Posted on: December 17, 2013

Angie’s cat gave Jayden that I-know-what-you’re-about-to-do look as he sat on the curb and spun his cell phone back and forth in his hands.

“Shut up, cat,” Jayden said. He sounded as stupid as Angie when she pranced out onto her patio in her underwear to feed the cat the dregs of her breakfast cereal. Sweet kitty! Kit-kit-kitty! Angie lived next door, and according to Jayden’s mother, spent rather a lot of time in her underwear as a profession, not just to give the neighbors a show.

The cat folded his flabby body in half and began to groom his undercoat, as if to say, “The thing that makes cats refined is we never say anything.”

Jayden checked the time on his cell phone. The plan would work. Wouldn’t it?

The cat stretched out his legs and began licking his privates. “At least I’m the real deal,” he seemed to say. “No shame. You’re a faker. Just look at your shoes.”

His shoes were brand new Adidas that he’d run over with his mom’s car to make them look beat up and vintage.

Jayden was going to call in a bomb threat. He was waiting until 11:05, the very moment the bell would ring for fourth period, to call the school’s front office.

It was 11:00. Jayden was almost sad he’d miss the chaotic moment. The skeptical but pounding pulse in Principal O’Shannon’s neck as he smacked the phone into its holster and hissed for the secretary to summon the campus cop. The teachers scuffling to herd everyone out into the parking lot across the street from the school, the one behind the old Piggly Wiggly.

The Piggly Wiggly, where the real bomb was hiding.

11:01. Angie’s cat stopped his beautification project. He was still slumped over, his white legs poking out like those of a pale man just home from work, stripped down to his boxers and collapsing into a Lay-Z Boy.

“You want me to bring you a beer?” Jayden drawled at the cat.

He knew when they linked the bombing to him they’d question his sanity. Talking to cats was a good start.

They’d peel through his life. They’d look for all his secrets, find none, and then construct some out of thin air.

They’d have his mother on TV, asking for privacy. The news would broadcast a street view shot of his sister’s dormitory at the University of Alabama. His sister, a bright young girl studying to be a doctor, recently returned from a medical mission trip to Belize, the news anchors would say. They’d shake their heads. They’d speculate about terrorist connections in Belize. They’d compare him to all the others who had come before.

But he wasn’t like all of them, his friend from an elementary school soccer team would say on Channel 5. Jayden wasn’t angry. He wasn’t bullied. No, I don’t think he was a psychopath.

11:03. It was interesting thinking of himself in the past tense.

Angie’s cat had enough of Jayden’s gaze. He stretched his back, spiking his claws into the ground a few times, before stalking off across the parking lot.

Jayden wondered what it would be like to be reborn as another person, maybe in Texas, maybe with a new name. He knew that wasn’t how it would shake out.

11:05. He tapped the school’s number into his phone, then Principal O’Shannon’s extension. Three rings.

“Ashton High School.”

“There’s a bomb in the building.” Jayden didn’t make any effort to disguise his voice.

“’Scuse me?”

“A bomb. In the building.”

“Who is this? Is this a joke?”

Jayden hung up the phone. His heart beat normally. He felt neither hot nor cold. He watched as if, almost in slow motion, Angie’s cat sauntered through the parking lot and sat in the middle of the drive.

The sun was shining. The students wouldn’t complain as they were led out of the school and closer to the ticking Piggly Wiggly building. They’d laugh. I bet it was Colton Simpkins, since he got suspended! Yeah, I bet he’s mad about missing football. Nah, I think Dontavius called it in. He hates fourth period chem.

11:08. And now, he waited. The bomb was set to go off at 11:17, just enough time for everyone to make it to the safety area. They’d done timed tests for fire drills. The current record was ten minutes, but Jayden had planned conservatively.

A white Honda Accord roared into the apartment complex from the street. It was going way too fast, thumping some R&B disaster at top volume. When the front bumper made contact with the cat, its furry black body, now looking somehow smaller, flew through the air and landed crumpled in the gutter.

The driver got out. It was Angie. Jayden could read the string of expletives forming on her lips. She stumbled toward the cat, but then pivoted and got back in the car.

The Honda reversed, skidded, and peeled out of the complex.

Was she drunk?

Jayden knew this was not a moment for judgment. He checked his phone as he walked towards the gutter. 11:14.

The cat was stiff. He nudged it with the toe of his Adidas. The cat gave a little rumble. Purring? Its dented body inflated.

“You good, buddy?” Jayden said.

The cat cracked an eyelid. Even having just dodged death, it could make time for a stink eye.

“What life was that? Four, seven? Hope you’re not up to nine.”

Jayden knew without checking his phone: 11:17. The ground of the apartment complex, only a mile from the abandoned Piggly Wiggly, shook. The cat lifted his head up out of the gutter. Jayden scratched him behind the ears.

Then Jayden ran towards the woods away from the direction of the blast.

They’d find his name on the absence list at the school. They’d trace his number from O’Shannon’s office phone. They’d bring in Angie as a witness. I might have seen him skipping school. He always did seem a little strange. They’d ask themselves why. They’d construct and deconstruct possible motives. They’d count the bodies. They’d hold a candlelight vigil. They’d find him. If he made it through the stakeout alive, they’d ask their questions.

And then he’d fold himself in half in the interrogation room chair. He’d look at the cops as if they were idiots. He’d say nothing. Just like the cat.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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