Rent Party by Bridget Callahan
THE GUY’S APARTMENT was this storefront that had been renovated to be lived in as a studio space, so to get in you had to get past this thick steel door – the kind of door that was made to keep people out. Rivets and everything. The front room was the old sales floor. It was huge and painted this light gray blue, with his big fuzzy orange and red couches right in the middle of the space. It was very chic, like it should be on an album cover for some Scandinavian folk rock band.
He lived downstairs from my friends, and sold lotions and books about how to make paper bicycles, things like that. His name was Leo, and his hair was a corn shock of dirty golden colors, like his namesake.
But I was an actual lion.
Jade wanted to buy a book about how to rebuild France, and some cinnamon hair cologne. But then she didn’t have her purse, as it was back upstairs. She didn’t say, Oh hey, I’m gonna run and get it. Instead, she just left. With the items. And didn’t come back.
Leo and I waited on the orange couch for her, and he looked at me.
“I suppose you want me to go and get your stuff, right?” I said.
“Well, I mean, otherwise she basically…or pay me for them or something,” he said.
I went upstairs to Patty and Ted’s. Jade was sitting at their Formica kitchen table, one perfectly scuffed ballet slipper hanging off her neatly dangling foot. Ted was fixing a lamp. Patty was at work.
“Hey, are you going to go pay that guy?” I asked her.
“Oh no, I don’t have the money for it. I’m broke,” she replied.
“But, are you going to give him the stuff back then?”
“No, why would I do that?”
“Because you just stole from him.”
“So?” She looked at me with a completely open face, no trace of sarcasm or messing around.
Ted just watched us both.
“So you can’t just go around stealing from neighbors. Ted lives next to the guy. We’re going to see him all the time. You just ruined that.”
Oh, fine. She fixed her shoe and got up.
“Oh, fine. Whatever. I’ll go give it back.” She slung her little camel leather satchel over her head, and pulled at her ponytail.
“Thank you,” I said. “When you come back, we’ll go get Dark & Stormys.”
But she never came back.
At first, Ted and I thought maybe they were talking. Or fighting. But it got to be over an hour and I thought, Well, maybe she just left. Like, returned the stuff, and then didn’t want to talk to me, so she left. Or she left without returning the stuff. Just took it home with her. Each of theoe things was equally possible, and I realized I didn’t really know which one Jade was more likely to do, because I didn’t really know Jade. There are lots of people that you know passingly, without really understanding their motivations or what they’re likely to do. We just don’t care enough about them to really find out – we either don’t want to sleep with them, or we just aren’t thrown into the proper circumstances with them ever. Even when we try to exert some control over it, who you end up really knowing is random. It mostly has to do with what you can get from them.
I went back down to see if she had gone by Leo’s. He was still sitting on the same couch I had left him in, only he had made coffee, so he must have gotten up at some point. His body was long and thin. He was wearing a faded dark blue sweater and gray corduroys. I could see the bone of his wrist flexing under his pale skin as he fingered the coffee cup.
Jade had not come back to see him.
“Your friend is a little bit of a cunt,” he said.
Because I am a lion, I decided to eat him. I’m not going to deny that probably a little bit of it was because I hate that word. I mean, who uses words like that these days? And because I found something incredibly hot about being in this position with him, he being wronged and righteous, me being guilty by association, without having actually done something wrong myself. It set us against each other, which made me want to win. I guess, don’t confront lions… we like it.
This is how eating someone works.
First, you decide you want them. Like, really want them, like an actual hunger for them. You want them so badly, your cells crave to physically use them for energy, to break them down into basic nutrients and grow off of them.
Then you have to pin them down. Some people are easier than others, because they want to be pinned down. Not that they actually want to be eaten (though those exist too, but I find them repulsive – who wants to eat something weak like that? It’s like hunting the runts, it’s not honorable), but they don’t really believe the end result is going to be death, and the thrill of giving up a little is a luxury, like buying a nice cellphone. It probably makes the experience a lot less stressful for them. If bunnies didn’t really ever believe the hounds would catch them, then the last moments before they blinked out of existence would be like a particularly exciting game.
“I don’t want to die,” Leo said, staring in my big cat eyes, “but I find you beautiful, and I don’t want to make things hard on you.”
So when I pounced on him, and held him down with my big heavy padded paws, he didn’t struggle or scream. I took his head in my massive jaws and broke his neck swiftly as cracking a knuckle. I tore into his sweater and raked my claws over his chest until I could feel the rib bones. I bit into his femur and felt the muscle tendons come apart on the sandpaper of my tongue like over-boiled roast. His blood was dark and deep, tasting of earth and caves and steaming springs. I didn’t expect someone so fair to have such thick blood. He tasted like Christmas in the Black Forest. There were hints of prehistoric clove.
When I had chewed up all his bones, lapped up all his blood and suet and licked the couch clean, I laid my head on my paws and took a nap. The carpet had a thick pile, and the light from the windows was turning mellow and aged. I felt full and comfortable and safe.
