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It Costs $46.50 to Kill a Rat, But the Memories Last a Lifetime by Scott Waldyn | flash fiction | #thesideshow

Scott Waldyn

I watched a living thing die today, and I paid for it. With a debit card. Chip enabled.

The doctor inserted a needle just under her ribs. “She’s a wriggly one,” he said, trying to find the squishy growth lurking just under one of her front legs. It was a tumor. Rats, especially female rats, are prone to tumors, and it’s their most common cause of mortality.

He withdrew the needle, and she fell forward like a hairy bean bag. Blood matted her fur around the point of entry, but I tried not to look at the oozing red blossoming across her little body. We locked eyes instead. Hers were green, bulging, wet. Mine were brown, distant, ashamed.

Frantically, she reached out with her front legs, nails useless against the marble countertop. Her mouth gaped open, and she gasped wildly for air, not unlike a fish, and still, we locked eyes. Hers were green, bulging, pleading.

Watching her struggle for oxygen, I thought of my grandfather. I was in his room the night he died. It was in that week between Christmas and New Years. I said my last good-byes to a frail husk that convulsed every few minutes, arms outstretched, crooked fingers clutching towards the beyond. Then I went to watch television with the rest of my family.

I didn’t pay to see him die, but I pleaded with a higher power to end his suffering every commercial break. But we don’t pray for dead rats. It’s different. We just watch, inquisitively, as if it’s a science experiment. When it’s over, we look at the man who did it, exchange polite sympathies, and swipe that Visa.

Thank you. Have a nice day. You too!

We walk out into the parking lot with an empty carrier cage, think of how we don’t need to stop at the pet store on the way home, and go to lunch. When we eat that toasted steak and white cheddar sandwich just down the block from the animal hospital, the realization of our actions settle in.

When I check my bank account later, it’ll read debit ($46.50) – Animal Hospital. That’s the polite way of saying I paid to execute a living creature. It’s the civilized way of letting my bank know I care.

Scott Waldyn leads a quiet existence until his brain flares up and paints colors over a black and white reality.