Robby was the biggest kid in school, He was thirteen but was 5 ft 8 and weighed 200 pounds. Very little of that was fat. Robby was also a bully and most of the other kids at school were terrified of him and went out of their way to avoid being in his field of vision. His size had much of the faculty nervous about him as well and so it wasn’t often that he was called to task for his actions. The school cook, however, held no such reservations about Robby and would lean his 6 ft 5 280 pound frame over Robby and read him the riot act for any dining hall infractions. Mostly, Mr. Robineaux was cheerful and always had something funny to say, and if he saw that any of us was unhappy he’d try to cheer us up. He was a good guy but didn’t take crap from us kids. On one particular day Robby commented that the creamed spinach that the chef had cooked up as part of our hot lunch looked and smelled like puked up cow cud loud enough for the chef to hear it. Mr Robineaux walked over to the steam table and removed the container of creamed spinach and unceremoniously dumped it on Robby’s head. The dining hall erupted into raucous laughter at Robby’s expense, after all, how often did you get to see the object of your nightmares so completely humiliated? Robby made a few sputtering noises, pulled his shoulders back and stood erect, and with as much dignity as he could muster, strode out of the dining hall to go shower and change.
That afternoon, as my friend Marty and I were walking down by the waterfall at the mill pond, we heard our names called. Well, not our actual names, but the names that Robby called us. I was Horse Butt and Marty was Fish Face. Only Robby called us those names and he had nicknames for literally everyone at school, students and faculty alike. “Get over here.” he demanded. We reluctantly walked over to him. “That Frog Ass Robineaux thinks he’s so hot stuff. Well, I’m gonna show him he ain’t nothin’”. Mr. Robineaux had a rag doll cat named Florence. He adored the cat and spoiled it. The cat had a wonderful temperament and would happily sit on any welcoming lap and purr contentedly while being petted The cat was patches of white, gray and black and had bright steel blue eyes that gave it a look of overwhelming intelligence. The cat was, though, apparently dumber than a box of rocks. Everyone had seen it standing and pawing at the french doors of the dining hall, wanting to go out. This wouldn’t seem retarded except that the other door of the pair would be wide open. Someone would have to actually open the second door before the cat would happily trot on out. Things like this only endeared the cat to its owner, but the school body at large.
Robby thrust a sack at Marty and told us that he wanted the two of us to go find Florence and bring her to him in the sack. Marty and I looked at each other and then back at Robby, knowing it did not bode well. “Well?” snarled Robby, “don’t just stand there like a couple of lawn jockeys, get your asses moving and bring me that damn cat!” Marty and I took off, slowing our pace as soon as we got out of Robby’s sight.
“What do you think he wants the cat for?” asked Marty.
“Nothin’ good, I’m sure.” I replied. We put our heads together and decided to go down to the barn and volunteer to do some chores. The work wasn’t usually too hard, maybe groom the horses or put out hay for the horses and cows. We could tell Robby that we got roped into working and so we couldn’t get the cat. Hopefully that would keep us from taking a beating for our insubordination. Marty and I made our way to the barn and fifteen minutes later found ourselves sterilizing the milking machine systems. Using steam wands we spent the next two hours making sure there were no contamination worries in the dairy. When we were done, we decided to go back to the mill pond waterfall to antagonize the leeches and bloodsuckers that lived in the water. No one swam in the mill pond. Swimming was done in Island pond, otherwise known as ‘the lake.’ This was because it took less than a minute of immersion in the mill pond to garner at least three or four bloodsuckers. The lake had leeches as well, but not in the droves of the mill pond. One could spend a couple hours playing in the lake and come away unsucked. We made up a vial of blood from the slaughterhouse where a dozen chickens had met their destiny and headed down to the water. We would drip a droplet of blood in the pond and watch as the suckers would flock from everywhere, writhing excitedly only to be frustrated by a lack of a host. When a thick mass of the disgusting creatures would collect, we would squat on the shore and stare at the evil and alien looking things and then go drip another drop of blood a few feet away and repeat the process.
As we sat there watching the suckers, we heard the sound of activity on the nearby woods. We wondered who was there and thought to go see what was up and perhaps join in if it looked like fun. Then we heard a thud and a keening sort of rowling noise. Where we’d been walking at a normal pace, we slowed down and became more cautious in our approach. A good thing too, as we saw Robby looking like he was dancing or something. Every now and again we’d hear the keening again and as we got closer, we saw that Robby had gotten the chef’s cat, Florence, without us. The cat was tied to a tree by a back leg and Robby was hopping around and kicking the cat. Florence would try to run away, only to be stopped short by the clothesline Robby had used to tie the cat to the tree. It was obvious the cat was hurt, it had blood coming out of its nose and it tried to walk on three legs. The one tied to the tree appeared broken.
