back to tomorrowland
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by Miracle Jones
I passed the box of kittens five times before I snatched up the cardboard flaps and brought the whole litter into my apartment building.
The first time I walked by, I was on my way to the convenience store up the next block to buy an avocado and some batteries, YOU KNOW: JUST ENOUGH TO GET BY.
I didn’t see the box of kittens but I heard it. The noises were coming from an alley behind the new Trader Joe’s, right there by that cheap shoe repair store. I heard the terrified mewling first: cute little questions for the bullshit universe:
“Am I gonna die? What is happening? Is this life? Does life equal a box plus starving to death?”
On my way home, I walked into the alley. I leaned over the box and looked inside.
I thought it was just one sad kitten covered in rat bites looking to eat some McDonald’s fries. I could maybe handle one kitten. Instead, this was a whole mess full of cats.
And these kittens were brand new. Their eyes were all gunked over with strange uterine cat miasmas and they were stumbling around, bumping into each other or else passed out in the scrum, paws covering their too-big heads, grey fur coated in newborn slime.
“Aw man,” I said. “Somebody just left ya’ll back here? Nobody even walks down this alley.”
But what was I going to do? Just have a bunch of kittens all of a sudden? I left them where they were.
Later that morning, when it started to rain, I put on a coat and went back out. They were still in the same place. Quieter now. Like they had given up. I grabbed the box and picked it up and carried it to the actual sidewalk, setting them in the strip of grass where somebody had left an old filing cabinet.
I considered tumping the box over and setting them free, but there was still a chance some good person might want them.
An hour later, I went back to check. They were all still there. Somebody had taken the filing cabinet, though. This fucking place.
Ten minutes later, I snatched up the box of kittens and took them into the lobby of my apartment building, rescuing them from the drizzle. I felt like a hero for about five seconds.
My roommate was deadly allergic to cats so I couldn’t bring them into my place. Could I hype them, maybe? I used to sell incense on the street; maybe I could unload some kittens.
I got a folding chair from my roommate’s closet and set it up by the box of kittens and made a little hologram sign in rainbow Comic Sans with my console:
DON’T BE A MONSTER
Most people ignored me and the kittens, just walking past, or averting their eyes to keep from embarrassing us both. There is an unspoken code that if you are trying to do a thing in public in NYC you have reached some immense level of public desperation that is unspeakable, and the nicest thing that can be done is to turn away from you.
“Free kittens,” I told them anyway. “Spread the word.”
Some people stopped to take a look at least. Once, two little boys came out of the elevator with their exhausted, just-trying-to-do-some-fuckin-laundry mom and ran over to the box and peeked inside.
“Absolutely not,” said the mom.
“Can I just pet one?’ asked one of the little boys.
“You can do whatever you want,” said the mom. “But under no conditions are we having a cat.”
The little boy reached into the box and picked up one of the kittens, hugging it to him. The other little boy started laughing and pointing.
“Ha, look at the BIG BIG pee-pee on the kitty cat,” said the other little boy. We all did as he suggested and looked at the kitten’s penis, which dangled from its mid-riff. It was indeed enormous, the size of a limp adult hand and wrist. It was incongruous and downright flabbergasting on such a tiny and adorable animal.
“Okay, we need to go,” said the mom. “Put the cat down.”
The little boys flitted away, punching each other, following their mother, still talking about the kitten’s titanic genitals.
I was about to give up on shifting any of these cats, taking my chances trying to sort them out on Craigslist, when the building’s drug dealer sauntered into the lobby, holding a bag of Taco Bell. He was pudgy with a shaved head going Roman on the sides and I had known him for years. I knew his name was Fremont, but everybody called him Monty. He still lived with his parents on the third floor and dealt whatever he could to any residents who had Section 8 money to throw around. My roommate bought coke from him now and again, for special occasions. Like Monty, she had also grown up in the building.
“Heyyyyyyy,” said Monty, taking a slurp from his Taco Bell big gulp and checking out my set-up. “You giving away some cats?”
