Chapter 16 – Daphne (Fall 2018)
Freddie spread twenty newly developed pictures of kittens across the floor in four rows of five. He pointed to each one and described what it was like. He described how he perceived their personalities. He described how they reacted when he put his hand up to the glass that divided him from the cats. If they were playful. If they were shy. Which ones seemed naughty.
"They had so many cats there," Freddie said. "If you need me to take more pictures, I can."
"There's so many cute ones," Heather said.
She pointed back at the ones she didn't like. Some looked shabby. Some of the cutes ones he said were shy. One by one, he took the pictures away.
"Mom took me to get the pictures developed right after we saw them," he said. "I told her I wanted to show them to Dad."
"Go back tomorrow and play with these three," Heather said
She gestured at the only three pictures left on the floor.
"Then come back and tell me what they're like,” she said.
"I'll show these to Dad and tell them we have to go back."
Heather could hear from the stairwell the father oooing and awing over the pictures.
"I can come with you and help you pick," the father said.
"I may need to sleep on it, Dad."
"It is a big decision," the mother said.
They all laughed, and she could tell one of them tussled his hair. She could tell that because they were always tussling his hair. They were always laughing, too. And saying how much they loved each other. Freddie was an only child, and those parents poured all their love into him. They beamed with joy when they saw him.
“You’re not a kid anymore,” Heather would tell him.
“I know that,” Freddie would say.
“You just turned eleven, and your parents treat you like you’re eight.”
“They love me is all.”
“You need to stand up for yourself.”
“I guess,” he would say.
He came home the next day with the three pictures again. He showed her the picture of the orange kitten. He held it out in front of himself.
"This was the best one by far," he said.
"What was it like?" Heather said.
"This one just purred and cuddled the entire time. It wouldn't stop licking me. It was so great."
"What were the other ones like?"
"The gray one was cute, but it didn't like being held. The other one just ran around like crazy the entire time. The orange one is the best."
"Are you absolutely sure? I have to trust you."
"I am sure, and I think I can convince my parents to take me right back to get her."
"Her? I never heard of an orange cat that was a girl."
"Definitely a her,” he said. “Dad couldn't believe it either. He even checked."
"Get her then."
They came back a few hours later with a car full of cat supplies. Freddie held the kitten in his arms, holding it to his chest like a stuffed animal. Her paws wrapped around his left arm, holding on tightly. His mother held the empty carrier in one hand and a bag from the pet store in the other. The father carried a big bag of kitty litter.
They all giggled when the kitten chased a feather attached to the end of a stick. It jumped and batted at the feather like it were a potential meal and she hadn't eaten in weeks. Freddie stopped moving the stick back and forth for just a few seconds, and the kitten pounced on it, pulling the stick from his hands.
"She's a real hunter," the father said.
"She's like a tiger," Freddie laughed.
The doorbell rang, and the father brought back a pizza. The pizza box wasn't on the table for more than a minute when the kitten jumped on the table and started clawing at it. The mother rushed to pick the kitten up and carefully place her back on the floor.
"We'll have to fix that," she said.
"You can't train cats, honey," the father said.
"I bet I can!" Freddie said.
"If anyone can, it's you," the father said.
Rolling his eyes in his wife's direction.
She put her hand in front of her mouth, holding back a giggle.
"Let's sit down and say grace. Do you want to lead us tonight, Fred-Fred?"
"Dear Lord, thank you for this food we're about to eat. Thank you for the new kitten. Bless us all. A men."
"Well done," the father said, grabbing for a piece of pizza before Freddie even finished grace.
"Have you thought of a name yet?" the mother said.
Heather hurried to the boy's side, coming as close to the surface as she could without poking through the top. She positioned her mouth next to his ear.
"What about tiger?" the father said. "You did say she was like a tiger, Freddie."
"No," Heather whispered into Freddie's ear.
"I don't think so," Freddie said.
"Really? I liked that one," the mother said. "How about Melissa? I always loved that name."
"No," Heather said.
"No. Not that one either."
"It is a weird name for a cat," the father said.
"Oh shush," the mother said.
She swatted her hand at her husband like she was going to hit him.
"Do you have any of your own ideas?" the father said.
"I don't know," Freddie said.
