Utilitarianism

by Tom Hazuka September 15, 2006
story art

I return home for the first time as an adult. My parents greet me traditionally, Mom commenting on my long absence and worrying “that woman” isn’t feeding me enough, Dad crushing my hand lest I forget which one of us survived Guadalcanal. But an odor of arrested decay has replaced the smells of childhood. The house of my youth is decorated with death.

Stuffed creatures fill the rooms. Local varmints predominate–squirrels, chipmunks, some possums and porcupines, even a bullfrog–but Dad hangs my coat on an eight-point buck, and the TV blares from the belly of a rampant and silently roaring grizzly. We stand entranced, almost touching.

“I bet you could eat a horse,” Mom says, and bustles to the kitchen.

“You know Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher?” Dad asks. “He’s stuffed. Mom and I are going to London to see him.”

My father has hardly left the state since World War II.

“Your favorite! Liverwurst on rye.”

Mom puts the sandwich and a glass of milk on the dining room table. Then I see that the cat I grew up with is the centerpiece.

“You embalmed Kitten!”

“Embalming is for graveyards, son. Mom and I fixed Kitten to be with us forever.”

I can’t eat with a corpse staring at me. “Where did you get all these, these dead things?”

“My God, boy,” Mom says. “Open your eyes.” A shadow nicks her face. “I thought you loved liverwurst.”

“Your mother saw the ad in the magazine,” Dad says, the two of them beaming as he puts his arm around her for the first time in my memory.

“Utilitarianism” was originally published in Quarterly West. It appears here by permission of Tom Hazuka.

About the Author:

Tom Hazuka received an M.A. in English/creative writing from the University of California at Davis and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah, and is currently a Professor of English at Central Connecticut State University. He has published two novels, The Road to the Island and In the City of the Disappeared, and one book of nonfiction, A Method to March Madness: An Insider’s Look at the Final Four (co-written with C.J. Jones). A former editor of Quarterly West magazine, he has also co-edited two popular short story anthologies: A Celestial Omnibus: Short Fiction on Faith (Beacon Press, 1997), and Flash Fiction (W.W. Norton, 1992). His short fiction, including numerous flash fiction stories, has appeared in many literary magazines. His essays on flash fiction have been published in the online journal Spark and the textbook Behind the Short Story (Longman, 2005).