Death and Dismemberment ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Coralie Killabee, always a lady, killed her husband, Desmond Killabee, at the breakfast table on a Wednesday morning in June. She hit him in the head, hit him with a cast-iron skillet, hit him hard enough to crack his skull. He pitched forward face-down in his oatmeal and then sideways to the floor.
Seeing he wasn’t dead yet, but just making little wah-wah-wah sounds with his mouth, she held a pillow over his face, leaning on it with all her might, until she knew he was no longer breathing and his heart no longer pumping blood.
Here’s how it happened: Coralie put a plate of bacon on the breakfast table. Fabian jumped up on the table from out of nowhere the way cats do and tried to pick up a piece of the bacon in his mouth. Before Fabian had a good purchase on the bacon, Desmond smacked him with his knuckles, hard, on the side of the head. Indignant, his feelings hurt, Fabian bounded off the table and ran for cover. He had never been smacked before, by Desmond or anybody else, and didn’t know what to make of it.
If there was one thing Coralie would not tolerate in her house, it was mistreatment of any animal but especially of her beloved cats. Without even thinking about what she was doing, she picked up the cast-iron skillet and brought it and Desmond’s head together in a harmonious union.
With Desmond lying dead on the floor, the cats, sensing excitement, came from other parts of the house. First there was Button and then Chick and finally, Fabian, looking none the worse for having been smacked. They sniffed Desmond’s face and hair, danced around him and waved their tails. They had never liked Desmond anyway and were glad he was dead. Fabian seemed especially gleeful; he meowed loudly several times and scraped his paws on the floor in front of Desmond’s face as though cleaning up a malodorous accident. Coralie picked Fabian up, kissed him where Desmond had smacked him and examined him with her fingertips to make sure he wasn’t hurt.
Coralie didn’t want to leave Desmond’s body there on the kitchen floor—it seemed so untidy—so she quickly thought of a plan. She dragged him by the legs to the top of the cellar stairs, opened the door and let his body tumble down— what a wonderful thing is gravity!—the long, narrow flight of cellar stairs. Thump, thump, thump he went until he could go no farther.
In the cellar was an old chest-type freezer that had belonged to Desmond’s mother. It was only about half-full at the moment, with a two-inch coating of permafrost on its insides that made it like a tiny piece of the North Pole. Coralie hoisted Desmond to an upright position, almost standing, and let him topple headfirst into the freezer on top of the layers of frozen corn, lima beans, strawberries and cuts of meat. She arranged his arms and legs to her satisfaction and then let the lid fall with a satisfying whack.
She knew she wouldn’t be able to leave Desmond in the freezer forever, but for the time being she didn’t want to think about it. She wanted to enjoy the rare experience of having the house to herself and her cats for a while. It was like a vacation not to have to cook Desmond’s meals, remind him to take his medicine, listen to him snore, clean up after him, and listen to his complaints.
To celebrate her freedom, she went to the animal shelter and adopted three more kittens in need of a home to add to her little family. She named the new additions Felix, Tiny Tim, and Ann Darrow after the screaming girl in King Kong. With the three she already had, she now had six little ones to brighten her home, take liberties in the kitchen, wake her up before daylight, and help with the housework.
She went to the grocery store and bought luxuries that penny-pinching Desmond would never have allowed: desserts, exotic fruits and vegetables from foreign lands, fillet mignons, lobster, caviar, champagne, wine, chocolate-covered nuts, and the best and most expensive cat foods from the pet aisle.
No matter what she was doing, though, the thought of Desmond lingered in her head. The longer she left him in the freezer, the more she ran the risk of being found out. A dead man in her freezer was something for which she would not be able to offer a reasonable explanation.
After Desmond had been in the freezer for a few days, Coralie remembered an old meat saw that hung in the recesses of the cellar behind the furnace. It had been there so long she didn’t remember how it came to be there or who it belonged to. She never had any reason before to give it any thought.
Armed with a flashlight and a broom to brush away cobwebs, she retrieved the meat saw from its decades-long resting place and took it upstairs to get a better look. It was slightly rusted but not as bad as it could have been. She cleaned it, sanded the rust spots, and wiped it down with an oily rag. When she was finished, it looked serviceable and more than adequate for the job.
So, if she applied the meat saw to Desmond’s body, what would she then do with the pieces? She couldn’t exactly flush them down the toilet or put them down the garbage disposal like leftovers from dinner. She couldn’t burn them or hide them or bury them. She had to be careful—she didn’t relish the thought of spending the rest of her days in women’s prison.
An idea came to her in the night. Why couldn’t she cut off a little piece of Desmond’s body every week and conceal it inside her weekly bag of trash? In no time at all, all the pieces would have been loaded onto the trash truck and taken away to the land where the bong tree grows and nobody would ever suspect a thing.
