“How to Vomit Living Creatures” – Fiction by Deirdre Coyle

The Tiger Cat - Henri Rousseau
The Tiger Cat – Henri Rousseau

Our Winter 2017 issue doesn’t fly until December 21, but if you’d like an early taste of all the hungry, beastly lit that lies in wait, here’s Deirdre Coyle‘s wonderfully bizarre short story “How to Vomit Living Creatures.”

[FLAPPERHOUSE #12 is currently available for pre-order in both print (for $6US) & digital ($3US) editions!]

{ X }

AND THEN SHE VOMITED A CAT. Not so much a hairball as an entire cat. It folded out of her mouth and onto the floor, fur smoothed by mucus.

She was wearing her bumblebee sweater.

“You look like a bumblebee,” said her mother.

“I just threw up a cat,” she replied.

Her mother looked at the clock. “Isn’t it time for your therapy?”

“Well…is the cat dead?” It was not moving.

“Let me check on it. Go see your therapist.”

 

Veronica was a student of comparative linguistics. She walked two miles to class every morning. Sometimes she ran. Sometimes she ate Luna bars while walking. This was allowed. At lunch, sometimes she ate french fries or chicken fingers. This was not allowed. Sometimes she stuck her fingers down her throat afterwards. Other times she ran an extra five miles on her way home to make up for it. Nothing made up for it.

The therapy sessions had begun after her freshman year of college, during which she had dropped thirty pounds in a few months and maintained a perfect 4.0.

“Do you worry often?” the therapist had asked during their first session. “About grades, maybe? Or boys?”

“I worry about grades,” Veronica replied. “But mostly I just get good grades. That’s what happens. To do otherwise would be stupid.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I’m in college, right? My mom’s paying for it. So I’m not going to waste her tuition money partying, you know?”

Her therapist raised an eyebrow, one finger tapping the arm of her chair. “Why do you say that?”

 

After two years and as many pounds of weight gain, Veronica’s therapist continued to question obvious statements.

“You can’t just eat a cookie and then throw up a cat,” said her therapist.

“I could. I did.”

“Not physically,” the therapist said, scribbling on her pad. “In order to purge a cat—”

“I wasn’t purging.”

“I only meant expunge. In order to expunge a cat, you must have eaten a cat.”

“I never ate a cat. I only ate a cookie. And if I had eaten two cookies, I probably would have thrown up two cats. Or maybe one, much fatter cat.”

Veronica felt an internal stickiness in not knowing her ailment. Discomfort came from knowing there was nothing she could do.

 

After running the entire way home, Veronica watched her mother trying to feed the cat lentil soup. He only wanted bagels. “What should we name it?” asked Veronica’s mother.

Veronica, dripping, wiped her face on a sleeve. “Mukatsuku.”

Her mother frowned. “I can’t pronounce that.”

“It means being nauseated.”

“How about ‘Leonard?’ I like Leonard.”

“My name is Ozymandias,” stated the cat.

“Well, I can’t pronounce that either.”

Veronica peeled off her t-shirt and sat at the kitchen table in a sports bra and shorts. Sweat formed shiny lines on her forehead. “What can you pronounce, mother? Bob? Marsha? George?”

“Leonard.”

 

“Hot chocolate. Two point five grams of fat and one hundred twenty calories. Powdered chai. One point five grams of fat and one hundred thirty calories. Black coffee. Fat free, zero calories.”

Veronica picked up the coffee pot, stared into her paper cup, and put everything back down. She returned to her table. Tears welled in her eyes. She exited the cafeteria, found a single unit bathroom, and cried until sated.

 

When she returned home, Veronica found the cat sitting next to her mother on the couch. Leonard looked stodgy, malcontented, and fatter than usual. “What have you been feeding it?” she asked.

“He’ll only eat bagels,” said her mother.

“Bagels aren’t that fattening. I don’t believe you.”

Her mother shrugged. “He likes them with lox and cream cheese. He eats at least twelve a day.”

