issue 31: july -august 2002 

 | author bio

 A Scottish looking holdallOf Cats and Women
Laura Hird

SHE WAS SITTING in the car watching his house when she first saw his slut. They'd spoken several times but that was before her ex had gone ex-directory. When she used to phone after he'd first left, she'd hang up when the slut answered but soon rejected this silent endurance and let her have it a few times. It was her right. Let the bitch know what it's like to lose someone you've spent half your life with. She'd even looked up her thesaurus one night for further abuse to hurl when she ran out, but the potential ammunition she found depressed her. The words all sounded vibrant and exciting -harlot, strumpet, Jezebel - expressions that the cinema had turned from insults into sexual compliments.
      It was after one of her more colourful monologues on morality and the slut's obvious lack of it that he'd changed the number. When sobbing, swearing and screaming down the phone left them unmoved she'd resorted to getting all biblical and raving about eternal damnation and the like. She wasn't a Christian herself but there were some wonderful insults to throw at slags and cheating bastards like them in the old Testament. So when the verbal assaults ended abruptly, the emptiness suppressed since his leaving suddenly surfaced so quickly she almost got the bends.
      His friends and relatives were hounded in vain for their new number. Personal mementoes from their marriage were posted to them daily, all desecrated in some way wedding photos with female genitalia from porn magazines glued on where his face should be, old love letters he'd sent her with 'LYING CUNT' scrawled over every endearment, his Cup Final tickets shredded into confetti . . .
      She started driving past his house in the hope of seeing him. When this proved fruitless she'd park on the corner of the street opposite, and sit watching for hours. On the few occasions she had seen him (he hadn't spotted her) she felt coy and nauseous, like she used to feel when she'd first fallen in love with him.
      Although she'd always somehow expected the slut to be in her mid-thirties, the recognition was immediate and instinctive. It grabbed her the moment she saw the girl turn the corner and walk into his street. She looked no older than twenty. When he'd left she hadn't been able to think of how long it might have been going on. Now the question consumed her as she watched the girl stop by his door, pick up his cat from the wall and caress it. Suppressed sobbing clutched her throat and hatred thundered in her chest. She stared, transfixed with despair until the cat and its new young friend entered his house and closed her out. Starting the car, she drove off. Her vision was distorted by tears and an image of him sitting on the settee with- the cat and the slut - so fucking revoltingly cosy it made her gag.
      Nearing home, the anguish developed into unrestrained plotting. A skilfully contrived new plan was born that could be put into action while he was at work the following day. Invigorated, she sat scheming at the traffic lights until three young girls crossed the road in front of her, laughing and smiling with their perfect skin and taut little carcasses. A compulsion to suddenly accelerate was resisted with difficulty. On arriving home, she depleted the Christmas port, plotted some more then went to bed. For hours the plan kept enlarging and exciting her too much to sleep. At 4 am she gave up trying, pulled a coat on over her nightdress and drove back towards his house.
      From her usual spot on the corner of the street she could see the lights were out upstairs. Quietly leaving the car, she walked across the road and peered into the garden Despite the lamppost's illumination she could see no sign of the cat. She tried meowing a couple of times but the ludicrous sound emitted was not sufficient to entice it. She returned to the car and sat watching the house. Were they at it at this moment? What little party tricks did she perform in bed to keep him so hooked? Images of them squealing together in elaborate sexual positions only served to deepen her melancholy wrath.
      This ritual was performed for the next two nights with no result. On the fourth night his car wasn't parked outside. The cat looked on with indifference as she opened the gate. Approaching it warily, she began to slowly caress the warm fur. The creature responded, purring, rubbing itself against her, asking for more. She brusquely pulled it off the wall into a holdall, zipped it up and ran back to her car with the animal screeching and struggling through the nylon. Speeding back towards her flat, the adrenaline coursing through her system, she switched on one of the classical radio stations. Verdi at volume eight effectively quelled the sound of its wailing and she felt more in control than she had done in months.
