It started with the sound of metal screeching against metal, the kind of whine that brings back nails on a chalkboard for those of you that remember that. It was enough to pique my interest. I turned off the fork lift and hopped off.
What followed was a series of ever increasing thumps and whacks as, one by one, the metal structures holding all the warehouse stock began a game of dominos that God himself could not stop. I recognised it instantly, although I knew it was too late.
I ran down the aisle, my shoes slipping on the shiny concrete floor as I remembered my safety training the day I joined – no running in the warehouse – running causes accidents.
I gave out a small panicked chuckle at the irony. My second from last memory was of the light disappearing and the earache inducing sound of thousands of dollars worth of stock raining down from above, trapping me and injuring me; leaving me a painful and agonising death.
My last memory was telling the paramedics to not tell my wife. I pleaded with them. I said if it’s the last thing you do for me, don’t tell my wife I died.
“Try not to talk,” a young paramedic said to me, “everything will be okay.”
He smiled. His bright blue eyes begged me to believe him. His partner, much older, did his best to hold his scowl, nonverbally trying to silence his inexperienced colleague.
“I’m not going to be okay, am I?” I stated.
He returned a well practised poker face that gave nothing away, but also lacked the enthusiasm of the other.
I didn’t feel pain so much. More an inevitability that what was happening was going to happen. So I let it, my internal lights slowly turning off, leaving only blackness, then nothing.
Days before, my wife bought my daughter a black cat. I knew why she did it. Sally didn’t have any friends.
“Jess, I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said.
“Isn’t he adorable?”
She showed me the little name-tag she had engraved Simon.
She dropped the cat onto the floor.
“Just look at it, she will love her,” she said, crouching down, pursing her lips and doing that baby-talk that I find so irritating.
“You have to take it back,” I demanded, “we can barely afford to feed Sally, never mind a cat.”
“Pfft,” Jess waved her hand dismissively, “if it goes hungry, it can go kill a bird or something. Besides the neighbours have cats. It can go over there and eat.”
“You know how cats work right? If that happens, the neighbours have a free cat.”
With that, the school bus pulled up outside and I realised I was now responsible for feeding a cat.
Jess opened the door with delight.
“I have a surprise for you,” she said.
“What is it mommy?”
“You know how you wanted a kitty cat?”
Sally’s eyes grew big, her mouth agape, trapped between shock and excitement.
“Where is it?” she said, anxiously stamping her feet.
“In the living room.”
Her giddy feet raced through the hallway.
Jess’s face was beaming, she grinned ear-to-ear, showing me her I told you so look.
When I saw Sally playing with the little fur ball, I thought maybe my wife was right. I’d not seen her like this since before she started school, before the bullying started.
She hugged the thing so tightly I was worried she would crush it. Though she let go and the cat sat, then proceeded to lick her hand submissively.
Saturday, I arrived home. I placed my grocery bags in the kitchen and peered out of the window. Sally was in the yard playing with the cat. I smiled to myself. I started to put the shopping away. I looked back and saw her swing the cat around in circles. I leaned over, opening the window above the sink.
“Honey, stop that!” I shouted, hearing the panicked squeals of the animal begging her to stop. I knew this was a bad idea.
She dropped it, the cat landing on all fours and running off.
“Jess!” I shouted.
“Yeah?” her voice was muffled through the floors upstairs.
“Can you come down?”
“Just a minute!”
I had just finished my unpacking when I heard the cat hiss and growl. I returned to the window to see Sally, in the distance, hold the cat by its neck, before plunging it into the pond.
“Sally! No!” I shouted.
I raced out of the house.
“You’re hurting me, Mr Kitty,” she said, holding its head underwater, “OWWW! Stop scratching.”
“Stop that this instant!” I demanded.
“He’s hurting me,” she said, her face scrunched up and annoyed by how the animal was squirming.
“You’re killing it!” I said, running as fast as I could to catch up.
I’m not proud of my actions. It was like she was in a trance. She wouldn’t let go. Without thinking, I pushed her to the floor. Sally began to cry. I waded into the pond, searching for the cat. But when I found him, it was too late. I pulled out the lifeless body. It hung over my hand, limp and still.
“Mr Kitty!” Sally said happy again, she held out her hands for her pet.
I was ashamed. Ashamed at what my daughter had done and ashamed that I had let it happen. She was too young and too naive to understand.
“Mr Kitty is dead,” I said, not sugarcoating my words.
“I want to play with Mr Kitty.”
“You can’t anymore. He’s dead.”
Sally cried again. I wanted to be angry with her. I wanted to explain what had happened. But I couldn’t.
Jess was now standing outside the house.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The cat’s dead.”
She saw the water drip from its fur. I gestured my head in the direction of our daughter. Jess brought her hand to her mouth.
My wife had sent Sally to her room. I told her that it wouldn’t do any good, that she didn’t understand what happened. Jess insisted. She promised to explain in the morning. I wondered if Sally was too young to learn about death, but this was as good a time as any.
We sat in silence for most of the evening, watching a TV program I cannot remember.
We were about to head to bed when there was a knock at the door.
“This better be important,” I said out loud as I made my way to the front of the house.
A short man stood there. He wore a pristine black suit fixed with a bow-tie. He had a comb-over that did its best to imitate a full head of hair.
“I think this is your cat,” he said, holding a confused black animal out in front of me.