“Yeah man,” I said. “Somebody just put them on the street.”
“That’s evil,” he said. He plopped down next to me, sitting on the stairs.
“What are you writing these days?” he asked.
Himself, he was a DJ but he had an idea for a movie script.
“I’ve been working on a series of cheap ‘young adult’ books for Kindle,” I said. “The series is called The Legend of Bro Academy. It’s about this magic world where when boys turn fifteen they discover they are Bros and are snatched up by magical bro falcons and taken away to Sup Bro Academy in deepest Antarctica, where they learn how to unlock special Bro powers. There are twelve different competing Bro factions based on the Zodiac. The hero is an Alt Bro. Uh…like…an Aquarius. Alt Bros are telepathic and can control octopuses and squids and other cetaceans.”
“This is some of that gay shit that girls write for each other, right?”
“It is pretty gay, yes,” I admitted.
“I thought you were teaching classes?”
“Yeah, I got fired,” I said.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Sure…I am just eating a giant bag of Taco Bell and waiting for this dude to call. Entertain me with your LIFE FACTS.”
“I only taught one class. It was a workshop. It was supposed to last twelve weeks. The first week, I assigned everybody in the class five thousand words by Friday. It could be an entire short story, part of a book, anything really. Didn’t matter. I told them I didn’t want to talk about writing during class time, though. I hate talking about writing. When we met up, we just talked about our lives and about how to get on Medicare and the best places in town to buy cheesesteaks. On Friday, I got all of their work together, printed it out in a standard format without their names on it, and redistributed everything, making sure that nobody got their own work. I participated, too. I turned in five thousand words of the Legend of Bro Academy. Then, we all sat there in silence and read each other’s writing. At the end of the class, we all came together, in ceremonial silence, and tossed the work we had just read into a barbecue pit that I fired up. I explained that it was against 'the rules' for any of us to talk about anything we had just read. The next week, I assigned them another five thousand words and assured them that we would do the exact same thing again: that we would burn it all next Friday without discussing it. I told them that by the end of my workshop, they would have written enough to have completed an entire short story collection or an entire short novel and they would also know how it feels to be a writer and whether they liked the job or not. That’s when I was asked not to come back.”
Monty took a long slurp of his coke and then bent down over the cardboard box full of kittens.
“So you are unemployed right now,” he said.
“Yep,” I said. “More time to write I guess.”
“These little kitties are wonderful,” he said, reaching into the box and picking one up by the scruff of his neck. And then:
“Holy crap,” said Monty. “Look at the credentials on this gentleman.”
“You want one?” I asked.
“Why are you just giving them away?” said Monty. “You could get cash for these.”
“I did not consider that,” I said.
His eyes got a faraway look, like he was doing the math.
“You know what?” he said. “This is a Fresh Direct box. I think I know who tossed these cats in the first place. She’s one of my best customers. She has like a million animals in her place. I think I have seen cats there. She would be just the sort who might have…cats like these. We should go over there and let her know it isn’t cool to just dump animals on the street. She lives off Fresh Direct. Never leaves.”
“Oh man,” I said. “You are the master of detectives, but I don’t want any trouble.”
“She buys pills from me like four or five times a week and is particularly demanding about her rights as a drug customer. We gotta remind her of the human consequences of her activities. This is a community here.”
His mind was made up.
He grabbed the box of kittens and I followed him to the elevator.
“Top floor, on the corner,” he said in the elevator.
We knocked on her door and she didn’t answer.
“It’s Monty,” he said, knocking again.
Finally, there was the noise of the bolt being slid back and the noise of the chain coming off. The door opened a crack. A woman’s face filled the gap. She had intense, deep-set eyes and hollow cheekbones with a yellowish glow to them. Her hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and she was rail thin. I had never seen her before.
“Just in time,” she said. “Glad you stopped by.”
“I don’t have anything for you,” he said. “Just wondering if you know anything about these kittens?”