Before she began dismantling Desmond’s body with the meat saw, she thought about what she would say when people began asking nosy questions about where he might be and what he might be doing.
She typed up a letter on Desmond’s typewriter, explaining, in Desmond’s own voice (if he still had a voice), how he had been engaged in an illicit love affair with a foreign woman for two years and was going to go live with her in her own country. He would learn to speak her language and sever all ties with his past life and the country of his birth. “Don’t try to find me,” (s)he wrote, “because it will be useless.”
She signed Desmond’s name to the typed letter with a ballpoint pen in a close approximation of his handwriting, folded it and put it in an envelope. She would have it ready when she needed it.
With all six cats at her feet, she began the distasteful job of removing Desmond from her life forever by first cutting off his left hand. She was surprised at how easy it was to cut through the frozen arm with the hefty meat saw. All the blood in his body was frozen, so there was virtually no mess.
She wrapped the hand in newspaper, before it had a chance to thaw, and then wrapped the newspaper-wrapped hand in several layers of plastic and carefully concealed it inside her weekly trash. She put the large black trash bag (containing Desmond’s hand and a week’s worth of trash) in the metal trash container outside at the curb in front of the house for the trash truck to collect.
In weeks to follow, she disposed of the right hand, the left foot and the right foot. This was followed by the legs (each one in three sections), until both legs were sheared off at the groin. Then came the arms, which were less meaty and easier to cut through than the legs. When Desmond was headless and armless, she cut off the head.
The head was heavier than she ever would have thought. She let it fall to the floor; it was ice-encrusted and solid as a cannonball. Crouching on her knees, she cut the head into four neat sections the same way she would have quartered a watermelon. It took four weeks to dispose of the head, a quarter of a head at a time.
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 of three or four pounds each. If anybody happened to see these chunks in her trash, they wouldn’t know what they were seeing
So, in this way, she disposed of Desmond in his entirety in about three months. The task was completed on the first day of autumn. She celebrated the event by burning all of Desmond’s old books and papers, donating his clothes to charity, and buying new furniture for the living room.
A few weeks later, toward the end of October, a man came to the house looking for Desmond. Coralie opened the door a few inches and as soon as she saw the man’s face she knew she was in for some trouble.
“I’m looking for Desmond Killabee,” he said, smiling.
“He’s not here.”
“Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“Look,” she said. “I don’t have time for this. I have an appointment with my hairdresser in less than an hour. Desmond is gone. I don’t know where he is or how you can reach him. Sorry.”
“Do you think I could come in and we could have a little talk?”
“No. I’m very busy.”
She started to close the door; the man blocked it with his arm.
“I won’t take up more than a few minutes of your time, I promise.”
She reluctantly allowed him into the living room, where he took a seat on the couch.
“What is this about?” she asked.
“I’m Desmond’s brother, Moe Killabee. ”
“Your name is Moe?”
“Desmond never told me he had a brother.”
“No, he wouldn’t. Say, do you think I could have a drink of water? I just walked six blocks from the bus depot and I’m awful thirsty.”
She went into the kitchen and filled a glass with water and took in back into the living room and handed it to him.
“That’s awfully kind of you,” he said.
He drank the water down, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and handed her the empty glass.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you,” she said, “but if you’ll excuse me now…”
“I road all night on the bus from Memphis to get here,” he said. “The bus kind of wears my ass out. Do you think it’d be all right if I took a little nap?”
“What? No! I need for you to leave now. As I said, I’m very busy. If you’re looking for Desmond, he isn’t here and I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
He put both arms on the back of the couch and looked her up and down. “So you’re the little wife?” he said.
“I’m Desmond’s wife, yes.”
“When was the last time you saw Desmond?”
“He left in June. I haven’t seen him since.”
“Why do I have the feeling you’re not telling the truth?”
“Now, look!” she said. “I don’t have to convince you of anything! I think you’d better get out of my house before I call the police!”
“The police might be a lot more interested to hear what I have to tell them.”
“Who are you anyway?”
“I think you know perfectly well where Desmond is.”
“I can show you a letter that he wrote before he left. It should explain everything.”
“All right, then. Let me see it.”
She went to the desk and took the letter out of the drawer. When she handed it to him, she tried to conceal that her hands were shaking.
He read the letter with a smile. When he finished, he refolded it and returned it to the envelope.
“That letter doesn’t sound like Desmond at all. Where would he meet a foreign woman to fall in love with?”
“You’ll have to ask him that question.”
“I think you wrote that letter.”
“Desmond signed his name.”
“I think you signed Desmond’s name.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“I’ll give you about ten seconds to get out of my house or I’m calling the police.”
“You won’t call the police.”
