Dawn Service

I set my alarm on Tuesday night to get up for the dawn ceremony, but I needn’t have bothered. Dolly woke me up at the crack to show me the mouse she’d killed. She sat there on the carpet looking up at me with unreadable eyes. The mouse was lying between her paws beside the homemade string toy that Bobbie had made for her a couple of days earlier. What was she trying to tell us?

”I prefer my toys with a heartbeat,” maybe?

I considered going back to bed but there was no trusting this cat. I could just imagine Dolly dissecting the mouse and leaving its entrails to rot in some hard-to-reach corner of the house.

I made a move to pick up the mouse and it twitched. I reeled back, screaming. Bobbie, awoken by the screams, came out and started screaming, too. We stood there, the two of us screaming, while Dolly – the cat who runs away in terror if anyone so much as whispers loudly, sat unmoving on the mat. She watched us screaming with all the nonchalance of Hannibal Lecter.

I rang my brother in London. I felt sure he would know what to do. I had grown up on stories of the way he valiantly dispatched a mouse to protect our mother when he was barely 12 years old. It was the stuff of family legend. My mother had screamed “Kill it! Kill it!” while the poor mouse shunted across the floor dragging a mousetrap, in which its foot was snagged, behind him.

My brother asked, “But Mamá, with what shall I kill it?”

“I don’t bloody care what you use, just kill the damn thing!”

My brother disappeared into the dimly lit garage and returned with a hammer. He tapped the mouse lightly on the head, dazing it, but not killing it. The mouse recovered and began shunting again.

“Harder!” my mother cried. “For pity’s sake, boy, SMACK it!”

The next impact did the trick. The mouse was mince.

“Oh Nadine,” my mother likes to recall wistfully, “your brother was so brave!”

Unfortunately, my brave brother was unavailable to take my call when I phoned to ask him what to do about the half-dead mouse on my carpet on the other side of the world at 3am in the morning. The bastard was on a conference call.

I went to wake up my eldest son instead. He was practically the same age as my brother at the time he’d killed that mouse. Surely my brave boy would come out and slay the mouse and dispose of it while I shielded my sensitive eyes?

But when my son saw the mouse laying on the carpet he began to retch.

“Ergh,” he spluttered. “Ergh! I hate ergh-mice.”

“Kill it!” I shouted. “Kill it!”

But he wouldn’t stop retching. “Oh for fuck’s sake!” I said, rolling up my sleeves. At this rate, I was going to have a dead mouse and a gutsful of vomit to clean up.

I tiptoed gingerly towards the mouse and examined it through shuttered eyes. Thankfully, it appeared to have died properly.

Dolly, meanwhile, looked bored. What kind of a heartless beast was she? Alarm began to spread across my chest as it dawned on me that she was acting far too smooth for this to be her first kill. Could she have killed a bird? One of the neighbourhood pukekos? Oh my god! When was the last time I saw the lonely paradise duck that lives on the empty section behind the house?! Had Dolly snuffed its heart out? Is that why I hadn’t seen it for weeks?

“What else have you killed, Dolly?” I demanded.

Dolly ignored me and began to lick her ass.

“You can’t just go around killing things!”

Dolly stopped licking and looked at me innocently.

I sighed. Not only was our cat anti-social, she was also a murderer.

With gritted teeth, I picked up the mouse by the tail and dropped it into the toilet bowl. It was so tiny it barely made a plop. I felt this must be symbolic and poignant, such a small life causing such an enormous ruckus in death, but all I could hear was the sound of my boy retching from the other room.

The next morning I was so exhausted I felt like I had a hangover. I rang my mate, hoping for sympathy but all she said was: “Anā,” which in Māori means something like “I told you so.”

“Well I didn’t know she would kill things!” I wailed.

My mate laughed gleefully. “Welcome to the jungle. Wait til she brings you a rat!”