Nameless and Blameless

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The most famous Orangemen family in Steel CIty are the McTuskets who live on Horne’s Road near the abandoned Devil’s Point Shell Refinery. Because Mr. McTusket is in the merchant marines and away at sea most of the time, his affection-starved wife has taken up cat hoarding  as a hobby, with 29 felines calling the McTusket premises home.

Mrs. McTusket has never had any of the female cats spayed or the males fixed. Instead, twice a year, her brother – a wiry bruiser we kids call Uncle Brute – takes away the “extra” kittens.

Where he takes them, no adults will say, but Billy says he puts them in a garbage bag with rocks and throws them off the bridge near his house. I find this hard to believe; Mrs. McTusket has always been known for her kindness to animals. And humans too. So I figure Billy just says this to make his family sound tougher than it really is: working class tough talk.

But when Uncle Brute shows up one Sunday to pick up a pair of fresh kittens, I stick around to see what happens.

On the TV that afternoon, there’s a boring documentary about the ethnic cleansing of the Acadians. In a way, I’m glad there’s nothing interesting on like WWF or a Bronson movie because it means less distraction from the kitten drowning we’re about to experience.

Brute arrives about three o’clock in his red pickup wearing a New England Patriots cap and oversized Moosehead tshirt. He already seems a bit drunk as he stumbles out of his vehicle, but  Mrs. McTusket nonetheless offers him a few beers for his nerves. After drinking the first one, he can barely stand up. His eyes start darting aimlessly around the room, and his speech is slurred and loud – which means we can hear every word he says from the next room.

“I’m too fucking drunk to drive, Wilma. Just bring me a friggin’ bucket,” he says to his sister Mrs. McTusket who never curses herself.

My pulse starts to accelerate so I focus on the tragedy that is unfolding on the TV. As Uncle Brute prepares the bucket… Governor Cornwallis has just brought in New England settlers to scalp the local natives  – the Mi’kmaq.

“Never mind the fucking basement! I’m taking this jeezuz bucket right into that goddamn living room so that everyone can see it with their own fucking eyes!” he shouts, a water-filled bucket in one hand and two pink kittens in the other. The kittens’ eyes are still shut while Uncle Brute’s are wide open and glaring.

Father LeLoutre has just told a crowd to burn down their farms  Then a New England Planter destroys a dike and more Acadian families drown. Then three commercials: dandruff shampoo, Toyota Camry, and Oxfam.

Brute sets the bucket down between my chair and Billy’s. We’re both in our early teens and sort of curious about things like Satanism and cruelty. But Billy’s little eight-year-old brother Herbert and his friend Peter are also sitting in front of the TV next to the bucket. They aren’t curious about cruelty at all. They’re Disney kids. Nervous little Peter hides his face behind the corner of the multicolored afghan he’s sitting on.

But there are holes in that afghan, so all of our eyes are on Uncle Brute’s hands as they submerge the tiny kittens for a few minutes. Even though the TV is still on, I can’t hear the sound anymore. I can only see Brute’s skinny tattooed arms holding the kittens underwater, and hear the silence in their tiny voices.

After about three minutes, Brute raises the lifeless blobs of pink fur up out of the water, as we all sit breathlessly waiting for the triumphal conclusion of our first live animal sacrifice. But as soon as Brute brings them out of the water, they start to cry like little babies. They continue to cry until Uncle Brute puts them back into the water, and this time, for a much longer five minutes.

On the TV at that moment… Robert Monkton has just lead a band of New Englanders up the Saint John River to kill the few remaining Acadians hiding there.

When Uncle Brute pulls the tiny furry bodies up the second time, they’re very, very dead, and we’re all relieved. In a way.

One sleepless week later, Mrs. McTusket has all her females spayed.

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