With Tender Hands
Mika Goli, 17, Coquitlam
After dinner, the man went downstairs to feed his animals.
Well, animal, now.
The others, though he had loved them, had made such nuisances of themselves that he had been forced to dispose of them quietly, with tender hands, and precise flicks of the knife. Now they had other uses.
With the animal’s meal in one hand, he stepped carefully down the stairs leading into the basement, which were jagged with rot and stuck with old nails. A precaution, in case anything managed to escape.
The space had once been a makeshift darkroom, and now its lights served only to illuminate, in a faint lurid red, the animal’s rangy side through the bars of the cage, the hunched curve of its spine where it protruded blade-like through the skin. Its growth had been severely stunted from a near-lifetime in a cage.
He regretted he could only say a near-lifetime, rather than an entire one, the youngest he could procure already being four years old, knowing of its own name and able to call out for its mother.
Though, the issue of speech had been solved quickly enough—a tongue was rather easy to excise, after all, followed by a brief operation to paralyze select muscles of the jaw. He had, however, chosen to leave the voice box in, and the howls and whimpers, the tremulous, choked-off noises it sometimes made assured him that he had chosen correctly.
The animal, craven thing that it was, shuddered briefly when his shadow fell over the cage, but stopped itself. By now, it knew that the sight of his face should only be responded to with love.
The man clicked his tongue in the way he had taught the animal to obey. He reached into the bucket that contained its meal and dangled a stringy piece between the bars of the cage, uncaring of the slickness of the meat, the viscera that clung to it uncleanly.
The animal no longer had use of its hands. Instead, it stumbled forwards on its knees and the stumps he had left it with, and, leaning down, touched its tongue to his wrist and lapped up the blood from his wrist. It was neither trust nor affection that bowed its head, but something instinctual, savage, and in its own way beautiful.
How long had it taken to restore the noble, animal purity to the wretched thing that was a human being? A mere twelve years.
He watched the subtle shift of bones in the animal’s face and throat, transfixed.
It would be so easy to kill it, and though he never would, he did sometimes imagine little parts of the act. Its pulse, fluttering wildly beneath his hand; a mouth red and torn like an open wound; eyes rolling wildly, unfocused, desperate, searching and searching and setting on nothing.
Even in that joyful moment, it would be love that steadied his hands as he stripped off the flesh, and laid it out in the light.