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Maggie and the Cat - Chloë Yates

EtemenankiEtemenanki è un contenitore di storie senza sottotitoli. Lo abbiamo chiamato con il nome sumerico di una ziqqurat costruita quattromila anni fa. Oggi come allora vigono gli stessi limiti, le torri oscurano il cielo e la letteratura è rinchiusa nei confini di una lingua. Etemenanki proporrà racconti inediti in lingua originale. Questo è il secondo racconto, la seconda strofa della pietra angolare.

Author: Chloë Yates

Chloë Yates scrive poesie e storie strane. Nata in Inghilterra, risiede attualmente in Svizzera. È stata pubblicata da Fox Spirit Books (www.foxspirit.co.uk) nelle antologie Weird Noir (2012) e Piracy (2013) e diversi altri suoi racconti sono in corso di pubblicazione. È al momento impegnata nella stesura di un romanzo, sebbene i racconti siano il suo primo amore. Potete leggere le sue farneticazioni sul suo blog www.chloe-yates.blogpost.com e la trovarete a vagabondare su twitter con il soprannome di @shloobee.

Collabora a Etemenanki:

Alessandra Bava (traduttrice e editor per la narrativa anglofona).

 

Maggie and the Cat

 

Maggie knew it was time to leave the house when the cat began to talk to her. It had been a day like any other, the old regular variation of the old regular theme. Her shift at the Vet’s office had started at six and ended at midday just as it did every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. She’d come home, had a sandwich then set about her chores. The front porch was washed, the laundry baskets emptied – colours separated from whites of course – the washing machine was loaded, the load taken out of the dryer and then came the task of pressing Jack’s work shirts. She hated that the most. The iron was a tyrant, all steam and bluster, much like her husband. Yes, it had been a day like any other. The same monotonous tasks completed for a thankless man and a loveless marriage.

She looked at him tied to the chair and smiled. One of his suits had needed pressing too – and that was when she’d found it. The letter. At first she thought it was one of his lists – heavens, didn’t the man love a list. He left them for her on the refrigerator door, reminding her of all those little things that were so difficult to forget when you were constantly reminded of them. The paper was different from the cheap lined stuff he used for his lists though. She unfolded it, prescience far away. Afterward she would feel foolish for not already knowing, for not having some inkling of what she would find. She would feel like she should have known.

It proved to be more of a note, short sharp slanted handwriting on soft vellum. Expensive. A love note. Well, maybe not love exactly …

Darling Jack, come over after dinner on Wednesday. Tell her you have overtime to do and I’ll fuck your brains out. I’ve missed you so much. X

That was it, her marriage dead at last in three short sentences. Who wrote notes anymore? It was all text messages and emails these days, so why a letter? It was ironic (or was it poetic?) that her antiquated marriage would be ended by something as anachronistic as a letter. Something so decayed should have crumbled by rights, but it was the sharp snap of conclusion that was ringing in her ears.

Over. Her memory of his rescue, freeing her from the cold grey walls of the institution, had been nothing more than an illusion and it shattered around her in that instant, her eyes open and her mind straight for the first time in too long. Gratitude for her liberation fell like hard rain; she had been too afraid to ask him why, as though knowing would drop her back into the desolation of Before – but here was as bad as there had been, she saw that now. Her illness had been an excuse for his withdrawal, so why bring her back at all? A cruel joke? Was he that much of a bastard?

Maggie laughed. She rarely swore, curse words made her flinch – her first perusal of the letter had been more focussed on that f-word than the fact of her husband’s infidelity – but thinking them now made her head bubble like a freshly poured glass of cherryade. ‘Bastard. Shithead. Fuckface liar.’ Maggie burst out in a fresh round of laughter at the sound of her voice saying the words for real. She slapped Jack around the back of the head and more peals of laughter erupted. From her, not from him. He looked terrified. Which made her laugh harder.

‘Oh Jack, look at you so serious.’ She wasn’t sure for a moment if she was ever going to stop laughing, and that jolted her back to reality. Now was not the time for hysteria – that age-old female malady of male invention – now was the time for action. Had she already killed him?

She remembered going to the shed and getting the poison (it was for rats) but had she made him his dinner? Time had gone a bit haywire. She should make him his dinner.

‘It’s your favourite, Jack darling. Spaghetti.’ He hated spaghetti. Maybe she would spit in it too. The laughter threatened to return then and Maggie had to straighten up, take a deep breath and sternly quell the impulse. She had things to do. Had she killed him yet? She couldn’t remember, she didn’t think so. As soon as she’d read that letter she’d felt such a rush of clarity, a clear vision of what had to be done, but now she felt disoriented and confused. Nothing seemed as substantial as it had before, as certain. What was it she was supposed to be doing?

Dinner. She remembered now. Spaghetti. The kitchen was soon warm from the stove’s burner. She boiled some water and popped in the pasta. A frying pan for the onion and tomatoes, a dash of arsenic for (the rats) good measure. She wouldn’t spit in it. It seemed too easy, too spiteful. She wouldn’t lower herself to Jack’s dirty (rat) level. The onions and tomatoes sizzled and spat, a tiny domestic volcano that echoed the tumult in her chest. That’s where she felt it, dead centre of her breastbone, throbbing like a stubbed toe. It was pure anger; there was no sadness in there. That should have made her sad. Such a waste.

