Petite paws pushed against the cloudy window, the tender pink pads pressing flat against the plastic. The creature opened its mouth revealing rows of still forming tiny white teeth that would prickle your finger if it gave you a playful nibble. A muffled cry was all that was heard. Its large black furred head, too big for its body, was cocked to the side as it looked through the window with wide blue eyes. It opened its mouth to meow again, twitching its tail spastically behind it.
Peter Koffin bit his lip as he stared into the eyes of the kitten. He had heard from a boy at school that you could microwave a cat and they would die in seconds, almost painlessly, but it didn’t always happen that way…
“It don’t always happen thattaway,” the boy said through a mouthful of the school’s mashed taters, “See, like us people, cats are eighty percent watuh. So sometimes you’ll get a boiluh.”
“A boiler?” Peter had asked, his tray of school lunch pushed out in front of him.
“Yea, cause see-” the large boy paused to swallow, his eyes set on Peter’s brownie, “You gonna eat that?”
“Okay,” the boy continued, snatching the brownie and cramming it into his mouth, “since they got allathat watuh in ‘em, sometimes they boil ‘fore they die an’, if you’re lucky,” he grinned revealing his straight yellow teeth caked with brownie, “the cat might explode.”
“How do you know all this?”
“M’dad read an article ‘bout some college where dese students fried a cat…University of Stellenbock or somethin’,” the boy paused, “Wonder if they had a boiluh?”
Peter gulped as he pressed in the numbers on the microwave, beep, beep, beep, beep, and another muffled meow. Ten minutes, Peter supposed that would do. He pressed start.
Ignorance is bliss.
Peter wasn’t such a bad guy; he wasn’t truly weird or demented. In fact, Peter was an average kid, average height, weight, look, intelligence. There would be very few things that made Peter different from you. The only difference was that Peter opened his eyes. He watched the cat begin to smack at the plastic window, its fur bulging into bubbles as eighty percent of its tiny body began to boil. “We’ve got a boiler.”
The muffled meows and the steady hum.
The tiny screeching and then a dull concluding thump.
Peter had to do this. He had to watch this…he had to see what everyone tried to protect him from. He wanted to see which was more “inhumane”. We humans are very inhumane people.
He had been sitting in his English class, listening to the teacher lecture. Frankly, Peter didn’t give a damn about adverbs and adjectives because even if he wanted to become a writer, this wouldn’t come in handy. Ah, yes, this sentence does need more adverbs, no Peter thought, when you write you just write. Schools were nothing but prisons to house young curious minds, containing children’s rebellious natures until they were old enough to have forgotten the wrongs of society. Yet, occasionally in the confines of a school, these wrongs of society are expressed vividly. Peter found this out as the girl next to him screamed…
Sarah Hattley screamed and climbed onto her desk. Now Sarah was a normal girl. Her parents were unhappily divorced, her brother was in college, and her sister had just dropped out of high school, pregnant and boyfriend-less. Sarah also had an uncalled for fear of something smaller than her foot, something that was totally harmless and far more scared of her than she it. (And yet being scared of the dark was ridiculous in today’s world) Her screaming continued even after she had everyone in the class’ attention.
“The mouse!” she exclaimed. “That sticky paper thing caught the mouse!”
The word mouse acted like a rock thrown into calm water causing a ripple effect. Shrieks echoed throughout the class. “MOUSE!” Every girl cried and even the majority of boys yelped. Oh no! A tiny rodent has been captured in a trap! He can’t harm us now and probably couldn’t harm us in the first place, seeing that I’m ten times his size. Help me!
“Alright, I’m getting the janitor, students, now stay calm. Stay calm!” the teacher emphasized. “And don’t look at the mouse! Ignorance is bliss! Ignorance is bliss!”
She ran into the hall screaming for the janitor in a voice that was anything but calm.
