An Ode to the Vulture

by Baker T. Beauregard

For Paco

Vehicular feline-slaughter in 10 steps:

  1. Hear a soft thunk.
  2. Pause (dread).
  3. Curse.
  4. Pull forward.
  5. Hesitate.
  6. Get out of the car.
  7. Curse (dirtier this time).
  8. Pause (respectful).
  9. Pause (heinous).
  10. Hide the body.

Our neighbor lived in a small yellow house, her lawn so overgrown, so sprinkled with tires and trash, that you had to be wary of snakes and glass as you approached her door. Where there are snakes, there must be mice. Where there are mice, there must be cats. And where there are crazy yellow-housed neighbors, there is a tendency to feed and name each of these cats. These are the laws of the universe.

The one I killed was named Paco. He was one of seventeen cats, but he would be missed. He was fond of graham crackers and ESPN, as this neighbor would later tell us, missing posters in hand, her words swallowed in grief, and her mascara leaving black streaks down her cheeks.

Shame, shame. We will keep an eye out for him. He’ll turn up. He’ll turn up.

Paco would not turn up.

I was the one to move him. He was flattened, his brown coat wet and stained with red, and an odd pink liquid running from where his stomach had burst. I had never liked gore, but I had no problems that day. There is a criminal in each of us, hiding just behind the eyes, ready to harden the stare and forget what needs to be forgotten.

My brother vomited. His inner criminal is shy.

I dragged Paco behind the oak tree in the backyard beside a patch of bluebonnets. We considered burying him, but by the time I had power washed the blood from the driveway and tire, I was no longer a criminal. I was a child again, a child who should not have been driving her father’s car. A child who was rather fond of cats. I cried in the shower as I washed the Murder from my skin, tears mixing with the water and evaporated Malice.

Three vultures ate Paco. They arrived together, looking oddly like bald businessmen in fine black suits, and eagerly swarmed his fly-covered corpse for a half hour before they made their move. I watched them from the dinner table, my meatloaf becoming increasingly unappetizing.

It took them just a day to devour him down to the bone. Those carrion kings, their beaks full of murdered meat, their cool white eyes watching me knowingly as they ate without chewing. They took no pleasure in it. They ate with no hunger, but with mechanical efficiency—three businessmen with work to do. There is no better way to hide the truth than to swallow it and let it dissolve into silence. They would not tell. My brother would never tell. Yellow-Housed neighbors would never know.

Shame, shame. We will keep an eye out for him. He’ll turn up. He’ll turn up.

I drive through these streets sometimes, where the grass turns yellow and the only sounds are the fly-warring cattle’s battle cries, and I see them. Oiled black wings on Bastrop wind. Circling, circling, circling. Silent. Promising, promising, promising. While I see nothing but sandpaper grass and cat-tongue bush beneath them, I know there is death here, quiet as it may be.

This is an ode to the vulture

To the songless dukes of death

To the devourers of the dirty

To the roadkill royals

They remember so we may forget

I dip my head to you when we pass one another on the highway.

Remember Paco? I say, rolling down the window.

You turn to me and remain silent as you fly.

Of course you do. Of course. This is your job, and it’s rude of me to ask.

How many secrets does it take to fill your belly? I cry.

And you say nothing because you don’t know.