He grabbed one of the kittens out of the box and held it up. Its giant flaccid penis dangled past its bottom paws.
“Meow,” said the kitten.
“Uh,” she said. “Oh, alright. Look, I uh…made too many. Those are leftovers, okay. Don’t get up all in my shit. We got an ecosystem, okay? Where do you think your money comes from?”
Her eyes were blazing. She was pretty fucked up on something. She could barely stand up. She leaned against the doorframe like it was her best friend.
“What do you mean you made too many?” asked Monty.
She greyed out right there in the doorway, going into a kind of crouch. Monty, like he had seen this before, pushed the door open and beckoned me inside, peering along the hallway to see if anybody was watching. I grabbed the box of kittens and carried them with me. They meowed in protest; in query.
“What do you mean you made too many?” he asked again. “What does that even mean, Cherish?”
Monty led the woman over to her couch, a soft island in a dank room full of bottles and empty take-out containers. The apartment reeked of animal piss and bleach.
“Just let me sit down for a second,” she said. “I think I have the flu.”
“Yeah, it’s going around,” said Monty.
“Who are you?” she asked me, finally noticing me.
“I live downstairs,” I said. “I am the one who found the cats.”
I introduced myself.
“My name is Cherish,” she said, almost in a whisper, as if exhausted by her own name. “Are you Monty’s new fuck buddy?”
“Uh, no I am not,” I said. “Monty thinks we can make some money from these kittens,” I said, trying to be positive.
“Damn right you can,” she said, stretching out on her couch. “They are worth about two grand a piece. I can’t dilute the market though.”
Monty’s eyes lit up.
“People will pay that much for a cat with the sex luggage of Leviathan?”
“Psssh, you don’t even know,” said Cherish. “Those penises are not natural. Each kitten is, you know, like an incubator.”
“So what, you like breed cats or something?” I asked.
“I am a fucking doctor of genetic biology,” said Cherish. “I teach at NYU. Who are you anyway?”
“You don’t teach at NYU anymore,” Monty said gently.
“I used to,” said Cherish. “Look, what do you even want? You want to lecture me about leaving cats out on the street? I had an order to fill, and those are the leftovers. It’s my fucking job.”
She lay back against her couch cushions and seemed to pass out. Monty sat down on her coffee table, an old footlocker. I remained standing near the door, not sure of what we were even doing.
“Should we go?” I asked him.
“Nah, she’s like this,” said Monty. “She’ll come around.”
He was right. She woke back up and sat cross-legged, blinking, seemingly more lucid.
“I’m sick,” she said again.
“How come you are breeding kittens with preposterous cocks?” said Monty.
“They are downright eldritch,” I agreed.
“I’m not breeding anything,” said Cherish. “Not like some cat breeder. I made them to spec. I had an order; I filled the order. I wasn’t gonna…I didn’t want to kill any more of them than I had to…so I put them on the street to take their chances. Because if they stayed around here…you know. Even chances. I do not have a responsible heart.”
“What do you mean you had an order?” I asked, my gut sinking. “An order for kittens? Who is ordering kittens? You are killing kittens up here? What is happening?”
“In my lab,” said Cherish. “Putting them down. It’s all painless.”
“Your LAB?” I asked. “PUTTING THEM DOWN?”
I got increasingly agitated; I was almost screaming in her face, but she wasn’t even registering it. I tried to calm down. Monty seemed grim and subdued. He lit a cigarette and began to smoke it.
“She sleeps out here,” said Monty. “Her back bedroom is all full of computers…and surgery equipment and beakers and so on. Animals in cages. Dunno.”
“I sell what needs selling,” said Cherish. “Same as you.”
She picked up one of the kittens from the box.
She held it up by the scruff of its neck. The kitten seemed to be frowning, staring out at the world with eyes so meltingly vulnerable that Monty and I both let out an involuntary sigh. The kitten had a kind of seasick-making cuteness.
The giant flaccid penis that hung down between the kitten’s legs was so incongruous that it seemed fake. It was like the kitten had another paw.
