The next thing I remembered, Lu had grabbed me by the knee and was shaking me awake. “I think it’s Timmy,” she said. “I think you caught him in your trap.”
It was him. Yowling, mad as anything, the rock pinning his tail. Almost escaping. Lu lifted the rock. I clamped my hands down onto Timmy’s back, his cat spine sectioning beneath my fingers, and scooped him up. His legs batted at nothing, like the moment between jumping off a high-up rock and smacking down into the water.
We were going to get that money after all. I was bubbling up inside, my mouth a cork, my heart pounding out a chant: our money, ours, ours, ours. Timmy squirmed and growled against my chest as I carried him into the house.
Timmy’s eyes were yellow holograms in Mrs. Mallory’s kitchen when Lu shone the flashlight on him. The mouse was hanging from his face like a crazy cat-beard, its dead tail dangling. And above that, Timmy’s eyes: startled, glowing, with empty black slivers at their centers. His cat eyes, saying please oh please don’t take it from me. We let him go, and he ran off somewhere to eat the mouse.
I did a little dance right then: squatting, shaking my tail, whooping like a maniac. And then Lu laughed. That flute-laugh of hers, high up, like she had something in the back of her throat that was tickling her to death. And I laughed, too, then, from my stomach to my ears. We clutched each other, giddy.
“Told you I could catch him,” I said. “Told you so.”
I started a chant, and Lu joined in: Timmy, Timmy, Timmy cat, we caught you in our deadly trap. We kicked our legs out, hopping, dancing all over, till we both fell down in a heap, exhausted, like little kids. Though, in truth, I felt like throwing up—remembering that jelly glob beside the mouse’s smashed-up head. And now the taste of kibble on my tongue.
If you can trap a mouse with a figure-four deadfall and kill it, it’s good practice for something bigger. Something you could eat, if you had to. If you were to run away from home. I understood that right away, and Lu did too. She never held that against me, afterwards: killing the mouse by accident with that first trap. At least I don’t think she did—she never said.
There were some things we didn’t ever say about that night. How I realized, wheeling and hooting with her in the kitchen shadows, that Lu’s jeans were damp against her skin from dew; how I knew, in just that moment, that it had been Lu who earned us the money. Lu in the grass, night-watching for Timmy, while I slept; Lu rolling the smashed mouse out with a stick, maybe, to lure the cat closer, when all she wanted to do was go home, no matter what waited. Lu pinning Timmy under the rock in the dark.
But all I could think of, lying in darkness on the peeling linoleum of Mrs. Mallory’s kitchen floor, was that beautiful blue camping cooler, with room enough for two days’ worth of perishables. How it had wheels and everything.