Nobody to Blame
by Brianna Garber

As my dad told us about the kittens my heart felt like it was going to explode in my chest. I ran around the house on tiptoes mimicking the way kittens play. Not feeling my normal size could contain all of my eight year old excitement, I threw my arms high into the air, as I sang a little song, and ran to the laundry room. Pulling my pink jelly shoes out of the closet, I swung open the screen door letting it slam against the side of the house to announce my departure. Air felt like it was hardly making it to my lungs as I gulped it in, running, and lunged for the barn door. Nearly falling on the floor, I stumbled into the dark barn, my eyes darting around to find any form of life.
Then I saw them, in the corner of the barn, even cuter than I imagined. The rusty sliding door in the back blocked all sunlight from the new family, whose matriarch had wisely hidden in stacked two-by-fours at the outskirts of the barn floor.  My spirits rose with ever step towards the little kittens as I watched them play. They rolled over each other like little cotton balls and felt like clouds when I put them in my hand. They scampered up and down the cracked cement soundlessly, and childlike, batting at each others ears. The longer I sat there the more I felt like I was a part of there world and it was so perfect that I never wanted to leave.
After a bit my eye noticed a kitten I hadn’t seen before sitting in the shadows. His paws were only half the size of the others and he was much fluffier. His grey and white hair was arranged wildly around his little body. I watched as he scampered awkwardly to his mother. His head was cocked at an angle, giving him a permanent look of curiosity. As his front legs ran forward his back legs hoped, like a retarded rabbit. I had never seen anything like this kitten before and scooped him up in my hand.
His body was so light that I had to put my other hand over him to make sure he was all there. Peaking into my cupped hands, his crooked head turned towards mine. His eyes were wide and colored somewhere between mid-afternoon and starry-night blue. The colors were painted like water on his retinas and no matter how long I looked I couldn’t quite understand what was inside. I expected him to be sad since he was so funny looking and maybe depressed but he held his eyes wide up to mine. There was something hopeful in them and kind and wise, like he knew all about me. It was like he knew we had something in common. Maybe he knew that I tripped over the other ballerinas at practice and that I didn’t fit in either. He became my best friend and I named him Fluff Meister.
In the weeks following I spent all my afternoons with the Fluff Meister and the kittens, taking them to the yard to play. Setting him in the middle of the freshly trimmed grass I urged him to play with the other kittens. The sunlight hit their fur coats and glistened. All the vibrant colors illuminated off the grass and pushed their way into my eyes. I laughed as Fluff Miester jumped to catch a butterfly. I could see the pattern of his frolic twist in the grass and his head bounce up and down with each attempt to bring down his colorful prey. Each time he would disappear in the shadows of the grass blades, unlike his brothers and sisters, who trotted shoulder deep in the green foliage. Fluff Meister just continued his exaggerated jumping.  Picking him up I squeezed Fluff Meister and I whispered something in his ear about how cute he was.  This was the way I described him to my family and friends, always pointing out his kind heart and good looks.
It was on a thickly hot afternoon that I decided to let Fluff Meister make his debut. My extended families cars lined our driveway and the air smelled like hamburgers on the grill. The first to see Fluff Meister was my brother. He laughed. I could feel the cruelty in his cackle. It made my skin crawl and blood boil, so I punched him to show Fluff Miester whose side I was on.
I gently picked Fluff Miester up, cupping him in my hands to protect him from anyone that might give him a complex. Trotting over to my dad I slowly revealed my surprise knowing that Fluff Miester’s eyes would captivate and he would be received with a warm smile. My face broke into a wide grin as I opened my hands and anticipated my dad’s reaction. Dad gasped and took a step back. Pulling his chin back, I watched his eye brows crinkle in a dissatisfied way.
My dad said, “Wow. That’s the sickliest kitten I’ve ever seen. Are you sure he doesn’t have a disease?” I couldn’t react. How could Fluff Miester recover from something like this? Tears poured down my face, as I drew Fluff Miester up to my cheek and let them fall into his fur. Running away I could only hear the, “squeak squeak squeak,” of my jelly shoes above the pounding of my heart in my own ears.
We ran to the far back corner of the barn. Putting Fluff Meister down safely on the cement I explained to him how life is hard sometimes and that you can’t always believe what people tell you. I told him that he needed to be strong and believe in himself. He looked up at me with wide blue eyes. The tears I had cried into his fur made him look a little bit like a wet rat. He sat still looking up at me curiously with the tilt of his head. I decided that it might be best to hug Fluff Miester. I stroked his back with my index finger and kissed him on the head.
It wasn’t soon after that Fluff Miester started to act differently. His frolic wasn’t as animated and even when I pushed the other kittens away to let him eat, Fluff Miester didn’t seem hungry. His body slowed down and soon his head became too heavy for him to lift. His white hair started thinning and my dad said he probably had cancer. Each day of that week I rushed through the barn door to seem him always finding him in the same dark corner.
This routine didn’t stop all week and Sunday after church I ran to see him. I didn’t bother to change out of my Sunday best like my mom advised. Quietly hovering beside him I spread out my lace dress and laid Fluff Miester in its wrinkles. I tried to give him water but it trickled back out of his mouth and onto the floor.
Fluff Miester looked so tiny that I could see his little ribs poking out of his side as it rattled with each breathe he took. My eyes welled up with tears as I kept giving him water, and he kept spitting it up. The rattles turned to wheezing and panic over took me. Running into the house I returned with my soft blue pillow. I rested his body on it but he was so light he hardly made a dent in the fluff. I bent to see his eyes but they were shut and crying. At this point my body convulsed with sobs. His paws clawed slowly at the pillow until he fell onto the floor, I placed him back on the pillow but he kept doing the same thing. Pulling his fragile self onto the hard unforgiving concrete he laid there face down. I told him he couldn’t die. I told him that he was my best friend and that he would make it.
An hour later Fluff Miester’s body rattled as it slowly took in his last breathe and I anxiously waited for his ribs to expand again. When they didn’t I dropped my head against the concrete beside his. I heard something in the distance about how I needed to come in for lunch. This was my first moment without Fluff Miester and angry tears burned down my cheeks. I couldn’t feel anything except my heart beating hotly in my chest and I slowly put my hand over his body the way I used to when I was protecting him. Fluff Miester didn’t need it now but I did.
Minutes later I found myself peering at my fish sticks that looked hard and inedible and my Mac and cheese that had been sitting too long and turned to rubber on my plate. Everyone had finished eating and had left the table. I didn’t want to eat or do anything except be with Fluff Miester and when I looked up I could see my dad through the front door. His silhouette spearing the ground with a shovel and I knew I would never see my best friend again. The fork slowly rose and I felt myself pushing the plastic noodle into its points. The noodle was bland in my mouth but I figured that’s just the way it was. I ate every bite off my plate before peering out the window.