The Mash House

By Alan Gillespie

A tribal story about secrets, death and malt whisky

The cat’s brains were pink and glistening in the glow of the clear high moon. Rivulets of blood puddling on the concrete. Its limbs were folded to the side, and the dead thing’s face looked away from the road, towards the loch. It was silent. Kirsty had been driving with the windows open, and when she hit the cat the sound of its bell tinkled noisily until it landed. But now the road was silent. The blood formed a jammy shadow around the cat’s body.

Kirsty’s car was pulled over on the verge. She sat on the bonnet and lit a cigarette. There were a few houses nearby but Kirsty had not lived in Cullrothes for long enough to know who the cat’s owner might be. The creature had a red collar around its neck and a white loveheart shape embroidered on its flank. The road was dark with no streetlights. The water on the surface of the huge loch moved softly.

Kirsty slipped her sandals off. Stretched her toes on the cold concrete and finished the cigarette. Smoking here, polluting this clean air, felt subversive. Although it was dark and silent she felt like someone could be watching. She took a step towards the cat and looked at it again. She squatted. Focused on the cat’s side to see if its lungs were still expanding, to see if its paws or tail might still twitch.

Nothing. She stood and looked out to the water, smoking the cigarette down to the filter, until she caught a burn on her lower lip. The loch here was endless. Small ripples rising like hackles and falling against the pebbled bank. People went out in canoes at the weekend. There were fish farms out there somewhere, further along the coast, hiring up all the kids who left school without the good grades to move away, to university. When she first moved up here there had been men standing in the loch, the water up to their chests, casting fishing lines. The tourist information kiosk sold postcards to campers and tourists. Photographs of the loch glowing as the sun goes down behind it.

Kirsty turned and looked up and down the dark road. She bent and sunk the burning cigarette butt into the dead cat’s flank, right in the middle of that white patch shaped like a loveheart, where it fizzed out. She rotated the filter as it smouldered then expired, the smell of singed hair. The cat’s brains looked as though they were already dried out, the pink turning to grey, the blood congealing and settling. She gripped the cat’s hind paws and held them together in her right hand, lifting the thing up and away from her.

A drooling slobber fell from the wound in the cat’s head and dangled in a thin strand to the road.

Kirsty swung once, twice, keeping the corpse away from her dress and then released, following through on her tiptoes, and the cat soared, rotated, twisted a little, visible only in the moonlight, and landed lightly in the loch. Barely a splash.

Kirsty stepped into her sandals and returned to the car. She turned the key and the interior light came on with the engine. On the passenger seat lay her teacher planner, emblazoned on the front in gold font: Cullrothes Primary School. Her breath tasted of smoke. She rummaged in her bag until she found some mints, shifted into gear and pulled back out into the empty road.

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