After cleaning up the kitchen, Marsella Blume stood out beneath the carport with a cigarette and three fingers of whiskey in an iced glass. She exhaled toward the heavens and laughed to herself. “What a fool I’ve married,” she said, her thoughts lighthearted at first but then she suddenly deeply regretted most of what she had done with her life, and she almost started to cry. “I live on a planet of murderers and I’m the only one who seems to care. Rubbish.” She tossed the glass out into the street and listened for the glory of the scattering smashing.
The record store downtown was open late on most nights because it was the cool thing to do. The sidewalk there was dirty, and rebellious teens loitered about talking loudly and laughing and playing music out of their cars. Marsella pushed on the door of silver metal and heavy smudged glass and went in. The place smelled like the smoking of marijuana. Loud music blared from hidden speakers. She went over to the area where they had the alternative rock, post-punk indie music CDs. S, S, S, she was looking for something that began with S. Then her fingers hit on it. The Smiths. The album was titled Meat is Murder and she pulled it from its place and looked it over. “Hmm, this used to be one of my favorites,” Marsella mumbled to herself aloud. “How strange that I had forgotten about it for all these years and then suddenly it comes back to me… Memories do tend to return to find you and shake you at the most unexpected times in our lives.”
Marsella went to the counter and presented what she wanted to buy. The young man with blue hair and piercings that made his face look like a pincushion looked at the CD and then looked at her. He made a weird face with his already weird face.
Marsella gave him a playful smile. “Don’t you get it, Johnny? It’s for me.” She handed him the money, took her change and bag, and walked out of the store and to her car.
Marsella drove fast and in complete disregard for the laws of the prickly electric night. She had the windows rolled down and the volume of the stereo was turned up high to overtake the whoosh of the air blowing in. She had track 10 on repeat, and the lyrics of Meat is Murder burrowed into her head and stoked the flames of her disenchantment with human beings and the world in general:
Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die
This beautiful creature must die
A death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder
And the flesh you so fancifully fry
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
It’s death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder
And the calf that you carve with a smile
It is murder
And the turkey you festively slice
It is murder
Do you know how animals die?…
“Do you know how animals die!?” Marsella screamed out as she brought the car to a stop in the nearly empty parking lot of the grocery store. She got out of the car and went around to the back and popped open the trunk. She reached inside and pulled out the can of red paint she had pilfered from her husband’s work shed, set it on the ground, and undid the lid with the screwing end of a standard screwdriver. She dumped some of the paint on the ground and watched it pool and slowly spread like a wound. The unnatural smell of it drove up her nose. She took a breath, and then she went inside the store.
The lights were bright, and they hurt her eyes as they buzzed and dazzled above her. The place was mostly empty except for the lone cashier flipping through a magazine, the young night stockers tossing boxes around, along with a few zombified customers perhaps craving a midnight pot pie. No one paid her any attention as she strolled down the cereal aisle with an opened bucket of red paint. When she got to the meat department, it was barren as a midnight graveyard in western Oklahoma. She heard wolves howl. She heard people chittering and giggling somewhere off in the distance. The music up above was sterilized, vomit-inducing ass hat glitter pop.
The custom meat case was empty, the animal flesh now removed, and the area behind was dark and quiet. Marsella looked around again before setting the paint can down and kneeling beside it. She dipped two fingers deep into the paint like it was a woman spread wide, pulled them out, and then wrote Meat is Murder, Don’t Ya Know? in a crooked, dripping scrawl against the exterior plexiglass of the meat case. She stood and looked at her handiwork as it continued to slowly bleed on itself, a very fitting touch to her art she proudly decided.
Next, she went over to the display case where they had all the packaged meat and she gripped the paint can in two hands, cocked it back and thrust it forward repeatedly as she haphazardly splashed the glossy red all over the chicken and their bones, the ground beef, the roasts, the steaks, the lamb, the porkchops, and all the groaning loins they had stacked there like genocide bodies.
“Hey!” someone suddenly yelled out from somewhere behind her. “What the hell are you doing there!?”
She turned just as the man got to her and she threw red paint on him, took the can by the carrying handle and whopped him upside the head with it as hard as she could. He made a pain-filled grunt like ooomphhh, then slipped and fell. She dropped the can with a clank and dashed down the soda aisle toward the front doors. For a woman of 39, she flew out of there like a wild bird, got into her car and sped off just as two other grocery store workers came hustling out after her screaming and yelling and carrying on as if she had just possibly committed a felony.
Marsella Blume sat in her car at the end of her block with the engine purring. She blew cigarette smoke out the open window as her eyes fixed on her house that sat like a morbid shell down the street and to the left. The air around the neighborhood was salted city orange and misty. The Smiths were still bubbling out from the stereo, but quieter now for she didn’t want to wake anyone. She took a final puff and then threw the butt out the window like she was Josey Wales cool. She pulled the shifter back into the D position and stomped her foot on the gas pedal. The car shot off surprisingly fast and Marsella gripped the steering wheel as she aimed the engine block straight for the corner of the house where her husband was hopelessly waiting beyond the brick and glass.
