The dining of the great meal took place casually in chairs and on a soft sofa in the living room at the home of Veronica Eyes in Berlin, Wyoming. Plates and beverages rested on a coffee table; some people stood while they ate and drank. There was the murmur of blended conversations. There was light laughing.
Steel Brandenburg III sat in a chair in a corner beneath a tall reading lamp with a red velvet shade. He was quiet. He was alone among the people. He watched the others eat, trying to decipher if they liked the store-bought gravy. He braced himself for bitter reactions. Everyone acted as if he wasn’t even there as he raised fork to mouth repetitively. He was a ghost, someone looking in from the other side. He had to break the barrier.
“Are you all enjoying the gravy!?” Steel suddenly blurted out. The others stopped talking for a moment and looked at him. One guy named Craig, who was a real jerk, said, “What’s with the gravy, man? Why are you always about the gravy?”
Steel cleared his throat and looked around at everyone as they awaited his answer. “I… I just want everyone to get the most out of their meal. Gravy’s wonderful for that. It adds flavor and richness to our food.”
Craig the jerk busted out laughing. The others followed suit, even Veronica Eyes.
“Whaaat!?” Craig said with a disbelieving laugh. “That’s like the gayest thing I ever heard anyone say.”
He moved closer to Steel and looked down at him. Craig Nusmerg was a tall buffoon with an odd-shaped body, something resembling a bosc pear. People say the heavy drinking has caused his body to morph and turn him into the strange being he now was.
Craig Nusmerg had been a high school basketball star and nothing much more since. He worked the presses of the local newspaper for the last ten years and always smelled of ink and grease. He was divorced and lived alone in a rectangular can at the local trailer park. Now he was towering over Steel like an over-ripened Godzilla.
Steel looked up at him and shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry. That’s how I feel.”
“Why are you here anyways?” Craig wanted to know. “Nobody gives two shits about the stupid gravy.”
Steel glared at him. “That’s not true. I’m sure plenty of people here are enjoying the gravy.”
Craig scoffed and shook his head. His eyes then caught the white gravy boat sitting on the coffee table and he went to pick it up. “You like gravy so much,” Craig said to Steel as he carried it toward him, “Here you go. Have some gravy.” He tipped the gravy boat, and a thick stream of warm brown gravy came pouring out right on top of Steel’s head. Craig kept pouring and pouring, snickering with delight, until the entire gravy boat was empty. Steel just sat there and let him do it. He let him do it all the way. He just stayed in the chair as the gravy dripped from his hair, down his face, and into his lap.
“God damn it, Craig!” Veronica cried out. “You got gravy all over my favorite chair!”
Craig just laughed, went to grab more beer from the refrigerator, and slipped out onto the back patio.
Veronica ran to get some towels. When she got back, she started mopping up as much of the gravy as she could. She handed a towel to Steel. “You better wipe your face off,” she said. “You look like some horrible creature.”
“Do you think I could use your shower,” Steel asked her with gravy spattering out of his mouth as he spoke.
Veronica was aghast by such a request. “My shower? Oh, no. No, no, no. Let’s just get you out into the yard and hose you off.”
Veronica led Steel out the front of the house and had him stand in the small yard of grass. She went to the water spigot and cranked it on as she leveled the hose. She aimed the nozzle at Steel and began to spray him off. “Close your eyes and your mouth, Steel,” she told him as she worked. “I don’t want to rupture your pupils or break your teeth.” But then again, maybe she did.
It wasn’t long before the real Steel emerged from beneath the slick of gravy. She had him turn around and hold his arms out to his sides. “That’s good,” she said. “I need to get you nice and clean before we send you home.”
“Home?” Steel asked without turning to look at her. “You want me to go home? Why don’t you send that fuck-off Craig Nusmerg home? He’s the jerk. He’s the one who started this whole thing.”
Veronica sighed as she sprayed. “You weren’t even supposed to be here.”
“Right. You lied to me. Why did you lie to me?”
“Because I just knew something weird like this would happen. Weird things always happen when you’re around, Steel. You’re a weird magnet. You’re… You’re just completely weird. I didn’t want you ruining my party.”
Steel turned and stepped back from the spray of water. “Sure. Sure. I get it. Sorry to trouble you.” He walked off, soaking wet, and moved down the street toward where his pickup was parked. He got in it and sped off.
The moon was full and bright, and the landscape illuminated. Steel Brandenburg III drove his white pickup like a cowboy even though he was nothing like a cowboy. He went out to a place called Silver Lake and parked within the bones of the trees near the shore. That same moon that had chased him from the city was still there in the sky, looking down, watching him.
He got out of the truck and went closer to the water. It looked like a mirror with the way the light was shining down on it. He craned his neck upward to look at the ivory disk in the sky and then he just started to scream like an animal. He screamed and screamed until his throat hurt. A herd of deer shuddered through the surrounding brush. He fell to his knees and bowed his head in irreverent prayer, mocking a God who never saw him or cared for him.
He got back up and stumbled to the truck to retrieve his phone. He pressed the button for Veronica Eyes. He breathed as he waited.
