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The End of the Line · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Karl set the tea tray down on a workbench in the garage, but it was an empty gesture. His wife briefly glared over her shoulder at him before returning to her work.

Eva slowly removed foot after foot of the last pelt from its soak in the oil drum. She shook it over the grate as she rolled it upwards. The mass of flesh was heavy and much larger than she was, but she handled it with the ease that came from forty-six years of loving practice. Carefully she folded the thick skin over one knee, bending it to squeeze out more water. Then she secured it into place on the scraping-horse, and slapped its taut, wet surface like a wardrum being pounded in the rain.

The old woman seated herself in place, took the forelegs of the beast in her dainty yet weathered hands, and placed her feet into the stirrups. Then she began the long, laborious process of pushing and pulling the hard edge of the blunt wood against the interior of the softened animal pelt. Her feet did the pushing as her hands steered the hide. The slightest twist of her arm or curl of her spine would shift the line of contact between the fleshy side of the pelt and the scraper. Too much pressure in one location for too long would thin the pelt and lead to tearing. Not enough, and the hide would bunch up when cured.

It looked like a strange yet beautiful dance between woman and beast. In all these years, Eva's grace with her craft had never failed to captivate her husband.

He inhaled a sharp breath of the salty air, and spoke. "That's the last one, then?"

Eva stopped cold, and he grimaced.

"Yes," she said. "The last one, ever." Karl half-expected his wife to pick right up and continue, but instead, she released her grip on the leather and slumped forwards.

"I'm sorry," he said, anxiously stroking at his mustache with a knuckle.

"Not as sorry as I," said Eva.

"Maybe you could work with bear?"

"Bear?" scoffed Eva. "I don't do bear. This method wouldn't even work with bear. Besides, the way things are going, bear will be next to go! I tell you, Karl, I knew this was coming when they started talking about banning the fox hunt. Soon we won't even have cow leather, do you realize? Those shit-for-brains animal rights activists will stop at nothing. Nothing!"

Karl sighed. "It's the end of an era, Eva. We live in a changing world," he said.

Eva's eyes widened in horror. "You don't agree with them?"

"Of course not!" Karl balked. "But, in a limited way, I can understand. After that incident with Cecil the lion..."

"That bastard is nothing like you and I!" said Eva, her face flushed red.

"Yes, Eva. I know."

"Some young, smug asshole shoots a rare and majestic lion, and now we're all evil? It's people like him who make the rest of us look like monsters. We don't support hunting endangered species, Karl. You would never shoot a beast and let it bleed to death for two hours. We're not like the poachers. We're civilized. We raise the animals ourselves and we kill them humanely. There's a difference."

Karl shrugged. "Of course there is. But the youth today see furriers as cruel, no matter how ethically we operate. It's 2016, Eva."

Eva's eyes shimmered as she held back tears. "It isn't fair," she whispered, and she lifted the wet leather to her face, stroking it against her cheek like it was her baby. "I only work with ape hide. Father taught me everything there is to know about the craft. It's all I know, it's all I do, and I do it very well. All with these two hands." She held her wrists up to her husband as though she were ready to be shackled.

"My love," said Karl, gently grasping her trembling hands in his.

"In five months I won't be able to sell on the open market," said Eva, and she started to cry.

"We'll be fine, Eva. Give thanks to God, we've saved very carefully. We can retire today." Karl smiled as he brushed a tear from her cheek.

Eva sniffed and closed her eyes. "But what will I do with my time? This is who I am, Karl."

Karl gently shushed his wife, pushed the nigger-leather out of the way, and lifted her into a warm, comforting embrace.
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