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I'd say it started with small things, but it didn't. It was simply one morning there was a dead thing left on the doorstep, and the next morning two. Four days in Mom screamed in the kitchen - the back door was open and Zanna had brought in a baby rabbit.

It was uninjured and barely even rumpled, body warm and black eyes open. Its fur was soft and when I touched its legs the joints bent easily. Mom didn't want to it to be dead. She left it on the porch in the hopes it would revive.

The next morning we buried it.

There's an element of denial. We construct stories around some of the deaths - did this cat kill it, or that cat? This one that's left in parts, did they do it or did they find the pieces like that and bring them back to us? There's the head of a chipmonk, severed with the top of the spine left in: maybe it was a hawk.

There's an element of selfishness. On the fifth day we step outside and see something left live and moving, and it's not only relief but a sort of covetousness (because we'd have no problem if only they would bring their finds to us live), that here, now, we can see it up close when normally we wouldn't see it at all.

It's selfishness. It's a vole on its back, legs windmilling, and it's selfishness that it takes me perhaps half a minute to realize there is something unfixably wrong and this is worse than when they're simply dead (and that is also selfishness). What, we never figure out, only that if pushed back onto all fours it flips itself over when it tries to talk. There's something about one leg, and perhaps more wrong. I try to push it off the walk as gently as possible, but I use a stick rather than my hands because I'm selfish. I'm pushing against the side of its head because it tries to walk in circles, and I push against its neck and it squeaks. Finally I get it to the plants, in the shade, and it calms somewhat. We should pick it up and put it in a cage and try to help it, but we're selfish and there were too many times they died when we did that - we'd rather it be here, outside, where it's more out fault but less known.

There's a dead vole on the doorstep the next morning, and if it's the same one - we say, maybe it's for the best that the cats killed it so it wouldn't suffer.

I wake up at night to cats crying and go outside to find she's got a mouthful of fur or feathers. Sometimes it's still alive when she spits it out to go inside and sometimes it's not. It doesn't matter - she leaves a live mouse still coherent enough to hop away into the dried leaves at four am one morning. Next morning, there's a dead one when we look outside at eight.

I cut their nails and Mom buys belled collars. Zoey takes two days to return to bringing things to us, Zanna three. We could keep them in. We let them out.

I wake at five to hear a cat crying and go outside to see a bird in her mouth. It moves.

I talk to her with a panicky baby voice, and perhaps she hears insincerity in it, or perhaps it's that we've pulled this trick too many times, or perhaps it's simply that she wants to go behind a bush to shift her grip before she comes in, but she backs away from me. I chase her barefoot across the yard, across the street, and (selfish) arguing with myself if I should, because the bird is struggling feebly and probably mostly dead and she'll kill it quicker than if I just leave it (and I don't want to see what she's done: I remember one bisected, half its body simply pulling away from the ribs, as bloodless as a cooked chicken). But I corner her behind someone else's bushes, grab the bird she dropped, and it sits panting and unstruggling in my hand.

It turns out not to be hurt and recovers enough to struggle and peck me, soft at first then harder as it gets its wind back. I try to put it in a cage (because it's not going to die so I can do that) but it sits with its legs splayed and head drawn back to strike, frozen in position by panic. I go outside and see a fantail bird that might be a woodpecker than might be its mother on the wire. And so I put it outside and watch it hop up to the tree and climb rapidly, and wonder if I've done something wrong again (because now it's in our yard and what if it's stuck here until it can fly?)

This morning I wake to hear there's something new dead on the doorstep and I feel sick because it'll be the bird. But then Mom says it's a vole and I feel relieved.

Which is selfishness, because the voles are no different.

If you only do something because you'll feel bad otherwise, how is that good?

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farla

April 2011

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