The impact was more violent than she expected, and her body snapped back and forth as the car drilled into the house. And it looked like being in an automatic car wash, she thought, with that suffocating blizzard of water and soap blotting out the windshield, the weighty thunder of the mechanical mops as they molested the filth away, the quaking turbulence of the high-powered dryers as one’s vehicle slowly emerged from the wash tunnel like a turtle’s head checking to see if it was safe out in the world.
Through the chaos she saw her husband’s startled face as his body was thrown back as if by a poltergeist, the bowl of buttered popcorn just moments before in his lap now curling high in the air and scattering its contents like youthful mischief. And then she watched as the debris rained down all around her in dust wallowed slow motion, bricks and glass and splintered wood hitting the car, and the sound came like ludicrous hail, and Marsella felt like she would soon be buried alive by the burdens of her own madness.
When Marsella opened her eyes, the butcher was sitting in a chair beside her hospital bed. There was something wrapped in fancy paper on the bedside table. She didn’t recognize him at first without the hair net, but the eyes were familiar. Those unsettling eyes were very blue as she recalled, almost a fake blue.
“Hello,” she managed to say. Her eyelids fluttered to batter away the stinging light.
“Hi. Do you remember me?” the man said, leaning in closer.
“You’re the butcher.”
“That’s right. How are you feeling?”
“Not terrible, but far from wonderful,” she said, and she tried to sit up more. “How did you… Why are you here?” She looked around the room trying to establish more thoroughly where she was.
“I read all about it in the newspapers. I just knew it had to be you,” he said. “The policeman let me in to quickly visit.”
The butcher turned his head and nodded. “Outside the door. I’m afraid you’re under guard.”
“I did something bad, didn’t I?”
The butcher sighed but tried to smile. “You made a terrible mess of my meat department. I’m afraid in your attempt to save the beasts, however, you inadvertently cast most of them off to the trash bin… So, in that effort, it seems you failed. But that’s really the least of your concerns considering the other charges.”
“Felonious assault. Aggravated homicide.”
“Don’t you know you killed your husband in a very terrible way? They had to pull him from the rubble piece by piece.”
Marsella shook her head in denial.
“They didn’t tell you?”
“Perhaps someone did. I can’t remember much… Just the cigarette and the grainy light and the music and the sound of the engine beating faster… And then it was just like a terrible storm but then bright like heaven.”
The butcher beamed at her with a gentle butcher-like smile. “Maybe you escorted him part way, hmm?”
“Your husband. To heaven.”
“I do doubt it,” Marsella said. “He was a terrible person. He really was.”
“We’re all terrible people who do terrible things at times. We are after all, merely animals.”
“But I must have loved him at one time. I mean, real human love. Don’t you think?”
“Doesn’t appear that way, now does it, considering your present-tense situation,” the butcher with blue eyes said coldly. He glanced up at the black and white clock on the wall. “I’m afraid my time is limited so I must be on my way. But there’s a present for you there. I don’t really know why I felt you deserved a gift; I suppose I’m strangely sentimental like that. Hopefully you can do something with it before you go off to jail.”
She looked up at him, puzzled. Then he drew closer to her, and she jerked back when he bent to grasp her hand and shake it. “Good luck,” he whispered. He made himself upright again and looked down at her. His eyes were taking pictures.
“You aren’t really a butcher, are you?” Marsella said as her gaze crawled up his body and to his face.
“We’re all butchers,” he said, and he turned and walked out of the room without another word.
Marsella drowsily sat up on the edge of the bed and reached for the present on the bedside table. She shook it like a curious child, and then carefully peeled it open. Inside was a package of meat — a flank steak. It was the color of a broken heart and lightly marbled with thin rivers of greasy cotton. Some blood pooled in the white tray. She drew it closer to her face and studied it and her soul shook like grass in the dawn of spring.
She poked a hole in the plastic wrap with a finger and stripped it away. She lifted the meat out and held it in her hands. It was cold. It was wet. It was heavy. She opened her mouth wide, moved her head forward, and clamped her teeth down hard on the animal flesh. She fiercely strained and pulled until a piece tore off. She chewed on it slowly, ingested it, and went in for another bite… And then it was another and another and yet another until the whole cut of the meat was gone from the space in front of her and slowly sliding down into her belly in various shaped chunks.
She went into the bathroom and turned on the light. Her animal reflection stared back at her from the other side of the mirror. She barely recognized herself. An ugly murderous stain bloomed around her mouth like a pink flower. She grinned at herself; a thin film of red juice was still collected on her teeth. Then the screams of all the beasts she had ever known crawled up from her bloated belly and into her head. And there they stayed and got comfortable, always calling to her until the death chamber of man snuffed her out forever like a quick puff of breath on a flame.