Death and Dismemberment ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Selma Bellinger murdered her husband of twenty-two years, Lloyd Bellinger, at the breakfast table on a Wednesday morning in June. It was not quite as impulsive an act as it might have seemed at the time. She had wanted to murder him for a long time.
He was a swine and a philistine. He didn’t like Bing Crosby or I Love Lucy. He didn’t laugh when Milton Berle dressed up in women’s clothes. He didn’t read good books and, in fact, didn’t read any books at all. He didn’t like Ravel’s Bolero or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. He threw the wind chimes in the trash because the sound they made got on his nerves. He cut down all the rose bushes in the yard because he stuck a thorn in his fat thumb. He did whatever he wanted to do, without ever consulting Selma, believing he was lord and master and that his word was law. She had come to wonder whatever possessed her to marry him.
Selma had three cats—Fabian, Tiny and Adore—that she loved more than anything in the world. They were her children. They could do no wrong, even when they vomited on the living room carpet, sharpened their claws on arm of the couch or jumped up on a shelf and knocked a dish or a cup off and broke it.
Lloyd didn’t like Selma’s cats or any cats. He would tolerate them only if he didn’t have to see them, and that wasn’t tolerating them at all. Selma tried to keep them away from Lloyd, but it wasn’t always easy. Cats have a mind of their own. They go where they want to go.
On the June morning in question, Lloyd had just sat down at the breakfast table to eat his breakfast, consisting of eggs, bacon and toast. He was buttering his toast when one of Selma’s cats, the one named Fabian, jumped up on the table and helped himself to a slice of bacon. Fabian had the bacon in his mouth and was about to jump onto the floor with it, when Lloyd saw what he was doing and smacked him over the head with the newspaper as if he were a pesky fly.
Fabian wasn’t accustomed to being punished or reprimanded for anything he ever did. Startled and chagrined at being hit with the newspaper, he hissed at Lloyd (rightfully so) and ran out of the room. He was a sensitive soul. His feelings were hurt and he would probably keep himself hidden away all morning.
Well, Selma could take a lot, but one thing she could not and would not take was seeing any of her cats mistreated. In that moment she loathed Lloyd more than she ever had before, loathed him so much that she had to do something about it. She picked up the cast-iron skillet, approached Lloyd from behind where he sat at the table, and hit him in the head with it, wielding it like a baseball bat. For a small woman, she had surprising strength in her swing.
The teacup he was holding flew against the wall and smashed and he fell off the chair. He lay on the floor, looking up at Selma and making pitiful little wah-wah-wah sounds with his mouth. It seemed he was asking her why she had chosen that particular moment to smash his head in. When she saw he wasn’t dead yet, she hit him again with the skillet—again and again—and then once again for good measure. Nothing ever felt so good.
Knowing that Lloyd was truly dead was the most exhilarating moment of Selma’s life. She wanted to scream for joy. She didn’t scream but instead sat down at the table and covered her face with her hands and cried the tears of happiness.
The cats, sensing that something interesting had happened, came into the room and approached Lloyd’s body cautiously: sniff, sniff, sniff, tails straight out behind them. When they satisfied themselves that Lloyd was dead and wasn’t going to rise up against them, they danced around in unabashed delight. Fabian was particularly joyful. He meowed his growling meow and brushed against Selma’s legs until she picked him up and stroked him under the chin and apologized for Lloyd’s hitting him with the newspaper. My poor little baby! How much do I love thee?
She stepped over Lloyd’s body for the rest of the day, but by nightfall she knew, realistically, she was going to have to move it or cover it or take it out and bury it or do something with it. She thought about driving out into the country and burying it, but that was too risky and she didn’t relish the thought of getting a dead body into the car, driving out of town with it, and then digging a grave all on her own.
The basement seemed like a reasonable alternative to burial. It was quiet down there, dark and private. Nobody ever went down there.
So, she dragged her dead husband by the ankles across the kitchen floor to the door that led to the basement, opened the door and let the body tumble down the basement steps of its own accord: thumpity, thump, thump, thump! What a satisfying sound! What a wonderful thing was gravity!