“Hello? What is it, Steel? Why are you calling?”
“I just wanted to know if you have ever heard of a symbolic revenge tale?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“You should be aware that the silly little actions of you and your friends could have serious consequences.”
“What? Have you been drinking? Where are you?”
“Stop asking me questions, Veronica. Just stop. But be prepared.” He ended the call. He looked around at the wilds. The treetops suddenly bent in a gust of wind. Something snapped and fell nearby.
TO BE CONTINUED
Aaron Echoes August
Visit cerealaftersex.com for the previous part of this story… And many more strange tales.
This captain’s boat skims into the harbor at dim and dawn
The brick of the buildings bruised and brown, the soot of man coming down
Three bars of silver light, sun reflections, eyes of heat and love
Gazing into the past he goes, at the hotel by the sea
The room is painted blue like the ocean, the heavy drapes keep the room dark
A naked slide to the window, to part, to look out
Someone there down on the dock, someone who isn’t someone
The mists graze upon the locks, feed on the shadow, it falls into the water
The betrayal cracks a leaf-littered mirror, he presses on nonetheless
Down to the dining hall the captain goes
His guts all a rumble
Time for some swordfish and slaw, peach pie and indecent exposure
Nerves gnawing like Caligula on grapes
Buttered rum biscuits, naked silhouetted napkins, a firing squad bursts from the kitchen
It’s play bang, play dead time
The pirate fry cook swings his narwhal spike sword with an aim to maim
The ghetto mushrooms have been tainted with habanero rainbows,
The hands of maniacs stick like school glue exponential
The math on the board is so puzzling, a girl with golden hair swallowed the white chalk
Writing out geometric formulaic hypothesis on crackers and pool tables with her soul
The balls of all slowly crawl across the matted green felt, like in a jail release bar
On another star, so afar
Someone wondered if he was coming to the New Year’s ball
A woman dressed as a goat and holding an unripe papaya
She claimed it was to save her from the inevitable pains in her stomach
She said she lived in a pink house on another planet right next door to John Cougar Mellencamp
The cloud of people wondered what gaseous cloud had overtaken her, she was senseless, eccentric
Gravity all nonsense
Like dream gravy in a spaceship, like green Gazoo in a parking lot pole.
They called Captain Wild Nuts to the front to accept his award for being the most solitary sailor of the world.
They wondered how he could do so much alone, he tried to speak between the lines of the camera flashes exploding in his wayward face.
“That’s enough!” he finally cried out. “Put away your pens and your recorders of thought and your digital image makers. I am merely a Puff, like a dragon high in the hedges of some warm English lane.”
He went back to his table to a round of soft unintended applause.
“He’s so weird,” someone whispered loudly.
Captain Chaos took his seat and leaned toward the snowman with the carrot cock for a nose. “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to melt?” the captain asked. “It’s warm in here with all these pointless bodies.”
“I’ve melted through a thousand and one lifetimes… So, no. There is nothing to fear. The other side is wonderful. Congratulations, by the way.”
“Can I ask you something?” the captain said to the snowman with the carrot cock nose and two eyes of coal.
“What’s that, Captain?”
“Do you eat ice cream?”
“I love ice cream… And the best part is, if it drips down on me, it doesn’t matter.”
The captain chuckled. “I want to get out of here. This place is full of stuffy stiffs, and I hate it. I’ve been to this port before, and I know of a wonderful ice cream shoppe just across the road from here. If you’d like to come with me, I’ll buy you a cone or a dish or whatever you’d like.”
“Why thank you, captain. I would like that.”
“You can call me Captain Vanilla, by the way,” the captain said to the snowman as they trudged through winter walkways toward the ice cream shoppe beyond the veil of swirling snow.
“Your name seems to change every five minutes or so. Why is that?”
The captain laughed. “You’re quite sharp for a snowman with no straight edges. The truth is, I’m in hiding. There are people after me.”
“Whatever for?” the snowman wanted to know.
“For being a menace to society, I suppose.”
“But you’re the most solitary sailor of the world… How could you possibly be a menace to society.”
“They just got me pegged, I guess… And I don’t even have a peg leg,” the captain roared.
The bell to the ice cream shoppe jingled like Christmas when they pushed through the door.
A man behind the counter took an instant dislike to them. “Hey! You can’t bring a snowman in here. I don’t want slush all over the floor. He’ll have to wait outside.”
“But kind sir. I promised my friend here an ice cream.”
The captain turned to the snowman. “I’m sorry about this… What kind of ice cream would you like?”
The snowman was crushed. Tears of ash and soot ran down his face. “Oh, never mind. I’ll just go and stand in a field or something and wait for spring to murder me.” He trundled out the door and stood on the walk and looked in through the window.
The captain felt his pain like he felt everyone’s pain. He sharply turned to the man behind the counter and raised a sea-hardened finger. “Do you get your jollies over being mean to people, huh? He’s never done you a day of wrong and you treated him horribly. All he wanted was some ice cream and you made him feel like less of a person for it. What do you have to say for yourself.”
