“Mommy, where to kitties go when they die? To Heaven?” asked six-year-old Janet Yelton.
Janet ignored her. “I bet they go to Heaven, at least the nice ones.”
Terri flicked her cigarette ash in her daughter’s direction. “I said shut up, smart-ass. Why aren’t you outside?”
It had been a piss-poor year for the Yelton family already, at it was only July. Andy Yelton disappeared back in March, and all his clothes, the good truck, and all the family’s meager savings disappeared along with him. Sally Jae Minnower down the street also disappeared around the same time. Not that anybody in the neighborhood really blamed Andy, except for the fact that he left a little girl without a father and a wife with no means to pay the rent. So Terri and Janet had to move into Terri’s sister Hallie’s place for the time being. Terri was in the process of trying to get her welfare payments increased now that she was a single mom, but that’s about all the motivation she was able to muster as far as a career went.
“I’m not going outside,” Janet said. “If I go outside I’ll die, just like the kitties are all dying.”
Terri rolled her eyes. “Girl, you are out of your goddamn mind. Nobody’s going to die from being outside. Now get out of my sight, you’re pissing me off.”
“But the kitties are all dying. They have the pox,” Janet said. “The pox.”
“Listen, honey,” Terri said sweetly, employing a different approach. “I’m trying to watch my stories. If you’ll go and play for just the next hour or so until they’re done, we’ll go to McDonald’s for supper.”
“But I don’t -”
“If you don’t want to go outside, then go play in your room. I’ll come and get you when it’s time to go to McDonald’s.” Terri had no intention of actually taking the brat out to eat, but she’d have time to come up with an excuse later.
Seemingly defeated, Janet slowly walked out of the living room of the small house back towards the bedroom she shared with Hallie’s three-year old son Jason. Terri snuffed out her cigarette in a plastic ashtray on the coffee table and leaned back on the couch, wondering to herself if Hallie had any potato chips or Twinkies anywhere in the kitchen.
Moments later, Janet returned to the living room, this time holding the limp, lifeless body of Precious, Hallie’s pet cat. Its gray fur was matted and had fallen out in patches, and its open eyes, normally yellow, were the color of blood. It appeared to have been dead for several days, even though Terri had shooed it off the couch less than an hour ago.
“Jesus Christ!” Terri exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “What the hell happened to Precious?”
“Precious is in Heaven,” the little girl explained as she continued to walk towards her mother with the feline corpse held out in front of her. “She was one of the nice ones, but she got the Pox. The Pox, the Pox, the Pox…”
“Get that thing away from me!” Terri screamed, backing away towards the front door, her face contorted with fear.
“Mommy, don’t you want to eat Precious? That’s the only way to get immunity from the Pox. I can eat half of her, and you can eat half, and then we won’t get the Pox.” Janet opened her mouth and clamped her teeth around one of the cat’s hind legs, struggling to tear off a piece of its flesh.
Terri was in shock. “For God’s sake, Janet, put that fucking thing down! I mean it!” By this time she had reached the front door and fumbled with the lock as she attempted to open it without looking, as her eyes were glued to her daughter and the dead cat.
Janet lifted her head away from Precious, her mouth covered with cat fur and blood. “Don’t go outside, Mommy. The Pox is in the air. You can’t see it or taste it or smell it or see it or touch it or hear it but it’s there. The kitties are the first to go.” She took another bite.
Terri finally got the front door unlocked and opened. But as she turned to run outside, the sight of dozens of dead cats in the front yard stopped her cold. They had not been there two hours ago when she had run out to buy cigarettes, but now they blanketed the lawn, quiet and still. Terri turned back around.
“The kitties are the first to go,” Janet said, calmly. “You’re next if you don’t eat some of Precious.”
In a daze, Terri stepped back into the house and approached her daughter. Janet held the carcass out to her mother and Terri accepted it, taking a large bite out of Precious’ left front thigh.
Behind them both on the television, Terri’s soap opera had gone to a commercial break.