Family gatherings were the most social Via ever got. She wasn’t introverted exactly, it was just that, compared to her family, other people were boring.
This opinion was reinforced every time the gathered members settled into their seats and the story-telling began.
A couple of years ago, the privilege of initiating the ritual had become Via’s. Quietly collecting the dirty dishes, she smiled at her aunt and said, “The pie was a little salty, Aunt Beck.”
“No! Was it?”
With a teasing smile, Via shook her head. “It wasn’t. But I’ll never forget the year it was.”
Laughter and an exhalation of relief from Aunt Beck. “Thank goodness. I still can’t get over how it happened…”
And so it began. The relatives would tell familiar tales and a few new kickers, but Via’s favorite was the one her mother told.
“We were on our way home, from Henry’s doctor appointment, when we saw the cat. Poor thing was laying in the road, fur matted with blood, but still breathing. And you know how we did things out there: if you saw an animal like that, you didn’t take it to the vet, you put it out of its misery.”
Henry nudged Via, gave her a knowing grin, a bit of chocolate on his lip.
“We had a shovel in the back, the heavy, metal kind, and so Jonas pulled over. We all got out of the truck, me and the kids to stand a safe distance away, and Jonas to deal with the cat. Before he walked away, he said to me, ‘Don’t let the kids watch.’ I nodded, and fully intended to make sure none of them saw. But Hailey was in hysterics; she’d seen the cat and-”
“We all know how I feel about injured animals,” Hailey interjected, smiling.
Henry rolled his eyes. “I still can’t believe you’re vegan.”
“I still can’t understand how you can sleep after you eat meat.”
“Anyways,” their mother said, “she was quite the handful. I was so absorbed in trying to deal with her, that I completely forgot about Henry.
“Now, when we were at that doctor’s appointment, he’d checked on Henry’s speech, you know how he was a little slow in that department. The doctor’d asked him to tell him the sounds of animals, but Henry’d never been close enough to a cat to know what sound it made. So, while I was trying to calm Hailey down, he walked over and watched Jonas kill the cat.”
Shaking her head as she remembered, their mother half-laughed. “Once the deed was done, Henry walked back to me and Jonas went and buried the cat. We piled back into the car and had driven for ten minutes or so, long enough that Hailey had completely calmed down, when Henry opened his mouth, and-