When I woke up, Leo was in the kitchen cleaning asparagus. The streetlights were on, but the last little bit of sun shone over the apartment buildings and bridges, showing off in purples and golds and dark brick cement patterns. His kitchen was very white and clean. It looked like he never ate in there.
“What are you doing here? I ate you,” I said.
“You did do that, didn’t you? I thought so. But here I am.”
“Do you remember it?”
“I remember you pouncing on me. I remember you putting my head in your mouth. And there was this moment of…and then that’s all.”
“It’s not fair, I want to know what that felt like.” And I did. It’s one of those sensations you think of as being out of reach – the feeling of dying. Nobody comes back and says anything about it.
“Well, I guess you can’t be both predator and prey, sorry.” He was even wearing the same clothes, the corduroys I swear I had just used to floss my canines with on the living room floor. I turned around to see if they were still there. They weren’t.
The most confusing thing about a moment like this is not the impossibility of life after death. Most of us can believe in impossible things. We already believe in a slew of them – love, wealth, success, forgiveness. Reincarnation is almost normal, but it’s the blip in the time frame that confuses your brain. Like, in between me eating Leo, and Leo being in the kitchen, how much time had gone by? At what point did he come back? Where did the pants I was chewing on go? When did they disappear? Did they even exist in the first place? Did I even eat him? It’s the details that can’t be answered – that’s when we feel like we’re going crazy.
Had the pants reconstructed themselves? Were they the same pants he was wearing right now? Or was this a new Leo, a completely different and unique creature that just happened to be exactly the same and have the same memories?
He put some milk in a bowl and put it on the floor for me.
“Fuck off,” I said.
“You tried to eat me.”
“I did eat you. And I’ll eat you again.”
“I could kill you first. We could see if you come back too. ” He pointed a large kitchen knife at me. I bared my teeth and growled at him. He took a step back and pretended to be distracted by something on the stove. I realized that I was definitely going to eat him again, at some point. That was comforting, to realize I wasn’t scared.
Every predator who survives by killing things knows that one day he will be the one killed. It’s the pact, right? It’s the law. Not just, Hey, I’m going to die someday, but something is going to kill you painfully. There will be blood and guts to make up for the blood and guts you’ve spilled all over the fabric of your life like a cranberry Kool-Aid stain. But it was not going to be Leo. Not this Leo, at least.
“Do you want to talk this out?” he asked. “Do you want to stay for dinner?”
“I already ate,” I said.
“That’s not funny,” he said.
“It’s not funny. I mean, I can feel you inside my stomach. I’m full from you.”
“Maybe later then. After you’ve digested a little.”
Later was a few weeks later. I was leaving Patty and Ted’s late on a Friday night, a little drunk and a little high. Leo was coming back from being out. We ran into each other in the hallway. The hallway was painted white, with a bright bulb light, but otherwise concrete and bare. He stood against the wall, talking to me, and the way the light hit his hair, and the line of his jaw, the way his shoulders slouched in his sweater… I couldn’t help it. I practically ate him alive once we were inside the door.
In the morning, there he was, unmarked and whole, lying in bed beside me. A miracle.
“I came to on the living room floor, and you were already in my bed. I didn’t think you’d mind,” he said sleepily, his arm curled around my mane as if I were a familiar pet dog. He was right, I didn’t mind. He was naked, and his body looked boyish and vulnerable, soft and small, in the gray city morning light. It was raining outside, and we stayed in bed a while. Him sleeping, me wondering what was different about this Leo now. He smelled the same. He tasted the same. He even sounded the same. But he couldn’t actually be the same, it wasn’t possible. He couldn’t be both food in my stomach, energy in my cells, water in my bloodstream, nutrients in my intestines, and be here next to me. I wondered what would happen if I gave up all other food, and only ate Leo for the rest of my life. Would I starve to death because he didn’t really exist at all? His cells didn’t exist?
So we tried that. For a month, I only lived on Leo. We never left the apartment, except every once in a while he went to get food so he didn’t starve. I never left though. I lay around in a euphoric state of blood and satiation. At first I ate him every day, but eventually, when the newness of it cooled, I only killed him every three days, when I was actually hungry. We started having sex, and that was a weird thing too – letting the thing you are going to eat later fuck you.
Patty and Ted had a party, and they invited us. Since it was just upstairs, I couldn’t find an excuse.
“After all, you have to tell me all about you two!” Patty chirped on the phone.
Oh sure, Patty. Here Patty, it’s like this. Have sex with your pet bunny and then kill it and eat it. It’s like that.
We made a very cute couple, everyone at the party said so. I was even enjoying myself, dancing and drinking with my friends who I hadn’t seen in a while. I wasn’t even thinking about eating him. Everyone liked Leo, too. Our friends were witty and interesting. There were several attractive people there that didn’t know anyone. The music was good.