She couldn’t leave him down there like that, in a heap at the bottom of the basement steps. In no time he’d smell something awful and the nosy neighbors would notice the smell and call the police. No, she couldn’t have that.
In the basement was a large, chest-like freezer. It was about half-full of meats and frozen foods at the moment. It seemed like the best place to keep a dead body until more permanent arrangements might be made.
She wasn’t sure if she could lift Lloyd’s body high enough to get it into the freezer on her own, but the way she saw it she didn’t have much choice. Supposing the gas man came and wanted to have a look at the gas meter, or the exterminators came for their yearly inspection? For obvious reasons, she couldn’t ask the next-door neighbors to come in and help her heave her husband’s dead body into the freezer. No, she had to do it on her own.
Lifting him was not a possibility, so she used a strong, light-weight rope. She tied the rope around the upper body and then, throwing the other end of the rope over a rafter, she elevated the body until the feet were barely grazing the floor. After securing the rope, she angled the body over the freezer and then cut the rope so that the body fell with a satisfying thunk on top of the steaks, lambchops, pizzas and frozen vegetables.
She closed the lid of the freezer and went back upstairs and had a well-earned rest.
She knew she wouldn’t be able to leave Lloyd in the freezer forever, but for the time being he was all right until she decided how to dispose of him. She would begin by telling people he had left her, for good this time, and she didn’t know where he went or when he’d be back. He always said he wanted to see the Volga River in Russia.
At the grocery store, she bought whatever her heart desired without thinking of the cost: a fancy cake with strawberries and whipped cream, a bottle of champagne, chocolate-covered nuts, caviar, and the most expensive cat foods from the pet aisle.
The next day she went to the Pet Adoption Agency and adopted three more cats, two males and a female, to go with the three she already had. She named the two males Felix and Buckwheat and the female Ann Darrow, after the screaming girl in King Kong. She had six little ones now to keep her from being lonely, to wake her up before daylight, beg for food in the kitchen, chase the dustmop and run from the vacuum cleaner.
Always at the back of her mind, though, no matter what she was doing, was Lloyd lying stiff in the freezer in the basement: his rotten heart suspended in his frozen chest; his frozen, joyless intestines; his staring eyes in his frozen face. If only she could make him disappear! If only she could wish him away forever!
It came to her in the night when she was sleeping: she had a meat saw that she never used. She would cut Lloyd into sections like the not-so-prize pig that he was and conceal his various parts in the trash, one piece at a time. The trash was picked up once a week. One piece of Lloyd a week until there were no more pieces left. Auf Wiedersehen, Lloyd!
Selma had never cut up a body before and was a little nervous. Would there be a lot of blood? Would she become nauseated? Would she feel remorse?
Armed with the meat saw and a pair of heavy work gloves, she crept down the basement stairs and flung open the lid of the freezer. Yes, Lloyd was still there, exactly as she had left him, only now he was Ice Age man, recently discovered under a glacier in Siberia. With some effort she lifted his right arm and began sawing a few inches above the thumb. The bone was a little stubborn, but the hand came off easier than she expected.
She wrapped the hand in old rags before it had a chance to thaw, tied it up with string, concealed it in the week’s trash inside a heavy black trash bag. The bag went into the trash can that she placed at the curb once a week. The trash truck would come along, the man would empty the can into the back of the truck without a thought, and she was well on her way to ridding the world of Lloyd Addison Bellinger!
The next week it was the left hand and the week after that the right foot and the week after that the left foot, and so on, until Lloyd was armless and legless.
The head, when she cut it off, was heavier than she expected. She let it fall to the floor, ice-encrusted and solid as a cannonball. Crouching on her knees on the cold concrete floor, she cut the head into four neat sections, disposing of one-fourth each week for four weeks.
The thick part of the body, where the stomach, intestines and other organs were, was more problematic. She wasn’t able to cut all the way through this part of the body with the saw, so she cut off small chunks each week. If she had known any cannibals, she would have been happy to donate the chunks to their stew pot.