Sighing, she looked back down to the pan just in time to see a wing disappear and then re-emerge in the gloop she was cooking. A wing. She frowned even as she looked closer. Pop. A wing pinged up from the sauce. Maggie jumped, but her gaze stayed fixed on the pan. The butterfly pulled itself from the sizzling liquid, its wings stretching, flexing and then it was off, a couple of lazy circles around Maggie’s head before flitting away. She watched it dart around the kitchen, surprised at how interesting the little creature seemed to find Jack. Another popping noise caught her attention. The pan. Suddenly, a thousand teeming butterflies surged up from its confines, whirling this way and that, a living blanket of undulating blue and brown. They flooded the room, covering Jack, filling him, flocking into every orifice, choking him, smothering him; cleansing him. Somehow she knew that to be true. In her bones. They would make his flesh pure, his soul was irretrievable and she held no hope out for it. By now, Jack’s face was as blue as the backs of the butterflies. The plate in front of him was empty. There wasn’t a smear on it. It was as though it had been licked scrupulously clean. She didn’t remember giving him the plate or even dishing up the food in the first place. She did remember a thousand gossamer wings beating like a thousand tiny heartbeats, each one punctuating her husband’s heartbeats until at last they slowed and stopped. Jack’s head fell forward, his chin coming to rest on his chest.

Maggie stared at him for a moment, confused. Had she killed him? She remembered a phone ringing. Was she hearing it now? The shrill noise persisted and she crossed the kitchen to pick up the extension that hung on the wall.

 

‘Hello?’ Her voice seemed normal. She was surprised.

‘Jack, please.’ It was a man’s voice.

‘He can’t come to the phone right now. Can I take a message?’

‘Put him on, please. I know he’s there.’

‘Who is this?’

‘Don’t you know?’

‘Why would I ask if I knew?’ But even as she said it, Maggie realised.

This was the owner of the sharp slanting handwriting and the expensive paper. This was her husband’s lover. ‘Oh.’

 

‘Yes, now put him on.’

‘I can’t, the butterflies took him.’

‘What?’

‘The butterflies. They swallowed him whole.’ There was a long pause on the other end and Maggie waited patiently.

 

‘Butterflies? Butterflies swallowed him? Jesus, Jack said you were mad. Look, I’m coming over. It’s time this was sorted out.’

Maggie opened her mouth to reply – she had no idea what she would have said – but the sound of the other end being hung up silenced her. She replaced the receiver and stared at it for a moment. What was she going to do? She couldn’t let him see what she’d done. Panic bubbled in her stomach but just then a butterfly fluttered past her, making her jump. Another settled on her shoulder, another on her arm. Whatever fear she might have felt about Jack’s body being discovered melted away in their presence. It would be fine. Just fine.

Turning back to Jack’s body – was he really dead? – Maggie considered what she should do. She nudged him gently with one finger. He was stone cold. How long had it been since the butterflies had descended? It couldn’t have been very long but she could tell when dead was dead and he was as dead as dead could be.

That was when she first saw the cat. Sitting on top of the refrigerator, it was as black as pitch with eyes bluer – the same blue as the butterfly backs – than the sky on a perfect summer’s day. It said nothing. It just winked at her and yawned.

Ignoring her new companion, Maggie contemplated her old one again. He would have to go down into the cellar. Would she have time to take him right down all those creaky old steps? She didn’t think so, but maybe she could drag him to the stairs and push him down. That ought to do if he was dead already. She should check but time was so pressing and she was getting a headache. Resolution stiffening her spine, Maggie cast aside her dilly-dallying and marched over to the body.

The body?

Did she need to think of it like that to get the job done? Whatever got her through, maybe her unconscious mind was looking out for her. With one hard push, she managed to shove the body onto the floor. Walking around it, she quickly surveyed the best place to get a good handhold. Its right arm was outstretched as though pointing to the cellar door. An omen if ever there was one and a good place to get a grip. She bent to wrap her fingers around his wrist, the skin there oddly pallid. She was surprised to find that it was clammy to touch. Maggie pulled hard. Nothing happened for a moment, but then the rather marked sound of gas – like when her dad used to ask her to pull his finger – broke the silence. Maggie giggled, she couldn’t help it. She pulled again, but the laughter got harder when she still couldn’t move it and another gas leak punched the air. Maggie collapsed to her knees, covering her face with her hands as her shoulders shook with mirth. Controlling it was almost impossible and finally she gave in, throwing back her head and howling like a loon.

Eventually the loud barking laughs segued into chuckling and, in the end, the occasional hiccup. Maggie sighed and looked up at the clock. How long had it been since she’d pushed the body onto the floor? She had no idea. That man would be here soon. She looked at it for a moment and then made her decision. Fuck it – she was getting better at this cursing business – she’d leave it there, it was better than Jack deserved. What he really deserved was being ground up into mincemeat and feeding to the dogs. She’d been treated unfairly, been lied to and now she was done with it, done with him.

A rumbling from somewhere deep inside her gave her pause suddenly. She tried to swallow the rising tide of … was it nausea? She wasn’t sure. The sound grew louder, the fluttering stronger, she was sure she was going to be sick. Maggie opened her mouth and the butterflies poured out, descending on the body, covering it, a brown and blue blanket of vengeance. She fell to her knees – it was becoming a habit – exhausted from the expulsion. She watched as they danced over it, feeling hollow. It felt as though everything that was in her had been spent. She had allowed it to happen. She had sat idly by while her husband, the man who had brought her back from the dead – from the ward, from the cold glass against her face, the endless talking in a circle, the blue pills, the sharp cries in the night – had proceeded to act the hero while all the time he had been anything but that. Why had he bothered? She had asked herself so many times, secretly, at night, where no one could hear her thoughts. She didn’t want to go back. Didn’t want to die again. She wanted to be free.

Forcing herself to her feet, Maggie looked up at the cat.

‘Time to go, Margaret. Time to take to the wing.’ Maggie blinked. The day was so odd already that a talking cat was no more worthy of a remark than a tin of beans at that moment, but she knew he was right. When the black cat starts talking it’s time to go.

Chloë Yates

TN DX

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