We locked him in the Room and then we watched him on our screens. He skipped across the carpet, put his nose up to the window. An airplane flew by and we imagined what he must be thinking. “Freedom?” we wrote in our notebooks. “Or: murder at 10,000ft?” He stayed there for a while then turned and saw the telephone. We had placed it with great care. He slid towards it, extended his left foot, and kicked and kicked and kicked until it fell apart. We looked at one another, nodded, smiled. “Extreme aggression,” we wrote down. “Unwarranted and unprovoked.”

We took him out to make one small adjustment. Then we put him back and watched. At first he didn't seem to notice. He slipped around the walls, tap-tapping on them with his skinny fingers. But then he marched towards the picture, eyelids flicking. We held our breaths. When he stuck out his tongue, we dropped our pens. And when he licked, up one side of the frame and down the other, we all turned to our shrink. “Impacted neurons?” said our shrink. “Malnourished? Oral fixation?”

We took him out again, made one more adjustment, put him back. This time he saw it straight away. We'd put them in the corner, the little balls of fluff. They were playing, as all kittens do. He stood quite still, his fingers beating out a rhythm on his thighs. We held our breaths. We gripped our pens and notebooks. When he began to cry, to wail and moan, sinking down onto the carpet, we turned again towards our shrink. Our shrink's mouth was hanging open. We wrote something in our notebooks, but couldn't read it later. And still he cried and wailed and moaned. We watched and watched, for twenty minutes, forty seven seconds.

        Then he stopped. He stopped as if he'd never cried at all. Then he looked straight at us. And he winked.

        We were in uproar! Our cameras were the latest, the very latest thing, made out of the wallpaper itself, how could he possibly? We dropped our pens, our notebooks, cups of coffee. We turned to our technician. Our technician wouldn't meet our eyes. He just stared at his many screens and mumbled gibberish.

We pressed firmly on the buzzer. They came into the Room and dragged him out. We mopped up our coffee; we made sure, with shaking hands, our notebooks were unstained. When he was safely gone, we went into the Room ourselves. We sat down on the carpet, looked around us, then got down on hands and knees and crawled towards the kittens. We played with the kittens for some time. To calm us down, relax us, help us to take stock. Kittens are so useful for that purpose.

Tania Hershman 2012

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Longlisted, 2012 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award

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