens his pace, astonished by the speed of his mind as fresh possibilities role into his consciousness.
The following morning, just as the old neighbour is about to go to church, he gravely announces the discovery of Tims’ carcass.
“Oh…oh…oh…” is all that she manages to wail as she almost falls onto a kitchen chair.
“I could bury him, while you’re at church,” David says, putting on what he thinks of as his ‘sympathy’ face. He has endeavoured to perfect that look for many months.
The old lady draws a handkerchief and dabs her eyes. “No,” she says, her voice faint but firm. “I want to be there.” She pauses and looks at David. “Where was he, where did you find him?”
“Well hidden under a laurel bush at the far corner of the garden. I only saw him because the tip of his tale was sticking out. He must have been moved. He was badly … well rats or something.” He observes the look of horror on the old lady’s face.
“I have heard that cats like to go away and hide when they feel that they are about to die,” he adds.
The old lady nods. “That’s often true.”
David retrieves the body and drapes it in the large white sheet which the neighbour provides. He reverently takes it to the designated burial spot, acquires a spade and digs a cat sized hole. In a move, carefully rehearsed he appears to stumble as he starts to lay Tims to rest. Now fully exposed to view, the partially decomposed body rolls unceremoniously into the grave.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” the neighbour wails and sways next to the hole.
Muttering apologies David tenderly covers the body with the sheet, rapidly fills the hole and helps the old lady back to her kitchen where she sits, her breathing laboured, her eyes shutting and opening as though she is battling against sleep.
“I will never forget the sight of Tims,” she whispers. “Never. Not as long as I live.”
Good, David thinks behind his sympathy mask.
Some months later, David, now approaching his fifteenth birthday, is discussing the future course of his studies with the school careers teacher. He nods. “Your grades are excellent.”
“I really like to help people,” David says, smiling his well-rehearsed smile.
The teachermakes a note in his file.
“I thought about becoming a vet,” David adds. “I like animals.” The image of the neighbour being taken to the ambulance drifts in front of his inner eye. “But I think I would like to be a doctor.”
Author is an old chap living in St Andrews, Scotland. He likes to explore themes of ‘limits and longings’.
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