As a young boy, around the age of six, I had a profound curiosity with the infliction of pain onto others. I was quite fond of torturing and killing insects and other small creatures outside my parent's home-at the height of several mundane afternoons.
Nothing was safe if it happened to catch my fancy. Small, gray lizards. Brown-spotted toads. Field mice. Blue-racer snakes. Black ants. One day my father built a slide in the backyard; perhaps to curb this crude fascination.
"Just be careful on it son. Don't hurt yourself" he would often remind me; as I scurried out the back door with my younger brother in tow. He, of course, wanted only to be involved with whatever sense of play I happened to enjoy-and found himself holding the magnifying glass, survival knife or box of matches alongside me when the URGE had struck.
One Summer, there was a fresh batch of kittens belonging to one of the nine stray cats who had settled into their roles of furry vagrants around our six acre lawn. The mother had recently found her way into the busy strip of road in front of the house, and had been flattened by an oncoming car some weeks prior. She was a gray, long-haired, mangy loafer and my contempt for her during her stay knew no bounds. In passing (her long tail hanging from the edge of one of the marble flower pots around the house-swaying back and forth beneath the hot sun) I would hiss wildly as I yanked that antagonizing appendage-only to receive a reciprocal response and multiple, deeply embedded scratches along my hands and arms.
This hatred I felt for Daisy or Leela or whatever her name may have been..did not rot with her maggot-ridden corpse along the waste side. But was merely transferred to the litter of black, orange, gray and white dregs that sprang from her pink and bruised snatch. I recall..feeling utterly sick at the sight of them leaping through the Summer grass..wrestling..chasing large grasshoppers along the way. Whereas other small children (including my own six year old daughter) found merriment in the observance of their feline exploits; I saw only small, hairy targets for a deep-seeded angst that I could not (and for that matter cared not) to understand. But under the watchful eye of my mother, I kept this murderous intent at bay..until the right opportunity would present itself.
One such afternoon,
my brother Stewart and I had spent several hours running back and forth from the house to the gargantuan, yellow slide; kicking dust and laughing as young boys do on occasion. My mother had just began hanging clothes on the wire a few feet from it and all the while keeping us, her own litter, in constant peripheral view. When she had strung up the last pair of my father's coveralls, she turned to find the kittens licking at her varicose ankles.
"Ohhh. They're so sweet. Look at 'em boys. Aren't they just adorable?"
The sight of her interest infuriated my little heart.
"Poor little things. They're so dirty. Their momma isn't around to clean 'em off the little angels. It's a shame."
She reached down and rustled the spine of one of the runts with stripes on his belly. This distracted me to such a degree that I unwittingly, tripped over a large tobacco stick lying at the foot of the slide while Stewart chased me in a game of tag. I rolled to the ground-scraping my knee in the process..and seemingly my patience along with it, as it careened against a brick that had found its way into the lawn.
"OWWW." I moaned, as I stood with a fresh hole in my Levis-small trickles of blood staining the white frays of the rip.
"Are you okay son?"
"Yes momma. When can we eat lunch? I'm hungry."
"Well, I got some white beans and cornbread in the house I can make. Is that alright with you boys?"
"YES" we said in unison. But my particular taste exceeded the hunger for slow Southern cooking. Deep inside that 3"6 frail piece of matter and bone, blood and muscle..I wanted vengeance; for what deed I still cannot say or really fathom. But the world owed me something wet and pure. It owed me many small lives..all at once, and I was to be satisfied. No quarter given. No mercy shown.
"Well, lemme go put the rest of the clothes in the washer and I'll start the beans. I still got half a plate of that cornbread yawl didn't finish from the other day. So it shouldn't take too long to fix everything. You boys stay out here and play; and stay away from that road where I can see ya' back here. You don't wanna end up like that old momma cat do ya'?"
"No momma. We don't."
The screen shut and I could hear momma starting the dryer..hear the pots and pans banging in the bottom-right cupboard of a four burner stove.
"Hey Stewart. You wanna play a new game?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"Let's call it Conan or He-Man or Hercules. I'll go first and show ya' how to play."
I picked the tobacco stick up from the ground and handed it to him, his smaller shaky hands unsteady as ever could be.
"Hold this and don't move. You stand right there."
I sauntered over to the litter, who were still in an innocently-blind stage of development; letting any old/young pair of mits (tiny, callused, soft, evil) hold them for a few precious seconds..preoccupied only with the high grass that year and the ritualistic nibble on a stale slice of bread crust left for the cardinals and blue-jays that frequented the bathes. The silver bowl of community water was more or less a well where they would gather and lift their tiny tails to the sun and speak amongst one another, oblivious to the dangerous and approaching world around them.
"Here kitty kitty kitty. Dtttkk. Dtttkkk. Dtttkk. Here kitty kitty."
I squeezed their little backs as they wiggled to and fro in my palms; softly at first..and then a spontaneous, momentary iron grip-just to feel their insides roll around behind fur in my hands. I managed to round up five within the confines of my puny arms, while Stewart stood in position with a blank look and chubby splintered fingers. You could see the blood rise to the top of his Casper-white knuckles-both hands clutched around the end of the stick..as if he knew what I was going to do before I had any clue.
"What are you doing?" I said as I lay the kittens at his feet. "Give me that. Now take them" one tries to slip away, but the escape is thwarted by the inside of my foot "Gotcha! Now take them to the top of the slide and hold them there for a second. I'll tell you when to go."
"Go? What's this have to do with He-Man?"
"Just do it!"
Stewart reluctantly walked to the seven-step, iron ladder and began climbing to the top as I took my stance below. My brother and I were baseball fanatics. My father had instilled that much in our upbringing. Stewart and he liked the Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers..and men like Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddox. I was a Mariners, Reds, and Oakland Athletics fan; idolizing the greats like Ken Griffey Jr. and Jose Canseco. Home-run hitters all the way; knocking that bandaged, 'white piece of shit outta the park..outta the sky, speed and trajectory aligned..outta sight, outta mind..gone..into infinity..blackness..space..never-was.
"You ready up there?" I asked, as Stewart (loyal and stern) waited with the first runt of the group. Puny. White. Ocean-blue eyes. Ears fuschia pink shade like a pussy should look; staring down the yellow railway at an ugly stick and none the wiser.
"Ready." he murmured.
"1....2....3, push her down!"
It slid at a slower pace than anticipated, its tail skidding along the hot yellow plastic. But still, with enough force that I was able to aptly gauge the distance in correlation with the width of the head and the length of the stick..
It rolled violently through the air..approximately four feet to my right and as its head turned my way, one Pacific-blue eye dangled from its socket while tears of blood gathered in the corner of the other.
"Next!" I screamed. "That was awesome!" Another came. This time a meaty, orange-fast pitch..
The lion has escaped the confines of the slaughter below, and lunges for Caligula's testicles!'
The crack of its fragile skull sounded like the smack of a bat against a stone in a carefree game of stick ball..the backyard with the neighbor kids. Even then, there is the temptation to knock it back in the pitcher's face and even at such a young age, I knew this..looking up at my younger brother (adopted) holding another gray victim scratching its way up the slide and away from the pit of brains and tears that awaited at the end of the slope.
to be continued...