I am dissecting a male cat during my anatomy class. Greg stands tall, two tables away, focused on skinning his female cat. The florescent light in the lab makes him look paler than he is. I think of sending him a text.
The cat’s skin is like a glove I make the incision with the scalpel and then pull it with all my strength. It makes the sound like an orange is being peeled, threads of skin separating, disintegrating. Beneath the skin is a layer, evened in sheen, pink with blotches of blue as if there is a hole underneath filled with darkness. Reminds me of my mother’s cheeks when she was receiving chemotherapy.
There is a residue under the translucent layer. Lumps of fat. Muscles spun like cobwebs. I pull the flat tissue out, cut through the deep connective tissue with scissors. Everything looks intact, yet I sense every cell decomposing. The room smells of formalin and alcohol.
I can hear Greg. He is making these sighing sounds as if he is disappointed in himself. I wrap the cat, fold the bag long ways and press out all the air. A memory of my mother is stuck in my throat. Her last days in the hospital. She looked as if someone has sucked all the air out of her leaving her thin as a paper towel. I place the bag in the storage box, wash the tools and dry them, clean up the hair and the grease. It is close to lunch time but I don’t have much appetite left. I watch Greg as he leaves the lab, turns around and looks at me. And I am filled with this wild energy releasing the knots in my stomach, surprising me with a desire to have a hamburger with a side of south western potatoes and a green salad.
In the cafeteria, Greg sits next to me. “My cat was very pregnant,” he says and bites into his cheese pizza slice. “A single cat can deliver a litter of kittens because their uterus has longer arms than its base, and fetuses are arranged throughout the row, connected to each other like overlapping linens on a clothesline. If you were to look at the fetus of a cat or a human or even a dinosaur, you cannot tell the difference between them.” He keeps looking at the far end of the cafeteria as if he is talking to someone else. I watch his mouth open and close, a small piece of cheese stuck at the corner of his lips. The food silently making its way through the dark tunnels drowned in blood, touching the parts of his body he’ll never see.
“I need to go to Costco, after school,” I say. Greg drives a second hand Chevy truck and he knows I like to walk in the aisles of Costco, looking for perfect ingredients for the pasta I make for him, sometimes. The one my mother taught me with rosemary, garam masala, chicken and olives. It is raining bullets when we get in his truck. He flips on the windshield wipers and starts the heater. The humidity fills the truck. I press my face against the window covered with sprinting drops, colliding and bursting like all the bodiless spirits free-falling into the universe. He mentions his cat again, without taking his eyes off the road. Afterwards, we play Scrabble at the kitchen table in my home and take a walk around the block: past the flickering tube lights in my street, past the families eating dinners in the Sonic parking lot, past the half-lit sign of 7-11 and the smell of gasoline, past the dead cats waiting for us in the lab, past our average past and present.
And of course, we go back to our classes the next day, the day after, the next few weeks. In the lab, I pull out the cat and decide to call him Marvin. Marvin has a large head. It is time to do a muscle shave and cut the skull. I make several incisions and try to lift his brain but in spite of my best efforts, I break it. “Shit,” I whisper and look up. Greg waves his left hand and shrugs. The air around him hums. Holding Marvin’s brain in my hand, I wonder if I have invaded his space of thoughts. If he had a thought just before he died, if all his thoughts left with him and when he woke up someplace else, they surrounded him like old friends. It seems crucial that I know. As if my mind had split into different specimens of Marvin’s brain, each lit with a separate thought. So I wait for a moment before I put it down. A series of cars pass by the window. I imagine all of them standing in a drive through line of the nearest KFC and Taco Bell. Outside, the sunlight disinfects every corner but there is still water on the sidewalk. I feel different than before. I want to kiss Greg and don’t want him to stop me. I want to hear all the things he wants to do to me. It seems to be the only thing I know for a fact after losing my mother. Everything else is blank. I start labeling the parts of Marvin’s brain, the naked slope of his anatomy into something significant, hoping to decode a dream, an instinct that serves a purpose beyond the body.