Chapter 46

Together they went to the garage and searched until they found a saw. Dustin pushed aside dusty golf bags, bent fireplace irons, horseshoes and scraps of lumber before placing his hands on one. Sylvia held the flashlight and talked incessantly, wondering aloud where would be the best place on the human body to be shot in.

"It wouldn’t be the head!" She decided as they exited the garage. "Surely it wouldn’t be the head."

Dustin nodded. "That would be bad." He said, pausing at the kitchen door.

Sylvia smiled. "Fish are cannibalistic."

Dustin nodded again.

"After their eggs hatch, the young have to scramble to rocks and plants so they can hide." She continued. She grabbed a stack of paper plates from the pantry and putting a sandwich on each one of them. "If they can’t find a place to hide, the bigger fish will devour them."

"That’s terrible." Dustin said. There wasn’t much weight to his words.

"It’s disgusting." She grinned, picking up the plates.

Dustin climbed the steps.

In the upstairs hallway, he could hear laughter coming from behind the bedroom door. It began to trail off and then he heard Kitten Kennedy say, "But seriously, it’s all really kind of sad when you think about it."

That started them to laughing again, more loudly than before.

Dustin opened the door.

Inside, Aldrich was saying, "You’ve got Jesus riding dinosaurs and she’s got a kitten stuck in a tree." He shook his head as he adjusted the jack.

Seeing Dustin, they all went silent. They shot secretive glances at one another. They regarded him blankly as if he were a trespasser.

Feeling naked, he held up the contents of his hands. "I got the stuff." He said.

The grocer was still hunched over the man on the floor. He held out an arm expectantly.

Dustin went over and gave him the saw.

"Did you eat any of my sandwich?" The old man asked, straining to look at him over the beam.

"No." Dustin answered. He reached around Aldrich and handed it to the old man.

James had gone back to crouching at John’s side. "Did you talk to Sylvia while you were down there?" He asked Dustin.

"She made the sandwich." Dustin answered.

"Did she tell you anything?"

"She said that female fish lay their eggs before they’re fertilized."

James nodded. "Exactly." He said bitterly.

Aldrich didn’t look up. Instead he set the teeth of the saw against the beam. "So, back to what you were telling us." He said glancing over towards Kitten Kennedy. "That was your kitten?"

Kennedy looked at Dustin then around the room. There was still the faint ghost of a smile on her face but seeing him had erased most of it. "Yeah." She said guardedly.

"I just love that kitten." Alexis said. "I can’t believe that, that was your kitten."

Kennedy shook her head. "Yeah." She said again. "I never really got a chance to know him though. I mean, my dad’s photographer friend shot that picture right after I got him. I’d only had him for two days. He ran away about a week later."

Dustin turned to face the woman. "The ‘Hang in There’ kitten?" He asked.

Kennedy simply stared at him.

"Why didn’t you tell me that?" He said, genuinely shocked that this was the big secret that she’d been hiding about her fathers tombstone.

The woman sighed. "Jesus." She said. "It’s not about the kitten."

"What do you mean?"

"The kitten fell off the branch right after the shot was taken."

"So?"

"The kitten is a metaphor." She said.

"A metaphor, for what?" Dustin asked.

"For everything!" Kennedy shot back. "My father and his friend didn’t know that the damned kitten was going to be so important when they hung it off that branch. They just took the stupid picture and then, a year later, people are giving copies of it to Spiro Agnew and printing it on greeting cards."

"But why is it this big dark secret with you?" Dustin asked. "Why wouldn’t you tell me this when I asked you about your father’s grave?"

"Because you gave up." She spat. "You quit your job and then you told me that you leave everything. You’re just like my father. His buddy made a fortune off my kitten and my dad was stuck with a lifetime of debt trying to run a dry cleaning business and a four year old daughter that cried for two days straight because her kitten ran away. It was my kitten and the stupid thing ran away. My dad shot himself in the head. He left my mom with a stack of bills three feet high. The stupid kitten fell off a tree but you? You keep the thing hanging on your wall and then you never speak to your family. Your life is an insult to everything that, that God damned kitten ever stood for."

"So the kitten is a metaphor?" Dustin asked rhetorically.

"He’s a religion!" Kennedy shot back clasping her hands to her heart.