“Jesus. You shouldn’t feed him so much. He’s a cat. Cats are supposed to be fed once, maybe twice a day.” Just like me, Veronica thought to herself, though she favored days on which she ate less than one meal.

Veronica sat on the other side of Leonard, hand hovering over his fur. Part of her feared that if she touched him, he would be sticky with stomach acid. She braved the contact and rested her palm on his spotted fur. “What?” Leonard snapped.

Veronica jumped. “Quit it.”

“What?” he said. “What’s your problem?”

“Stop talking. It’s really weird.”

Leonard shivered, fat rolls jiggling. “You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my mom.”

“Well, in a way, I…kind of gave birth to you.” Veronica’s own spine chilled at the thought.

Leonard snorted in the wet way that only cats can.

“He usually doesn’t talk unless you’re home,” her mother noted calmly, picking lint off the couch cushions.

Veronica wondered what would happen if she put him on the streets. Because the cat had come from her, surely he must be part of her. And why send a part of herself out into the world–especially a disgusting, bile-ridden part? He was safer here, with her mother, eating bagels. At least here, no one else would find him, or ask where he came from, or wonder how such a Goliath of a cat came from such a skinny girl.

 

“He talks too much,” Veronica told her therapist.

“Who does?”

“The cat. Leonard. Mukatsuku.”

“Ah.” The therapist smiled, as if they were sharing a joke. She didn’t understand that they weren’t. “So, do you still believe that you vomited this cat?”

Veronica sulked. “I don’t believe that I vomited Leonard out of my damn stomach, I did. My mother saw it too, and the cat talks to both of us, but mostly me. I don’t know why, because my mother likes it better.”

“Why don’t you like your cat?”

“Because he’s disgusting! God. He just sits around the house all day eating bagels and cream cheese—and lox! I don’t care how many antioxidants salmon has, lox and cream cheese are gross.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because they’re—” Veronica paused. She was about to say “fattening,” but she knew that would get her in trouble with her therapist. Rather, she knew it would start a whole other conversation about her concern with weight, and they talked about it so much and things didn’t change, that she didn’t really feel like bringing it up again and re-opening the wound.

“You look thoughtful,” the therapist said. “Care to share?”

“I was just thinking about how.” Make something up. Make something up. Don’t talk about it. “He really hates his name. Leonard. He wants to be called Ozymandias.”

“Ozymandias? What is the significance of that, do you think?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what Ozymandias means.”

“Ozymandias was another name for the pharaoh Ramses the Great. It’s also the name of a poem by Percy Shelley—a poem about the eventual decay of all civilizations.”

“Well. I don’t know why the cat would want to be named that.”

“Are you worried about something…coming to an end? That could be a subconscious implication of the name Ozymandias.”

“But I didn’t even know any of that about Ozymandias. It was my cat’s idea. He probably just wants to be named after someone powerful. He probably thinks he’s the reincarnation of Ramses.”

“Are you worried, perhaps, about the conclusion of your childhood?”

“Because I’m in college?”

“You live at home, you vomit cats, you starve yourself and consequently look more like a child, you invent animal familiars, and you’re at a pivotal moment in your life when childhood falls behind you.”

“So why would I be worried about that?”

 

Leonard sat on Veronica’s desk while she thumped out a term paper. He was curled over the length of three library books, belly extended all the way from R.L. Trask’s Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics to Takashi Imai’s Issues in Japanese Linguistics to Paul Cubberley’s Russian: A Linguistic Introduction.

“How do you expect me to work when you’re covering my books?”

“I don’t expect you to work.”

“And why not?”

“Because I am decidedly more interesting.”

She pushed his belly, trying to get him off the books, but he only stretched like silly putty, and did not move. Veronica’s eyes stung. “I need to write this paper, Leonard, Mukatsuku, Ozymandias, you jackass.”

The cat lifted a leg and flopped onto his back, belly spread lewdly across the desk.

“Ugh,” said Veronica. She ripped Issues in Japanese Linguistics from beneath his wobbly body.

“That book is hardly comprehensive,” Ozymandias observed loftily.

“How would you know?”

