I just heard what happened.
I can’t imagine what you’re going through.
I am so sorry!
Lynette rolls her eyes, puts the pen down, and looks at her phone with contempt. Maybe she could send a card. At least then she wouldn’t have to vocalize her stupid words. And maybe they wouldn’t even read it. Maybe she could send flowers. Were flowers too impersonal? Were they uninspired? Cliché? She reads the words again, crossing out each line as she goes.
"I just heard what happened." Impersonal. "I can’t imagine what you’re going through." Uninspired. "I am so sorry!" Cliché.
She takes a sip of coffee. Too much cream. Setting down the mug her grandmother recently gifted her, she reads sarcastically and without thinking, the words bouncing across it. “There’s no substitute for a good teacher!” The words, ‘good teacher,’ are bold and capitalized, hugged by dancing little apples. Did her grandmother even know what a substitute teacher was? Did she know that Lynette is a substitute teacher? Permanent history teacher positions are not easy to find. She’s filled with irritation as she looks at the ceramic mug.
A noise, one of the myriads that an old house makes, steals her attention. An odd creak-faint-but perceptible. Her old tabby joins her in looking at the invisible disturbance in the far corner of the room. Bootstrap, her middle-aged, short-haired companion, has two front black paws, a prominent feature in her otherwise average markings. A calming companion. Losing interest, Bootstrap tucks her head close to her body becoming a compact ball of cat.
The 29-year-old substitute teacher and self-proclaimed ‘cat lady,’ stares into space in the direction of her cellphone. Inwardly, memories of Agatha Young play in her mind. She was the gentle mother of her best friend Megan. She also served as an interim mother figure for Lynette for roughly a year after her own mother died. This was right before the whole Young family moved across the state as Mr. Young’s job was transferred. To a young girl in the mid-90’s, a move two hours away without the glue of social media, was the death of a friendship. Feelings of rejection and resentment, (pillars of her grieving process silently kept to herself), made the cut deeper and cleaner. The Young’s were quickly forgotten about-or rather, a forbidden thought. She would not go there.
But now she was there. She was in the kitchen that was decades behind the times-even then. Dark wood cabinets abound, with bunched orange fabric curtains around the windows; the tile backsplash a similar burnt orange. With Mr. Young at work, Agatha, Lynette, and Megan were the holy trinity of Lynette’s ability to feel comfort and safety in a world post mother. They ruled over the avocado-colored Formica table, and beveled glassware. The whole room was dreary, unappealing, and devout in its coordination.
Lynette takes a minute and dives into the more sacred memories. It was just her and Mrs. Young at the avocado table. She was able to lay down her tears, her worries, and her grief. Sitting now with Bootstrap to her left, she strains to remember the words of Mrs. Young that brought her comfort. All she is able to recall is the table. And at the table was Mrs. Young sitting next to her.
Her effort is interrupted as she decides to get something to eat. The effort of procrastination has made her hungry. This new train of thought is halted however, as the odd house-noise is embodied. Not a house-noise at all. The noise is grey, whiskered, and looks to be not even half an ounce in weight. What could be cute contained in a glass cage is, in the wild freedom of her house, a cringe-inducing nightmare. The motion that takes Lynette from sitting to standing is imperceptible to the human eye, so fast is its speed. Every muscle in her body is tensed as she stands atop her perch-the arm of the couch.
The compressed ball of Bootstrap returns to her rightful cat shape. Taking flight off the couch at a speed to rival Lynette’s, she corners the intruder. The little grey mouse immobile for only a moment looks to the right and left. Bootstrap lowers her body to the ground, in the crouch of a lion.
What if she kills it? Lynette watches the event unfold, powerless to evoke any type of outcome. Or worse, what if she doesn’t kill it? Or, in the outcome most dreadful, what if she catches it and brings it onto the couch? Bootstrap starts wiggling her hind legs back and forth, the characteristic move of a cat about to strike.
Lynette takes a sharp breath in anticipation of the imminent attack. She loses equilibrium, and her footing on her precarious post on the couch arm. Preventing an outright fall, her right foot lands on the coffee table. Her mug crashes and in surprising fortitude only loses its handle. Cold coffee covers the floor. Bootstrap loosens her pinpoint attention and falters. This is the moment for Grey. Lifting a little paw, surveying its aggressor, the mouse takes its moment. But as quickly as hope comes, it goes. Bootstrap lets instinct take over, and the mouse’s fate is sealed.
The mug has been picked up, relinquishing its new role as a pencil holder on Lynette’s desk. She sees the mugs pithy little quote, and rotates it to face the wall. Better. The coffee is wiped up. The mouse corpse is currently lying under a shoebox with some books piled on it (just incase), because she’s not dealing with that right now.
Bootstrap rejoins her on the couch. Maybe Lynette is imagining it, but there seems to be self-satisfaction on the felines face. Her eyes squinting slowly give her an expression of a satisfied smile. The same as one might have after a sip of hot tea. Could she be mad at the killer? Bootstrap did after all show an instinct of courage that Lynette did not. She had been frozen, undecided in an appropriate reaction. This non-action was a recurring theme for her day.
Lynnette is struck by a thought. She remembers the little black eyes of the mouse, undoubtedly registering in those last few moments some sort of acknowledgement of its fate. Lynette is filled with empathy. Nothing it could have done would have changed the outcome, but it tried anyway. It had been a doomed task. But to not fight at all, to not try at all-that would have undoubtedly been worse. Maybe the mouse had been the lion.
Perhaps she is giving the incident more meaning than she should.
Regardless, she picks up her phone. There is nothing she can say that will make anything better. It is a doomed task. But to leave it undone-that would be worse. No words will be a comfort. But this is what she can do. She can sit with Megan at the avocado table.