"Think about it for a few minutes," the mother said.
Heather had a name she wanted. She had thought about it since they left to pick the cat up from the shelter. She studied the picture that rested on the floor of Freddie's room and waited for a name to come to her. A name perfect for her first pet. Her father had never let her have one, and now she was going to have this kitten all to herself.
"Daphne," Heather said.
"I'm thinking maybe Daphne," Freddie said.
"A perfect name!" the father said.
When they finished eating, the mother threw out the paper plates. She put the few remaining pieces of pizza into plastic baggies and stuffed them into the fridge. She wiped down the table. She threw out the pizza box. She sat down on the couch with some satisfaction. Heather could tell from the smile on her face.
Freddie brought a bag of cat food in from the car and poured it into a food dish. He let the food pour over the side of the dish and onto the floor. Daphne frantically scrambled all around the dish, trying to eat every little piece. Freddie laughed in amusement.
"Look at her go!" he said.
"Don't fill the dish up that much," the father said. "Are you ready to set up the litter?"
"Can't you do it?"
"It's not my cat."
"But I'll help."
They made a space under the bathroom sink for the litterbox. They removed one of the doors of the vanity and placed the box there.
"Tomorrow, I'll cut a hole in this so she can go in through it. For now, we'll just leave the door off."
Freddie struggled to pour the litter into the box. The bag of litter said it was 42 pounds, but Freddie acted like it was more.
"You can do it, Fred-Fred," the father said.
"It's so heavy!"
"It's not that bad."
He did it then went to find Daphne, who was cleaning herself at the top of the stairs. The father waited behind the bathroom door, and he closed the door quickly when Freddie came back into the room with the cat.
"Now put her in the box so she knows where it is."
Freddie placed Daphne in the box and tried to hold her there when she attempted her escape. He held her down, flat against the litter, and she rolled around in his hands, trying to worm herself loose.
"Let her go. She knows where it is now."
Freddie let go of the cat, and she pounced out of the box and started pacing around the room. She sniffed every corner and pawed at the hand towel that dangled off a rack next to the sink.
"What now?" Freddie said.
"We wait for her to do her business," the father said.
Daphne stretched out on the floor for a while. Freddie rubbed her stomach. She took another few laps around the room. She finally jumped into the litterbox and did her business.
"See? That's all there is to it. Cats know."
"You have any homework you need to do before bed?"
"Get at it."
Daphne curled onto Freddie's lap while he did his homework at his desk. He stroked her head until she purred in between math problems. He held her in his arms while reading a history chapter, being careful not to drop her when he removed one hand to flip the page of the large textbook. He kissed her on the head more than once. Not that Heather counted the exact amount of times. It was four times he kissed her head.
Daphne was so close. Practically a mirage. Heather waited for Freddie to go to bed.
He kept his bedroom door open a crack for Daphne to get in and out while he slept. He slept on his side. His legs curled up almost to his chest. Daphne curled up herself in that small space between his knees and his chest. She was pretty small, and she fit perfectly in the sleeping nook the boy's body naturally created.
She purred there in his bed, and his hand went automatically to her tiny body. His hand wasn't all that big itself, but it nearly covered her whole body like a blanket. Only her little head poked out from the human shelter of his legs and chest and hand.
It was the dead of night when Heather woke him up by calling his name.
"Freddie. Freddie, wake up."
His eyes opened, and he automatically brought Daphne closer to him. The cat still asleep.
"What is it?"
"Freddie, it's time."
He sat up in bed and grasped Daphne to his chest.
"Go down to the kitchen and find the sharpest knife you can," Heather said.
"I don't want to."
"I know, sweetie, but you promised."
He held Daphne tighter.
"Go to the kitchen," Heather said.
She followed him down to the kitchen, and he started to open the silverware drawer.
"Not that drawer," Heather said. "Get it from the knife block."
He pulled out one knife and then the other. They were smaller knives she saw his mother use all the time for years now. Knives they never sharpened. She had him put them back until he pulled out the big knife. The knife his mother never used. The sharpest knife.
"That's the one."
She followed him back upstairs. He held the knife out straight out in front of him.
"Why are you holding it like that?"
"I don't want it to cut me," he said.
