The Last Meal of the Condemned

The Last Meal of the Condemned
Photo by Photo Extremist (copied from Flickr)

Photo by Photo Extremist (copied from Flickr)

Dennis made a point of not looking at the dead cat, both on his way to and from the shop. Its mushy bug eyes seemed to follow him, to accuse him. But the cat had jumped voluntarily, albeit without foreseeing the full impact, so to speak, of its actions. Dennis was supposed to be looking after it all jobless day long, while Jeanette worked. Ensuring her beloved Lord Merrydew didn’t jump out of the window had been a specific task. She had even gone as far as to tell him that if a cat fell out of an eighth story window, or higher, its chances of survival were higher too; something to do with how it spread its body and caught the air. Unfortunately for her and Lord Merrydew, they lived on the fifth.

It was Dennis’s fault Lord Merrydew was dead. That’s how Jeanette would see it, but Dennis knew he wasn’t to blame. Convincing her of his innocence would be a difficult task, though. Dennis could be very convincing when he wanted. That was how he had persuaded Jeanette to take him, jobless and contributing nothing, into her luxury flat. Sure, there were benefits for her too, all stemming from his particular Dennisness. That was ample pay for freeing him from his toadstool-ridden bedsit. He deserved better, and his Dennisness, the Blankety Blank chequebook and pen he bounced through life with, had given him Jeanette.

Back inside, the flat’s moulted cat hair theme, soon to be a thing of the past, confirmed that Lord Merrydew had deserved what had happened to him. Dennis’s few but highly fashionable clothes were always covered in scraggly cat hair. Jeanette, of course, sided with Lord Merrydew and said it wasn’t a problem, told Dennis he should buy a lint brush if it bothered him. Why hadn’t she bought him the lint brush? And here he had bought her a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle to make her feel better.

Dennis could have prevented this whole situation, even up to the last second. He had seen Lord Merrydew swiping his paw at the birds as they danced and teased on the windowsill. Dennis had been in the process of killing difficult baddy Jizzy B in the computer game Grand Theft Auto 3: San Andreas. This would have been the first time Dennis had managed to finish Jizzy B, but Lord Merrydew made his last leap before Dennis could deliver the final blow. Jizzy B would keep for another time. Right now Dennis needed to prepare this Pot Noodle for Jeannette’s return from work.

He filled the kettle and thought through the arguments why this had not been his fault. Jeanette worked for a firm that hired immigrants to work in dark overheated rooms sewing footballs or something equally horrible. Dennis wasn’t sure what she really did, but this was convenient now he needed to tell himself that Jeanette had, in some way, brought this on herself. She stole stationery from her office: pens, paper, and envelopes in which she intended to send letters to her mother but never did. She told herself that it wasn’t theft; it was a company perk. Jeanette could convince herself that this was acceptable, but karma was not fooled. It had been karma, not Dennis, that had killed Lord Merrydew.

Jeanette wouldn’t accept those reasons. She saw everything as black and white. Dennis knew that all things were grey. The only thing Jeanette had understood to be grey was Lord Merrydew. Now he was grey, splattered with red blood and purple guts. His stomach had burst on impact. He waited in the alley for Jeanette to come across him on her way home from work. Dennis thought he should clean the mess up, but he’d no time now. Jeanette would be home soon. She’d find him stooped over it. Maybe even think he’d killed the cat on purpose. He’d joked about it. He could have said it ran away. If only he’d realised sooner. Jeanette would have believed him. She’d have been hurt by his carelessness, but she was a fantasist. She’d imagine it with another cat, raising kittens, being taken in by some wealthy family who bought it bowls of rich cream, and mice and birds to kill and feast on. Jeanette wasn’t a realist like Dennis.

The kettle clicked off. Dennis yawned as he pulled the foil lid off the Pot Noodle and poured in the boiling water, making sure that he only went slightly past the water fill mark. This was the one thing Dennis was going to get right today.

Jeanette might ask Dennis to leave. It was her flat. She paid the rent. He stared at the tiles asking himself if the Pot Noodle was enough to save him. He tried to imagine what his next place would be like. Who could he stay with? He picked up his mobile and flicked through the numbers. Most of the people listed wouldn’t meet him for a pint let alone have him stay with them. Certainly no one from his old job, not after how he’d been fired, getting drunk at the office party and telling the boss, the ungrateful oversized puffball, who to watch out for in the company, right in front of their faces. He hadn’t done it to be nasty. In some way he’d thought it would make the boss think better of him, even if Dennis had sprayed him with chicken vol-au-vents while talking; he had just been excited.

The Pot Noodle needed to sit for two minutes before you gave it that first stir. He’d been timing it with his watch. All the while he tried to pull a valid excuse out of his head for why it hadn’t been his fault. Where was he going to go if he couldn’t think of one? He could move back home to his parents, but they lived on a scummy council estate, where some people didn’t appreciate Dennis’ Dennisness. Going back to your parents was like going backwards in life, and if that were to happen Dennis would have liked to go back to the womb and start again. He tried not to think about this because it felt weird.

He stirred the Pot Noodle and waited another two minutes. He looked out the window, watching for Jeanette. In the distance he saw her, as she half-skipped down the road towards the block of flats. Probably with some good news or funny anecdote from work, perhaps someone finally told that stinkhorn Daisy Marsh about her BO problem. Perhaps Jeanette was simply happy about the prospect of spending the evening with Dennis and Lord Merrydew.

He gave the Pot Noodle another stir and squeezed in the sachet of soy sauce. He heard the building door close and Jeanette’s footsteps on the stairs. He ran to the door and snibbed the lock.

He could hear her rummaging through her bag for her keys, followed by the familiar jingle of her lifting them up to the lock. It wouldn’t turn. The key rattled in the barrel as she tried it again. Dennis held his breath and wondered if this was a good idea. Jeanette knocked the door.

‘Dennis? Dennis, are you in? My key’s stuck.’

He didn’t know what to do. He screwed his face up. He liked living here. He didn’t want to leave. On the counter beside the steaming Pot Noodle his phone began to vibrate. Eye of the Tiger played. The ringtone was supposed to make him feel fearless. Now it made him shake.

‘Dennis? Dennis? Are you there?’ Jeanette shouted, banging on the door. ‘Is something wrong?’

He walked to the kitchen counter and armed himself with the Pot Noodle. He wiped away a tear, maybe one from an old yawn, and braced himself to open the door. Walking towards it his phone rang a second time. He pulled the fork from the Pot Noodle and thought how truly bad an idea it was. He wanted to end it. The fork could pierce his wrist, but would it puncture the right place? He peered headlong into the brown murky water; chunks of soya masquerading as chicken swam towards the top. He stabbed down with the fork and brought it up full of noodles.

Gerard McKeown is an Irish Writer living in London. His work has featured in 3:AM, Fuselit, and Neon, among others. His story Dunvale was highly commended in The Moth's 2015 Short Story Competition, and his story The Longest Nickname in the World was longlisted for Over The Edge's New Writer of the Year award.

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