The man behind the counter scowled at the captain. He rolled up his sleeves and crossed two thick arms across his puffed-out chest. “He’s a snowman, not a person. I’ve got rights as a business owner, and I got the say when it comes to who I want to serve and who I don’t want to serve. If you don’t like it, join your weepy friend on the other side of the door.”
The captain backed up and looked in the case at all the different kinds of ice cream. “Do you have pistachio?”
“How about mint chocolate chip?”
“Do you want a cup or a cone, and how many scoops?”
“Hmm… Two scoops in a cone. One of those pointy ones.”
The gruff man behind the counter went to work making the captain’s ice cream cone. He handed it to him. “That’ll be $4.50.”
The captain dug in his coat for the money and handed it over. “Thanks. Have a fine day.”
“Right,” the man behind the ice cream counter grumbled. “A fine day.”
The captain went to sit on a bench in a snowy park not far from the hotel. He sat there in the flurries licking at his ice cream cone and watching the snowman who was just standing there some ways off near a clump of leafless trees, the branches casting outward like witches’ fingers.
A small group of unruly children from the wrong side of the town were passing through the park. They were making noise and tossing hastily made snowballs at each other. When they reached the snowman, they paused. One of the boys started punching him in the midsection. They all laughed. Another boy started kicking at the snowman. They all laughed some more. Another boy still, yanked the carrot cock nose from the snowman’s face and started stabbing at him with it while the others cheered him on.
The captain had had enough, and he went over to the small cluster of rabble rousers to put a stop to their bullying. “Knock that off, boys! That’s no way to treat a snowman. He’s, my friend.”
They all laughed at the captain in a loud mocking way. “Piss off, old man!” one of the boys yelled at him.
“Yeah, piss off!” said another. “Don’t you have a ferry to catch… Fairy.”
One of them threw a snowball at the captain and it smacked him in the shoulder.
That angered the captain, and he threw his ice cream cone at the boy, and it splattered right in his face. “Yeah, how do you like that ya little shit!” And he looked at the circle of misfits and raised his arms to make himself look more threatening and he made a loud, unintelligible warbling sound like some crazy bird. The boys looked at each other and then decided it would be best if they ran off to get away from this deranged sea captain defending a snowman in a snowy park in a faraway place on a wayward day with little to no meaning but with plenty of meaning just the same.
The captain went to retrieve the snowman’s carrot cock nose and stuck it back in his face. “There you go,” he said as he adjusted it just right. “Now you can breathe again and smell things.”
“Thanks, captain. And thanks for helping out with that brood of bastards. I’m sure they would have done me in completely if you hadn’t come along.”
The captain took a deep breath and looked around. “Well… I’m a captain, that’s what I do. And you’re my friend. I’m sure you would have done the same for me.”
The snowman shifted uncomfortably and tried to smile. “I… Guess I would have.”
“What do you mean, you guess you would have.”
“I mean. Well… It’s not like I’m in love with you or anything. And besides, I’m not one for violence.”
The captain was shocked and took a step back. “Why you… You ungrateful little shit of a snowman! I risked my life for you. I risked my freedom for you! Why, right now that boy could be telling his father that I assaulted him with a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone and the next thing you know, here come the coppers ready to lock me up. All because I considered you a friend and I wanted to protect you! Well, isn’t that a fine kettle of fish!”
The snowman shrugged. “Sorry. That’s just how I feel.”
The captain rushed at the snowman and plucked the carrot cock nose from his face and threw it as hard and as far as he could. “There! I hope you suffocate!”
“I still have a mouth… Hee hee hee,” the snowman snickered.
The captain ferociously rushed him once more and knocked the snowman’s head off. He kicked at it after it thumped to the ground. He screamed loudly as he repeatedly stomped on it.
The cop was watching him from a distance and now spoke into his handset. “Yeah, I found him. Looks like some kind of nut job. He’s smashing the poor kids’ snowman. I’ll make contact.”
The captain was startled and turned when the officer called out to him. “Hey! What are you doing there?”
“Oh, hello officer,” the captain chuckled. “I suppose I look quite silly smashing up this snowman.”
“Uh, huh. A young boy says some man in the park threw an ice cream cone at him. Do you know anything about that?” the cop asked.
The captain sighed. “Yes, officer. That was me. But I only did it because he threw a snowball at me and him and the other boys, they were messing with my friend here.”
“The snowman. He came to life. We had a good time together, but then that prick at the ice cream store wouldn’t serve him… Oh, never mind. It’s a long story.”
“Uh, huh. Turn around sir and place your hands behind your back. You can tell your story to the judge.”
The captain stayed quiet as he rode in the back of the police car. He looked out the window at the white, cold world and wondered why he was even born. He looked out at the harbor and his ship was gone. It was gone because it was never there. None of it was ever there. He had simply ridden the waves of the rough surf inside his own head once again. The captain laughed out loud when the jail came into view. He saw the nearby corner bar with the red neon and knew that was going to be his first stop when he got out.
