A barefooted Cleo showed up as instructed the next morning at the rat-braining factory outside town. The boss man looked her over and was pleased. Cleo signed the required employment contract. It called for 15 hours per day, seven days a week, with only 20 minutes each day permitted for snacks and a toilet break.
It was a bad deal, but Cleo signed anyway. She was naïve, after all, and the family needed money.
The other women in the rat-skinning complex were nasty and cruel and suffered from anxiety and self-doubt. They spent most of the day drunk. In their jealousy, they called Cleo a whore and made fun of her blond hair. Tears streamed down Cleo’s face as she donned her cloth apron and entered the new world of rat beating and skinning.
Eighty rats had to be beaten and skinned per hour, or they were entitled to cut your pay, according to the contract. After a rat was beaten and skinned, the hairless body was tossed into a vat, where it was blended before being sold to dealers who would place it for bid on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The more valuable skin, meanwhile, had to be cleansed in a tub of acid for re-coloring before export to Singapore, where it would be blended with extract of tiger testicle and sold illegally in China, Russia and Newport Beach, whose citizens believed the mixture, if taken in the appropriate amounts, reduced knee blotches.
Cleo’s fingers began to bleed. To beat a rat, one first crushed the head with a small hammer called a flintoff, then sliced downwards through the belly with a special blade known as a damocles. It can take months or even years of practice to perfect the maneuver, and Cleo’s soft hands were not accustomed to the intensity of the work.
Tears streamed down her face. The other women laughed and called her a whore.
“There’s blood on your skins, you get your pay docked!” jeered one toothless woman.
“Where’s your shoes?” said another. “Huh? Ain’t ya got no shoes? Ain’t ya?”
“It’s not, it’s, it’s,” stammered an ashamed Cleo. “My-my-my daddy burned ‘em. But, but . . . it was for the good of the family!”
“Cock-mouth whore!” shrieked a woman with fourteen moles on her nose.
The boss man, Dengue Pieter “Mike” de la Gaulle, walked in and immediately whipped the row of women closest to the door. “No talking, ya drunk whores!” he yelled. He turned and lashed the other row. “Get back to work or I’ll fire you all! There’s thousands of girls who’ll beat and skin rats for free, me tells ye!”
During the 10-minute break, the other women jeered Cleo, calling her a whore and demanding to know how many penises she had accepted into her mouth in order to win the highly coveted job in the recession economy.
“None, oh!” protested the innocent Cleo. “None, I tell you! Oh, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Here, here,” said one sympathetic woman, Yahnice, coming forward to comfort Cleo. “’Tis no crime to suckle the odd spare cock and testicle in the interests of the family economy, my sweet darling. ‘Tis the way of the world nowaday, for food, yes. Verily, it is done the world over, ‚tis the way of the species. . . .”
As Yahnice and Cleo shared a brief hug, one of the other women grabbed Cleo’s bread and threw it into the rat acid.
“Oh, no! That’s all I have to eat today!” Cleo wailed.
The proud, defiant blond attacked the bread-thrower, wrestling her around as the other women cackled. The offending woman was burly and blocky, but Cleo was tough and brave. She slammed the woman against the tub, grabbed hold of her head and pushed it into the frothing acid.
Everyone screamed. They pulled the lady out. Smoke rose from her face.
“I’m going blind!” she screamed. “I’m going blind!”
The boss came in and beat them all.
“Get this useless whore out of here!” he said of the one who had been blinded. Turning to Cleo, he said: “And you’re fired! Get out of my sight!”
Cleo appealed to his sense of justice, which, however, was very small. “But she stole my bread,” Cleo said. “I was only defending myself.”
A twinkle flashed in Dengue de la Gaulle’s eye.
“My then, well, you have got a little spirit, methinks,” said Dengue de la Gaulle. “Capitalism could verily abuse such an asset. Come with me, me lovely, we’ll see what we can do. Perhaps methinks we may find something in the back office. You never know – but yes, aye, perhaps. Perhaps ye wasn’t cut out for rat-skinning. Perhaps, me dear, your true talent layeth elsewhere. . .”
Dengue de la Gaulle, who had not been laid by his wife, Pernicious, for several years, led Cleo to the back office.
“One of the things, me dear,” he said, appearing quite jolly and pouring them each pear brandies, “is there’s always one thing people do that weighs them down for the lot of their lives. They cannot maneuver in their own best interests because of the burden. They screwed their sister or they murdered their father, or they smoked too much pot and lost the plot. You like that, yes? – too much pot, lost the plot? Yes, me dear. . . . And one thing always leads to another, but the thing to remember is: Ye must kill all ye friends before they kill ye. And yea, ye they will attempt to kill. Told me that a mockingbird with a heart of glass once of a midnight tinkling. Yes, do you know the song? Drink up, me little aardvark.”
Cleo downed her pear brandy. She stared at Dengue de la Gaulle with a deep-burning revulsion.
“Now then,” said Dengue. “Methinks I may be in a position to offerest a job wherein the candidate needeth to possesseth good strong legs. For pushing, me dear – but solely in an administrative capacity, I assure you. We must work with many boxes here in the back room, aye, to pay our taxes according to the letter of the law. Now let’s see your healthy specimens, if we may, me wee lassie. It is, in fact, a legal requirement that I so inspect, for technical reasons, otherwise I cannot offereth – thus saith the law. Bendeth over, as you will, me lovely. And yes, I do admire the bare feet, ‘tis a welcome touch of naturalism, yes. . . .”
The beautiful blond Cleo spat at him. “Filthy lecher, disgusting pig!”
She ran off, pink bare feet plodding painfully against the cobbles, back to the flooded basement, where the Blump family continued to survive wretchedly.
published: 13. 10. 2013