We were terrified of Robby, but both Marty and I yelled at him to stop and ran towards him. Robby looked startled and immediately said he wasn’t doing anything bad, that he’d found the cat and was trying to let it go but it wouldn’t let him come near. “We saw you, Robby. We saw you kicking the cat. It’s hurt Robby. The cat needs help.” I said. Robby took long strides up to me and grabbed me by the shirt.
“I didn’t do this and that’s what you’re gonna tell everybody. If you don’t I’m gonna beat you to a bloody pulp.” Marty ran over to the cat and quickly untied it from the tree. He scooped the cat up, the rope still tied to its leg and ran up to the clusters of school buildings. Robby saw him and let go of me to give chase but I grabbed his arm. He spun around and clouted me on the side of the head hard enough I saw white spots and fell down. Robby chased after Marty, but Marty was pretty fast, and definitely faster than Robby. I stood up and stumbling a bit, followed them up to the school. it took me about ten minutes to get up there. I came around from behind the Main House and saw Mr. Robineaux sitting on the ground and hugging his cat while he rocked back and forth. Mr. Berends, our craft teacher and a very solid and muscled man had hold of Robby. Marty was still telling what we’d seen and I added my two cents, pointing out that Robby had tried to get us to catch the cat and bring it to him earlier. Mr. Berends looked at me and then told Marty to go get the Headmaster and the nurse. I thought the nurse was for the cat, but it was me Mr. Berends wanted the nurse for. The side of my head and cheek were swollen and discoloring, and I had a little blood dribbled from my nose. I knew I felt kind of funny, but didn’t realize I was so bruised. When I got a look at myself in a mirror later, I was shocked how big a bruise Robby had given me.
Mr. Robineaux drove his cat to a veterinarian in nearby Jaffrey. The cat was hurt badly and had a broken leg, broken ribs and internal injuries. It had to stay at the vet’s clinic for two weeks, Mr. Robineaux told us later. The very next day Robby’s parents came to the school. They went into the Main House where the offices were and where the headmaster lived. They were in there for about a half hour and then they came out and went to Robby’s room. It took them no time to pack up his stuff and leave. We thought he’d been expelled, but later on one of the teachers let on that Robby’s parents had taken him to an institution for treatment because he was violent and didn’t ever feel badly about who or what he hurt. Florence came back after the two weeks and Mr. Robineaux made a little bed for the cat and kept it near him in the kitchen. The cat spent a lot of time sleeping, both during the day and at night when Mr Robineaux would carry Florence down to the trailer he lived in behind the Main House. Florence died a week after she’d come back to the school. She was hurt inside too badly. Mr Robineaux buried her in the woods, marking her grave with a cross he’d wood burned her name into.
After that, Mr. Robineaux wasn’t the cheerful man he was before. He didn’t get mean or anything, he just turned quiet and taciturn. His food was still great, but his steps were heavy and slow and he rarely smiled. About six weeks after Florence passed away, one of the girls who went to the school did something really cool. She had her father hunt up a special present and bring it to the school. She told everyone what she’d done and every one of us thought she’d been brilliant. At dinnertime we all filed into the dining hall and she asked Mr. Robineaux to come out of the kitchen. He did and she handed him an open box lined with bring red cloth. In the box was a Maine Coon kitten. Mr. Robineaux picked up the kitten from the box and held it to his chest and took a hitching breath. “Thank you.” he said. “Thank you so very much. I’ve missed my little Florence but I know she is at peace.”
“What will you call it?” asked the girl who’d fetched the cat for the chef.
Mr. Robineaux turned the cat onto its back and spread its back legs. “A boy!” he said. “I think I will call him Thomas.” Tom cat. It made perfect sense to us all and we applauded and took turns giving the kitten a pet and patting Mr. Robineaux on his arm. Thomas grew and became a part of things in a similar way that Florence had. But the event was never erased from our minds, especially, I think, for Marty and me. I remember how frightened the little cat was, its nose bloodied and it trying to get away from the monster who was torturing her. I also remember the look of deep sadness in Mr. Robineaux’s face as he held his harmless and gentle cat, rocking it. I also recall that the chef never really regained his happy nature and know that when Florence passed, something inside him died as well.
I hope there’s a special hell for people like Robby. I don’t care if he was sick or incapable of understanding his actions and their effects.