The children in the class all migrated to the opposite corner of the room, away from the sighting of the beast. All except for Peter, instead of hearing his classmates screams he heard the words “Ignorance is Bliss.” Suddenly he thought of the Holocaust. His history teacher had told him how the Nazis told the German citizens the Jews enjoyed concentration camps. The Germans believed them because that was what they wanted to believe. He thought of American missiles launched at buildings in the Middle East that not only housed terrorists, but also housed the terrorists’ wives and children. “Buildings,” his father told him, “we were better off not knowing about.” He thought of the genocides and starvations in Africa that were so horrible but so easily slipped out of his mind and realm of thought. He wondered what else was being hidden from him, what else was happening before his closed eyes.
“Ignorance is bliss”
The students covered their faces as they huddled in the corner.
Peter walked over to Sarah’s desk.
His eyes were open.
He saw the small tan square of paper sitting next to the bookshelf the mouse had just been hiding behind. Fur sprinkled the paper around where the rodent was stuck. It struggled, squeaking with fear, ripping its back paw off the paper, and leaving behind tender skin dipped in blood. It fell onto its side still struggling as the side of its head got stuck. The squeaks had become squealing, not of fear but pain. It frantically pulled its tiny legs off the paper as it laid on its side, tearing the skin from its limbs. The squeals got louder. It yanked its head off the sticky trap and left behind an ear as it managed to get its back up off the paper. Yet as it stood up, its mutilated legs failed to hold it and it merely fell on its other side. Peter could see a few of the tiny mouse’s ribs – like the stripes on the American flag, red and white, red and white – for a split second before the crimson blood poured out over its side, hiding the tooth-pick-sized bones beneath. The mouse still screamed, still moved, still breathed. These traps weren’t supposed to be like this.
“Okay, I got the janitor,” the teacher cried as she ran back into the classroom. “Peter! Get away from the…oh my goodness!”
Peter couldn’t move; he could only watch the mouse. Its beady black eyes stared back through a film of blood. It felt the pain; it was a living thing. What made Peter so different?
“Oh, Peter! I said not to look!” the teacher continued as she grabbed Peter, covering his eyes.
“I’ll take it out intuh the hall an’ uh…take care of it,” the janitor mumbled.
“Thank you sir,” the teacher said and then turned to the students. “He’s gonna let the mouse go outside.”
The stunned teens didn’t reply.
“Did you see him? There was blood all-”
“Peter,” the teacher demanded uncovering his eyes as she looked him in the face, “you didn’t see the mouse remember, you were over in the corner, correct?”
“No I saw it and-”
“That was just a bad trap. It was too old, had been out too long. They don’t normally do that. But it’s okay, mice don’t feel pain,” the teacher cut him off again.
He could hear the mouse screaming outside in the hall still. He couldn’t get the sight of the writhing rodent, its skin being torn from its body and the small black marble eyes, out of his mind. Those eyes and their piercing stare very bluntly told Peter that that mouse understood pain. Those eyes were as alive as his, he thought as he listened to the tiny screeching and then a dull concluding thump.
We’ve got a boiler.
The muffled meows and the steady hum.
In the Holocaust the Nazis gassed numerous Jews in concentration camps. They shaved their campers, giving them uniform rags to wear, making them look all the same. Dirty. Weak. Animals. They gave them numbers, stripped them off their names, making them inhuman, making them “its”, not he’s or she’s or Toms and Sallys. They all became its. It was okay to torture animals. Why? Did it make it easier to kill them if they turned them into animals? Who’s to say mice weren’t people once. (Weren’t we once monkeys?) Sometimes, at pounds, dogs are put into airtight boxes where similar gasses are emitted to euthanize them. But people don’t like to think about these things. These are the things mothers try to shield their children from and governments lie to their people about.
Peter wondered how a pound would put a monkey to sleep.
The Holocaust was inhumane. Mouse-traps and euthanization aren’t.
In the first fifteen seconds the kitten had only just started to boil, its soft black fur bulging spontaneously across its body. As the dish it stood on began to spin, the cat frantically pawed at the walls again, crying out even though no one cared. Its tail flickered like a lightning bolt bouncing back and forth. Bloody paw prints smeared the inside of the plastic window.
What was the difference between a cat and a mouse?
Peter imagined Mickey Mouse in a microwave. Would anyone care then?
