I’d never seen one before but I knew what it was right away. The contraption laying at my feet underneath my dad’s old Sears picnic table was an animal trap. It sat in a heap, the chain and the two toothsome jaws, rusty with dead leaves and dried grass blown from the old power mower he used on his little backyard.
“John,” I said to my brother who was sitting on the other side of the picnic table, “what was Dad doing with an animal trap?” I pointed under the table.
“Oh, I don’t know. Probably trapping some animals.” He didn’t seem to think it was the least bit incongruous for my piano-playing, dime store-owning, bird-loving, rose-raising father to have an animal trap sitting out in his backyard.
Inexplicably, especially looking back, I let the matter drop. My brother, nine years older than me and often more like a parent than a sibling, had moved on to other subjects having to do with parceling out my dad’s belongings and getting his house sold. My dad had died a week before in his favorite chair watching CNN. That morning, he’d played a round of golf. He didn’t suffer. He just died, apparently without straightening up or at least putting the animal traps away.
A few things drove my father crazy. One was the constant thrumming he heard coming from the community center about a quarter mile away. He griped about this sound on every visit. “Don’t you hear it, Janice?” No one heard it but him. Not me, not his neighbors, just him. He was undeterred. The noise was there, he was a taxpayer, they needed to get rid of it. Goddamnit.
The other constantly irksome thing was the neighbor’s cats. “The damn cats are killing my birds,” he told me, pointing out that his bird feeders were full of finches and cardinals. “I’ve asked the guy next door to keep his cats inside but they keep turning up in the yard.” I shrugged it off. More old man complaints.
Just to make conversation, I’d always ask him about the neighbor’s cats when I came to visit. A few months before I’d asked him for an update and he told me that ‘he had taken care of’ the cat problem.
“Oh really? How?
“I put them in a pillowcase and drove them out to the country and let them go.”
“What? You can’t take somebody’s cats, Dad. You really did that?”
“I warned him. If he didn’t keep those cats inside, I was going to have to do something. So I did. I took them out in the country. We’re fine now unless he gets more cats.”
I’m not sure. I have no way of knowing since the person who could explain is now deceased. But I think it’s a safe bet.
The neighbor got more cats.