By the time that I sensed hope starting to fade, unwillingly, from the twins’ faces, the grief hung in the air like an almost tangible presence. It had been three days since the disappearance of the cat, and the “search parties” started diminishing in number, but they were growing more frantic when out in the fields. The loss was fresh in their big brown eyes, painfully remindful of the reason for which they grieved. I hadn’t even known the cat had meant so much to them, had been so indispensable to their happiness. I played back memories in my head, then, and almost punished myself at the realization of the truth, seeing all those moments that I hadn’t quite registered properly, in which they would come home and run immediately for the cat, calling its name in a now poignant display of affection, and love. Kids are resilient, I kept telling myself, they’ll bounce right back--but that didn’t absolve me of the knowledge that I was doing so little to help. It’s just a lack of motivation, I thought. That’s all this is. Or do I simply not care? If truth be told, I was leaning more toward the latter.
Not that I was averse to the cat; not at all. It was a perfectly fine pet; I’d just never grown particularly close to it, and not at all when compared with the twins.
I was becoming increasingly mindful of the situation at hand, however. And not the “cat’s gone, must find it, bring it back, be happy,” situation, but the “cat’s gone, probably dead,” one, the real one. There was no chance of my saying that to the twins, so I turned my attention to Anne, the cause of all this gratuitous strife. She was, as always, hiding her real emotions. And instead of acting like she perfectly well knew that what she did had been a terrible thing, like she knew atonement was in order, which she should have, she opted for quiet, almost ignorant indifference--which, to me, was nearly an insult in itself. Not at me, of course, but at the twins. I felt badly for them--perhaps even a little too badly, and felt she needed to make some kind of effort toward absolution. It was the least she could do.
“You know what you did, right?” I said to her one morning.
“What?” she queried, and I noticed she lowered her head slightly.
She could not have picked a worse answer. “Oh, drop it. All of this is your fault. Did you even know there was a reason for our constant stressing not to leave the door open?”
“Well, of course you did. We’ve been saying it all the time, to remind not only you, but everyone else that there’s always the possibility of the cat escaping. And look where we are.”
And as I had expected, she answered by murmuring excuses, as if they would make her feel better. “I was only mopping the floor. And for a second I left to get the shoes that were washing, so they could dry. I thought I had closed the door.”
“Do you think that now?” I said.
She didn’t respond.
“No, look--I thought I did.”
“Honestly, at least say you’re sorry.”
All of this I was telling her not for my own peace of mind, but for the twins’ sake. I didn’t even care that the cat was gone. In a way, I was relieved. But I still felt for the twins, even though I was making no effort to try to consol them. It was enough that I had a constant nagging guilt, for no good reason. None of this was my fault. I also felt a strange duty to enforce house rules; and right here was perfect proof that negligence would lead nowhere but calamity.
Reverting back to a more normal tone of voice, I said, “Have you guys gone out yet today? It’s already mid-afternoon.”
“No, we haven’t. I’ve been working, and there’s no time for it,” she said.
“I think this is more important than anything else you’re doing”--and there was that annoying sense of responsibility again, despite the fact that I already knew the truth. So why was I pushing so much for futile efforts?
“It’s dead, I’ll bet,” I said suddenly.
An emotion, fear, finally peeked out from her barricade of deception, and it was clear on her face. I felt a strange sense of satisfaction at that fact.
“Well, I still have hope,” she said, defiantly, as if she knew the real truth.
“Your hope is useless, just so you know.”
She didn’t respond.
At that moment the twins walked into the room.
“What are you two doing in here?” I asked them.
“Nothing,” Daniel answered.
“Nothing,” Colin repeated.
Both their heads hung low, the telltale signs of recent crying written all over their countenances. With their shoulders sagging on top of that, they looked a sad bunch. I almost didn’t have the heart to say, “And well, what’s with that? Why aren’t you two outside looking for your lost cat?” My inability to express the real emotion behind my words made me sound mean, rather than simply trying to motivate them to go outside; granted, I didn’t have the greatest method of motivation, but it was all I had. And so it came as no surprise that they misinterpreted my meaning, and instead took it to offense. They ran.
It angered me, though, that they went about the house crying, sulking all day, instead of trying to fix the problem in the first place. Despite the circumstances, their lack of discipline, and to put it bluntly, flat-out hypocrisy and indolence, did little to increase my sympathy for them. In fact, right at that moment, I felt like scolding them; but I resisted the temptation. I knew it wouldn’t do any good, especially in a time like this, when they closed their ears to everything but words of pity and sympathy. It was frustrating, more so than one would think in a situation like this, to see their unwillingness to help; their expecting everyone else to do the work for them. And it was for their own benefit, not anyone else’s.
Still, they refused to go outside, the motives for which they also refused to disclose.
Thus went on the next few days, save for the odd burst of lamentation and sorrow; until the third day, when I saw Anne walk in through the door with an unusually painful expression on her face. I knew what it meant.
And it was no surprise.