Mum was up smoking at the window. Tapping ashes into the sink. Nini’s dead, I told her. I put her last bottle of blueberry jam on the table.
Mum took straight off past me with her cigarette. Cross the gravel in bare feet like God said it, not me. So I set about making toast on the stove and took mum’s spot at the window, watched her circle ’round to Aunt Nini’s porch door. Bout twelve when I found her. Nancy was her right name.
Mum was only in there and outta sight for a second. Showed up again like a movie reversing and she backed into a spruce. Never seen her so dazzled. Bounced right off the tree and headed home. Walking normal enough, but a cigarette hanging from her lip and her face all knotted up. Never seen her not hold her cigarette before.
She stomped back in, hit the door into the porch wall. Told me to get the hell out cause she had calls to make, and make sure Kitty and Fran stay the hell out with you. Kept on stomping.
Mum brought her little black handbag to the kitchen table. The side by the phone. Nini didn’t have her own, just used the big skin-colour one on our wall. Used to let mum dump all her ashes in the sink, too. Asked after dad, her brother, but it was all guessing, never any news from the ship.
Kitty was long gone already, out shooting in the clearing since sun-up. Fran was hiding in the front room as usual til she heard mum growling. Tore out fore I could even go get her.
Had to stop for my toast on my own way out. Perfect brown right then. Stacked it up and cut down for these nice little triangles. Was going for the jam when I seen mum’s head come up out the side of my eye.
Gave me a good glare with a new cigarette hanging off her face and glasses on. Cat eyes just like Nini’s. So out I went with dry toast.
Didn’t occur til I was out on the step what mum dug out of her bag. An old address book I never seen in years. We never called nothing we didn’t know by heart, never wrote letters or went visiting.
Mum on the phone then. Her voice was some low hum through the windows. Nini’s cats everywhere in the yard, like they was lost. Franny sitting up on the well, hunched so far over her tits skimmed her legs. Facing Nini’s, half away from me.
I heard mum stop, nothing for a bit, then the phone jingled at her. Heard her again, then quiet, then ringing again.
I was picking all the little bits of toast off my overalls and Franny was playing with her hair when Kitty showed up. Marching down the hill with the .22 over her shoulder. Swinging a couple of dead squirrels by their long dead tails.
Me and Fran just sitting around musta tipped her off something wasn’t right. She stopped cold half-way down and called at us.
Cupped my hands around my mouth to say Nini’s dead and make sure she heard. Just like mum then, Kitty didn’t say a thing, just changed direction straight over to Nini’s porch.
Felt the sound of that first shot ‘fore I really heard it, in my neck, through those bones right behind your ears. Then crack. Bunch of birds flitted up off Nini’s roof. Her cats took crying again and Franny yelped.
Kitty came outta Nini’s with blood on her shirt and her gun tight in both hands. Might have been from the squirrels, the blood, but who knew.
She planted her feet. Put the butt of her rifle up to her cheek and took aim right there in the yard. Squinted, then another crack. A cat skitted across the gravel in front of me and blood flew the other way.
Fran wailed Kitty, Kitty, Kitty! Damned if I knew which one she meant.
Door hit the porch wall again behind me and there was mum looming. Mum’s eyes on Kitty’s made a sharp line through the air that cut her wide open.
Kitty wailed they were trying to eat her.
Fran whipped around to look at mum, then back to Kitty, trying to figure what was going on.
Kit burst again, that Nini’s cats were eating her.
Mum got this sneer, like the whole thing was rotted out, like she was gonna be sick. Put her hands up on her hips and looked down the drive away from all of us. Foolishness, she said.
I got up off the step and cut a wide path up by the well to get to Nini’s and stay outta Kitty’s way. Still looked like she was gonna shoot us all. Told Franny to stay right where she was and don’t follow me for no reason.
Nini looked pretty much same as when I found her. Flat on her back on the porch floor. Her mouth hanging open, glasses crooked half off her face. Rumply stockings, dress scooted up in a puff from tipping over. Still had hold of her can opener. One of those nice ones, red rubber handles, right up over her head in one hand like a prize. Curlers in.
Pretty much same cept for Kitty’s squirrels limp over her leg. Then I seen her fingers. First two on the hand without the can opener. The one down by her side. Top parts looked all wrong. Like chewed up spit out sandwich ham. But I just seen her a minute ago.
Nini couldn’t feel nothing so it didn’t really matter what was going on, but Kitty’s rage made a kinda sense to me, then. Til I caught sight a where that first shot went. A little orange longhair, not full grown. With a big red hole in its side, trailing down to Nini’s floor. Into the wood.
Went back out and yelled over to mum that cats musta ate up Nini’s fingers. It fell outta me, saying it. Not saying Kitty was being sensible for shooting cats or scaring the hell outta Franny, but that’s just how it was.
The dead cat in the yard, the one she shot right out in front of me, was a big old tabby we had forever. She hit it more back by its ass so it was still suffering.
I said so.
Kitty screamed at us: good!
Mum bellowed git in and I tried to grab Kitty’s eye one more time, get her to end it for the suffering tabby taking big breaths like a fish, its jaw up and down, eyes looking nowhere, but so was she, looking nowhere.
Fran went in past mum, then I did, and mum bolted the door.
Kitty showed up at the kitchen window and screamed through it with no words, just a bunch a awful, sick sounds. Eyes right round. Figured she was gonna take the butt of the .22 to the glass but she only stood there looking in, screaming.
Fran got upset again, so mum put her at the table and lit a cigarette for both of em. I asked if she called a doctor, the Mounties, and mum didn’t say, just held Fran’s hand and smoked.
Kitty gave up after a bit. Stopped staring in and screaming and wandered way from the window. Heard one more shot.
Then a while later an engine up the hill, rocks crunching. I unlatched the door, got it open just a sliver for my eye. Seen a long blue car with fins pulling up far as the well.
The shot tabby, there was new blood around its head. Car didn’t go nowhere near it, the mess. I couldn’t see Kitty.
A lady got out the driver’s side. Had black eyebrows like dad and Nini. But she couldn’t a been much older than Franny. Some fella with her. He had black slacks on, nothing on top his white undershirt. Marlon Brando, I thought of.
I spotted Kitty in the trees with her gleaming .22 pointed at em. But they were already headed to Nini’s and didn’t even see her. Holding hands.
The man came out first, with Nini folded up in his big arms. Her dress was smoothed out nice.
The woman came after but went faster. Got ahead and clicked open the big blue back door. He slid Nini in. Feet first, held her curlers careful. The woman clicked it shut, the back door. And then she slid, just let go and crumbled right down to the dirt. Wailed with her head in her hands.
She started talking. Sick hillbillies, she said to the fella. Leaving her in filth and hiding. Bleeding dead animals, cat food all over her. The words choked their way out of her, just barely.
He pulled her up and led her slow back to the driver’s seat.
Disgusting, heard her say.
When they were both in she swung the car back in a big curve toward the trees, lighting up Kitty and her gun red. Then down the lane.