Eat, Prey, Love
Kitty is bringing her prey back every night now.
I look down at the mangled rodent by my foot, nudging it with the tip of my moccasin. It’s definitely dead. Its innards trail along the doormat like the strings of spaghetti clogging the plug hole.
Kitty licks herself censoriously on the kitchen windowsill, bored now that her prey is dead.
I pull the dustpan and brush from the cupboard under the sink. It used to bother me, all these tiny deaths. Now I sweep them away like everything else.
When we first moved into the flat, I’d thought Rob would deal with the cat’s gifts. But the first time we discovered a tiny dead vole on the living room rug, he’d let out such a scream, I’d had to stifle a bubble of laughter from escaping.
I creep down the stairwell and deposit the mouse into the dustbin, wedging my foot into the corner of the door to stop it locking. That happened once, meaning I’d had to be let back in by Creepy Roger from the floor above.
Roger had stared at me a second too long in my towelling robe, spittle gathering at the corner of his lips. He resembled the stuffed carp that hung in a frame above the bar at the Crown.
Since Rob moved out, I’d felt him pausing outside the door on his way down stairs. Could hear him breathing on the other side, his heavy boots clumping to a stop. Peeking through the peep-hole, I saw his dandruff-flecked hair sticking out from his head.
I make it back to the flat unscathed, give Kitty a glare which she ignores. I’ve left the bread in the toaster and a thin stream of smoke rises from it. I unplug it before it sets off the smoke alarm. I don’t need Roger rushing down and offering me a fireman’s lift.
I pour coffee from the jug and carry my mug across to the corner desk by the tiny window. I have to get my thesis finished this week; my professor’s breathing down my neck. Marie says he allows extra time for female students who give him a blow job, under his desk, after hours. I said I’d rather fail, she shrugged. Marie shrugs a lot. She’s a daughter of divorce.
I determine not to check on social media, to just crack on with the work. My ‘phone pings. Facebook status update. It’s him. Rob. He has a new ‘photo, apparently. I know clicking on it is a bad idea.
I click on it. It’s a picture of him and his new squeeze on a beach somewhere. I enlarge it on the screen. I trail my eyes down her emerald green bikini top, the dip between her breasts. I glance down at my own inside my robe; press them together with my hands, look back at the screen to see who has the best. Let go and they fall away from one another, defeated.
Kitty comes to perch beside me on the desk. I reach up and stroke her, without taking my eyes from the screen. Lose my hand in her deep carpet of fur. She purrs. If only it was this easy to please everyone.
Rob looks out at me from the screen, suntanned, specks of sand littering his shoulders and torso. He‘s holding his girlfriend across his body. She’s laughing, her long hair streaking her face. I reach up and rub a hand through my short crop. I can see her fillings.
I sigh and close down the ‘photo. Open the document with my thesis in. Begin adding words to it.
I’m making pasta for a late dinner when Kitty jumps through the flap and drops a parcel at my feet. It’s a squirrel, I can see from the bush hanging off what’s left of its body. It’s a small one, but still a squirrel. She’s getting more adventurous. I look at my pasta, consider eating first. Change my mind and grab the dustpan out of the cupboard and sweep it up.
On my way back from the dustbin, I collide with Roger going out. I see him scan me. I’m still wearing my robe from this morning.
Just taking a shower, I say, by way of unnecessary explanation.
I walk back up the three steps to my flat and clang the door behind me. I sit on the sofa, channel surfing, eating pasta. Marie texts, do I want to go out? I ignore it. I fall asleep where I am, the TV talking to itself through the night.
This morning: a rat. Fat, almost unblemished. A clean kill. Kitty prowls around it this time, proud, looking for praise. Although I know I should be grossed out, something about the way she exhibits her kill thrills me. Her slender white body twirls around it. She’s not going to want me to take it, I can tell. I decide to make coffee first. I’ll let her have her pride a while longer.
I take my coffee into the bathroom and turn on the shower. It’s three days since I showered, I realise. I stand under the water, feel the pounding of it on the top of my head. Hear the doorbell. Swearing under my breath, I wrap myself in a towel that’s too small and my hips push out the sides.
I look through the peep-hole and see Marie standing on the doorstep, Crispy Donut bag in hand. I pull it open and she takes a look at me, dripping there on the laminated flooring.
Breakfast, she says, in her deadbeat voice, full of the night before. She screams as she almost treads on the rat, and Kitty jumps onto the windowsill, offended.
Oh, I was going to move that after my shower, I say.
Jesus fucking Christ, Lara. It’s a fucking rat, she says, like I’m unaware.
Yeah, I know. It’s ok, it’s dead.
She looks back at me like I just farted at her wedding.
Let me just put some clothes on, and I’ll take it out, I say, going into the bedroom and throwing my robe back on.
When I come back, she’s made two fresh coffees and is sat, cross-legged on the couch eating a sugary donut. She licks jam from her fingers.
I sit across from her and pick an iced donut from the bag.
So what you do last night? She says, between mouthfuls. I shrug.
I texted you to come out.
I know, I was busy, thesis…I trail off, waving my hands around my head.