I wasn’t sure who appeared more awkward, the cat or the man.
“I don’t think so,” I said, taking a step back.
“I’m sure he is yours.”
The man took a step forward.
The name-tag glinted in the security light, giving me impetus to check it.
The name Simon stared back at me.
“See,” the man said, handing me the animal without giving me a chance to say no, “goodbye then!”
And with that, the man trotted off down the driveway and into the night.
I closed the door behind me and returned to the living room a little gobsmacked. I held the cat at arms length, trying to keep it as far away from me as possible as I tried to come to terms with it.
Jess stood up, angry.
“You said Sally killed him.”
She shook her head as she filled with rage.
“How could you!”
Jess stormed off. I waited until the stomping footsteps on the stairs turned to the slamming of the bedroom door. Gently, I put Mr Kitty, Simon, down on the floor. He ran behind the sofa and didn’t come out. I couldn’t blame him.
I was shocked. He was dead. I had held his lifeless body in my hands. I had seen my daughter drown him. It was as if, little by little, my sanity was being unpicked by unseen fingers. There was only one way to prove it.
I walked into the back yard, round the corner and saw the black bag I had put next to the bins. It was still there. I promised myself I’d bury it in the morning. With trepidation, I approached. I knew what I was going to find. I was certain of it. Though I needed to check all the same.
I picked up the bag. It was as heavy as it should be, containing an animal and all. I untied the top. There was something in there for sure. I turned on the torch feature of my phone and shone the beam inside.
There it was, rigor mortis and all, our dead cat. I moved my phone to see the collar was still there. I picked it up. It read back Simon just as I’d expected.
The next morning I lay on the couch, woken by the excited giggling of my daughter, Sally. She was chasing Mr Kitty around the room.
“Hi Daddy,” she said, running after the cat as it raced into the back yard.
Jess stood over me.
“I know what I saw. I’m not lying.”
The alarm on my phone went off.
“Shit, I’m going to be late,” I said, springing up off the couch, “keep an eye on her.”
I hadn’t told her about what I found the night before, there was no reason for her to know. My daughter was happy, and I prayed she didn’t do it again. It was like a do-over. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?
I got ready for work, and left not knowing what was in store for me as I drove the forklift only hours later.
Nothingness is exactly what you expect – nothing. As I closed my eyes, it was as if I opened them instantly again. I can only assume how many minutes or hours had passed. Though when I did, I didn’t feel any pain. In fact, I felt great. I was disorientated as I didn’t wake in a hospital. I woke in a vehicle.
I kept my eyes shut when I regained consciousness. I had accepted death like you accept a bill from the electric company. It was matter-of-fact, expected.
I felt the bouncing of the suspension as the vehicle drove and turned. I was relieved. I was happy to still be alive. I enjoyed my journey to the hospital. I was going to be okay. When we pulled up and the vehicle stopped, I afforded myself a smile.
“We’re here,” someone said, and I waited to be picked up and moved, but that never happened.
I kept my eyes shut.
“Sir!” someone demanded again, this time shaking my shoulders.
It was at this point I realised I wasn’t on a gurney, but sitting, belted into a passenger seat of a sedan.
“What’s going on?” I said anxiously.
“We’re home,” a voice to my left said.
I snapped my head to the side to see a short man in a suit. He had a comb-over that did its best to imitate a full head of hair. A chill filled me.
“You have to be quick, before the phone rings.”
“I don’t know what’s happening!” I demanded.
The small man leaned over me and opened my door, unbuckling my belt and forcing me out of the car.
I gathered my composure, standing on the sidewalk. I leaned down, “I don’t understand, who are you?”
“Go!” he shouted, “Now!”
Almost in a daze I walked up to my front door. I fished in my pockets, my keys were nowhere to be seen. I sighed and knocked.
Moments later Jess answered.
“You’re home early?” she said.
“I’m a bit confused myself,” I replied, entering the house.
“Could you make me a coffee, I’m not feeling too well.”
“Sure,” she said, disappearing into the kitchen.
I sat in my big armchair, sinking into the cushions. Flashes of the accident played back in my head.
“Sally is getting along with Simon so well today,” Jess shouted from the kitchen.
“Good,” I said, still confused.
The landline rang.
“I’ll get it,” Jess said.
“Thanks,” I replied.
All I could hear was the bangs and thunks of the metal structures falling in prepared unison.
“Hello? Yes, he’s my husband.”
I peered up at Jess, she smiled awkwardly as she took in the information that was being told to her.
In recognition, I jumped to my feet and snatched the phone out of her hands, “Everything’s fine,” I said.
“Yes, yes, I know, I’ll tell her.”
I hung up the phone.
She stood back in shock.
“They said you were in some sort of accident?”
“It’s fine,” I said.
“They said,” she pulled her hand to her mouth, “my God.”
“Whatever they said, they got it wrong.”
She shook her head.
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
She nodded nervously.
“Therefore, it couldn’t have been that bad?”
She nodded again.
“Look, many people were hurt today. I was one of the lucky ones.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
My life insurance payout arrived today, a check for a hell of a lot of money. I need to work out how I can pay this in without my wife knowing. I know she suspects something, especially after how many co-workers have visited and offered condolences. But she sees me, in the flesh, that’s all the proof she needs that I’m alive, because I am. The life insurance though, that’s going to make a big difference to our lives. I’m going to need to tell her. I think. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.