“The Kid and the Cat (or the Pit and the Pabulum)” by Charles Parness
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Charles Parness brings us a story about the kid and the cat. Next week, Alexios Moore brings us to New Orleans for a lesson in what it takes to live.
The Kid and the Cat (or the Pit and the Pabulum)
By Charles Parness
Middletown Springs, Vermont
It’s all been falling apart now for the last eight days—I needn’t mention the other times. I don’t think they’re important. Silly thing, really: I picked a basket of cherries, pit them, and went to put them in the freezer—pie, I’m thinking—and they dropped all over the floor. I stared at them down there and got down and punched the floor, screaming something (I didn’t think it was important to remember). Then I went to bed for eight days. I felt something snap—a last straw kind of thing. I can’t see friends, can’t be around anyone; I just lay, sit, stand here, staring, with very violent rage in my heart. I don’t want to hurt myself or others; paralysis saves me, I realize, in one form or another. This isn’t the first time I’ve lost it, gone into a little kids’ temper tantrum for days. I never thought much about it; didn’t think it was important. This time, this time lying around with my pistol, it is different. The bowl of cherries made it so, and of course it had been building. I started to think, it is eight days after the Fourth of July, and it was always early summer when I would freak out and hurt myself and the people around me.
I begin to remember the kitten.
I am up the guest room of our Vermont house, door closed, and I am almost 70 years old. The incident with the kitten happened on the Fourth of July, when I was three or four.
Around the first of this month, we had lunch with my cousin and his wife. They have a summer house over on the other side of the state. Ed has always been a kind, intelligent, quiet, thinking person—deliberate, maybe hampered only by having been a dentist. His wife Hope was a shrink, but she gave it up to paint instead after she took a day off and a client came in and killed everyone in the office. I never thought much about it—we rarely see each other, I guess. Anyway, we are talking, and Hope brings up something I have been made aware of before: I am interrupting, not letting others speak, and I’m loudly having opinions about things of which I know nothing. A pompous ass. I know I am; usually I try to control it, but when I am tired or drinking, it comes out. This time I am tired, returning from a wedding in New Hampshire, where some of my opinions of the groom seemed to be wrong. I guess I heard Hope, but never thought what she was saying was important.
This kitten—my kitten! It was about eight or nine weeks old, entirely black, cute, and followed me around everywhere. It is the evening of July Fourth. We (my parents, my sister, and I) are going to the fireworks display in Tottenville, Staten Island, where I grew up. The fireworks begin at dusk. It is hectic; my parents are yelling that we are going to be late. My mother (wisely) says I can’t bring the kitten, and puts it out of the car. I watch it try to hop back in as my mother closes the door on its head. “Stop!” I cry. “The kitten is hurt!” No one listens. I scream louder.
I am ignored as we drive away, and from the rear window, I watch the cat roll out and die. No one listened to me. When we got back, I ran and showed them the dead cat. No one said anything.
I am upstairs now in the guest bed, thinking about the cherries. My grandfather had a sour cherry tree in his yard, and it was small enough for a tiny kid to climb. I liked the sour cherries; they seemed special. I plant cherry trees and think of my grandfather. Cherry trees—fruit on the Fourth of July—but I never thought about it.
(I am crying and I want to throw up.)
My grandfather always said I had to get a college education; it was most important, “something that could never be taken away once you have it.” He would often ask what did I want to be when I grew up? He thought I should be an engineer—I could go into the world, make a living, and build grand things. I liked science. Later, in high school—when I was a sophomore, maybe—I went into Manhattan, just looking around, and tripped into an art supply store. It was like a kids’ toy store. I bought some paints and tried to teach myself how to paint. Later, as an art student, I flailed around, trying to find my voice; it was a process of elimination and I ended up exclusively making self-portraits. I assumed the story told by them, the trail of my work left by them, would tell a story, and if it meant something to me, it would also touch others.
One night in Vermont, I saw the fireflies and remembered how fascinating they were when I lived on Staten Island—I would fill bottles with their glowing lights and take the bottles to bed. I tried to capture the feeling of way back when, and it made me think/remember that a lot of the stuff I liked to paint with my props, like the flies, were the things that touched me as a child. Maybe that is the creative center for art. At least, it seemed to be for my art.
Once my wife was asked to speak at the Reynolda House, a museum down in North Carolina. The director found out we like outsider art, and he took us to see a fella who lived in a trailer and made art. His place was covered with stuff, and “Nick” (the director) asked him, “Why did you begin making art?” The artist thought about it and replied, “I guess I wanted to attract some attention to myself.”
I thought about that.
I am laying here, standing here, sitting here, and I realize that what I was screaming when I was punching the floor covered in cherries was, “Everything I do turns to shit! There is no reason to do anything—no one cares!”
Pity, pity. Guess I should “eat some worms.”
What the fuck is this child’s tantrum about, anyway? I feel—felt—like whether I work around the house or the farm or make art, it doesn’t matter—it will all fall to nothing. It’s meaningless. No one hears my howl.
It’s the fucking cat! Everything—my yell, my making art, my cherry tree, my rage—is about my invisibility, about no one listening, about the fucking cat! How fucking pathetic.
So (I think) the howl-rage I made over the cat is my life. Making self-portraits, being silenced by an art world that ignores most artists, someone I love who doesn’t listen to me, are all pieces to this puzzle, and I’m stuck with the kid and the cat.
CHARLES PARNESS was born on New Year’s Day, 1945 (and I have always thought all the celebration was about me—I still do). He is a graduate of Parsons School of Design, New York University, and Pratt Institute Graduate School with enough grad credits in Special Education to keep the state satisfied. He taught Special Ed in NYC for 10 years; in addition, he has taught painting at colleges, universities, and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation. He has had numerous shows in galleries and museums in New York and around the country, and he has written songs and performed with the band Charlie and the Stinkers. He lives and works in NYC and Vermont. This is his first foray into writing fiction.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected] Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Sep 30, 2013
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