Saturday, 19 January 2013

An Empty Space on the Bookshelf


“Why did you kill my cat?”

Edward had indeed killed Lucy’s cat. He’d done it with a copy of Ulysses.

He hadn’t meant to. He’d come home and found his girlfriend gone. A note had explained that she wasn’t sure how she felt about him but she wanted him to leave. The note had ended with a hopeful “for now” that implied a chance of reconciliation. Edward didn’t see how that was going to work if he wasn’t there. And that had made him angry.

He’d gone to look for the things that were his. The things he would not allow her to hold on to. He marched over to the bookshelf. He was sure the good books were his; she didn’t have any good ones. She wasn’t a reader. Scanning through the paperbacks he’d seen James Joyce’s Ulysses. They had found it in an Oxfam bookshop and had pooled their change to buy it. Lucy had never read it and he had only studied it. It had seemed like a good idea but he didn’t remember either of them picking it up once it was theirs. He picked it carefully, stroking the weathered spine. The price had been scrawled in pencil in the inside cover.

He’d thrown it across the room.  She would see it, splayed open on the carpet, and see how angry he was. But he hadn’t expected the snap he heard. Their cat, Isaac, lay on the floor. Splayed. The people at Battersea were right. They should have really thought very carefully about it.

Isaac twitched and gave a painful wheeze. Claws retracted and extended. As Edward stood, stunned, the poor tabby cat shuddered and finally froze. Edward stood, frozen by the bookcase, looking at the dead animal in front of him.

What does one do with a dead animal? It was an accident, it wasn’t murder. Manslaughter, catslaughter. Edward’s mind was racing. Should he carve it into pieces, dispose of it in different sites? That was ridiculous and worse than killing it. Could he put it in a black bag with the rest of the rubbish? That seemed cruel, he had liked that cat. There were times when they hadn’t got on but Isaac had generally been good company and deserved better than a cheap bin-liner. Finally, Edward did the only thing he could do. He left the cat on the floor and a note on the table.

“Very sorry but the cat is dead. I didn’t mean to.” He paused, lifting the biro clear from the post-it note to try and think of something good before writing “Very sorry” a second time. Then he left.

The bus ride home seemed to take forever. He worried that he would bump into Lucy or one of her friends, despite going in the opposite direction. He needn’t have worried. He got safely into his flat without having to talk to anyone. As he turned on the lights he thought about how lucky he was that he had kept onto the flat despite spending most of his time at her place. Then he remembered that it was Lucy who said it was a good idea to hold onto it, just in case. Had she planned this? How long had she been planning it for?

As he let his anger build, slowly swallowing the Isaac guilt, his mobile rang. Lucy. The anger fell away and was replaced by the dead weight of guilt. He stared at his phone for a moment, at the name on the screen, and went into the kitchen where the he knew the signal wouldn’t drop. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything, but Lucy spoke first.

“Why did you kill my cat?”

Edward wanted to explain, to tell her how ridiculous the whole thing was. He desperately felt that this was something that should not have happened. It was like knocking a mug of tea over on someone’s book, it was a simple mistake. Maybe a laptop was a better comparison, more expensive, less easily replaced. But he knew how it looked. It had taken on significance now.

Not just the fact that he done something awful. There was another concern. Edward wondered if she had taken it as a message. If he said the wrong thing it could certainly be construed as a message. Dump me and I’ll kill your cat. You think we should take some time off? I’ll kill your cat. That was not something that should be put around. Edward would never do anything like that. He did not deserve that kind of a reputation. It had been an accident, he was sure of it.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Edward fidgeted with the tied end of a pack of bread, tugging at the plastic. Finally she spoke.

“What happened?”

He told her the truth. He told her about finding the note, about going to the bookshelf, and about how Joyce’s magnum opus had snapped the neck of poor Isaac. He could hear her breathing as he babbled but she didn’t interject. When he stopped he could hear her clearing her throat.

“So it was an accident?”

“Of course!” he said. It had been a terrible accident but an accident nevertheless. She needed to know that, to understand it.

“You know, it’s weird,” she said. “I saw the empty space on the bookshelf first. Then I saw the book. I thought you’d decided to trash the place and I was getting really angry. I thought about how much of a dick you could be.” He heard her sniff. Was she crying? “And then I saw Isaac, how he’d curled up and he just looked all wrong and I thought…”

She was crying now. Edward felt like he should say something. Was it appropriate to console her? He was the perpetrator after all. Perpetrators apologise, they don’t console. But she was crying and old instincts overruled common sense.

“Hey, it’s OK,” he said in what he hoped was a soothing tone. The crying stopped with a kind of choking sound.

“It’s not OK, you fucking dick. You murdered my cat!” Edward realised his mistake and tried to backpedal. As he started to apologise again, Lucy interrupted. “You murdered my fucking cat and you leave a fucking note? This is exactly the kind of thing that I should expect from you, I don’t know why it came as such as a surprise. Why should I expect an easy break-up from you, one where nothing dies?”

“Well I’m sorry I’m not perfect!” shouted Edward. He knew this was the wrong approach but honestly, how much worse could he make things for himself. This was evidently a lost cause, why not try and shift as much of the blame onto her as possible? “Maybe if you were easier to talk to I wouldn’t have had to leave a note.”

“What?” screamed Lucy. “What has that got to do with the fact that you killed my cat?” Edward had a blinding flash of inspiration, the kind that only comes to those forced into a corner and the only escape is the illogical one.

“In fact, if you hadn’t left a note, I wouldn’t have lost my temper and Isaac wouldn’t be dead.” He let that final barb sit for a moment and there was a quiet on the line as Lucy attempted to digest it. Let her take that on board. All her fault after all. Maybe he wasn’t the one who should have Isaac’s death on his conscience.

“So you murdered my cat because I broke up with you,” she said flatly. Alarm bells went off in Edward’s head. She’d played the trump card. She had more friends than he did. Their mutual friends were better friends with her than they were with him. They’d take her word for it. This would be the thing he was known for. Cat-killer. Couldn’t take being dumped so he killed a cat. Everyone would know. He’d never date again.

“I didn’t…I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry. Look, Lucy, please…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. This is all…”

“Go fuck yourself, Edward.” The line went dead and Edward stared at his phone.

Well, that was it.

He’d have to move.

-----------------

Hello, there. Thanks for reading.

Something a bit different this week, not a horror thing. The excellent title came from @andylonsdale21 so thank you very much to him. It's quite a serious title and initially this was going to be played completely seriously and the phone conversation was going to be a deep and moving discussion of how their relationship went so wrong. But, when it came down to it, I tried to be funny instead. I think that once I'd written the word "catslaughter" I couldn't take it entirely seriously anymore. Seriously.

It also occurred to me when I finished that it's quite similar to the scene in Re-Animator in which Herbert West puts Dan's cat in the fridge and doesn't leave a note. "What would a note say, Dan? Cat dead, details later?" 

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it. And I would like to reassure everyone that I have never killed a cat, intentionally or otherwise. But you should watch Re-Animator.



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