      The animal was left in the holdall overnight to prevent it running around the house creating havoc. In the morning there was no movement from the bag. She kicked it and felt the cat wriggling about as her foot made impact. How long would it be before he realised his precious pussy was missing? She unzipped the bag, expecting it to leap out and attack her, but it merely lay, blinking at the light, looking decidedly shell-shocked. There was a strong smell of ammonia and the lower part of its body was wet with urine. She flicked it hard on the nose to express her disgust.
      In the bathroom, she plugged in the shower and switched it on. She didn't want the animal jumping on the furniture covered in its own mess but she remembered it wasn't too fond of water. Towards the end of their marriage she'd thrown it at him in the bath in the middle of an argument. It had made a hell of a mess but it was worth it. If he'd been seeing his slut back then he'd have avoided her for a couple of weeks after that one - that's for sure.
      She pulled a scarf from her bedroom drawer and tied one end of it to the pipe in the shower. Returning to the living room, the holdall lay empty. She glanced around the room and began searching behind the furniture. Her hands began trembling with rage and her breathing quickened. Cushions were torn from the settee and thrown across the room.
      'Come on ... kiss kiss ... come to mummy. Come and have some food you little bastard.'
      She crouched on the floor, and squinted across the carpet. The door had been closed so it had to be in there somewhere. Then she saw it, curled into a ball underneath the bureau, eyes twinkling out at her. She smiled, her breathing loud and uncontrolled, pulled the shoe from her right foot and crawled towards it. It was right against the wall but if she lay on the floor she could still get a good swipe at it. A stiletto would have been ideal but not being the sort of woman to ruin her feet just so a man could get his jollies, a court shoe had to suffice. She prodded and clobbered at the cat as it backed further and further away from her. After a few minutes she didn't even know why she was hitting it, only that she didn't want to stop as it felt wonderful. Also, the idea that a perfectly aimed blow could kill it thrilled her so that every time she struck it she throbbed between the legs. The cat, unable to get any further away from her, began lashing out. As it shredded at her exposed hand and arm she felt justified in intensifying the beating. Suddenly there was a long, even, hissing sound. She pulled her arm out from under the bureau and peered in. The animal stared out, terrified, pissing on the carpet. She felt a strange sense of achievement, stood up, carried the holdall through to the bathroom and poured its ablutions from the night before down the toilet. There was no litter tray and it couldn't be let out so she'd just keep it in there until she got the information she required. She moved the bureau, grabbed the cowering animal and forced it, scratching and hissing, back into the bag. Apparently they could survive for at least a fortnight without food so hopefully it would stop doing the toilet soon.
      It was kept in the holdall for five days, only freed occasionally to have a drink or be tormented. On the third day it finally received its shower. The scarf was still tied to the pipe. Tying the other end to its collar she fired the spray of water at it as it slipped and struggled and lashed out in vain.
      Another pastime involved throwing it about the house at different items of furniture to see if cats really did always land on their feet. Rather disappointingly this turned out to be the case but at least if it damaged anything in its doing so she had a further excuse to punish it.
      As her treatment of the creature became more extreme she became increasingly aroused by it and obsessed with the idea of murdering the thing The ultimate thrill, of course, would be for it to die of fright. To make something so scared that you actually killed it. Unfortunately though, this beast seemed pretty hardy and always found the strength to lash out just when her dream looked set to be realised.
      On the fifth night he telephoned to tell her the cat was missing and ask if she knew anything about it. She remained calm and asked him why he thought she might know.
      'Oh come on! Some of that stuff you've been sending us ... you sick bitch. Shouldn't you be seeing someone?'
      She didn't reply.
      'Are you still there?'
      'I've sorted it all out now,' she whispered but he continued talking as if he hadn't heard her.
