c/w: pet death, blood
When my co-worker came into work – scantily applied mascara streaking cheeks hot with grief – and announced to us that her cat had been killed the day before, my stomach gave a painful lurch.
Everyone else was quick to console her, but I was distracted by the sudden tightness in my chest. I adored animals, but I had never met this cat, nor did I know her owner all too well beyond our shared work environment, yet it felt as though I had missed a step or had driven too quickly over a humpback bridge.
The worst part about it, as she had explained between gargled gasps, was that the cat had tried to crawl her way home and had died on the neighbour’s drive. That’s where they found her; a smile of blood matting her whiskers. At first, I didn’t know why that detail nauseated me quite as much as it did, but upon later reflection, I realised that in that moment, I had pictured you.
Like subliminal messaging in TV advertisements, your face had flashed momentarily in my mind and was gone before I could register it. Then later, alone at night, you took shape behind the static like a magic eye image, decipherable only in the darkness found behind closed lids. For the first time in years, I saw your face in full clarity. I saw you as I imagined you then; puffy eyed and sullen cheeked, lips purpling into a smile.
It took my co-worker seconds to register the chill that suckled her spine when her cat failed to meet her on the driveway that day. What did it take for you to have the same impact? Was it a skipped class, an unopened text, a day long timestamp by your name on Facebook? For me, it was the phone call. The ‘something bad has happened’. Nothing sooner. I simply hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t felt the whole world open up beneath me and wasn’t aware that I was falling.
I wondered if in that moment you had had a sudden lapse of judgement, as the cat had misjudged her ability to reach the other side before the car’s screeching tires met her flank – her ribs – her lung. Had you felt life sigh too quickly from your lips and tried to crawl your way home, too?
Tyler Turner (she/her) is a working-class writer based in Chesterfield, UK. She is currently studying MA Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield. Her work has appeared in various journals, including Perhappened, Serotonin, Orange Blush and more. Find her on Twitter (@cartilagexfluid) and Instagram (tyler.elizabeth.turner).