“You see this penis?” said Cherish. “It’s not a kitten penis. It’s not even a cat penis. You know what it is? It’s a TIGER penis. This little kitten has a white tiger penis, from DNA I bought on the feed. Of course, not EVERYONE can sequence and manipulate DNA obviously, especially without a full research lab. That takes a fucking GENIUS with decades of experience and incredible ingenuity.”
“You believe this?” I asked Monty.
I got up off the couch and walked to the back bedroom. This was my building and if somebody was straight-up killing kittens in here…I was going to…I don’t know what I was going to do. Was I going to call the cops? Get her arrested and kicked out of her apartment? Did I have that in me? What was I really going to do about it?
The room was dark. I hit the switch, which was in the same place as it was in my own apartment.
There was a shelf all the way around the room at waist height built into the wall. It was a custom job. On this shelf were vats and aquariums, along with giant metal drums between the consoles and projectors and computers. Everywhere, there were trays of dirty instruments, and cages full of hamsters, mice, and other small animals.
There was a mini-fridge right next to the door. It was humming and covered with grime.
In the center of the room was a square card table covered in blue paper. A powerful light hung from the ceiling directly over it. The center of this ‘operating table’ was full of carcasses. Five of them. Surgery had been done to each of their abdomens. They were stacked on the table like old newspapers piling up on the lawn of a family on vacation. The surgery was recent; the blood was still red and wet.
I felt buzzy and gross. Not quite nauseous. I was jazzed with adrenaline. I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what. I wanted to call the cops right then and there, but I made myself relax. There were consequences, like Monty had said. This was a community. An ecosystem.
I walked all the way around the lab, ignoring the pile of dead kittens and trying to make myself focus on everything else. There was an aquarium full of eels with floppy grey fins. I counted thirty or forty hamsters all living in a filthy crush in five terrible plastic cages. Not all of the hamsters were alive. I suspected the dead ones had been bitten to death by the others. They were covered with tiny gashes… their entrails were spilled out and covered in gnaw marks.
I turned out the light and stood there for a moment. On second thought, I opened the refrigerator and squatted down to look inside. Here were what Cherish claimed were ‘white tiger penises’ in a ziplock bag, clearly labeled in careful handwriting. Here also were plastic bags labeled “shark’s fin” and “rhino horn,” the former filled with long rubbery looking chunks of flesh and the latter filled--not with horns--but with powder and the occasional whole rodent incisor. The base of these gnarly teeth were brown and the sides were yellow. I didn’t know what to think.
I walked back into the living room. Monty was eating his Taco Bell and Cherish was sitting there watching him eat, her eyes glazed over and distant. Maybe she really was sick with the flu.
“I get that you are addicted to drugs,” I said patiently. “And such an addiction can erode…normal human qualities.”
“Hey, fuck you,” said Cherish casually, without much enthusiasm.
“Go look in there,” I told Monty. He went into her lab and then came back out quickly, looking as sick as I felt.
Cherish finally seemed to get that we were pissed; that we were overwhelmed with it; that we weren’t going to let this go and that something was about to happen.
“Fine,” she said. “You come in here…just barge in. Fine. I am a terrible person! But listen: I MADE those cats. They were never alive. I put them down as soon as they were done growing. They were just incubators. They were never really alive!”
“And these?” I asked, gesturing to the cats in the box.
“They are extras, like I said,” she explained. “As you can see, I am letting them LIVE actually.”
“Well, you put them on the street to take their chances,” I said.
“You can’t hunt tigers anymore, so I am making the penises to sell. The people I sell them to: they aren't good people. They dry them up. They sell them in pieces. I am not KILLING white tigers, okay? People kill white tigers for this shit. Don’t fucking judge me. It’s demand, okay? If I wasn’t doing it, they would be buying those tiger penises from Boko Haram or whatever. I undercut everybody. I soften up the market. I am getting RID of the market.”
I let this sink in.
