by Michael Cooper Read author interview March 28, 2011
Somewhere else, your wife is lying beside the exterminator who couldn’t conquer Cat-Dog. She’s telling that post-coital one-liner where she compares a hard-on to a turning ceiling fan. When it’s on, it’s fine because you can’t see it, but when it’s off, it just hangs there uselessly. The joke’s better when the fan’s cooling your neck, chest, navel and you’re going soft.
Cat-Dog comes and settles with its cronies under your house. At least thirty fucking oat field cats. The exterminator who stole your wife came a month ago. On his knees, he brightened the crawlspace under the porch with his high-powered flashlight. A hundred shiny eyes hovered down there, and they still do, like Argos hiding, timid since the heifer’s been stolen.
Cat-Dog leads her pack, unpleasant to the eye, but extremely resourceful. Got her face chewed off in the oat fields by a harvester’s rotary thresher. Now looks like a lightning-zapped mongrel. Now canters your porch three legged to eat jerky from Caitlin’s hand.
The farmer’s boy makes Cat-Dog’s story sound like a nursery rhyme. He soothed Cat-Dog with a knot of tobacco from his father’s patch, fixed its face up best he could with liquid Band-Aid. Every harvest, his father tries to drive the combine slower and slower, shorn stalks revealing cat faces chubby from oat mice. Mostly, stilled cat parts get mixed with the harvest. But the boy toes the threshed oats and waits for them to yowl, uses his magic adhesive when necessary.
Wound glue, you call it.
The boy shrugs and says, “Yeah.”
Caitlin clips elk heads and bear faces out of your hunting magazines. She clips Victorian-dressed bodies out of her doll catalogues. She pastes heads on bodies and sticks them to walls with wound glue. It’s therapeutic.
Cats hate dried blood fertilizer. All around the crawlspace, you spread three bags’ worth, brown nutritious dirt that smells like a morning slaughterhouse.
After midnight, you catch Caitlin walking down the hall wearing her sleep apnea mask. In profile against the moonlit window at hall’s end, its tube sways like an elephant’s silhouetted trunk.
“Sleepwalking?” you ask.
“Cat-Dog,” her tone suggesting you’re dumb.
You carry her to her room, tuck her back in, say goodnight. And through the walls, what you originally mistook as your daughter’s peaceful respiration in your bedside monitoring box, is actually scratching coming from behind the wood paneling, bristly feline bodies pushing their ways up. You slap the wall. The sounds stop, but for just a moment. Caitlin sleeps in your bed that night.
The next morning, first thing, you both go downstairs, outside, and inspect the crawlspace’s perfect gloom. Sighing satisfactorily, you find contrails in the sky. And up at your house’s eaves, more than a dozen cat faces look down at you, some ravaged, some pristine.
“Wound glue,” Caitlin says.
And you clap your hands, offer invisible jerky, thinking nine lives and ceiling fans, gored oat piles and bear-headed women. When Cat-Dog falls, it lands on three feet.
About the Author:
Michael Cooper is book review editor at The Southeast Review. Among other journals, his work has appeared in Opium Magazine.
About the Artist:
Gay Degani is the content editor at Smokelong Quarterly. She has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be located.