“Mr. Boffins!” I shout, looking under the bed. “Mr. Boffins! Where are you? I’ve got fishies! Come out! Come out!”
THUMP THUMP THUMP go Daddy’s feet as he walks up and grabs my arm. It hurts. “Kyle! That was not proper, was it?” He twists and it hurts more.
“No father,” I’m careful to speak clear so he won’t be more angry.
“What should you have said?” Daddy frowns and it makes his mustache bend in the middle.
“I have fish for you, Mr. Boffins,” I say each word proper.
Daddy squeezes one more time. “Good. In what manner do we not speak, Kyle?”
“Like a baby, father,” I talk grown up ‘cuzz I’m special. None of my friends call their daddies father.
“Do not forget it!” Daddy smacks my bottom real hard. I want to cry, but I don’t cuzz I’m three and I’m special. Daddy stomps away. He’s not helping me look.
I think Daddy’s still mad ‘cuzz I saw him and the babysitter wrestling. Daddy said I couldn’t tell anyone ‘cuzz it was a secret, a great big secret. I’ll never tell no one! Miss Annie was crying, so I guess she lost.
After Miss Annie left was when I wondered where Mr. Boffins was. He usually comes and bumps my leg so I’ll scratch his tummy. When I was littler, he’d run away so I could chase him. I’d catch him by the tail sometimes. He doesn’t run away now. Mommy says he’s tired all the time from chasing mice.
I look under the cupboard in the dining room. I look behind the china drawer. No Mr. Boffins. I make sure to turn off the light when I leave. I don’t want Daddy to be angry again.
There’s the door to Daddy’s study. I walk by without looking. No one’s allowed in there. Not even Mommy. Daddy goes in there for hours some nights. I think he sometimes cries in there by himself. He comes out with red eyes and the sniffles.
“Mr. Boffins!” I’m in the TV room now. “Come out Mr. Boffins!” I look behind the TV. He’s not there. I look under the couch. There’s brown fur and white socks and whiskers! “There you are Mr. Boffins! Come out of there!”
Mr. Boffins doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t meow. I try to grab his paw, but my arm’s too short. “Mr. Boffins! Wake up!”
THUMP THUMP THUMP! Daddy’s head is next to me. He’s bending over to look under the couch. “Ah, the cat finally . . .”
“Went to sleep!” We both turn around. Mommy’s standing there. She has a bottle of grown up juice, like always. “Mr. Boffins is so tired Kyle. Why don’t you run along and let him sleep?” Daddy’s mustache scrunches up when Mommy talks. It looks funny.
“Okay Mommy!” I say and run along. I’m a good boy.
Thirteen years. Thirteen years and they never told me. I must have known. Not even a child could be so ignorant.
I must have known. Then Mother made it true. She just mentioned it over dinner last night. The lie was no great scandal to her. Just a cute story from when I was a boy.
Until then, I could pretend. I could pretend Mr. Boffin would come back one day and bump my leg. I could pretend Annie had not laughed in my face when I asked her out. I could pretend Mother did not have to drink herself stupid every night so she could face another day. I could pretend people sat with me at lunch. I could pretend I never caught Father with the babysitter or fresh off a hit of coke. I could pretend I was normal and not special.
Father did not approve of imagination. If he thought I was pretending, I would get hurt. That seems odd for an English professor. Of course, he only ever taught nonfiction. Maybe it was envy. He would not allow me to pretend because he could not.
He is almost done bleeding. Pressed into his abdomen, the gun went THUMP THUMP THUMP. I do not believe anyone heard. He stopped whimpering some time ago.
Mother will return in an hour. She will come into the kitchen for a drink. She will see the blood on the tile and drop her groceries. When she sees Father, she will start crying the tears he does not deserve. She will try to roll him over and never see me step around the corner.
I like to pretend. I could not guess how many times I have imagined today. Pretending helps me plan. I have a chef’s knife, a hacksaw, and some thick plastic bags under my bed. I made sure to ask Mother to pick up some bleach. I know a perfect spot in the woods. I found it just yesterday while I was wandering around, pretending I was three.