Warm-blooded Animals by Kathleen Lane

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Fiction, November 2nd, 2017

“ 'Liddy, you’re either going to be a scientist, a nurse, or a cold-blooded murderer.' ”

Kathleen Lane Fiction Nailed Magazine
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Fiction by Kathleen Lane.

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“See there, Liddy?” Grandma says when she’s got the skin peeled up off the squirrel’s belly. “Looks just like porkchop, dudn’t it?”

I take a bite of bologna sandwich and nod, even though I don’t think it looks like porkchop, it’s redder.

Grandma pulls up the skin and points underneath with her knife. Some of the skin’s white and some of it still has meat on it. “Don’t worry too much about those chunks there,” she says. “You can get those later with the shaver.”

Grandma calls it the stuffing arts. She has blue ribbons from the fair and certificates on her wall saying she passed squirrel and hawk class, but she knows how to stuff other things too. The squirrels and skunks she gets from the highway but the birds she gets from the wildlife rescue center. Birds from the road are no good anymore.

“You have to go real careful around the paws,” Grandma says. “See how I do?”

Mostly it’s wild animals in her house—skunk, raccoon, that kind of thing—but she stuffed Reagan too because Reagan was the best cat she ever had. Grandma says she does it because she loves animals and you can admire them better when they’re holding still.

Now she’s turning the skin inside out, she’s pulling it up over its little head.

It looks like a rat, like a big red rat is what it looks like. When I put my hand on its red belly, Grandma laughs. She says, “Liddy, you’re either going to be a scientist, a nurse, or a cold-blooded murderer.”

“What kind of thing is that to say!” Mom hollers from the couch where she’s changing Jayden’s diaper. Her yelling makes Jayden cry and she has to click her tongue to get him quiet again.

“I’m just admirin’ the girl’s guts,” Grandma says and winks at me.

When the head’s done, she uses the screwdriver to get the eyeballs out. She puts them on the newspaper for me but I don’t pick them up.

“Don’t want ‘em for your collection?” she says and pokes her chin out toward the eyes.

“Nah.”

“Oh now, you aren’t mad at your old grammy, are you?”

“No ma’am.”

When we’re driving home Mom says, “Grandma does better with stuffed things than live things.” She says, “Don’t you listen to a word that woman tells you.” But all day I wonder about it. I wonder why I can touch the eyes and Ryan can’t, even though Ryan’s two years older and he’s a boy.

Some people mind blood and some people don’t, but I don’t think that makes you a cold-blooded murderer.

At home I go to my room and take my jar of eyes off my bookcase. I put it under my bed behind my fossil collection and my rock tumbler.

I wonder what makes a cold-blooded murderer a cold-blooded murderer. I wonder if you get born that way or if it happens gradual. First you kill little things like bugs, then you kill bigger things like rabbits and dogs, and you just keep working your way up until you get to people. Maybe that’s how it was with the Green River Killer. He just got tired of dogs.

Dad says I could heat a whole house when I’m mad, I could roast a whole pig. He says Go cool off before you start a fire, but I don’t think being mad is enough to make you a murderer.

I ask Ryan if he’d shoot someone if he had a gun. “I mean if they were threatening you, like they were going to beat you up or they were kicking you in the face.”

Ryan says, “What kind of dumb-ass question is that?” So I guess he wouldn’t do it either. Then he says, “You’re the cold-blooded murderer not me.”

I get my jar of eyes out from under my bed and take it outside. I put it under the porch. I put rocks all around it and a rotted up board on top.

If I had a gun I could prove I wasn’t a cold-blooded murderer but I don’t even have a BB. I could prove it with a knife but I don’t get my taxidermy knife until June. Grandma says I’m ready now but Mom says I have to be ten.

If I took a knife from the knife block Mom would notice right away but she wouldn’t notice a steak knife missing because the steak knives are way back in the back of the fork drawer.

Dereck Packer’s the only one I could see stabbing. I mean if I ever stabbed someone, which I’m not saying I would.

I stick the knife inside my sock but when I get to school I’m going to go in the bathroom and put it up my sleeve.

If Dereck comes up to me and calls me Lesbian, I’ll say, Stop calling me that or I’ll stab you, and if he doesn’t run off, then I’ll know for sure if I’m a cold-blooded murderer. I don’t think I am but that will prove it for sure.

At lunch I stare at Dereck eating his tater tots. I stare until he says, “What are you staring at Lesbian?”

“You better stop calling me that!” I say and wait for him to come at me but he just says “Lesbo” and moves to the third-grade table. Some tots fall on the floor when he slams his tray down.

At recess I follow Dereck to the basketball hoops. I stare in his mean ol’ eyes while he misses a basket and spits on the ground and misses another basket.

“Hey!” he shouts and pretends to throw the ball right at my face. “I thought I told you to stop staring.”

“I have a knife,” I say. I slide it out of my sleeve so he can get a good look at it. “I could kill you with it.”

Dereck grabs his belly with one hand and slaps his knee with the other. He laughs like that’s just the funniest thing he ever heard.

“I could!”

“Hey! Anybody want to watch Lesbo kill me!”

“I could,” I say, “I could do it, I could kill you right now, I could stab you right in the heart!”

Dereck’s still laughing when the knife goes into him. It doesn’t sound like I thought it would sound. It’s quiet and the blood doesn’t come out right away.

Soon as I stabbed him, I let go of the knife and now it’s sticking out of his arm.

Dereck looks at the knife sticking there then he looks at me. His eyes are big open round like the glass eyes in grandma’s toolbox.

Some girls went screaming to Mrs. B and now Mrs. B’s running this way, blowing her whistle and holding her boobs down. She yells at all the kids to Get away, clear off. She yells at Hannah to go get Mr. Anders. She yells at me to stay right where I am. She says, “Don’t you move one muscle, missy.”

Dereck’s hand is all shaky when he takes the knife out and now there’s blood all down his arm, red stripes clear down to his hand. The blood is bright red. It’s redder than porkchop, redder than squirrel belly, and that’s when I know for sure I’m not a cold-blooded murderer because right away, I want to stitch him back up.

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Header image courtesy of Tamara Muller. To view her Artist Feature, go here.

 

Kathleen Lane Fiction Nailed MagazineKathleen Lane lives in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches writing workshops, co-hosts the art & literary event series SHARE, and is currently working on a short story collection and young adult novel. Her stories have appeared in Los Angeles Review, Writer’s Digest, Berkeley Fiction Review, Swink Magazine, Poor Claudia, Forest Avenue Press, and elsewhere, and her middle grade novel, The Best Worst Thing (spring 2016, Little, Brown), was a finalist at this year’s Oregon Book Awards.

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Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.