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Skinning the Cat

Published by Liars' League DOOM AND GLOOM (October 2023) 

Read by Silas Hawkins 

I’m sorry I'm late, but skinning the cat took longer than I had expected. People always say that there is more than one way to skin a cat, but it's a lie. There is only one way to skin a cat: a progressive lifting and separating motion, like peeling a ripe avocado with a spoon. 

I honestly should have known better. It's not the first time I've done it. I spent my whole Anatomy course stooped over a formaldehyde-soaked cat carcass wrapped up in a garbage bag for safe keeping. I still remember my astonishment looking down into the body when I remembered that this moist bunch of deflated balloons was once coughing up hairballs. I also remember that if you pulled on a tendon with the surgical equivalent of a crochet hook you could make the paw twitch. Memories.

 

That is why I'm glad that we had you cremated before you were buried. I felt more comfortable knowing that you would never be pumped up with Cold War grade preservatives like Mao Zedong (for the record he looks remarkable considering he’s been on display since the 1970s), or one of those plastic BodyWorlds exhibits where they would hack you to bits just to position the veins of your hand around an hourglass. 

Honestly I didn't put anything past your sister. She’s always been a bit esoteric. She went on this rant before the funeral on the importance of donating your body, at least some part of it, so you could do one last good deed for humanity. As if humanity would have said thank you or given you a Get into Heaven Free Card if you gifted a kidney. I told her if she didn't shut up her body would be available for medical students to practice on in about five minutes. 

Unfortunately it didn't stop your sister from talking to me. She keeps trying to loop me into her pyramid scheme selling overpriced cranberry juice spiked with laxatives to purge my colon. 

What I am trying to say is that your sister seems to be going through one of those phases where she is willing to try anything once in an attempt to give her own life meaning, even if that means grave-robbing a few vital organs. 

I know if you were here you would laugh and say that I'm overreacting. I miss you telling me that.

Look, I brought you some LED candles. You'll have the brightest stone in the graveyard. These are waterproof and come in their own clear plastic box for extra protection. The real candles kept blowing out and I know how much you hate the dark, so I hope this helps. The guy at the shop promised me they would work all winter long. At least I can get a refund if they don't last through Christmas. 

Before I go there is something we need to talk about. I'm not sure how to say it, but I can't come tomorrow. You know I try to come every day and I have so far only missed that one day when I was in the hospital for my broken leg. 

It's just that tomorrow is All Souls Day, as I'm sure you and your ghost friends already know (I have no doubt that you continue in the afterlife to have a healthier social life than me). I'm not sure how much the holiday means to you now that you're dead. But I don't want you to be disappointed if all your friends get a visit and your husband doesn’t show up. 

I'm not ready for it. The whole town will be here lighting candles and they will just interrupt our conversation to ask me how I'm doing. I don't want to listen to everyone telling me again that they are sorry for my loss, that the first year is always the worst, that I should just take it one day at a time. The usual bereavement chit-chat that makes everyone feel miserable, but people say it anyway.

I don't want to talk about moving on. I want to be with you. Do you remember that jerk I told you about after the funeral who said I shouldn't worry, I'm still young and I'll find someone else to marry again? Like anyone else would put up with me besides you. The nerve of some people. I almost punched him but he was bigger than me so I just scowled really, really hard at him. 

Besides I can't come tomorrow because I've already got plans. Big plans. With the cat. Pickles. 

Ever since you died I suddenly started having cat troubles. I never noticed them before but all of a sudden cats seem to be following me around everywhere I go. It's not in a cute, lovable way, but in an uncomfortable, creepy way. Every time I turn around there is some fluff ball there staring at me, deciding if I'm too big to eat, sharpening its claws on a fence post. And Pickles is the worst of them all. 

It was Pickles that broke my leg in the cemetery when it started humping me like it was Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. I shook my leg so hard to try and dislodge the beast that I tripped and broke my femur on your neighbour’s grave. 

It was Pickles that bit me and scratched my face when I accidentally sat on the damn thing by your headstone.

And after Pickles came up and peed on me when we were talking yesterday I’d had enough and I grabbed it by the scruff of its neck to toss it out of graveyard, but then I had an even better idea. 

You remember Pickles. Belongs to Jim, your sister’s fiancé. Jim loves his cat, like an old cat lady. It has a silver collar. He conditions its fur (at least it felt like it had come straight from the salon while I was skinning it). He is a grown man without kids and called it Pickles for Christ’s sake. 

I haven't talked to Jim since your funeral. Partially to avoid your sister’s laxative juice, but mostly because I hated the fact that he found you and not me. Why did he get to be the almost-hero of your story and I get woken up by a call from the police? 

Jim told everyone that he just found the accident, your accident, on his way home late one night. He called the police the moment he realized that someone was in the car. He tried to help, but there was nothing he could do. 

Then I started thinking about the accident again. You were a good driver. You didn't drink. Your brakes were fine. You knew the road. The tree didn't jump in front of your car. Jim did.

He was crossing the road on the edge of town in the middle of the night wearing his dark uniform, probably drunk himself and not giving a second thought to where he was or what he was doing. And through that darkness, at the very last second, you saw a man in the road and swerved straight into a tree and died. It's the only reasonable explanation.

Jim killed you. 

 

It's not like he was trying to kill you. I know it was an accident, but that does not get him off the hook with me. You're gone. He lived here all his life. He knew how dark and dangerous that road is, but he decided to say the hell with it and took a shortcut just so he could get home a few minutes faster to take care of his stupid cat and drink some happy colon juice your sister made him buy. 

You should have hit him, told the cops you thought he was a deer. They never would have sent you to jail. Who would have missed Jim? Your sister? Pickles? 

So I decided to invite Jim over for dinner tomorrow. We can have some food, talk about sports. It's a small town, you can't avoid each other forever. He is almost family after all. 

I cooked a great stew for him. I really outdid myself this time. He will surely comment on it, tell me how delicious it is, how gamey. As a respectable guest he will surely ask about the recipe. Is it wild boar? No. Keep guessing, I'll tell him. 

And when he finally gives up I'll toss him the personalized silver collar with Pickles’s name embossed on a paw charm. 

I won't tell him that we are even. No, that would be too simple.

I'll tell him this is just the beginning.  

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