Then Jade showed up. I hadn’t seen her since the day I met Leo. Patty or Ted must have talked to her at some point, since she had been invited, but I didn’t know what they had said. I saw her and Leo look at each other and I got uncomfortable.
“Please don’t say anything,” I whispered in his ear.
“How am I not supposed to say something? She stole from me. I’ll just take her aside, I won’t make a big deal of it.”
“No, please don’t,” I begged.
“Whatever. Fine. But in that case, I want to go.”
“But then it looks like we’re running away!”
“No, it looks like I can’t stand to be at the same party as her. Which is true.” And he left. Which meant I had to leave to.
That night I killed him while we were fucking. That was the first time I had done that.
“Don’t you ever do that again. That is not cool,” he said, pointedly not pouring me a cup of coffee the next morning when I stumbled into the kitchen. I stopped in the doorway, for dramatic effect, swished my tail around me like a long velvety rope, and thought of murder so it would show in my eyes.
“You aren’t in control here,” I replied.
Leo just looked at me. Just stood in the kitchen, on the white tile with all the now familiar kitchen things around him – the coffee press, and the little vase of fake flowers and all his (not ours) expensive brightly colored pots and pans, and looked at me. I looked back at him and for a very long minute, we were locked in looking. Little lashes of looking whispered out of our eyelids, root systems, little, cold, glowing tendrils of looking growing between us. There were so many emotions wrapped around that look, there was no emotion at all.
I went back into the bedroom and lay in the muted daytime darkness until I fell asleep.
When I woke up, Leo was sitting in the living room without any lights on. It was early evening. I had slept for hours and hours. I had dreamed of killing Leo, but not eating him. Just killing him for the fun of it. Ripping apart his body tendon by tendon, and spreading them out on the floor, arranging them into different patterns, words, renditions of Leo. I went out into the living room feeling like I was still asleep. It was dim and shady. Just the remnants of sunset were coming through the plate glass windows through his red Swedish curtains, and low in the background, I heard The Tokens playing The Lion Sleeps Tonight. I thought it was in poor taste.
“Why is this on?” I snarled, flopping over on the shag carpeting and stretching. I was so sore all of a sudden.
“Jade owes me 23.50,” he said. I couldn’t see his expression in the darkness, so I couldn’t tell if he was kidding.
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Well, we are going to talk about this. What I would like is for you to pay me the 23.50, so I don’t have that hanging around as some sort of extra resentment, and then I would like you to leave. You don’t live here. You’re not some stray cat I’ve taken in. You have a home.” He was holding something in his hand. I smelled the iron in the air.
“Is that a gun? Do you have a gun? Did you think in order to break up with me you had to have a gun?” I was sitting straight now, still. My ears were twitching. I felt the nerves in my skin, under my fur, around my whiskers, all shivering.
“You want to kill me.”
“I’ve been killing you this whole time.”
“No, you’ve been eating me. Now you want to kill me.” He stood up, walked over to the record player, and stopped it.
I could smell so many things, it was amazing. I could smell the vinyl that had been worn away by the needle, and the scent of electricity turning off. I could smell his fear, and also his musk, the wool of his sweater. I could smell that his sweater hadn’t been dried right, that it had stayed a little too damp. I could smell the inside of his mouth when he opened it to breathe. And then an unfamiliar smell – darker than the room even, like piles of leaves and muddy cold clammy grass on an October day. It was my own fear.
Then he shot me.
It was in the shoulder. I had never been shot before. The sound must have been deafening, but I couldn’t hear it because of the pain. He didn’t shoot me cleanly. It tore ragged through my arm. The overwhelming smell of my own blood and my own pain – oh that fresh clean scent of pain – and my paws dug into the carpet for balance.
The lucky part of this encounter is that Leo did not think to shoot me again right away. Only an experienced hunter knows that if you don’t kill a lion on the first shot, you had better keep shooting until it’s either dead or it runs away or it kills you.
So, the right way to end this story would be that I leapt forward, the fierce jungle cat I am, the hallowed and feared god of the savannah, the half-primeval token of power and death, and I ripped him apart limb from limb and fed my children on his bones, and this time he never came back.
The other way would be that I stayed there, injured on the carpet, bleeding. And Leo realized he loved me, and didn’t want me to live. So he bandaged me, and fed me, and petted me, and we lived happily ever after.
But what happened for real is that I ran. I ran out into the hallway, and slammed the door shut. I tore at the heavy metal outside door, and clawed and panicked, until I got it open, and got outside. Once I was out in the open air, it was better. The air opened up like smelling salts – all the leaves and exhaust and wind and rain. I immediately felt stronger. I stood there for a minute, contemplating going back in there and destroying him. And whether I was actually being wise, or I was just covering my fear with pretending to be wise, I decided it was better to just walk away. So I did. I went home.
And I never ate another person again.
People are hard to digest.
Devour the rest of Sheriff Nottingham IV: The Fifth of November – available on Amazon now!