You need to get out more, Lara, she says, plucking a second donut from the bag. Donuts are Marie’s staples. Coffee, donuts, cigarettes, sex.
She can’t live without any of them.
Rob’s got a girlfriend, I say.
She stops eating for a second. Fuck, Lara. You knew he had a girlfriend, that’s why he left.
Yeah, but I saw a picture of her. It looks like they went on holiday. Looks somewhere hot, I say, looking toward the small window that’s letting in a hint of grey.
You gotta move on, babe, she says. Get yourself laid. Get high. Do fucking something rather than sitting here in that minging robe every goddamn day.
I shove the half-eaten donut back into the bag and drink my coffee.
Tonight: a bird. This one’s still moving when she brings it in, one wing broken, the other flapping too fast. It’s on the floor, and it’s making itself spin slowly round as the one wing propels it. Kitty watches it, her head on one side, fascinated. Like she had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
I don’t like it when they’re still alive. It makes me feel responsible. I know you’re supposed to whack it, finish it off, put it out of its misery. It obviously can’t survive, can’t fly with one wing.
I deliberate what to do. I promised to meet Marie down the Crown in five minutes, and I think maybe I’ll leave it until I get back. It will definitely be dead by then, so I won’t have to worry about it. The bird’s movements are getting slower. Kitty loses interest and begins cleaning herself, licking her paw and rubbing it around her whiskers. There’s a trace of blood on one of them.
Marie is already there when I arrive. She hugs me briefly. She smells of her usual perfume and old smoke. I like the smell, it’s familiar.
I got you a beer, she says, for starters. She winks, which makes me laugh. I stop laughing when I smell aftershave behind me. I turn round to see Roger’s face. He’s cut himself shaving and has a bright red mark under his nose.
Hello, Lara, he says quietly. Nice to see you out and about, and dressed.
He puts an emphasis on the ‘dressed’ making me want to punch him. Marie starts laughing, inanely, making me want to punch her even more.
Can I get you both a drink? He says.
I shake my head but Marie says Why not? Mine’s a vodka orange, she smiles at him, her lopsided mouth smirking. She sees me glaring, says, and Lara will have the same.
He smiles and walks off toward the bar. What the fuck? I say, but she just laughs. Relax, Lara, you could do a lot worse.
Creepy Roger? I say, do I look that desperate?
Frankly, yes, she says, eyeing me up and down. I look down at myself. I’ve got dressed at least. I’ve put on some clean-ish leggings, a long t-shirt.
Look Lara, you need someone to break the fast, honey, she says.
I don’t answer as Roger comes back with the drinks. He sits down to join us and starts eating a packet of crisps noisily. I sip at the vodka and let it warm me, trying not to make eye contact.
It’s after midnight when I enter the flat. Roger is holding me up and I’m rambling on about something on his shoulder. I think I might have been telling him about the picture of Rob, because he’s saying something about moving on, glad I got rid of the guy.
I don’t invite him in but he follows me anyway. Says he’ll put some coffee on. He flicks the light switch. I see his eyes staring at the floor. The bird, now very dead, lies still, its one remaining wing flayed outwards. Its black eye still stares. Roger looks at me.
I was going to get rid of it when I came home. It was still flapping when I left…I…couldn’t bring myself to kill it.
He nods, grabs some kitchen towel, bends down carefully and folds it into it like wrapping up a sandwich. He tucks the ends of the towel in and holds it in the palm of his hand. It looks like an offering.
I look up at him. He isn’t grossed out.
She brings them in all the time, that’s why I’m always going out to the bin, in the mornings, I say. He just nods. I know they should gross me out, but there’s something about them. I dunno, it’s like she’s bringing me a gift every day, you know?
Roger doesn’t say anything, but holds out his other hand to me. I look at it hanging there like an imposter. But I take it anyway. Follow me, he says.
We leave my flat and walk up the stone stairs to the next landing. We stop outside his door and he lets go of my hand and fumbles in his pocket for his key. He pushes the door open with his shoulder and lets me inside first.
The flat is warm and cosy, there are lamps on. Roger lets the door close behind him with a clunk and walks ahead of me down the hallway still holding the dead bird mummified in the kitchen towel. He opens a door into a bedroom, inclines his head for me to come in.
I walk into the room and look around me. There’s a long table in the centre with various tools laid out neatly in a row, gleaming silver. An apron hangs from the back of the door. It has tiny red splashes on it. I walk further into the room and see small glass boxes lining the back wall.
As I approach, I see creatures inside the boxes, mounted onto tiny plinths. A vole, a mouse, a rat. On the table, a squirrel lies partially covered with an old tea towel.
I turn to look at Roger, who is still standing behind me, his hand holding the bird outwards, waiting for some kind of sign. The curtain is open letting in a slice of moon like a Cheshire cat smile.
Bio: Kate Jones is a freelance writer based in the UK with flash and short fiction appearing in various online literary magazines, including The Nottingham Review, SickLit, Spelk and The Open Pen, as well as winning the Flash 500 quarterly competition. She also publishes creative non-fiction and essays, including regularly writing for The Short Story.
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