“I used to live in Japan,” the cat explained.

“Knock it off.”

“I was a daimyo.”

“I thought you were the reincarnation of Ramses.”

“Same thing.”

“Different continent!”

“Same. Difference.”

Veronica groaned and left her desk, stretching herself across the bed. Her fingers wound their way down to her ribcage, which struggled pleasantly through her skin. She gave the bones an encouraging pat. “Come on now,” she said. “Try harder.”

“Are you talking to me?” asked Ozymandias.

“Certainly not.”

“Shame.”

 

Her therapist had become decreasingly helpful. She had started to say things like, “Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about today?” No, there never was. Veronica shrugged, eyes following the lines on her therapist’s oriental rug. Veronica wanted to be at home in a bath with the door locked; she did not want to be in this quaint house-turned-office sitting on a comfy couch.

 

Ozymandias continued to grow. He took up half the kitchen soon enough. Veronica went to get a bowl of cereal, and Ozymandias was slathered over the table. She gagged. “I’m trying to eat, Ozzy.”

“That is not a dignified nickname. I don’t eat bats.”

“How many bagels have you eaten today?”

“I don’t need to eat bagels anymore. I generate bagels. I am a bagel generator.”

“It smells disgusting in here.”

The cat did not reply.

 

Not only did Veronica maintain a 4.0, she joined the student council, the film society, and began studying (for her own information) similarities between the daimyo of Japan and the Egyptian pharaohs. She stopped seeing her therapist, because she was sick of talking about it. Any of it.

 

Fourteen days and almost as many meals later, Veronica returned home. She found her mother sitting on the porch, rocking through the thick humidity. Veronica perched on the railing. “It’s hot.”

“Yeah.”

“Can we go inside?”

Her mother exhaled, eyes lapsing shut, sweat sparkling across her lashes. “Not really.”

“But it’s hot.”

“The cat takes up too much space.”

“What?”

Veronica’s mother opened her sticky eyelids and gestured toward the door. “Go in and see.”

Veronica hesitantly touched the warm doorknob. The door opened outward, and she was confronted by the sight of Ozymandias’ tail twitching across his hind legs, enormous, his body taking up the entire frame. Down the hall, she could see nothing but fur. “Ozzy?”

“Still not my name,” he said, voice sounding as if it came from the kitchen.

“What…where do you end? Can I come in?”

He snorted, even wetter-sounding than before. “I doubt it.” His fur shuddered along the length of his spine, the shiver stretching down the hallway, his paws pushed into four different rooms.

She reached her arms into the frame, pressing against his rolls of fat, stepping hesitantly along his blubber. “God.” She clambered onto his spine, balancing down the hall.

“Where are you going?” the cat asked.

“I guess I’m trying to get to the kitchen.”

“There’s nothing in there.”

“You ate everything?”

“Naturally.”

Veronica reached the kitchen, using Leonard’s leg as a gangplank. Gingerly, she stepped off his paw onto the thin strip of tile visible beneath the spreading flesh.

She reached for the fridge, opening it as far as she was able. It was, indeed, empty. “You pig,” she snorted.

“I am a cat.”

“You’re a leviathan.”

“You’re boring. When was the last time you had a real idea? When was the last time you even thought about a real idea? Your ribcage is not a real idea.”

“This is too much,” she said.

“That’s not real,” he said. “Too much is not a real thing.”

The cat opened his jaw, tongue lolling outward from his throat. Veronica craned her neck, watching Ozymandias’ uvula tremble. Curving her back, she slouched her shoulders and walked between the cat’s teeth. His incisors closed, all light disappeared, but warmth—consuming and comforting—came in the darkness. The hard ridges of gums slick against her hair, she shut her eyes and slid along the length of his tongue. His throat constricted around her, and he swallowed.

{ X }

img_4666DEIRDRE COYLE is  a writer, fashion librarian, and non-practicing mermaid living in Brooklyn. Her work can be found in Lit Hub, Hobart, Hello Giggles, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. She likes talking about goth stuff at @DeirdreKoala.

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