My best friend is a cat. I don’t mind. At least I can understand a cat. And the cat can understand me. My name is Toby, and I am six years old. My cat friend is Mikey, and he is at least two years old (I am not sure what it is in cat years). He is my best friend.
We live in the suburbs of Lister, a small town that is about sixty miles from the big city. My family is my father, my mother and my younger sister, Diana. She is four years old. I am not sure how old my mother and father are (I always forget). Daddy works in an office in the big city and sometimes I hear him complain about all that travelling and how his boss is terrible and how it would be easier if we all just moved there (never mind the money, he always says). Mom is very different. She stays at home and takes care of my little sister while I am at school. I guess she takes care of Mikey, too, because I come home sometimes and find his bowls are full, the litter is changed, and he is sleeping in the living room. Sometimes I want to do all of these things – except the sleeping – but mom wants me to take care of my schoolwork only.
I guess I should talk a little about school. I take a bus there and it is about twenty minutes to get there with all of the people we have to pick up. I don’t really talk to the others on the bus and I have a seat all to myself in the back. I sit alone at school, too, even on the lunch break when we share the main hall and eat our packed lunches. The older kids aren’t there, but the people from my bus are always there. I think they are brought there before I get there because my seat is always ready for me. I don’t mind it.
I take classes like a regular kid. Some of them are hard to follow. I like numbers and words, but I don’t like math and reading. I just don’t see the point of them. If I can understand what they mean, why do I have to do all that other stuff? Maybe just writing them down is all I need to do for a job. Mr. Grant and Ms. Lock are good people, but they keep telling me that I should try harder to “understand these ideas”. I like the way they talk to me, like I am one of the regular kids. But I really do not understand why they do this. They already know which is my favourite class.
Now, I do sometimes watch mom in the kitchen when I am sick or it is a day off from school. Mom likes to cook, I think (I never asked her about it). And she likes it when I help out. I once saw her make a cake and got to add sugar, eggs and something called “vanilla extract” to a bowl as he had the mixer on. Later, when I tasted it – the bowl, not the mixer – I thought it was better than the cake that we made (pineapple upside-down cake). Mom said that was silly and that I should not eat too much of the “batter”. I still think that it tastes great!
So, my favourite class is the kitchen at the school. They keep telling me that it is not a class, but we are in there once a week, so I call it a class. We go to the home economics room – it’s really the kitchen – and Ms. Jeannette shows us how to cook. She smells like perfume and the kitchen – like my mom – and I tell her about what my mom makes and she is impressed, but then she shows us things that she can make. There are “croissants, chocolatines, beignes” (that is donuts in French, but smaller) and other things. I had to look up those words and she wrote them all down for me. She even made a soufflé once, but that took a lot of time and she started it before we got there. I thought that it would fall over, but she took it out in one smooth move and she was very happy. It tasted really good and I wondered why my mom did not make them.
When I get home, usually Mikey is there to greet me and mom is in the kitchen (I can smell the food). One day, I come home and something feels really wrong. My dad’s car is in the driveway when I step off the bus. That is wrong. That is very wrong. Dad does not come home for at least an hour after I get back. Mom is rocking Diana in the crib and she tells me that I should go to the room when I walk in. What really bothers me is that I don’t see Mikey and I ask and mom says that he must have gone outside. I look outside and she tells me to go to my room. I don’t see anything from the window.
I hear everything. I hear how daddy is really angry about his work and how they are “restructuring” (another word I found). Mom seems more scared than angry about things as they get loud and loud and loud. Diana begins to cry and they both stop and I hear them talking to the baby. Mikey makes an appearance outside and I run downstairs to open the door and mom and dad see me and yell at me to go to my room and I still open the front door and dad goes after me and slams the door and Mikey is hurt, hurt, hurt and I don’t want to see him ever again. I want mommy and daddy to stop yelling that loud.
It is quiet later that day. It is also Friday. It is going to be a good day with the home economics room and the gym. I have everything ready and I notice that no one else is up right now. I look outside and the leaves are brown, red and yellow and I can feel it is getting colder and I want to stay in bed and say nothing but I get up, wash my face and comb my hair. I go to the mirror in my room and try to wear something nice.
There is something else that I have to do.
They told me to write all this down. Mr. Grant is a vice principal and sometimes comes to class to talk to me. Ms. Lock is the principal and sometimes I talk to her in her office alone. I like them more than the other teachers now. They understand that Mikey was very important.
The very next day, after my parents were so loud, I woke up very early. I was sure not to make any noise as I walked downstairs and looked for Mikey. Mikey was nowhere in the house. I even looked in the basement (it is still too dark, even with the lights). Mikey…
He was gone.
I was not angry when I went into the kitchen. My parents were still in bed and I knew that the school bus would not be there for a while. I could do something for them before I left that would fix things for them.
I could make breakfast.
I never did it before, but I had the home economics class. Ms. Jeannette was always patient with us and showed up how to measure the food, how to put the bowls and other things away, how to get the place clean. How to turn on the stove.
This was the top of the stove, not the inside. I never did that. I would not do that by myself. I only touched the part with the “burners”. That is what Ms. Jeannette called them. Burners. Mom called them “elements”, but I thought that Ms. Jeannette was right. It was hot, so burner was a better word.
I was very confused.
I put the frying pan on a burner, turned the little dial up to 7 to make it hot and then looked for the eggs and butter. That would be a simple thing to eat. Just fried eggs. But I did not think that it would be hot enough, so I put the dial to 8, found a bowl and then mixed the eggs together. I remembered that I needed salt and pepper for flavor. I remembered that I had to put butter into the pan, but it was so hot by then that the butter was turning brown right away and I did not want to burn the eggs so I picked it up but it was so hot. My hand burned and there was smoke when the butter touched the burner and I was just trying to keep things clean and the dishtowel was smoking so quickly and the alarm went off and I tried to wave it off with that towel and mom saw me first and screamed at me What The Hell ARE YOU DOING IN HERE? Dad was right behind her and did not say anything except turn off the stove and I got a big slap and touched the stove.
I know why it is called a burner now.
They say that I don’t look bad. Only one side of my head and I have it covered with that white stuff that the doctor changes when I go talk to him. Mom and dad are still together, and I can talk to Ms. Jeannette all the time now (we have private time to talk about how to be safe when I use the stove; she really takes her time with me). And there is something else.
Mikey Two! Mom says that I should give him a new name and remember to take care of him, but I like the name and call him that when I feed him and let him outside. And I am better with the kitchen now. Mom and dad were worried about this, but I listened to Ms. Jeannette and she called them to let me try again. And I can make omelets and spaghetti and even bread! When I cook, mom says that she is really happy (dad does not say much except he likes the bread; even Diana likes it). I just hope that they really like it. I just want them to see what I can do.