How to Skin a Cat

To spend a day in that kind of ragged state when any moment jagged in the slightest can snag, and start, as it pulls away, to unravel your sinews is to bank pain for a rainy day. Pain, of course, is not all bad; in fact, it’s good to swap for words or howls or touches—or other such coins with which to hide our eyes. But it turns us inside out.

We came down the hill as night came on. I was dreaming.

—!

—Oh! Just don’t look! she said.

—Why, Mum?

—You won’t want to see.

I did. Something tightened in me. The scrotum cat lay, head hidden, with a leg cocked as though to kick itself under the car. But the angle was wrong. Its innards bled down the hill.

‘You won’t want to see’? Once she’s seen it? You can’t want or not want to see it, only not want to have seen it once you’ve seen it, surely? You can’t see something till you’ve seen it.

Anyway, that’s the paradox of experience. It scares most people, so they start the second-guessing game. But that game involves tying in every loose end, until soon we are so tightly bound that almost nothing can touch us. And in this cocoon our sinews tie themselves in knots, so hard do we try to guess where the meagre thread that is our life will snag next. —It was the making of you, people say, not wrongly. But most of us never make it to butterflies.

—Oh, Mum! It’s that weird cat!

—. . . .

—Fuckin’ foul creature. It’s not right, I said.

Someone must have left it there because it freaked them out. Didn’t want to touch it. —Someone else will pick it up, they no doubt thought. Looked like a boiled bird.

—We have to tell someone, she said. —Stop, Dad!

—Aw . . .

That cat always runs across the road. It’s retarded from in-breeding. What to do?

—John!

We were pulled over.

For years, a dream has troubled me: hearing a clunk under the car, looking in the rear-view mirror, seeing a cat dragging its hind-parts to safety and, in that split second, driving on. I have always taken it to indicate some flaw in me, so characteristic that it has come to seem real—and everything else sham.

I now see that it was a rehearsal.

—Don’t touch it, I said.

—See if it has a collar.

—. . . . No, she said.

—You go home and we’ll ask in the street.

We went from house to house. —That weird cat, most people said. —Not ours. We worked our way back to the house where the car was parked.

We knocked. And knocked.

The door opened a crack. All I could see was an arm sleeved in a kind of wrinkled chamois coat. A female voice croaked —Yes?

—Um . . . we found a dead cat outside. It’s one of those hairless ones.

—Yes.

—D’you know whose it is?

—. . . . The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.

The door shut.

*

The next morning it was raining as I walked up to work. The cat was gone. The curtains were drawn in the house of the Sphinx woman. —‘Naked shall I return,’ I thought.

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