CHAPTER 34 of History of von Schatt (1913-1960)
On the Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend 1955, Walter, now six and having graduated sucking tobacco pouches to smoking Winston cigarettes, set out for the stationery store to pick up a pack of smokes and the latest issue of Swing Shift, when he spotted, in front of the alley between Dan’s Foods and The Law Office of Saul Rosenblatt, Esq., a boy and a girl sitting on the concrete, between them a wooden crate with “FREE KITTENS” written on its side in black crayon.
After purchasing his rations in the dingy store and emerging into the brilliant morning sunlight, he headed over.
Four of the kittens ignored him and continued playing among themselves. The fifth, trying to shrink behind the scrum, had terror in her big yellow-green eyes—
“I’ll take that one,” Walter said.
The boy, holding open a Dan’s Foods brown paper grocery bag emblazoned with the store’s “crown logo” in Pamplona red, felt a chill when the scary kid reached into the crate and snatched the kitten by her scruff, then dropped her in the bag—
“What will you name her?” the girl asked.
“What’s your name?” Walter asked.
“Then I’ll name her Sally.”
The girl smiled.
Walter brought Sally the kitten into the garage workshop and locked the door. He placed the bag on the workbench and watched the rumples in the brown paper move around for a couple of minutes, then unrolled the top and pulled her out by the scruff. He held her in front of his face, watching the initial glimmer of hope in her big kitty eyes morph into feline terror. She started thrashing and managed to scratch his arm, which he liked, but his grip was too firm for any chance at escape. He cupped his free hand around her throat and squeezed until her body went limp.
An hour later, all that remained were parts, the legs and head sawed off with a hacksaw, the body skinned with a Norwegian scaling knife, and the innards wadded into four old cloth diapers placed neatly in the grocery bag. He would put the head and fur in the shoebox under his bed with the other heads and furs, the latter he used when humping the mattress.
After the workshop was clean and his new pieces packed away under his bed, he headed out, grocery bag in hand, down Hendrickson and across the asterisk intersection, from where he could see the boy and girl still sitting in the shopping center with their crate. He turned right down South Franklin, then made a slight left onto Lakeview Avenue, heading east for half-mile until arriving at the Tanglewood Preserve—seventeen acres of nature habitat with a large pond stocked with goldfish that, in winter, was a popular ice skating spot. The place was also crawling with lizards wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem, this being three years after the big pet shop truck crash on Peninsula Boulevard that killed the bourbon-soaked driver and allowed the lizards imported from Florida to escape into the preserve, where they adapted to the harsh Northeast winters by retreating to the tunnel far below that few humans knew of, the Quoguepequacock Passage, a subterranean thoroughfare used by the ancients that ran the length of Long Island from Gowanus to Montauk, then continued beneath the ocean floor to the northern edge of the Sohm Abyssal Plain and the Way of the Grand Banks Arrow. The few humans who did know of this passage treated them with respect during encounters down there, which none of the humans on the surface had ever done.
He followed the asphalt walkway through the crowded recreation area facing the pond, where children were feeding ducks and their parents sat on benches smoking. A group of four boys had sliced the tail off a lizard and were now trying to burn the creature alive with a tiny magnifying glass from a box of Cracker Jack, but stopped and ran back to their mothers when they saw him approaching. The walkway eventually curved away from the pond, and he turned onto a footpath that led back towards the water through a patch of woods. He stopped at a secluded spot on the bank obstructed from view in all directions by a small island in the middle of the pond overgrown with bushes and vines.
After removing his socks and shoes and rolling up his pant cuffs, he waded into the warm, late-summer water up to his knees, where the bottom was covered with hand-sized rocks partially buried in the muck. Reaching down into the water, he moved several of the rocks, clearing a spot where he scooped out a hole. He went back to shore and retrieved the wadded diapers, then waded back in and placed them in the underwater hole as neatly as they had been in the grocery bag. He refilled the hole with muck and placed the rocks back on top, almost exactly as they had been. From the shore, socks and shoes back on feet, he took a moment to admire the scene, which showed no signs of disturbance. He went home and humped his new fur, his brief gratification even shorter than last time, followed by a long, aching boredom— ▪