Truman Humboldt glanced once in the rear-view mirror and the lobster ghost was gone. All he saw was the brown bowl where Lincoln, Nebraska sat in the distance like ripening fruit of varied shapes and shades, the orange and smoky image now growing ever smaller as the miles ticked off in the opposite direction.
Truman sighed deeply. He suddenly felt very free and uplifted. And although he was returning to the garbage town of Neptune and the awful job of breaking chicken necks at the processing plant, he looked beyond all that to a brighter future that he truly believed was within his grasp.
It was late afternoon when he finally returned the car to the rental office. He looked the vehicle over, smiled, and then patted the hood. “Thanks for the wonderful ride to Red Lobster,” he said. “I’ll never forget it.”
Truman slipped the keys and the official paperwork into the slot provided outside. He turned, put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath. “Ah,” he exhaled. “My future knows no bounds. No bounds whatsoever.”
Truman felt so good that he decided to take a stroll through the sad downtown and get himself an ice cream at Sundaes in Neptune, one of the few local places with life and one that was actually worth something. He felt he deserved a treat… Finally.
Once he got to the shop with the big glass windows full of colorful scenes depicting an ice cream and candy wonderland, he pulled the door open and a bell tinkled with welcoming, signaling that he indeed must be alive. The place smelled of sugar and chocolate and happy memories and Truman went to the counter where a blonde teeny bopper wearing a paper white hat and a bright glossy smile greeted him. He was still wearing his lobster-red tuxedo complete with top hat and walking cane and she seemed impressed, or maybe just puzzled.
“Hi! Welcome to Sundaes in Neptune,” she bubbled. “What’s your pleasure today?”
Truman’s eyes danced over the large menu above and behind her and its wide variety of choices. “Hmm,” Truman thought out loud. “Do you have any lobster ice cream?”
The girl laughed. “Lobster ice cream? Eww. No, sir. I’m afraid we don’t have any lobster ice cream… I don’t think I’ve ever seen lobster ice cream. Is that real… Or are you just fooling with me?” She was very electric and talkative. “That’s a great outfit by the way. Did you just come from a wedding?”
“No,” Truman said as he still perused the menu. “I had lunch at Red Lobster.”
“Oh,” the girl said, casting an awkward glance in his direction and then turning to look up at the menu board along with him. “Do you like peppermint? The peppermint is my favorite.”
“I want ice cream, not toothpaste. I think I’ll go with the cherry chocolate delight in a sugar cone please,” Truman decided.
“Oh. Yummy yum yum,” the girl said, and she grabbed a silver scooper and dug into the bucket of cherry chocolate delight and plopped it atop a crispy sugar cone wrapped in gentle pink paper around the bottom half. “Just one scoop?”
“This is a special occasion. Make it two scoops,” Truman beamed.
“You got it,” the girl said, and she piled two meaty balls of ice cream on the cone and held it while he got his money out. He paid her and she handed him his special treat. “Wow,” Truman said, smiling like a kid. “Awesome sauce… This looks great. Thanks.”
“Have a good rest of this beautiful day,” the girl said as Truman made his way toward the door. He turned and hoisted his cone as in a toast to the whole world. “It is a beautiful day!” he exclaimed with a broad smile, and he went back out into the grime and abandonment of the decaying downtown, but it did not soil his good mood. He focused on better days ahead as he walked, licking his ice cream slowly, relishing the present moment of peace and contentment.
It was becoming Sunday evening on the brim of the world, yet there was still light, as he made his way toward home. He stopped in front of the old movie house, The Neptune Theater, now dim and abandoned, irrelevant movie posters left behind, the glass of the ticket booth made opaque by time. He sucked the last of the ice cream from the bottom tip of the cone and looked into the building, past his own hazy reflection.
It had been left to rot, now a sea of soft dust floating about inside, ghosts of good times and laughter or maybe hot kissing in the back row floated through the lobby. Truman regretted never having someone to make out with at the movies. But then he thought, as he pushed the final piece of the cone into his mouth, so what… That was then, and this is now. He used his pointer finger to write something on the grimy glass: Be Here Now.
He stepped back and admired his proclamation for the world to relish in and hopefully live by; a proclamation that would eventually wash away but hold true forever, he thought. And he stuck his hands in the pockets of his lobster-red tuxedo pants and continued walking toward home.
Not long after Truman’s prophesizing at the old theater, a car came by and drove up slowly beside him as he walked. He turned to quickly look and then back again. He had no idea who it was or what they wanted. Maybe it was just someone lost and they wanted some directions, Truman thought. But then he realized the car looked somewhat familiar to him.
Then whoever was in the car honked the horn. Truman stopped. The passenger-side window slid down and a beautiful head leaned over and called out to him. “Hey, Truman! What are you doing?”
It was Maggie Barrymore.
Truman was shocked as he moved closer to the car and looked in. The smell of her perfumed, glossy life pleasantly assaulted his face.
“I’m walking home,” he nervously said. “I just got some ice cream.”
Then she laughed at him. “What’s with the wild tux?”
“I had a very important luncheon in Lincoln,” he said, and he straightened up with a sense of pride. He wanted to impress her. “At Red Lobster.”