“And why not?”
“Because I won’t let you.”
“Who are you anyway and what is it you want from me?”
“We might start with some money. Let’s say ten thousand dollars?”
“Why would I give you money?”
“I don’t think you have any other choice.”
“Oh, my! That’s such an ugly word, isn’t it? We’re family. I would never blackmail you. You’re my sister-in-law.”
“I don’t believe for one second that you’re Desmond’s brother. In fifteen years of marriage he never mentioned your name.”
“Now, isn’t that odd?”
“He’s always told me he didn’t have any family.”
“He isn’t much of a family man, is he? Or should I say was? He’s really rather an odd duck, isn’t he? Or he was.”
She sat down in the chair across from the couch to give herself a chance to think.
“You said your home is in Memphis?”
“No, I said Memphis is where I came from. I don’t have a home. Now that I’m here, I’m thinking about making this my home.”
“Why would you do that?”
“To be near my dear brother, my only living relative, and his lovely wife.”
“If you think you’re going to stay here, in this house, you are very sadly mistaken.”
He laughed and gave her another searching look. “You’re a fine-looking woman,” he said. “You must get pretty lonely at night with nobody around. I think you could get to like me a little if you’d only give yourself a chance.”
“I already loathe you and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
“Haw-haw-haw! I remind you a little too much of Desmond, is that it?”
“I have some people coming over for dinner. I think you should leave now. I can give you money for cab fare or for a bus ticket back to Memphis or wherever you want to go.”
“This is where I want to be, sweetie,” he said. “Right here. I’ve traveled a long way. A long , weary road. Now that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you leave right now.”
“Oh, come on, now! Don’t you think we can do better than that?”
“You’re an extortionist! I don’t believe for one second you’re Desmond’s brother.”
“Oh, gee! Don’t you think we’ve had enough of that kind of talk? I can be quite nice if you just give me a chance.”
“All right. You win. You can stay tonight in the guest room, but tomorrow you’re going to have to make other arrangements.”
“Maybe after you’ve had time to think about it you’ll change your mind about having me stay in the guest room. I can be awful good company, you know. Haw-haw-haw!”
“You must be hungry.”
“I’m so hungry I could eat the wolf at the door.”
“I can fix you something while you get yourself cleaned up. I don’t have much in the house, but I have bread and some ham and eggs in the refrigerator.”
“That sounds delightful.”
“The bathroom is right upstairs. There are towels and anything else you might need. If you need anything you don’t see, call down to me and I’ll get it for you.”
“You’re awfully kind.”
“Desmond will be glad to hear I was kind to his brother.”
“And you won’t call the police while I’m having a bath?”
“Oh, no! I don’t think there’s any reason for that now. We’ll talk more about it later.”
“See? I knew we could be friends if you’d just gave me a chance.”
She watched him go up the stairs, heard the bathroom door close and, a little while later, water running. She went into the kitchen and took some eggs out of the refrigerator and began making an omelet.
In fifteen minutes he came back down, decidedly cleaner than when he went up. He had wet his hair and slicked it back.
“Sorry I don’t have any of Desmond’s clothes you could put on,” she said. “He took everything with him when he left.”
“That’s quite all right,” he said. “All I need now is a toothbrush.”
“Sure, I have a spare one in the drawer upstairs.”
He sat down in Desmond’s chair at the table, lord of the manor. She poured him a cup of coffee and spooned hot food from the skillet onto the plate. He picked up the fork and began eating like a hungry wolf.
“This is so good!” he said.
“Eat up! There’s plenty more.”
She went to the sink and began filling it with hot water for washing the dishes. It was while he was holding the coffee cup to his mouth that she crept up behind him and cracked him in the back of the head, with all her might, with the same cast-iron skillet she had used on Desmond. He never knew what hit him. The cup flew out of his hand and broke against the wall. He pitched forward onto the table and then to the floor.
It was while he was lying on the floor, looking up at her, trying to focus his eyes, that she began kicking him.
“You lying scum!” she screamed. “What kind of a fool do you take me for? Who do you think you’re dealing with?”
She kicked him repeatedly in the head and upper body until she knew he was dead.
With the cautious delicacy that cats possess, Fabian, Button, Chick, Felix, Tiny Tim, and Ann Darrow came out of hiding and sniffed at the body of the stranger on the kitchen floor. After they had made a thorough inspection and satisfied their curiosity, they were ready for their dinner.
Coralie dragged the body to the top of the cellar stairs and let it tumble down on its own: thumpity-thumpity-thump-thump-thump. The cats stopped eating for a moment, looked over their shoulders toward the unexpected disturbance, and went right back to their food. They weren’t alarmed or even interested. They had seen dead bodies tumble down the stairs before.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp