Darren Nuzzo and Todd Smith
I Guess the Orange Cat
Dad nods to a trash bag he's laid out for me. He wants me to use it like a glove. Like picking up dog shit, he tells me. I look around the house. I consider the broom and the dustpan. Out back the mouse is torn into three pieces. Dad guesses a red-tailed hawk. I guess the orange cat.
A cat. Dad gets a good laugh out of that one. Not a chance, he explains.
It's because of moments like this, ones that highlight my ignorance to all things outdoors, dad says I'll be the first dead in an apocalypse. He even writes it down in case I forget. It goes: me, mom, our dog Murphy, my brother, then dad. Maybe dad will sacrifice himself for my brother. He hasn't decided yet. He'll make his decision when report cards come in. It's always tough love, even in hypotheticals.
The mouse is out back waiting for me. It's been ten minutes now. I've recruited gardening gloves. I've put on athletic clothes and double knotted my shoes. Dad looks at me like I've put on a dress. I squint my eyes so I can't make out the details of what's spilling out of the body. Dad stares at the dead thing while he eats his breakfast. Between bites he doodles on his apocalypse paper. Stick figures of the family. Murphy gets a speech bubble: bark, bark.
He points to his drawing of me. Low hanging fruit, he tells me. I pretend I don't know the expression so he has to explain himself. It dilutes the insult. Gives me enough time to spin it into a compliment. I convince myself that my inclination to cower is actually an evolutionary advantage. For instance, the more disgusted I am by this dead mouse, the further I'll be positioning myself from possible disease. You see, in my head I'm quite clever.
Dad tells me to get on with the job.
"It'll build character," he says.
"Calvin and Hobbes," I say.
"Who?" he asks.
I walk outside and hold my breath. Looking at death, a body bag seems trivial. I peel him off the cement and walk him around the side of the house and past the trash and put him in the green bin with the dead leaves and banana peels, and I start breathing again. The gardening gloves go in the brown bin. I'll explain to mom later. She'll buy a new pair.
I wash my hands in the pool before going inside.
Dad's on his knees scrubbing the blood from the patio with his thumb and the last few sips of his morning water. My brother runs outside having heard the news of a dead thing in our very own backyard. He drops next to dad and studies the scene.
"Could've been," dad agrees.
My brother pours the last of the water onto the blood. And now his shirt is off and it's a sponge. They stay out there quite some time. They find a way to enjoy themselves. Dad wipes his bloody thumb on my brother's chest. My brother rubs his chest on dad's back. They can laugh over all of this. Indeed, two worthy finalists.
Inside, I listen and eat the breakfast they've forgotten about.
"Long-tailed weasel, even."
"Could've been," dad agrees.
"Heck, coyote maybe."
"Didn't even think that one," dad says. "Heck, could've been."
The boys keep scrubbing. I bring my dish to the sink and do the same. No soap, no sponge. Just water and thumb. I don't look down. I look out the window at the broken humming bird feeder, cracked and tipped over, and I call out to dad, doubling down on the orange cat.
Darren Nuzzo and Todd Smith are a writing and performing duo from Huntington Beach, California. Their work has appeared in lesser journals than the Paris Review and The New Yorker! Their debut collection of comics, stories, philosophical ramblings, and literary fart jokes is set for a summer release with Tallfellow Press. Online, they reach an audience of over 2 million readers and subscribers.