Finally, after weeks she hadn’t bothered to count, the last vestiges of Lloyd were gone. The last piece of him went out in the trash. She spent a whole day cleaning up in and around the freezer. She bleached, scrubbed, mopped and disinfected until her hands were raw.
To celebrate the completion of her difficult and distasteful task, she had her hair done in the most flattering Doris Day style and bought new furniture for the living room, donating the old to charity.
She was happy at last, but she knew that one day somebody would come around looking for Lloyd with some unfinished business. It happened sooner than she expected.
On a Saturday evening in early October, there was an insistent knocking at the front door. When she went to the door and opened it, she saw a gray-haired, middle-aged man she had never seen before standing on her doorstep.
“Yes?” she said.
“I’m looking for Lloyd Bellinger,” the man said.
“He’s not here.”
“Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“Are you his wife?”
“I’m Mrs. Bellinger.”
“I really need to see Lloyd.”
“He isn’t here.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“How long has he been gone?”
“You might tell me who you are and what you want with Lloyd before I answer any more questions,” she said.
“I’m Nelson, his brother.”
“He never mentioned he had a brother.”
“We were never close. Half-brothers, you know. Same father. Different mothers.”
“Funny he’s never mentioned you in all these years.”
“Would it be all right if I come inside?”
“I just walked all the way from the bus station. I was awake all night last night and I’m really tired.”
“Well, all right, but just for a little while. I’m expecting company.”
“That’s awfully good of you, ma’am,” he said, stepping through the door.
He hesitated in the doorway and then sat on the couch and smiled at her.
“What was it you wanted to see Lloyd about?” she asked.
“He has some property belonging to me. I came to get it.”
“What property would that be?”
“Some gold coins and a samurai sword.”
“I don’t think those things are here. Lloyd never mentioned them.”
“Look, do you think it would be all right if I lay down here on your couch and took a little rest? I’m not feeling very well.”
“I think it would be better if you just leave.”
“Just let me rest a while and I’ll feel better.”
He kicked off his shoes and lay back on the couch, positioning the sofa cushion under his head. He let out a breath, closed his eyes and went to sleep.
“You’ll have to go,” she said, but he didn’t hear her.
She went into the kitchen to call the police, but changed her mind after she picked up the phone. She let him come into the house. He hadn’t in any way threatened her. Suppose he really was Lloyd’s brother? She’d feel ridiculous if she called the police for nothing.
She waited patiently for two hours, thinking the whole time of what she would say to him to get him to leave. Finally he woke up, sat up on the couch and rubbed his eyes.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“It’s nearly eight. Don’t you have to catch your bus back to wherever you came from? I’m sorry you came all this way, but…”
“Gee, I’m hungry.”
“I said I’m really hungry. That’s what woke me up.”
“I don’t have much food in the house.”
“Anything will do, ma’am. Don’t go to any trouble.”
She went into the kitchen and opened a can of vegetable soup and set it on the stove to heat. She opened a can of pears and poured them in a bowl and set the bowl in the middle of the table.
When the soup was hot enough, she went back into the living room to tell him to come into the kitchen and eat.
“Okay if I wash up first, ma’am?” he asked.
“At the end of the hall.”
Her patience was wearing thin.
He came into the kitchen, drying his hands on the front of his shirt. He smiled at her and she gestured for him to sit at the table.
He began slurping the soup. She took a box of crackers out of the cabinet and set it on the table.
“Thank you, ma’am. I wonder if I might trouble you for some coffee.”
“I don’t have any coffee, only iced tea.”
“Iced tea is my favorite.”
“After you eat, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I have guests arriving any minute.”
She poured the tea into a glass and set it on the table in front of him.
“Sit down and let’s talk,” he said.
“There isn’t anything to…”
She pulled out the chair across from him and sat down.
“I think you do know where Lloyd is, don’t you?” he said.
“You’re not really his brother, are you?”
“I don’t think you’re any relation at all.”
“So, I think you’re lying and you think I’m lying. Now, what are we going to do about it?”
