Set a large kill trap in his backyard, the kind burly men set for raccoons. The kind that has no place in a neighborhood. The trap sat, jaws open, on the freshly laid sod. Or else, among the dandelions. Or else, amidst beer cans by the alley trash, waiting for the cat to come. Salivating.
According to court documents, the cat was causing damage to the defendant’s garden and defecating in his yard.
Probably—people thought—he is a meticulous old man with a perfect garden. Anything that disordered his space felt like a severe, physical, painful aggression.
Or else, he had spent years tending a rare luna orchid that would only bloom after three years of watering it under the full moon, and the cat ate it.
Or else, the final morning he had to pick up his neighbor’s cat’s goddamn cat poop was the same morning he’d been laid off from his job and found out his wife was cheating on him and was diagnosed with cancer and had his teen daughter yell “I HATE YOU” before slamming the door in his face. Maybe.
In the video, his body is crumpling, viscera visible. The cat owner shrieks. After a few hours, Facebook tagged it as objectionable, and a gray blur screen was placed over it so that we can only see the video clearly by clicking.
The teeming, amorphous mass of us watching the video have only Facebook and news articles to go on. For everything else, our neurons make connections as neurons do, quickly lighting up, shooting signals to one another. Minds leaping from conclusion to conclusion. Assuming that probably this, or else probably that. So uncomfortable with blank spaces that a narrative seems to fill itself in.
Probably, the cat owner is not a country girl, had never seen a trap so big before in her life. Had never witnessed the death of anything bigger than a spider. Is still suffering from PTSD.
Probably, as she pounded on the door, he was crouching inside, pretending not to be home, crying silently.
Or else, his wife tried to answer the door and he yelled, “No! We don’t need a confrontation with those people. This is my land, goddamnit!”
According to the cat owner, the neighbor had never approached her about the cat, had never told her the cat was a nuisance. According to the cat owner’s sister, the trap was baited with cat food and the defendant definitely saw the whole thing. When the police arrived, he wasn’t remorseful.
Probably, he hadn’t slept with his wife in six years.
Maybe, he is also a violent drunk with rage issues.
Probably, the cat owner is a hippie with a soft heart who life-coaches, goes to church, or else believes in horoscopes. Probably, the neighbor hated her. He probably also wanted to fuck her.
Probably, he has never had much empathy for other humans and has no ability to understand why anyone would care for an animal, of all things. They don’t even really have feelings.
We post things like:
“Burn their fucking house down.”
“Jesus. May the fires of Hell rise up to swallow those who killed this innocent baby.”
“I hope this man realizes he’s a piece of trash, and I hope he feels guilt and pain for the rest of his existence and knows how truly horrible he is.”
“Some people need to be hung. Psychopath.”
“I’m at work crying.”
The cat-murderer-apologists and property-rights-evangelicals started to make themselves known. Slithering out from under dead leaves with:
“It’s too bad about the cat. But KEEP YOUR PETS INSIDE.”
“I don’t get it. Personally I’d shoot anything on my land. It was his property.”
“HORRIBLE PET MAMA WTF!!!”
“You guys have way too much time on your hands. It’s just a cat smh.”
But ultimately, apologists don’t have the passion of the self-righteous and wounded. They said their pieces and faded back into the underbrush just as quickly. The concerned citizens neatly divided themselves into several varieties: sad, shocked, angry, or aggressive. Several virtual rabble-rousers wielding figurative pitchforks asked for his address. After the story went small-scale viral, someone started a closed Justice 4 Gary Facebook group. Three hundred people joined over the course of a couple of days.
We always knew he was sick. One person’s dad knows his brother. One person’s kid went to school with his kid. We always knew he was pretty weird. But this. We don’t understand; we just can’t believe it. We clutch our own cats and weep. The footage of Gary dying burned so deep, now we are going to donate to a GoFundMe for his memory. We are going to start a petition to change laws about cats’ rights. We are going to swarm his house and deface his garage.
Probably, neighborhood cats were picketing his house, marching to and fro, waving placards that said Justice 4 Gary and yowling angrily.
The cat owner’s sister said the GoFundMe money would go toward legal fees so they could afford to punish the killer to the full extent of the law. It raised $1200 in a day. On August 23, the cat owner’s sister rallied the Justice 4 Gary troops. The neighbor was not being charged with anything. Call the humane society, the police, the county attorney, the city council, the president!
Probably, the police department’s phones were ringing off the hook.
Most likely, the police couldn’t respond to two rapes, one assault, and three thefts because of all the messages they had about Gary.
Probably, all satellites routing phone calls were overloaded and everyone simultaneously lost coverage because of all of Gary’s supporters.
The cat owner was overwhelmed by the public’s support. She changed her profile picture to a photo of Gary as a kitten, angel wings photoshopped onto his back. Many group members posted cat videos or inspirational poems with words of condolence. She replied, “Thank you!” to every single one.
Probably, hundreds came and held candles in the dusk. A soft breeze lifted the cat owner’s hair and her skirt as she read a poem over the box containing Gary’s body.
Probably, people were finding candles in the gutters/lawns/sidewalks near that tree for weeks afterward.
A few days later, the sister posted, “Thank you guys for calling the county attorney's office—THEY HEARD YOU!!!!! Apparently, they'd like it if y'all stopped calling now. lololol.”
Maybe the county attorney picked up the phone and yelled, “If this is another goddamned call about that stupid goddamned cat, I swear to God!” but it was his grandma calling about his family’s Thanksgiving plans, and she still hasn’t quite recovered from the shock.
Probably, the cat owner’s sister has always protected her little sister. Or else has always looked up to her big sister. Or else has always hated her sister.
Probably, the sister is the feisty one and loves to stir up drama but is always there when it counts.
Probably, the cat owner is annoyed that her sister is taking the most tragic moment of her life and making it “her thing.”
According to the cat owner’s sister, in the alleged perpetrator’s statement, he knew the trap was a kill trap, knew that Gary was likely to get trapped, and was pissed at the cat owner for a variety of unrelated reasons.
Probably, the cat owner mows the lawn at midnight and has loud parties and never invites him.
Or else, she has a bonfire every night and didn’t give a crap when he told her he has severe asthma and can’t breathe with all the smoke coming in his windows.
Probably, one time she parked a large U-Haul in the alley for just a quick sec, and it boxed in his car when he needed to drive his pregnant wife to the hospital.
Maybe, she once took a literal shit on his lawn while flicking him off.
Probably, he backed slowly away as the judge stated these conditions, mentally running through a list of the 137 new, old, shining, and rusty traps in his garage, three of which were already set and waiting in his lawn at that very moment.
Apparently, the cat owner’s sister had gotten sick of the whole thing and had given up posting. Probably, she found something else to be indignant about, like a minor celebrity’s racist tweet from eleven years ago or Comcast customer service or that her coworkers made fun of her allergy to gluten.
Probably, he wept in his car for fifteen minutes outside the courthouse and wiped his eyes roughly with the back of his hand, and when he walked into the courthouse, his eyes were shining, but he cracked jokes with every person who spoke to him because that’s what he does when he’s nervous, and his wife can attest to this because she remembers their first date.
Or else, he still didn’t think he’d done anything wrong, and he smoothed his collar, took a pull from his cigar, and whispered, “Let’s get this over with, shall we?” with a rakish smile.
The alleged perpetrator was hoping for a misdemeanor or disorderly conduct charge. The cat owner said she’s still seeking a felony and posted on Facebook, “I said, charge him with something substantial. Otherwise the Justice 4 Gary crew will keep blowing up their phone lines!”
Probably, the Justice 4 Gary crew had their phones out, eyes fixed on the enemy line, steam coming separately out of each of their nostrils, fingers poised over the call button, the reflection of a thousand dead Garys shining in their pupils.
But the cat owner still mows her lawn and waters her pot of begonias on the front porch and drags her trash to the alley. She looks at that special tree, knowing that Gary is buried beneath.
On some days when she looks out the window toward the house next door, she sees her neighbor moving around inside. She sees the bony back of his skull. He’s turned slightly, so she can just see the curve of his cheek, the fat of his jowl, the hard shoulders, the backs of his wide upper arms. He tilts his head toward his wife who is saying something to him from the other room, and then walks deeper into the interior of the house.
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH