Light had fallen on the short autumn day long before either of them arrived home from work. The first glimpse they got of the mess was under the harsh artificial white of a flashlight: its unnatural brilliance an oasis in an otherwise perfect darkness; no shadows in the oasis; every color intensified, magnifying the grotesque.
“What do you think?”
“Does it matter?”
“Why wouldn’t it?”
“Should’ve asked, do you care?”
“Wouldn’t ask if I didn’t care.”
“You know what it means. Better than I do that’s for sure.”
“I didn’t ask you what it means. I asked you what you think.”
“Mmm. I think it’s unbelievable that’s what I think.” Luis shut off the flashlight.
She took it from him. “Really?”
She switched it on, revealing the horror once more. “Well…”
“You expected this to happen?”
“It was kind of a matter of time.”
“Don’t be stupid. We didn’t do anything the first time.”
“We scolded her. Explained why it was wrong.”
“We let her off the hook. We always do.”
“You could have said something then.”
“And what would you have said?”
“I…” He turned his back on the hideous thing.
“Doesn’t matter, Lu. No point in fighting about the past.”
“She’s my—our little girl. She’s our baby, Katherine. This doesn’t surprise you at all?”
“Yes and no. We haven’t been the best parents.”
“What are you talking about? We love her. At least, I do.”
“Don’t be absurd, Luis. Of course I love my daughter, but parents are supposed to do more than just love. We weren’t ready. We don’t know how to sacrifice.”
“Don’t psychoanalyze us.”
“It’s true. We ignore her. The house keeper was the one who found the mouse for Christ’s sake. The fucking gardener found this mess.”
“Ignore her? I don’t ignore her. I spend all of my time with her when I’m home.”
“When you’re home.”
“We’ve gone over this, Katherine. I can’t quit my career to be a stay at home father.”
“See what I mean?”
“Don’t act all fucking high and mighty with me. Where were you then, Doctor? Why couldn’t you prevent this in all of the time you spend with Macy?” Luis turned to look back at her briefly. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Assessing the damage. Wondering how we can get her to tell us the truth. How she did it. What she used. Why.”
“Can you stop?”
“We cannot ignore this again, Lu.”
“I’m not ignoring it. I am trying to decide on what to do. Why does how she did it matter?”
“I’m not sure it really does. Just curious.”
Katherine switched off the light and stood. “I’m concerned.” She too turned her back on it.
“You don’t seem it in the least.”
“You overreact which means I don’t have to react so extremely.”
“Overreact? How can I be overreacting? Our child might be a sociopath.”
“Our child very probably is a sociopath.”
“You’re saying that like it doesn’t bother you.”
“It does, but we need to be reasonable about this.”
“Fine. What are you suggestions, Doctor?”
“Don’t have many.”
“Why not? You’re the one who studied this stuff.”
“I’m not a child psychologist, Lu. And stop calling me ‘doctor’ like that. It’s unbecoming.”
“Not a child psychologist…” He laughed. “Alright. Do you know any then?”
“Yes. Joan is a good one. Possibly the best one I’ve ever met.”
“Let’s set up a meeting with Joan.”
“She’s also an incessant gossip with little respect for doctor-patient confidentiality. All of our friends would know within a month or at least have a good idea. You’ve heard her ramble on about her patients.”
“You’re right. Anyone else?”
“We could ask Dave.”
“Be rational, Lu. It’s been nearly a year.”
“I am not letting that prick anywhere near my daughter or giving you any excuse to see him regularly.”
“He’s the only other person I know who can help. He specializes in this kind of thing.”
He couldn’t see her smirk in the dark. “Still thinking of yourself before your daughter.”
“Fuck you. There are hundreds of other good child therapists in the city. I struggle to believe that David is even competent at his job.”
“Dave’s work is exceptional, though inconsistent.”
“Then it’s a shame that I so dearly value consistency.”
They were silent. Luis’s fists clenched. The night was clear. Across the lawn, the lighted windows of the house cast their unblinking gaze into the evening, blind beacons of activity. They would soon go out. The nanny was to put Macy to bed around this hour.
“We will find another therapist,” said Luis, stirring the stagnating pool of thought.
“If you insist.”
“I do. Will that be enough?”
“Not much else we can do.”
“One of us could take off work for a while.”
“Be my guest.”
“I meant you.”
“Because my career comes second to yours?”
“Certainly earns less money.”
“My patients need me. Yours could easily find someone else to clean their teeth. As shocking as that may sound.”
“Your daughter needs you.”
“No, Luis, our daughter needs us. She is your little baby after all.”
“Yes and I am providing her with a house and a spot in an expensive grade school.”
“Right. All alone. Because my measly income doesn’t contribute to those things at all.”
“We could manage without it for a time.”
“I refuse to discuss this with you. You cannot expect me to make a sacrifice that you won’t even consider.”
“I have considered it. I consider it a bad idea.”
“I’m done talking about this.”
Luis sighed and began to walk back toward the darkened house.
He turned to face his wife. “What? I thought we’d found a solution.”
“Aren’t you going to clean this shit up?”
“Now? Fuck no. I’ll throw George a big tip tomorrow and tell him to do it.”
“What if the smell attracts other animals and they spread it around the lawn?”
“It’s been alright so far, and if they do, that’s George’s problem. Not mine.”
“What are we going to say to Macy?”
Luis rolled his eyes and threw his hands up in exasperation. “I don’t know, Doctor. Same thing we did last time unless you can come up with something better.” He went into the house without another word.
The nanny had gone home for the night. She had left a note on the dining room table to let them know she no longer felt comfortable working as Macy’s caregiver. She offered both her best wishes and the best of luck. Another thing Luis had to worry about.
He walked down the hall to the master bedroom. He stopped momentarily in front of Macy’s door and cracked it open to look at her in sleep. She was such a beautiful girl. So intelligent. Maybe it hadn’t been her. He wanted to believe that more than anything.
“Sweet dreams, baby girl.” He whispered. He shut the door and continued on his way.
Macy smiled once he’d gone. She didn’t know how long they were out there looking at what Mr. George found, but she knew they would be angry. Nana Edith had been acting strange since she saw it too. Last time, her mom was furious. She was scary. Her face flushed deep red when she lectured Macy, but her dad seemed sad when they talked about it. She didn’t understand why he was sad. She didn’t want him to be sad. She had to think of a way to make it okay.
Katherine had switched the flashlight back on after Luis went inside. She sat with her legs crossed in front of the cat and stared. Macy had not gone to such lengths when she killed the mouse. She had merely crushed it, crushed it and kept in in a box. She tried to tell them it wasn’t her.
Macy had done much more than kill the cat. All of its paws were missing. The vile, uneven limbs were hacked jaggedly at the ends and dangling limply across its body. Macy had plucked the eyes. Or gouged them. Or burnt them. They had been so violently marred that Katherine couldn’t tell. She must have rolled it around in the dirt before staking it into the ground behind the bushes. That’s how George found it; skewered through the belly with a roughly sharpened stick and condemned to the earth out of view. He’d brought it out onto the lawn and left it there for them to find. It reeked of festering flesh and filth caked fur. Flies and mosquitos weaved in and out of the flashlight’s beam.
As Katherine stared, the beam began to tremble in her white knuckled grip, slightly at first but progressively more spastic as the muscles in her forearm cramped and wore out. She cut the light and averted her eyes. The silence of the settled night became a beckoning emptiness into which she plummeted eternally, pursued by fears for her family’s future.