“I’m going to give you about two minutes to get out of my house.”
“Or you’ll do what?”
“Call the police.”
“I don’t think you’ll do that.”
“You’re afraid of what I’ll tell them.”
She laughed or tried to laugh. “You can’t bluff me, Mr. Whoever-You-Are! You’re just a bum who showed up at my door. Why should I believe anything you say?”
“You don’t need to insult me, ma’am,” he said.
He finished the soup and began eating the canned pears in the bowl.
“When you’re finished eating, I want you to leave.”
“You know, you have a beautiful house here? A big house! I’ll bet it’s worth a lot.”
“Thanks for stopping by today!” she said, standing up from the table. “I’ll tell Lloyd what a lovely visit we had.”
“Don’t think I’m going away empty-handed, dear! Lloyd owes me and, since he’s not here, I think you should be the one to pay up. Isn’t that the way it works? When the husband is gone, the little wifey is responsible for his debts?”
“I don’t know anything about gold coins or a samurai sword.”
“I believe you, so that’s why I think a cash settlement is in order.”
“Cash settlement? I don’t have any cash in the house.”
“Yes, but I’m sure you have it in the bank.”
“It’s Saturday night. The bank is closed.”
“That’s why I’m going to stay here for a few days and keep you company.”
“You can’t stay here! I have guests coming! I already told you!”
“That’s another lie. There aren’t any guests! I don’t know how you can lie so!”
“I’ll let you have two hundred dollars if you go away and leave me alone.”
“I think we can do a lot better than that,” he laughed. “I was thinking more in the neighborhood of ten thousand.”
“I’m not giving you ten thousand dollars! I don’t even know who you are!”
“You don’t believe I’m Lloyd’s brother?”
“No! Lloyd never had a brother!”
“Don’t you see the family resemblance?”
“There isn’t any! You’re just trying to extort money from me. That’s a crime!”
“So is murder.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you do. I know you murdered Lloyd and I know how you did it.”
“That’s ridiculous! I could never murder Lloyd! I could never murder anybody!”
“I was watching you the whole time.”
“That’s not possible! You don’t know anything about me!”
“I know enough.”
“You’re raving like a lunatic! I’m going to call the police!”
“And tell them what? That you murdered your husband?”
“I never murdered anybody!”
“I assume you’re willing to pay, then, to keep me quiet?”
She sat back down at the table, in a sort of a daze.
“You can stay until Monday,” she said. “I think we can come to some kind of an arrangement before then. You can sleep in the guestroom.”
“Don’t go to any trouble, ma’am. I can sleep on that couch in there.”
“You’re not really Lloyd’s brother, are you?”
“We’ll talk about that later. I’m going to be around for a while. And, who knows? You might come to like me in time. I’m not a bad fellow.”
“And what will you do if Lloyd comes back and finds you here?”
“We both know that’s not going to happen, don’t we?”
“I don’t know anything.”
“You know what? I’m still hungry! The Campbell’s vegetable soup and the canned pears were delicious, but they were as an appetizer to the main course. How about cooking me up something special like a good little wife? I’ll bet you’re a good cook.”
“What would you like?”
“Whatever you have on hand, ma’am. I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”
“I have some chicken thawing in the refrigerator, ready to fry.”
“Perfect! I love fried chicken!”
“Just sit right there, then. It won’t take long.”
“You bet I will!”
He was sitting in Lloyd’s chair at the table. She lifted the same cast-iron skillet above her head that she used in killing Lloyd. Wielding the skillet like a baseball bat, she hit him with all her might just above the ear. He bellowed like a bull and tried to stand up. She hit him again and then again, until he fell to the floor, flopping like a fish out of water. When he stopped struggling—stopped moving—she knew he was dead.
Sensing that something exciting had happened, the cats came into the room: first Adore and then Ann Darrow, followed by Buckwheat and Fabian, with Tiny and Felix bringing up the rear. They danced around the body on the floor, sniffing, waving their tails and mewing. They showed they were delighted. They showed they heartily approved.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp