There was an old man sitting in his kitchen. He was eating a hard-boiled egg and thinking about the fact that throughout his life he’d made very little progress with his soul. That morning, in the bathroom, he’d unbuttoned his shirt and opened his chest cavity. There was a hinge on one side of his ribcage; it was sore and crusted with blood. His soul hung there like a fetus clinging to his heart. It should have been more mature and filled his body. The old man closed his chest and opened the medicine cabinet. He swallowed his prescriptions with a glass of tap water.
When the old man’s wife died, her chest opened and released a glorious golden soul. The old man was the only one at the funeral who saw it. He was seated, staring ahead at the casket when there was a flash of light, blinding and bright. Then, up out of his wife’s body, a beautiful soul rose into the air. The old man was in awe, and it made him think his wife was in a better place.
That was the day the old man went home and noticed the hinges on his own ribs. It was the first time. It took several minutes, and he was forced to dig his brittle fingernails into his body, but he was able to open the chest cavity. His tiny soul was a difficult sight. He was already in a period of mourning, and his soul was black and shriveled like a prune, feeble and wrinkled. The old man looked at his diseased heart, expanding and contracting, and then at his own wrinkled face before closing the ribcage.
The old man was left with one companion after his wife’s passing. The man lived with a fluffy old cat that was black and obese. When the man finished taking his medication, he left the bathroom and nearly stepped on that cat. The old man exclaimed, “Move!” The cat screamed and scampered out of the man’s way.
The old man moved toward the corner of his living room. He slumped–with some effort–into his reading chair. He picked up a newspaper, but could not read it. He felt that he had somehow missed his spiritual path or worse. The old man feared that he was meant to be spiritually-stunted for some reason or other. Looking at his miserly soul had done this to him.
The old man was wealthy and thought of selling everything. But he was too old to start over. He’d retired. He couldn’t possibly achieve enlightenment and make a second fortune, not at his age. Not to mention the fact that his wife had lived with him all of her adult life and her soul had somehow obtained perfection. Why shouldn’t he be able to do the same?
Later that morning, the old man heard a throaty voice coming from the kitchen. It said, “So, you want a perfect soul?”
“Who’s there?” the old man said, folding his newspaper in his lap.
The cat came around the corner. “It’s little ol’ me,” said the cat, purring.
The old man swallowed, “You can read my mind?”
The cat said, “I know what you’ve been thinking.”
Evidence that the old man was losing his mind was that he was not as impressed by the fact that the cat could speak. “Oh my,” said the man. He put his paper down and adjusted his reading glasses as the cat sauntered closer.
“You’ll have to do something for me,” the cat said.
“It will help my soul?”
The cat nodded.
“I’ll do it. Anything. I can’t die with such a pathetic spirit.”
“Good,” said the cat. “This way then.”
The cat sauntered toward the kitchen and jumped on the counter. The old man, with his hunched back and sore legs, shuffled into the room behind her. The cat licked her paw and said, “I need you to warm your soul.”
“What?” the old man said as he removed his reading glasses.
“You need to bake your soul. It’s so cold.”
The old man thought for a moment. He looked at the oven and then the cat. “Shouldn’t we just use blankets?”
“No,” said the cat. “Just a dish.”
The old man turned the oven knob. Warm my soul, he thought. He nodded and began to unbutton his shirt so he could open his chest. The old man reached inside himself and pulled the tiny soul out of his body. He placed it on the glass dish. The man closed the oven door, stood up, and immediately felt woozy. He passed out on the kitchen floor and died.
The obese cat licked her jowls and waited.
Justin Meckes is an author and artist based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His illustrations make our hearts burst open. You can read his previously featured story, “Totem,” here.