The Fact Club
"I don't think I'm interested," I said, my hand resting on the bark of the tree's trunk.
It was getting dark and it smelled like it was going to rain, the earth moist in anticipation like freshly cut grass and broken soil.
"I'll bet you are," she said, smiling.
Her eyes turned to half moon shapes and her lips looked wet. They always looked wet.
Tara finally pulled her right hand from the breast of her jacket to reveal a small, gray kitten.
My eyes grew huge with recognition at my pick of the litter. My grandmother's cat Sandy had kittens earlier in the month and I was set to take Small Gray home in two more weeks. That's what I had been calling him. Small Gray.
"Now how interested are you?" she asked, half laughing.
I started to shake. I knew where this was going. Small Gray was looking down at me from the branch Tara was perched on.
"How 'bout you just cut it out and come back down here?" I said, trying to keep my voice from quivering.
"Yeah? Or what?" she asked, dragging out the last syllable for a couple of seconds.
"You can't do that," I said.
"Well then you can't be a part of the club then," she replied matter-of-factly.
"What club? Just pass 'im down to me and then we can talk about it down here," I pleaded.
"Uh … whoops!" she giggled as she pretended to lose her grip.
Her half moons became crescents while her smile widened.
"The Fact Club. There is always an initiation that's different for everybody. And this is yours," she said.
"Why would I want to be a part of your Fact Club anyhow? Get down here!"
"No! And now you can't make facts. Your words mean nothing. Maybe even the opposite of what you say. Yes -- that's it. What I say is fact … and I say that what you say is … the opposite. That’s the rules in Fact Club."
"I don't believe you!" I shouted.
"It's true. I mean, fact. You're not included without initiation," she said.
"Let me have 'im Tara!" I yelled up.
"So that means you don't want him!" she laughed.
"Cut it out! Stop playing Tara, I mean it. I'll tell Grandma Jean!"
"So you won't tell her?" She burst into a fit of giggles.
"OK. Fine. Keep Small Gray up there then," I said, deciding to play along.
"Is that what you really want, Blake?" she asked.
"Yes. Keep 'im up there with you. I don't want 'im," I said.
"Sure?" she said, crescents growing to full moons, her wet lips reflecting the lights from the house.
"Yes," I said defeated.
"Opposites! Opposites! So that means you're not sure!" she sang.
"No! No is what I meant," I corrected myself quickly.
"OK! Here ya go!"
I watched in horror as Small Gray slipped from her hand, finally making a sound on the way down of a weak, scared meow. He hit the ground with a soft thud, his body rolling over a large root.
I rushed toward his small body, but before I got to my knees I realized he was laying completely still on his back, his legs unmoving.
There was no sound for a minute.
I slowly scooped Small Gray into my left hand and lifted his head with my right pointer finger. His mouth and nose were dripping blood, and his body felt like a small jumble of rocks in a fur pelt, none of the bones or organs where they should be. I didn't know what to do or say.
I cupped Small Gray between my hands, as if to keep him warm, and looked up to Tara with a tear-stained face.
A smile slowly spread across hers.
"Now you're in it!" she shouted gleefully.
I began to slowly shake my head, not comprehending.
"The Fact Club, silly!" she giggled.
There was a loud thud and a crunch of twigs and dead leaves when she jumped down from her branch. I watched her skip up to the house before I fell to my knees, keeping Small Gray closed in my hands.
I laid his tiny body on a curled leaf and covered him up to his chest with another, as if tucking him in. He looked asleep with his eyes closed. Tears dropped from my eyes, wetting his bloody, matted fur. I began to search wildly around with hands for a stick until I found a thick one behind my feet.
I cried as I dug a shallow grave under the tree for Small Gray, my tears mixing and thickening the soft dirt next to the root where he met his demise. Still in his leaf bed I moved him to the shallow hole, using a small rock for a pillow for his head.
I began to sob as I pawed dirt and leaves and acorn tops over his inanimate body.
I don't know why, but I began to recite the only prayer I know.
"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…"