Maggie Barrymore laughed at him again. “Red Lobster? You went all the way to Lincoln to eat at Red Lobster?”
“Yes,” Truman snapped, somewhat annoyed and not understanding why that seemed so ridiculous to her.
“Okay… I can give you a ride if you want.”
Truman’s eyes darted all around the interior of her nice car. It was clean. It smelled good. The stereo was playing some kind of poppy dance music that he didn’t know anything about. “You don’t mind?” he said. “I mean, you won’t get in trouble for hanging out with a co-worker. I wouldn’t want you to lose your job.”
“No.” She shrugged her smooth, bare shoulders. “It’s Sunday. It’s my day off. No one can tell me what I can or can’t do. Hop in.”
Truman pulled on the door and got in. That girlish smell of the car really got to him, and his heart started thumping. He was with a woman. A real woman. He looked over at her. She was wearing very short pants and he quickly glanced down at her long, lean legs as they worked the pedals. He had to turn away from her and glance out the window.
“You look different without your office clothes,” Truman told her.
“Yeah, I must look like a bum, but hey, it’s my day off, right? But I got to tell you… You look pretty sharp in that tux.”
“Thanks. I figured, hey, it’s Red Lobster. I got to look my best.”
She bit at her bottom lip as she looked over at him. “That’s cool. Were you with friends?”
“No, just by myself. Well, I was with a friend, but we had a disagreement and went our separate ways. The bottom line is, I don’t have any real friends. No one likes me.”
“Oh, Truman. I’m sure that’s not true.”
“I like you, and I could be your friend,” she said with a sultry tone almost, and she took her hand and moved it to his leg and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You can never have too many friends, right?”
“Aw, you’re just saying that because you feel sorry for me. And you didn’t want anything to do with me the other day.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Maggie said. “I’m sorry I acted like a jerk. I guess I was having a bad day. I do like you and I mean it when I say I want us to be friends.”
Truman tried to swallow the lump in his throat. “I would really like that,” he said to her.
“All right then,” Maggie said with a playful bob of her head. “Let’s be friends.”
Truman suddenly got excited by an idea. “Hey. After you drop me off… Would you like to come in and watch some Seinfeld with me.” He was sure she would immediately reject the idea. But then she didn’t.
“Sounds like fun,” she said.
“Sure. I could use a few laughs… And some company.”
Truman noticed she suddenly looked a bit sad. “Is something wrong?”
She shook it off with a gentle smile. “No… Just some man trouble.”
Truman leaned back in his seat, somewhat dejected. “You have a boyfriend, huh? I guess that’s not surprising.”
“I wouldn’t say boyfriend. It’s more like recreation,” she said with a laugh. “But you know, relationships of any kind aren’t always easy.”
“Hmm,” Truman hummed. “I wouldn’t know anything about that. Not really.”
She proceeded cautiously with her next question. “You’ve never been in a relationship before?”
“No,” Truman answered. “Can’t say I have.”
Then she chuckled as if he was kidding. “You’ve never had a girlfriend?”
“No, Maggie. I’ve never had a girlfriend.”
“Your entire life?”
“Truman,” she said sympathetically. “That’s terrible.”
“Tell me about it.”
“So… Have you ever kissed anyone?”
Truman turned to look at her. He noticed her lips and thought how well-versed in love they must be. “No. Not in real life.”
Maggie put a hand to her stomach like she was hurting. “That’s so sad.”
“You can turn right at the next block, and then the second right and all the way to the end,” Truman said, and he emitted a soft laugh. “I live at the end of the road.”
When they pulled into the driveway, Maggie shut the car down and turned to look at Truman. “Wait,” she said, and she moved closer to him, held him by the back of the head and pulled him in for his first real kiss.
When their lips parted, Truman relished the cool wetness that lingered. “Damn, Miss Maggie,” he said. “I had no idea it would feel so wonderful. I think my heart is going to explode.”
She giggled and looked down between his legs. “I think something else is about to explode,” she said with a smile. “Let’s go inside.”
NOT YET THE END
Author’s Note: I had fully intended this to be the last installment of this story, but lo and behold, it is not. It has a life of its own. Thanks for reading and keep checking cerealaftersex.com for more on The Lobster Guy. I’ll wrap it up soon.
It was immediately after the Weirdo in the Willows downed the first shot and chased it with a gulp of ale that the door to the Whispering Fox flew open. The professor of psychology from the university of the town was standing there with a tormented look on his face, the gray weather booming behind him. “I found you!” he cried out, and he closed his umbrella and stepped inside to the center of the pub. “Good townspeople,” Professor Tongo began, moving around in a slow circle as he looked at them. “I must implore you to heed my attention for I have discovered something far beyond amazing!”
A burly and hairy man in the back stood and raised his mug. “Did you find your wife in bed with another man yet again, professor!?”
The pub roared with taunting laughter.
“No, you fool! I’m talking about a great scientific discovery… And it sits right here among you.” He moved toward the Weirdo in the Willows at the bar. He clamped a hand on his shoulder, looked down at him and smiled. “My good people, our little friend here possesses a great gift to benefit all of mankind, but he has refused to let me help him share it. He’s being selfish.”
