ELAINE MEAD is a sometimes writer & full-time procrastinator. She loves to write flash fiction, short stories and tackle childhood trauma through humorous creative non-fiction. You can find more of her words here: coffeeandbooks.co.
Her story ‘Rattas, Mammalia’ appears in The Suburban Review #14: DETRITUS.
Our Associate Editor, Maya Pilbrow, interviews Elaine.
‘Rattus, Mammalia’ is a fantastic read. You demonstrate an impressive breadth of knowledge of decay. How did you come to be so informed about this?
Thanks so much! In terms of the knowledge, it was a mix of things. I worked at a veterinary clinic briefly as a teenager, so I remembered a few conversations from then. My mum is also a nurse and had a pretty no-holds-barred approach when talking to us about her work. A few friends are doctors and vets, and the same applies. I think when this sort of thing can be a natural part of your day to day work, you lose a little bit of the filter for what the rest of us are used to dealing with. When I saw your theme call out, I knew just the story I wanted to tell, so I delved a bit deeper into some research on the internet. There are a lot of biology websites that cover this topic in graphic detail with pictures and videos that you can’t un-see!
Do you think that understanding what happens during decomposition helps or hinders the grieving process?
I think this depends on who and what you are grieving for, and your own personal disposition towards death in general. For my little rat, it didn’t faze me to know that this was a part of his aftermath, but I wouldn’t like to envisage this process for a close loved one. It’s generally nicer to remember our loved ones as they were when we felt closest to them which, as far as I know for many people, doesn’t involve decay.
Would you say you have an attraction to the macabre? Why or why not?
Ordinarily I would have said no, but as I’ve had two stories published this year involving death and dead animals, maybe I need to rethink that?! I think as a broader society we are drawn towards the macabre and darker shades of life. You only have to look at the popularity of podcasts like ‘Serial’ and the growing number of doco-series on Netflix dealing with all manner of death and murder. For me, I think the process of death can also hold a lot of humanness (and occasional humour)—it’s all a part of life after all. It’s about finding the right stories to tell in the right way, at the right time.