Daphne tried to dart out of the bedroom when he opened the door, but Freddie blocked her with his foot and pushed his way into the room. He closed the door behind him quickly before Daphne could make another attempt. He still stood with the knife out in front of him.
"Stop holding it like that,” Heather said.
He placed it on his desk.
"The quicker you do it,” she said.
"I don't want to."
"You promised, sweetie."
"I'm afraid,” he said.
"What do you think will happen?"
"I'll get in trouble."
"That's bad enough to break a promise?" Heather said.
"I'm afraid for her."
"What do you think will happen?"
"I don't know,” he said.
"I'll tell you what happens. You picked the sharpest knife, so she's going to die quickly. She won't even notice it. One moment she'll be alive, and the next moment she'll wake up and be with me. She won't feel any pain. She won't even know anything happened. And she'll be a kitten forever. She won't grow old or get sick. She'll just be a playful kitten forever."
"I don't know."
"Can you imagine anything happier than being a kitten forever? Than being loved forever?"
"I'm still afraid,” he said.
"I know it's hard.”
Tears started to form in his eyes.
"I know it's hard," Heather said. "But I love you."
"I love you, Freddie."
"I love you, too."
"Pick up the knife,” she said.
He didn't pick up the knife.
"Pick up the knife,” she said.
He picked up the knife.
"I love you, sweetie,” she said.
Daphne rubbed back and forth against his legs.
He picked her up, holding her tightly in his arms. The knife was bigger than Daphne. It shone brightly under the ceiling lamp in his room. It must have felt cold to Daphne, harmlessly pressed lengthwise against her body. He brought Daphne over to the bed and held her down. She squirmed under his grasp.
"I love you," Heather said.
"I love you, too."
He raised the knife up.
"I'm sorry," he said.
He plunged it down into the exposed part of Daphne's body. The part his hand didn’t cover. She screeched and thrashed against his hand. She bit and clawed. She made a horrible sound. A nightmare wail. He kept stabbing.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
His voice grew louder. It matched every stab. It merged into Daphne's death wail, becoming one terrible sound.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
With every stab.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I’m sorry! I'm sorry!"
His voice was the only sound left. He kept stabbing. His left hand long ago removed from Daphne's now limp body. The bed was a mess of blood.
It spread into the sheets.
Dahpne turned inside out. Her body was nothing. There was only blood now.
The parents came rushing into the room. Pulling their robes closed around them. Heather dashed beneath the surface. She was in the far corner of the room. They looked at their son. Stabbing a knife into his bloody bed.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
"Do something!" the mother said.
"He has a knife!" the father said.
"I'm sorry!" Freddie said.
"Put down the knife, Freddie!" the father said.
"Put down the knife," his father screamed.
Stepping closer to Freddie. The knife still wildly swinging. The father held his hands out in front of him. He stood a cautious distance away.
"Just grab him!" the mother said.
"Put down the knife!" the father said.
"Grab him!" the mother said.
The father ran over and grabbed him. Freddie was still stabbing. The knife caught his father in the leg as he lifted Freddie up and away from the bed. The father grasped at Freddie's hand and ripped the knife out of it. Throwing it across the room where Heather was just below the surface.
"Oh my God," the mother said. "Whose blood is it?"
"I'm sorry!" Freddie wouldn't stop screaming.
The father checked Freddie while he held him. The walls were splattered in blood. The ceiling, too. The bed was ruined. Drenched in blood.
"He's fine," the father said.
He pulled Freddie out of the room. He carried him down the stairs. Freddie's feet dragging against each step. At some point, Freddie stopped screaming.
They drove him somewhere in the morning. He never came back. Cleaners came the next day. Not the normal kind, but a kind from a company that usually cleaned up murder scenes.
"I worked this house once before," one of the cleaners said. "Years ago."
"That's fucking weird," one of the other cleaners said.
"It wasn't a fucking cat that time."
They put the house up for sale the day after that.
"A girl made him do it," the mother said.
That was all she said about it.
Heather tried to cuddle with Daphne the way Freddie had. Daphne hissed whenever Heather would get near her. She would scratch at the air whenever Heather would approach. Daphne followed Heather around the house, always staying a safe distance behind her. Bolting when Heather turned around to grab her. Always nearby and always out of reach.
Heather decided she wasn't a cat person.