Another man in the back stood and cried out, “I’m not surprised… He’s a real dick!”
There was a communal murmur of agreement.
The Weirdo in the Willows hopped off the stool and went to the center of the pub, thick hands animated in the smoky air. “Oh come on now!” he began in a furor. “I’m not a dick! I’m just weird, that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with being weird!”
A rotund woman in muddy pink and with a barrelful of intelligent breasts stepped out of the crowd. “He’s weird all right. I heard Farmer Brown caught him in one of his fields having his way with a cantaloupe. A cantaloupe!”
The stewing crowd groaned with disgust.
“It was an experiment!” the Weirdo in the Willows screamed out. “I once read somewhere that the interior of a cantaloupe closely resembles the feeling of being inside a real woman. I was merely curious for the sake of science. It was research!”
The rotund woman with intelligent breasts scoffed. “Weren’t no experiment or research. You were lonely and horny as a toad because no real woman would ever lie down with a weirdo such as yourself.”
The crowd cheered and laughed. Then the professor intervened. “Please, please, everyone! Settle down. This is not the time for mockery. I’m telling you; he has a great gift. I have seen it myself this very day!”
A handsome ranger of the hills and hollows stepped out of a dark corner smoking a curved pipe. He spoke in a soft yet stern voice. “What does this so-called gift have to do with any of us?” he wanted to know. “What do I get out of it? If it were up to me, this weirdo would be banished to the furthest reaches of the world forever and never be allowed to return.”
Another man with a hoarse voice and crazy gray hair shot up from the comfort of a cushioned seat. “He’s right. I say we escort this perverted weirdo out of town tonight!”
“Tonight!” the crowd repeated in unison. And then there was a great howling and roaring and the stamping of feet in heavy boots and shoes.
The professor was determined to sway them his way and climbed atop of the bar and shouted out, “Quiet!”
The noise retreated. “Let me show you what he can do,” Professor Tongo begged them. “I promise, you will all be amazed, astounded, blown away… Please, show them what you had shown me in the forest.”
“And if I refuse?” the Weirdo in the Willows said.
“Then you will have surely disappointed all of mankind,” the professor answered. “No one can live with that heavy of a burden, my friend.”
The Weirdo in the Willows thought about it for a moment. “All right,” he said, and the crowd stepped back and formed a circle around him as he moved closer to the center of the pub. He sighed and reached up to remove his red hat with the limp point.
The crowd gasped when they saw what was revealed to them. “He’s some sort of a wizard!” someone cried out.
The professor addressed them. “He’s not a wizard. I’ve concluded that his mind must be some sort of a portal connected to the entire universe.” He looked at them as he spoke like he would in a lecture hall. “I was being foolish in my search for the brain of the Earth when this fellow right here was in possession of the brain of the universe, the brain of all time, past and present and even the future.”
“It looks like he’s got a crystal ball on top of his head,” someone said. “He’s no wizard. He’s some sort of a warlock! We need to string him up and burn him!”
The crowd roared.
“No!” the professor screamed. “He’s a misunderstood enigma. His mind is sublime.”
“But what does it do?” a young woman called out. “What’s so wonderful about it?”
The professor jumped down from atop the bar and instructed her. “Please, miss. Step over here. I want you to look into the dome, look into his mind, slip deeply into forever and beyond and I assure you, you will be more than amazed.”
The woman was skeptical as she moved closer to the Weirdo in the Willows. She shielded her big eyes as she stood over him and looked down into the glowing half orb protruding from his head. “It’s so bright,” she said.
“It won’t hurt you,” the professor reassured her. “It’s perfectly safe.”
She peered closer into the flickering brain. And then closer still until her face was nearly touching it. She stayed like that for several minutes while the silenced crowd around her looked on in wonder.
Then the young woman yelped and suddenly popped up and stumbled back. “Oh my god!” she screamed.
“Yes! Yes! What is it you saw? You saw God!?” the professor demanded to know.
“That little weirdo indecently touched me!” the young woman said. “I felt his fat little hand on my privates! This is all just a sick charade for a quick feel. It’s insulting and despicable!”
“That’s it!” someone screamed from the gallery. “Let’s get him!”
The angry crowd went wild as they closed in on the Weirdo in the Willows, but he was shifty and quick and dropped to the floor and crawled through the chaotic tangle of legs toward the front door and out of The Whistling Fox. Once in the free of the crisp air, he got to his feet, jumped up with legs already spinning and he shot off into the coming darkness like a mystical and Funkadelic bullet.
It was after, back inside the electrified and simmering snug of The Whistling Fox, that the young woman who was groped by the Weirdo in the Willows moved toward Professor Tongo, sneering, and wagging an accusing finger. “This is all your fault,” she seethed. “You’re the one who brought this weirdo unto us and falsely touted him as some miracle of the universe. I was nearly raped because of you!”
“No. No. It’s not my fault,” the professor pleaded as he too retreated toward the door. “I was deceived as well. I’m a victim just as you are.”