James gave a small chuckle. "There’s only one religion." He admonished with a good natured smile.

Aldrich began to saw. "Don’t get me wrong here," He said raking the blade across the wood in long heavy strokes. "I don’t want to offend anybody but I’ve got to say, I hate that kitten and I think it’s plumb stupid to open up an aquarium just to teach creationism."

The old man swallowed a bite of his sandwich. "Do you know of a better way to prove that God has an order to things?" He asked, looking up at the grocer as he worked.

"God doesn’t have an order." The grocer grunted. "There isn’t any order. Just because fish don’t walk up on dry land everyday doesn’t mean that they never have."

James gave the man a shrug. "To each their own." He said. He patted the old man on the head. "Hang in there, John."

Aldrich continued. "The kitten doesn’t mean anything." He said pushing the saw through the beam. "It doesn’t mean anything special because it fell off the branch. It’s not a religion. It’s just a damned cute picture that people use to make themselves feel better."

Alexis smiled.

"And I don’t care if someone does or doesn’t put moisturizer next to the sink. If it’s there I may or may not use it. The thing is, it’s best if it’s not there if it’s going to come with some big price tag that I’m obligated to pay."

Dustin cleared his throat. "Can I help?" He asked.

The grocer stopped sawing and turned to face him. "No." He said defiantly. "You can’t help. To tell you the truth, I don’t care what sort of suit my father wears or what sort of flowers are put on her coffin. The only thing that I really care about is that they’re gone and there’s nothing you can do to change all of that."

Unconsciously, Dustin took a step back. "I’m very sorry for your loss." He said, mouthing the words barely about a whisper.

"You’re the worst." Aldrich growled, leveling a finger in his direction. "You think that you’re doing the world some big favor by patting people on the back and promising them that you can take away whatever pain that they’re feeling by helping them select some sad hymn or color of casket but the truth is that you’re useless. All the people who come to you want bro, is a place to bury their dead. They don’t give a damn about all of the special things that you add on and charge them for. That kind of crap is just something that you put in front of them to distract them from their loss. You’re not a hero and you’re not some kind of guardian angel. Saints and saviors don’t put moisturizer by the sink and then feel sorry for themselves because no one gave a damn about them doing it."

Kennedy gave a derisive laugh. Everyone else just looked at Dustin.

The grocer went on. "You’re a coward." He said gesturing towards Dustin. "You’re a useless cock sucker. You’re too wrapped up in your own problems to really give a damn about anyone else. Me? I’ve got my momma and my daddy that I need to get buried but I’m here right now and I’m sawing through this piece of wood because it’s lying on top of this guy and it needs to be done. You? You leave when things get tough. You leave your job, your family and your life and then you whine about how you think you don’t exist. You don’t! You’re so self absorbed that you might as well not exist and you make everything harder by trying to validate yourself."

Dustin looked around. "What the hell did all of you talk about while I was downstairs?"

Aldrich pointed a finger at Alexis. "She’s making her husband build an aquarium." He said. "She wants one because she’s likes fish but they’re both fooling themselves by saying that it’s for Jesus."

Alexis smiled.

The grocer turned to Kennedy. "She’s still angry at her father for killing himself." He continued. "She thinks that it’s because he was broke and she blames that photo of her kitten and the fact that her daddy’s buddy made a fortune off of it while he went deeper and deeper into debt. She hates that picture so much that she’s more focused on the fact that the kitten ran away and that it fell off the branch than the words that are printed next to it."

Kennedy smiled and shot him the finger.

"This guy." Aldrich said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the old man on the floor. "He’s convinced that his wife is sleeping around on him and that she lies all the time. He deals with it by complaining about her to complete strangers rather than talking to her directly."

The old man looked up, chewing on a piece of bread.

"Like I said, I don’t want to be disrespectful to no one but this prick over here that my daddy punched." The grocer said refusing to relent on his current train of thought as he turned his attention back to Dustin. "But the thing is you’re all making things more complicated than they need to be."

Suddenly, Sylvia burst through the door. "The paramedics heard on their radio that they took apart the Bay Bank sculpture!" She said with excitement. "The world isn’t going to end!"

As they all stood and watched her, the ground started to shake.

The End

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