Tenderfoot

A Small Tragedy

Author

Kaya Ra Edwards volunteers, interns and studies within Brisbane’s world of the written word. She loves sweet tea and glitter and sleeping in.

Kaya has previously been published in Voiceworks, Run, Rabbit Magazine, Skive and LIP. You can find her writing, art and more at her blog.

 

by Kaya Ra Edwards

Sally's husband hadn't told her that the sections in the supermarket had been moved around. Walking into an aisle she strides half way up and expects bread, but she hasn't shopped for groceries in two months on account of the surgery on her thumb. Instead of loaves, in front of her the shelves are full of nut butters and jams.

The bandage has been off a day and I'm already doing the shopping.

The doctor took it off for her, and she winced even though it didn't hurt because she made that face every other time he looked at her swollen thumb. She grew up always acting that way around men. She lost her virginity to her first boyfriend after acting scared in a horror film and has been feigning precious femininity ever since.

            Sally looks away from the spreads to her hand. The purples and thick yellows have faded away from under the neat curve of stitches that runs from one side of her palm to the middle of her finger's tip. There are wires in the digit, crossing and pushing through the bone to keep it straight. She did it cutting onions for her and her husband's spaghetti dinner. Her eyes were watering, her glasses off, so she only realised what she had done when the onion juice seared into her open flesh.

I can't find the bread. I don't even eat it; he can come and find it himself.

She asks an employee, without smiling, where the bread is and he points her down a different aisle. She chooses white – her husband hates that wholegrain stuff and will only ask her to take it back next time she goes shopping, 'if-that's-okay-with-you'.

It's not. The shop's only up the hill, you know how to walk.

But if he ever asks her to take anything back she smiles at him and makes sure she speaks in that sweet voice she uses and asks which brand he favours for the millionth time even though she already knows.

I've been doing this for too long. I've been asking him questions for far too long. I need to decide what to cook for dinner tonight. 

They got together when Sally was twenty-four and he in his early thirties. He has a few grey hairs at his temples now and a furrow that people think is career stress but she knows is misery working its way between his eyebrows. She was the sweet girl when they met, soft and gullible. She made sure to eat little in front of him and only talk about things that interested him, but seventeen years later they don't speak so much and she has stopped trying out new recipes. They eat the same meals on rotation and she cooks every night. Occasionally she comes home from work late and he'll have something half-burnt in a bowl for her and an apologetic look on his face. On those nights they make love for the first time in weeks and she strokes his chin afterwards and encourages him to grow his beard a little, just to the length it was when they first met. He'll start to grow a shadow across his jaw and make coffee for her in the mornings, and then after a few days he'll start leaving earlier for work again and she will make her own coffee. He'll come home clean-shaven and unable to look at her.

Maybe I'll cook something different tonight. Something that doesn't taste like everything else we eat. A curry, maybe, with chicken in it. 

Sally gives up on curry when she can't find the curry paste. She pays for the groceries, walks through the supermarket doors which try to close on her and takes the elevator down to the underground car park. It's all concrete and square pillars, neon bars of light and echoes. Through the distant exit she can see that the afternoon is darkening. Only twenty or so cars are scattered throughout the entire place. No-one will see if she drives out and towards the highway rather than taking the left turn that leads to her house.

What will he do if I don't come home? Probably make a white bread dinner and call my family in a few days. He still has time to find happiness. So do I. I'm still young, aren't I? 

Nearly at her car, fingers blue from the plastic bags hanging off of them as she walks, Sally sees that the small something she thought was a dropped carton of eggs or a broken skateboard lying in the middle of the car park, is fluffy and bloodied. Sally drops the bags onto the back seat of her SUV and, walking over to the dead creature, sees that it is a cat. The thing is cute if you look only at its grey and white head. Below that, the cat is on its back, its limbs splayed and its stomach all open and dark and alien. Sally looks at the wound that is almost its entire body, and thanks a god she doesn't believe in that its head is at least intact. Its fur is soft and unstained there and its eyes are closed.

The cat mustn't have died right away, isn't that what that means? It had time to understand it was dying and to close its eyes. 

Sally thinks that if she were going to die that way, bleeding and open, she would want it to happen quickly. Quickly enough that her husband can't get there before she's gone and have nothing beautiful to say.

            Veins blue and thick line the wet insides of the cat's stomach. Organs she can't name or look at for too long spill over the edge of its body and Sally knows they will be cold if she touches them. She looks at her own swollen thumb and considers the thousands of dollars she has spent just to keep it working. If she found this cat earlier maybe it could have been threaded with wires and saved too.

No-one's going to pick this cat up. I don't want to. But no-one else is gonna do it. 

Emptying the groceries all over the seats, Sally takes a plastic bag and scoops the animal up and lies it softly down on the passenger seat. She needs to watch that it doesn't fall onto the ground while she drives home.

 

An hour later, a pot of water for potatoes boils on the stove and a pack of sausages sits open on the kitchen bench. The cat lies on the floor in the bedroom in its plastic bag. Sally is standing still in the kitchen when her husband arrives home and drops his bag on the couch before sitting down at the dinner table. It's seven o'clock. He calls out, Sally, and she answers yes. He asks her what's for dinner and when she doesn't say anything he coughs loudly. She comes to him at the table and looks at him. He gazes at the papers and letters on the table that she knows he isn't interested in. There's a, she says quietly. There's a dead cat in the bedroom. He looks at her now. He speaks: it's okay about dinner. It's fine. She nods. It's okay, he repeats. He doesn't stand up but he reaches out a little as if to hold her hand. Where's the cat? He asks her instead.

            Sally leads James to the bedroom and points to the plastic bag in the doorway. He says, we'll have to bury it. Sally murmurs, I was going to make curry. I was going to make curry for you but I couldn't find the paste for it. I didn't even cook the sausages either. He tells her, it's alright, it's okay. We don't have to eat dinner tonight. I'll dig a grave for the cat.

 Sally listens to James pulling apart the basement to find a shovel; she can't remember the last time he pulled apart anything for her. Sally looks at the sausages sitting on the bench looking like so many pink animal organs. She won't cook the dinner and they will go to bed hungry together. Sally hears her husband dragging the shovel into the backyard and runs outside.

     Can I do it? She breathes.

     What - dig? he asks.

            She looks so small, but he nods and passes her the smooth wooden handle. She takes the shovel and makes a shallow hole.

When we go to bed I'll tell him that my thumb doesn't hurt that much anymore. I'll tell him that the wires are keeping my thumb together but I'd rip them out and live thumbless if all that metal could sew the cat back together. 

After they lay the cat in its grave they walk upstairs and James wraps the sausages in cling-wrap. Sally decides she will cook something special for dinner tomorrow night. A curry, maybe.