“You’re no victim,” the young woman said. “You’re a charlatan!”
The crowd, now realizing that the Weirdo in the Willows had somehow escaped, directed their anger toward the professor, led on by the young woman who had been so deceptively touched between the legs by a little man who looked like a gnome, a little man who had devised his day of wicked trickery with exact precision… And he seemingly got away with it.
The hotheaded mob chased the professor of psychology out of the pub and into the cold, wet streets, lamplights casting glossy glows of muted blue and gold upon the scape. They chased him for a very long way, eventually out of the town and into the country toward the shore of the cold sea. In the growing darkness, the professor had not realized he was leading them to the edge of a very high cliff that looked down on the crashing waters far below. He suddenly teetered on the edge, barely catching his breath when he saw the blossom of their communal rage bloom larger, glowing with torchlight and coming ever closer.
Too exhausted to run any further, the professor made the daring choice of slipping over the edge of the cliff and clutching precariously to a jut of rock. He clung there for dear life in the wind, the cold, and the uncertainty. He waited. He could hear their growling roars coming closer. He waited and waited more. And then there they were suddenly above him like blue shadows, coming over the cliff and tumbling past him in a shower of terrified screams. The dynamic energy of their clustered rush bred a force of perpetual motion so strong that it made it impossible for them to stop or even slow down. They kept flying over the edge, one by one, or two by two, or even big clumps of three, four, five, or six.
The professor looked down in horror as the bodies soared to certain death below him. Some of the bodies hit the jagged rocks, others the swallowing waters. One by one the screams were silenced with a muffled thud or splash until there were no longer any screams to hear at all.
The professor was beginning to slip from the rock and part of him wanted to just let go and meet his fate with the others at the bottom of the great cliff. But another part of him agreed to hang on, to work his way back up and over the edge to save himself. And this is what he did, albeit with great struggle. When one of his hands finally clawed the edge, that is when the two strong hands of another took hold of his arm and pulled him to safety.
The professor panted and wept into the earth pressed against his cold, wet face. He then turned his eyes upward and there he saw in the glow of the illuminated half orb nestled in his skull, the grinning face of the Weirdo in the Willows. The professor smiled at first, and then he laughed out loud. “You perverted little shit! You nearly got me killed.”
The Weirdo in the Willows smirked and gestured with his hands. “But here you are to tell the tale, professor. I guess that makes me a hero… Not a weirdo.”
Professor Tongo got to his knees and then stood with a groan. “I suppose you’re right. Thank you. But how did you know where I even was? And why did you even come to my aid?”
“I see things. I know things. I feel things. I also pay very close attention to the details of the world… Even when I get accused of being a weirdo. And though it seems I do not possess a heart, I in fact do, kind sir.”
They started walking together, away from the cliff’s deadly edge and toward the small glow of the town in the distance.
“I’m sorry I tried to exploit you… And I promise I won’t call you a weirdo anymore,” Professor Tongo said.
“On one condition.”
“And what’s that?”
“I know there’s more to that glowing brain of yours than you’re letting on, my little friend. I want you to come work with me at the university.”
“Like an associate?”
“More like an intern,” the professor said with a gentle laugh.
The Weirdo in the Willows sighed and then finally agreed. “Okay. I’ll do it. I desperately need a change in my life anyways. All these magical potions are turning me into a weirdo.”
They both laughed at that.
“Good,” the professor said, and he reached down and gently patted the little gnome-like man on the back in a gesture of friendship. Then he half smiled with a curious thought. “So… What was that thing about cantaloupe?”
On a stool of torn red vinyl in a yellow brick bar with one glass and silver door smudged with human residue.
She’s tipping back buckets of wine and regretting the stings of a new world religion. She turns her partially veiled head toward a cacophony of dart playing and loud, boastful inebriation. Mother Mary the Vicious looks up to the Tender and nods her head and asks in a whisper, “Do they always make so much damn noise?”
The Tender is mopping the guts of a glass with a white towel. “What’s it to you, God chick?”
“I’m trying to commune with the heavens and they’re disturbing me.” Mother Mary the Vicious turns back to look at the rowdy rebels. “I would think they would have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon.”
The Tender, that being the tender of the bar, looked at her and snorted a scoff. “Who the hell are you to talk. You’re in here drinking buckets of wine. Big buckets, too. So big you gotta use two holy hands. Just let ’em be. They’re just having a little fun on their one day of rest.”
“They should be at the church… Volunteering and such. The lawn could use a good mowing. Christ on the cross needs his nailed feet polished as well.”
“Piss off!” the Tender snapped. “You’re nothing but a hypocritical revenant come haunting my bar again.”
Mother Mary the Vicious took offense. “I’m very much alive.”
“Are ya now?”
“Absolutely… Bring me another bucket to celebrate my own breathing days.”
The Tender turned in a huff and went off to find another gallon of wine down in the hidden back and out and around of a stuffy stone cellar.
Mother Mary the Vicious got off her stool and went to where the hooligans were. They quieted down when they saw her coming their way. Their eyes followed her.