“You don’t just make white tiger penises, though,” I said. “I looked in your refrigerator.”
“No,” she admitted.
“Shark’s fin?” I asked.
“I grow them on the backs of eels. Eels aren’t nothing but long, so I get a lot of fin off one eel, you know.”
“Get the same biological caratin out of the teeth of hamsters, after I mess with the DNA,” said Cherish. “Hamster teeth never stop growing, so I just file down the teeth whenever I want powder. And then when the hamsters die, I harvest the teeth whole. It is like milking cows.”
“Why would anybody want any of this? Why would anybody want rhino horn powder?”
“Gets you hard,” said Cherish. “That’s what all this shit does. It all…all of it…gets you hard. Don’t blame me. Blame soft penises and the people who have them.”
“Does it work?” I asked.
“It’s a placebo,” she said. “The more you believe in it, the more it works. The more money you spend on it, the more you believe in it.”
“If it’s a placebo, why can’t you just put some talcum powder in a bag and say it’s the real thing?”
“They test for it,” said Cherish.
“They TEST for it? Using SCIENCE? They make sure their ground-up tiger penis is real using SCIENCE?”
“Just one of those things,” she said. “They’ll go balls-out and use gas chromatography to verify you are selling them an authentic and genuine tiger penis, but they won’t do any double blind studies to see if tiger penises actually do anything besides give you cholesterol.”
“If you can do all this,” I said. “If you can make all this amazing shit here in your apartment, why don’t you go work for some company or for a university or something? Why are you in this crappy building sleeping on this crappy couch and killing kittens?”
“My time is my own here. I hate…I hate being on other people’s time. I am an artist.”
“You are crazy,” I said. “What do you even spend money on?”
She looked at Monty.
“Okay, but, surely you must make more money selling this crap than you can possibly spend on pills,” I said. “This is a lot of work just for pills! You could fucking make your own pills.”
“I have my habits,” she said. “I have my collection. My sculptures.”
“What do you mean your collection?”
“I don’t just buy white tiger DNA,” she said. “I buy the DNA of other people. Celebrities.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“For my collection,” she said. “I make sculptures.”
“Your celebrity DNA collection.”
“Yes…” she said uncertainly.
“You are hiding something,” I said. “If you don’t tell me what it is, I am going to turn you into the police for killing those cats. I am going to do it right now.”
“You can’t do that,” she said. “I MADE those cats. They were mine to kill. And you aren’t going to turn me into the police. A fucking DRUG DEALER and his fuck buddy turning me into the police?”
I looked at Monty. He looked away.
“Kittens though,” I said. “Kittens.”
“It’s fucked up,” he agreed, without meeting my eye.
“Show me,” I said. “Show me your collection. Your sculptures.”
“I promise I won’t kill any more animals like that again,” she said. “I don’t LIKE doing it. Can’t you understand? They were never…they didn’t fight it or anything. They didn’t even know it was happening. Can’t you see I am fucked up about it? I am fucking embarrassed here. I am not a bad person. If I didn’t do it, the people who I sell to…they would have hurt me. They placed an order. They expect me to fulfill the orders they place.”
“Show me your sculptures, then,” I said acidly. “Show me why you need money so badly. Show me what makes it all worth it.”
She got up off the couch and walked across the room to another door. In my apartment, on that side of the living room, there was a closet there. But this was not a closet: this was another room. Another custom job.
This room was filthy: a mess. But that wasn’t the important part. The important part was that it was full of pigs.
“These are your sculptures?” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
They were mainly sleeping, but one got up off its haunches and walked slowly into the living room, gingerly, taking its time, like an old man with bad knees.
“Pigs?” I said.
The pig snuffled up to my leg and as it approached I saw that it had some kind of rash or skin condition on its back. Some kind of mottling.
And then, as it got closer I saw that it wasn’t a skin condition at all. It was a face. It was a woman’s face, complete with lips that had the slightest hint of red and high cheekbones and a pert nose. The face was small and sort of perfect, but it was also an eyeless human face on the back of a pig, so I jumped backward, and the pig jumped backward and Cherish snorted and Monty gasped.