And if there was no difference, what about a human and a cat?
We don’t murder stupid thieves on sight.
But this wasn’t what really bothered Peter. He didn’t care about animal’s rights. He couldn’t care less whether or not the chicken he ate at Mc Donald’s had to go through inhumane methods just to reach his hungry belly. No, what bothered Peter was what his teacher had said. Ignorance is bliss. That didn’t just bother Peter, that scared him. He imagined the President of the United States answering a question, “Ignorance is bliss.” He imagined his mother telling him to close his eyes as they drove by a car accident. Had she said it, too? What all had he missed with his eyes closed. Reflecting on his ignorance, Peter watched the cat cook and Peter didn’t blink.
The kitten could no longer smack at the walls and no longer were there silent meows. Beneath its fur was a violent ocean of boiling liquids. Its skin was stretched taut and in some places fur had fallen off. Peter wanted nothing more than to look away, but he didn’t. Bubbles grew and grew across its body. Finally one popped, spurting blood all over the side of the microwave. The cat’s eyes were clinched shut, long since boiled from their sockets. It managed one last muffled meow.
If a tree falls in the middle of a forest and no one hears, does it still make a sound?
If a hundred people die and we never are told, did it still happen? Do we care? Do you care?
Ignorance is bliss.
Peter wondered what the Nazis had done after a session in the gas chamber. He pondered how the pound cleaned up after putting a dog to “sleep”. On the counter beside the microwave was an old tattered dish towel, and to his left sat the half empty trash can, smelling of old fish and cold pizza. He opened the microwave, letting the smell of death creep slowly upon him, sweeping away the stench from the trash beside him. It was horrendous. Peter was suddenly reminded of the time he and his family had found a possum trapped in their trashcan after returning from a vacation. The creature had been floating in its juices, marinating in the orangish-brown liquid along with a family of tiny squirming worms. It had apparently climbed in, in search of food, of which there was none, and starved to death.
There was a distinct smell that followed those who died horrid deaths, Peter supposed.
He swept out the remains of the kitten – the globs of fur and blood and the hot wet skeletal frame of the feline covered in a film of empty flesh like a popped balloon – into the trash can. They landed with a dull thump. Blood still coated the inside of the microwave, but that could be easily removed with the rag and some bleach. Right now, Peter simply wanted to take out the trash.
What happened to the women and children who died alongside their terrorist fathers and husbands? Were they buried or cremated in the ashes of the buildings they died in? What happened to the Jews killed in the Holocaust? What happened to the dogs after being euthanized, were they just tied up in a plain white trash bag and tossed out with the rest of the trash?
Peter had made his way outside, the white trash bag tightly tied and draped over his right shoulder, the pinkish hew of blood attempted to shine through the trash bag, attempting to alert all outside of the horrors behind the plastic white mask. He approached the large green rolling garbage can that sat out in front of each house, waiting for the garbage truck to come by and collect its dirty tax.
“Mornin Peter,” the two words suddenly broke the membrane that held his thoughts in, giving him but a sample taste of guilty fear in place of his feeling of self righteousness – but it had been necessary. He had to be free; he had to open his eyes.
It was Peter’s neighbor.
Peter slowly opened the trash can and dropped the bag in, half expecting to hear yet another muffled meow.
“Mornin,” he replied.
The neighbor casually strode out in front of Peter, propping his elbow up on the closed lid of the garbage and looking Peter in the eyes with a big nasty frown, “Pete, I-”
“Oh, my apologies Peter, I was jus wonderin if you’d-”
Peter listened for a final muffled meow, but heard none. He felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off his chest, the phrase “ignorance is bliss” no longer echoed in alcoves of his mind, haunting his every thought. By watching the cat cook, he’d seen the gas chambers of Germany, he’d watched the bombs fall in the Middle East, and he hadn’t closed his eyes. And, as he vaguely watched his neighbor talk, he felt a smile creep across his lips.
“-seen my cat, ya know, the lil black kitten? I think it ran away.”
“No sir,” Peter answered, “I don’t think I have.”