      ‘… and Karen said tonight there was a woman watching the house last week. No prizes for guessing who she might have been I don't suppose?'
      Another silence. He began shouting.
      'Jesus, won't you just leave us? Was eighteen years' misery not enough? It's finished, you know, over, can't you get that through your thick skull?'
      Her fingernails pierced the skin of her palm.
      ‘… and if you have Monty just give him back, will you? Have some dignity, woman. Or are you that desperate for the company?'
      'I don't have your Monty. I told you. I've sorted it all out now. I won't bother you again.'
      His tone was softening. He must be feeling guilty.
      'No. Advertise or something. He's probably just run off somewhere.'
      'I have. I put an ad in the .. . you know. No, I've tried that.'
      The arsehole. He knew he'd let it slip. She pretended she hadn't noticed.
      'Anyway, I'm sorry and as I said, I won't bother you again.
      He didn't respond.
      'Goodbye, Alan.'
      He remained silent, but just before hanging-up she heard him mutter, 'I wish!'
Replacing and lifting the receiver she dialled 1471. As the voice informed her that the number had been predictably withheld she began to cry. Her tears were not the bitter, hurting kind of the past few months however, but tears of laughter and relief. He'd believed her and she felt omnipotent. She wasn't liberated from him but liberated from caring.
      Running through to the bedroom she pulled the slip from her pillow, grabbed a shoe from under the bed then walked quickly through to the holdall, which was lying on top of the table in the living room. She unzipped it slowly and began caressing the cat's ears and neck. Though apprehensive at first the animal gradually began to relax a little. As she falteringly regained its confidence, she laid the open end of the pillowslip on the table beside the bag. Tickling its stomach she slammed the shoe heel against its head, grabbed it by the neck and thrust it into the case. She held it shut tight at the top, at first with a leg jammed and tugging in her fist, but manoeuvred it until the whole cat was lying on its back, enshrined in cotton. It wriggled violently and as the material strained in her hand, shockwaves shot through her body, making her gasp for breath. She walked across the room to the open patch of wall beside the door and smashed the bundle against it. The cat continued struggling so she continued battering the woodchip with it. It died very quickly but she continued whacking it until she could see blood on the wall.
      Dropping the pillowcase onto the floor she looked out the window. When her breathing stabilised she carried the corpse, still in the slip, to the car, laid it on a black bin bag on the back seat then drove towards his house.
      It was dark but the lights were still on upstairs. The curtains were drawn. She stopped in the middle of the street, carried the bundle out in front of the car, and tipped it onto the road. The body was still intact. Most of the blood must have come from its head which was caved in. Throwing the bloody cotton case onto the back seat, she got back into the car then reversed ten feet and accelerated over the cat. There was only a slight bump as she drove over its body but it was dead anyway. She continued driving in a straight line until she reached his local shops 100 yards away.
      Taking a pen from the glove compartment, she walked over to the group of shops and scrutinised the small ads in the windows. He had a card in the newsagent's and the post office. She jotted down his new phone number, turned back down the street to have one last look at Monty, then drove home feeling like God.

© Laura Hird

This electronic version of  "Of Cats and Women" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of Canongate Books. It appears in the author´s collection Nail and Other Stories, Rebel Inc (Canongate). Book ordering available through CanongateAmazon U.K Amazon.USA

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author bio

Laura HirdLaura Hird lives and works in Edinburgh. Her short story collection Nail and Other Stories blended harshness and humour with a telling capacity to shock. She was swiftly recognised as one of the hottest literary talents on the Scottish scene, and her novel Born Free was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread First Novel Award. Her writing has appeared in numerous magazines in both Britain and abroad.

see also Laura Hird's 'Routes' from issue 5 of TBR


 tbr 31           july - august  2002

Short Fiction Laura Hird: Of Cats and Women
Rusty Haight
: Strange Things Afoot...
John Michael Cummings:
Visiting My Dead Friend
      from the Spanish
Enrique Ferrari:
Half an Hour
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