He and a coworker clocked in at the kitten-stabbing factory. They worked first shift at Katkill, so they had to be up bright and early to get to work at six o’clock on the dot. He’d worked at Katkill for years. His hands were rugged but surprisingly unstained. Of course, he’d just gotten to work. They took their places at the assembly line, grasped their tools of choice. His co-worker was skilled with the miter saw, but he’d done his apprenticeship long enough ago that he still favored the bread knife. Normally they would exchange some ritual pleasantries, ask about each other’s wives and children, comment on the weather.
But this day was different.
He started at the bell, as soon as the the conveyor belt began to move. He and his coworker moved as one with the machine. Down, up, wipe blade. Down, up, wipe blade. Normally this would be his habit until his lunch. Bologna and white bread. Thermos of milk. Then back to work. Down, up, wipe blade. Down, up, wipe blade. Ten hours a day, six days a week. Sunday was the Lord’s day. Then back to work. Down, up, wipe blade.
Who could tell what was different on this day? Had the winds of the spheres spoken to his better angels? Was it a product of some unknown biological process? Had he slept for one minute too many, or one too few? No one could say. But at precisely 8:17 that morning, he laid down his bread knife and just stared at the conveyor belt, his hands awash in blood.
For a time, no one noticed. But soon, his coworker spoke.
“Friend,” he said. “Friend, you’ve laid down your knife.”
“Yes I have,” said the man. “I have set down my knife.”
“Why have you set down your knife?” asked the coworker.
“I do not wish to stab kittens anymore,” said the man.
For a moment, his coworker was dumbfounded. “You cannot just stop stabbing kittens,” he said.
The man shook his head. “I do not wish to any longer.”
“But– but this is an honest job!” exclaimed his coworker, hushing himself for fear of alerting the foreman. “You have a wife and children. You must keep stabbing kittens.”
“But friend,” said the man, “I do not wish to stab kittens any longer.”
Now his coworker became enraged. He picked up the bread knife and offered it to the man, handle-first. “Take the knife!” he said. “Take it!”
“I do not wish to stab kittens any longer.”
The knife clanged on the ground. The coworker slapped the man. “Get back to work, you lazy piece of shit!” he said. “Do not attract the attention of the foreman!”
But it was too late. The foreman had noticed that productivity on Line Six had dropped to almost nothing. He stormed over, as was his manner. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked the man.
“I do not wish to stab kittens any longer,” said the man.
The foreman had no response. Simply not stabbing the kittens? That was a foreign concept to him. No one spoke, until the coworker stepped in.
“Today, he means. He does not wish to stab kittens any longer today. He is feeling ill. This will surely pass, and we will be productive again tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow is the Lord’s day,” said the foreman.
“Monday,” said the coworker. “We will be productive Monday.”
The foreman considered the idea, then agreed. “Yes, it is clear you are not feeling well today. Leave, and come back when you feel like putting in a full shift. I will take over your place here on the assembly line, stabbing the kittens with the bread knife as they pass by. Be thankful! Were I not a kind man, you would no longer have a job stabbing kittens at all!”
The man breathed a sign. “Yes, clearly I am feeling ill,” he said. “I will rest today, tomorrow I will pray, and on Monday I will return to the factory and stab kittens. I will not let you down.”
He left the factory floor and walked to the door. Behind him, ten thousand kittens screamed.
PAUL LAFARGUE enjoys lazy Sundays sleeping in and snuggling with his own kitten, Laura. He currently resides in Paris, France, where he currently focuses on his writing.