My stepson was proud of his new belt rank, and he beamed as we opened the door coming home. He beamed until he saw the dead lizard in the middle of the floor, my cat standing over it like a fluffy grey lion.
My stepson interacts with animals in a way I don’t quite understand. He’s almost nine. He’s a self-chosen vegetarian (who only eats bread and cheese). He talks to our cats as if he expects them to understand him, asking them why they did this thing or that thing. He expects them to conform to human morality. He gets upset when they fight.
I’m new to this whole step-parenting thing. I watched his face crumple as he took in the cat, her obvious pride, the lizard’s corpse.
“Millie! Why did you do that?” he nearly shrieked.
I went ahead and comforted my cat. The elder huntress is the elder huntress. I examined her offering to us. The lizard was in two pieces: body and tail, and his legs were splayed at odd broken angles.
“Why did she do it, Story?”
How do you answer that?
“Cats eat meat. They can’t eat anything else. Cats hunt. It’s what they do. C’mere. I’m going to ask you to help with this. We’re going to take the lizard outside. You take the tail. Get a cloth.”
He did so, and handed me one as well. But when I reached to pick up the mangled lizard body, it sprang into motion. Only its front legs worked, and now I saw that its side was perforated. The elder huntress, not being hungry, had delivered no killing blow.
“It’s still alive!” my stepson cried. “We have to let it go now!”
Not like that. Not mangled. Not when it was a slow death sentence, and the best that could be hoped for was some larger predator to find it.
“No. We have to kill it,” I said gently.
“Because it’s so badly hurt. I don’t want it to die slowly and in pain.”
“Can’t we just flush it down the toilet?”
That question hit me hard. It doesn’t actually matter that it’s in pain, I just don’t want to see it. It can drown, sure, but if it’s out of my sight, its pain doesn’t exist.
“No. That’s not a kind thing to do. Drowning is not all that quick a death.”
And I took the lizard, wrapped him gently in the cloth, set him on the front stoop, and brought my booted foot down on him as hard as I could.
My stepson grew very quiet.