The Man yelled at the Cat. And shot a video, and threw it online. After all, it was funny.
It was neither the first nor the last mistake he would ever make.
The boy came upon the box of straight razors in the pantry under the stairs. It was late January, and the man his mother had been seeing had just given him a another brutal dressing down.
Lately, the Boy had taken to lying in the back yard in his winter clothes and staring up at the trees as the sun set. Something about them, black against the last red of the evening, felt deeply familiar. As if something inside of him was taking the same shape, reaching up with bare limbs into the dying light, trying to grasp at something just out of his reach. He listened to the tape playing in the old Walkman and tried to clear his mind. He fingered the small box in his pocket.
When the cat video went viral, the Man thought that he’d drown in the flood of mindless rage flowing toward him, but instead he’d floated along, reading the messages, one by one, as they reached into the hundreds, then the thousands, telling him that he was worthless or that he should die or that he looked like a certain famous person but in much worse shape.
The rage was new, exciting, and maybe something deep down in him enjoyed the attention.
And so he let it wash over him.
But the lectures.
He couldn’t stand being condescended to, and every time a new lecture appeared on his screen, he cringed. He was an asshole, yes, but not a stupid asshole. Right? Of course he knew that shouting at his cat would teach it nothing. He wasn’t trying to teach the cat anything. He was just trying to wake it up. And mission accomplished, thank you.
You joyless fucks.
The boy became obsessed with the small box of razor blades. Where they had come from, why they had been bought. They consumed his days.
He thought about them on the bus on the way to school, in his classes, on the ride home. He thought about them as he wrangled his siblings in the evenings before his mother came home from work. He thought about them as he lay in the yard, staring at the branches of the trees.
Some part of him believed that maybe he’d been fated to find them.
He’d always believed that everything served a purpose.
These razors meant something.
And then came the woman who finally broke the man. It was the longest comment he’d received, as well as the most pointed rage. She went on and on, attacking the man’s intelligence, his disposition, his manhood, his soul. She went on further to defend the cat. The cat was blameless and beautiful.
But the man had no place in this world, she said. The man should die, she said.
He thought, I should probably say something back.
It was late on a Tuesday or very early on a Wednesday when the boy woke in the night from a dream of the trees. They had reached up into the darkness and grasped something, finally, something tangible and huge and inevitable in the sky, and they were pulling it downward, fast, toward him.
When he woke, he was very calm. He thought of the box of razors in his bedside table. He knew then.
The man spent hours on Wednesday, starting early in the morning and typing well into the afternoon, writing and rewriting phrases, making deep and passionate points, explaining that he hadn’t meant for this video to go so far, that he felt silly and lost and that this had eclipsed everything he’d ever worked for. It was more than he had written in weeks, and he didn’t know why, but getting through to this angry stranger meant a great deal. As he read it over one last time, he thoughtlessly rubbed at the small scar on his wrist.
He sent the letter to the woman. He received a reply within the hour.
It was two sentences:
“You piece of shit. Do you think this means anything?”
The boy took the razor into the bathroom. He stood in the dark for a long time, breathing, on the bathmat in front of the tub. He said something to himself, quietly. A call for courage, or a prayer. He held the razor to his wrist and pressed its edge into his flesh.
He wasn’t prepared for the pain. He was so shocked by it that he dropped the razor onto the bathmat and clutched at the offended wrist, turning away from the tub and stepping directly onto the naked blade, which buried itself in his heel. He slipped backward into the tub, slamming the back of his skull against the wall as he went.
The woman was right, the man thought. He had expressed himself as well and as deeply as he could. He had reached downward all the way and pulled up something tangible and huge and had brought it forth in all of its ugliness, and then sent it along.
It had been rejected. It had meant nothing. Maybe the cat was worth more.
So what do I do now?, the man thought. What’s left to do?
The Boy lay in the tub.
He thought about his mother and his siblings sleeping in their beds, of all of the other people that he knew. He wondered if any of them were awake. If any of them knew what was inside of him, and whether or not it would matter if they did.
He thought about how spectacularly he had just failed. It hadn’t been the first mistake he’d made, and it wouldn’t be his last.
He thought he should probably throw the razors away. This was clearly not his time. Maybe the huge, tangible thing was not here yet, but still somewhere out there in the vast dark. Maybe it wouldn’t come at all.
For now, he had to drag himself out of the tub. For now, he had to bandage his wrist and his foot and take something for his headache. Hide all evidence. Nobody needed to know about this.
For the time being, he thought, he should just go on.