I’m finally getting around to posting what I suppose is the the first draft of Of Mice and Small Children. I say “suppose” because absolutely nothing is the same, save the singular line about Colonel Mustard.
6:15 AM is perhaps the single worst idea mankind has ever had.
Yet every weekday for the entirety of my high school education, my alarm would ring at 6:15 and I would spend the better part of a minute hitting various items on my nightstand until the ringing stopped and I promptly fell back asleep. Exactly eight minutes later, the ringing would start again and I would again flail around, trying to silence it, before groping in the dark for my glasses and a light switch to mute the beast forever. Some time between 6:23 and 6:24 every morning, I would drag myself out of bed and perform a somnambulant half-walk, half-shuffle down my hallway towards the front door of the house to go outside and get the newspaper.
For the majority of the school year, 6:24 in the morning also brought with it an eerie early-morning semi-light, something not quite altogether dark, and yet far from sunny. I would stumble out of the house in this gray glow, wearing whatever I had fallen asleep in the night before, stagger down the driveway, pick up the paper, turn around and repeat the process in reverse. It was mechanical, almost involuntary, and didn’t really require higher brain functions until I was back inside the house and faced with the dilemma of how to unwrap this copy of the Los Angeles Times that had been hermetically sealed in what I can only assume was Satan’s own unbreakable plastic wrap.
So when one particular morning I noticed, by way of the bleak luminescence, a lump of tawny fur conspicuously piled on our front lawn, I didn’t—couldn’t—think twice about it.
On most days, by the time I had wrenched open theTimes my dad had joined me in my early morning vigil. That morning was no exception. As he made toast and I sat at the table trying to spoon myself cereal, my foggy brain pulled together the images from my trudge up the driveway in an effort to make conversation.
“I think there’s a cat on our lawn,” I managed to say. My dad hates cats.
“Just… sitting there?” My dad is also much more lucid than I at godforsaken hours of the morning.
I processed his question, my brain mulling it over like it was some sort of enigmatic riddle.
“That’s not very cat-like,” he said. Images of feline shadows darting through bushes to avoid me slowly materialized through my mental haze. “Let’s go take a look at it.”
Some part of me was slightly annoyed by this suggestion. It was 6:33. I was supposed to be finishing my cereal so that I could get dressed and brush my teeth by 6:47. But like the proverbial cat consumed with curiosity, I followed him back outside and into the hazy gray dawn.
Sure enough, there was a cat on our lawn. It was a brown cat—what breed I have no idea. And it was flayed open from neck to tail.
There’s nothing like the smell of fresh dew and eviscerated feline to wake you up quickly. The entirety of my morning routine derailed at this point, dragging my brain out of cruise control and into the present. There was a dead cat on our lawn. More than that, there was a murdered cat on our lawn.
I’d love to say that the whodunit, Holmesian, Colonel-Mustard-in-the-bedroom-with-the-candle-stick side of my personality kicked in at this point, but really I just kind of stared. Stared at this symbol of domestication and human triumph over natural selection that had been destroyed by what—presumably—was very natural.
To this day, I don’t really know exactly where that cat came from. My best guess is that it was attacked by a coyote, but how it encountered a coyote and then managed to make its way into the heart of southern Californian suburbia and keel over in the middle of our landscaped lawn for me to ogle at is beyond me. But on our lawn, verdantly green in stark defiance of the arid desert that once inhabited the same location, there it was—this surreal relic of the predator-prey dynamic from times immemorial, an atavistic reminder that there is more to the natural world than a morning routine and more than simply a Super Wal-Mart in the hills around Santa Clarita.