“Face pigs, I call them,” said Cherish. “It’s HER real DNA.”
“Her? Her WHO? Whose…whose real DNA?”
“This one is Heather Graham, the actress.”
The pig rooted around Monty’s ankles. He was frozen. He looked terrified.
“You’ve been growing Heather Graham’s face on the back of this pig,” I asked.
“I got her DNA from eBay,” she said. “I had to buy two or three ‘geniune soiled panties’ and some used popsicle sticks before I found a half-eaten ring pop that was legitimate.”
“Why, though? Why would you do this?”
“Because she has the face of an angel,” she said. “Hold on a sec.”
She rummaged around under the couch and came up with a blue magic marker and a black one.
“Come here, Heather Graham! Come here!”
She drew two eyeballs under the lids pooching out from the pigs’ back, carefully making bright blue eyes complete with a black pupil. It was realistic. She had practiced this.
“It’s her real face,” said Cherish. “These are her real lips.”
She pulled a tube of gloss from her pocket and applied it to the lips sticking out of the pigs’ back, lips affixed in something between a permanent scream and a smile.
“See?” she said. “See what I can do?”
Monty started laughing hysterically. I walked into the room where the rest of the pigs were lounging. Here was Chris Hemsworth, Ryan Gosling, and Miley Cyrus. Here was Kim and Kanye. They were all rooting and snuffling around, the eye-less flesh masks on the backs of these pigs covered in dirt and slops.
On the wall was the dried and cut-out face of Courtney Love, nailed up next to a big matte signed photo of her. The face in pigskin was large, like a Roman death-mask, and it was made-up with powder and paint. This piece of flesh had glass eyes embedded in it to make the ridges of the eyelids stiff. Her pale blue eyes stared into space above the other living pigs. I felt dizzy.
“This is how you spend your money?” I asked her.
“These are their real faces. Their real skin. The pig known as Courtney Love died of a little lung infection, but I saved the face. Come here, Ryan Gosling!”
Another pig joined us in the living room, this one rooting around in Monty’s lap. He fed it a nacho from his bag. The pig made satisfied happy grunts.
“I promise I won’t kill any more kittens,” said Cherish. “If I hadn’t though…I would be in real serious trouble. They would come for me. They would come here. They would have come for my pigs. These people…they don’t fuck around. I love my pigs. You have to understand. I love them with all my heart. My sculptures. I know you don’t get it…but it is what I do. If I didn’t do it… anyway, they’d hurt me. And they’ll hurt you, too.”
Monty and I didn’t say anything.
Cherish burst out crying. She really started sobbing hard. She crawled over to me on her knees and put her arms around my ankles.
Something turned in me. She could feel it.
She knew I wasn’t going to rat her out even before I did.
“Get up,” I said. “No more kittens.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you. I have a problem. I KNOW I have a problem. But this is what I’m good at. You are good at something, right? What if the thing you were good at was horrible?”
She was really crying hard now. She wiped snot on my ankles as sobs wracked her chest.
“This is my art,” she said. “Like sculpting. This…this…is art. It means something. They didn’t feel any pain. They never even knew they were alive. I made sure of that. This is what I do.”
“It’s art,” said Monty.
He was a better person than I was. I couldn’t say anything positive. We were being manipulated, but what could I do? The thing in me had already turned.
“These kittens stay here,” I said. “You will take care of them until we can find homes for them on Craigslist. I will come up here and I will...help you.”
“Me too,” said Monty.
I thought about where my next rent check was going to come from. I watched the faces of Heather Graham and Ryan Gosling come together cheek to cheek as these pigs who wore human faces on their backs rooted on the ground for the bits of bright green lettuce that fell from Monty’s Taco Bell bag, the bag they had now greedily taken from his hands without him protesting. He didn’t seem hungry anymore.
back to tomorrowland
(c) Miracle Jones 2015