“I’m surprised you could walk all that way in a straight line,” the big one with the dark green shirt said as he clutched a handful of darts. He had a large head, shaved by stone, and a once broken nose on his street-tough looking face. “Ya didn’t fall down a bit, sister.” They all laughed out loud at her.
She made a motion with her hands. “Give me them darts. I want to play.”
They all laughed at her again.
“Jesus, sister,” the same one said. “I don’t think you could hit the side of a house in your condition.” They roared with laughter again.
Mother Mary the Vicious grew impatient. “Stop mouthing off and just give me the darts.”
The rough one shrugged, stepped forward and handed her the darts. “Here ya go, sister. Don’t poke your eyes out.”
She smiled and grimaced at the same time. “Just clear me a path to the dart board.”
The hooligans stepped aside as she stepped up to the line. She squinted at the board. She raised one dart and moved it back and forth in the air as she set up her shot. She threw it and it stuck in the hole-strewn wall inches away from the board. They clapped, whistled and laughed. “Good one, sister!” a short skinny one who looked far too young to be in a bar shouted. Then he pointed. “The board’s over there!” More rowdy laughter.
“I’m just warming up,” Mother Mary the Vicious sneered in the smoky, dense beer-scented air. Then she lined up another dart, threw it, and once again, it pierced the plaster inches to the side of the board.
“I don’t think you’re warm enough yet!” the young one said, and as he hoisted a mug of ale to his mouth, another dart whizzed through the air and hit him directly in the eye. The mug fell to the floor in a splash and a crash. The young one wailed, clutched his aching, bloodied socket, and fell to his knees.
“Ya blinded him, ya fucking bitch!” the rough one yelled out, and he came at her as the others surrounded their wounded companion. He grabbed her by the throat and walked her back with force until she was pinned against a far wall. Framed photos of olden days rattled. His hands clamped down on her neck. Mother Mary the Vicious was about to drop down into blackness when a gun shot went off.
The Tender stood in the room holding a smoking Spanish pistola aimed at the ceiling. “The next one’s going straight in your thick head Bruno boy if you don’t let the sister go right now.”
Bruno looked at him, his face wet with sweat and anger. Then he turned back to Mother Mary the Vicious. “You’re lucky this time, sister,” he sneered. He released his hands and stepped away from her.
The Tender nodded at Bruno with his head. “Now gather your injured boy and get him out of here. You tell them doctors it was all an accident. There was no vicious intent here by the sister, or anyone. You got that?”
Bruno looked at his companions as they got the whimpering young one to his feet. “Let’s go,” he said. And they all made their way to the door and out to the street and disappeared into the Sunday golden mist.
The Tender went to Mother Mary the Vicious. He studied her. “Are ya all right?” he asked with a strange degree of concern.
“Yes. I think so. Thank you for helping me. I thought you found me distasteful.”
“Not really.” The Tender leaned back and watched her swirling eyes watch him. “But this has nothing to do with love, sister. I was merely protecting my property. Don’t get any funny ideas now.”
She laughed softly and with a sense of slight disappointment. “I didn’t say a word about love.”
“You didn’t have to. I saw it in your eyes. I can taste it in the room.”
Mother Mary the Vicious snickered with embarrassment. “You don’t have to worry about me loving you like that… I prefer the company of women.”
The Tender raised his eyebrows in blown away wonder. “You enjoy going down under with the ladies, do ya?”
She nodded her head in an absolute. “That’s why I like wine so much. It pairs well with the taste.”
“Don’t the gods in the heavens have a problem with that?” the Tender asked, looking up through the ceiling of the bar.
“Not my gods,” she answered, and then a shadowy figure appeared in the doorway, and the woman was partially backlit by the Sunday sun. “I have to go now,” Mother Mary the Vicious announced. “It’s time for our Sunday drive to the edge of town. To the edge of good and bad and everything else in between.” She looked around at the memories she forever scarred the bar with. “I trust you will clean up the blood I spilled and put any charges on my tab. The church’s tab?”
The Tender traced everything she had just looked at with his own eyes. “No charge today, sister. And I’ve got plenty of towels for the blood. You just go and love like thunder and then some. It’s all this world’s got left.”
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.
Marsella Blume woke up on the wrong side of a lifetime of wishful thinking.
The house in the manicured suburb where she lived was quiet. She gathered some fresh clothes and took a long hot shower full of steam and soap. She had to be clean for him. She had to smell good.
Once dressed and properly perfumed, she went downstairs to the kitchen. An orange cat rubbed against her legs and purred. The cat’s name was Alex, and he was hungry so she undid a fresh can of food and plopped it into a bowl. The cat smacked at it mercilessly while Marsella brewed herself a cup of light roast coffee. She drank it down quickly and rushed out to her car that sat beneath a carport. She looked at herself in the rear-view mirror and dabbed at her face with a fingertip to smooth the makeup one last time before pulling away.
As she drove toward the Lucky U Motorlodge to meet the man she was cheating on her husband with, she went through a grocery list in her head for when she would do the shopping following her affair appointment. Gravy. Fat-free milk. Scouring pads. Cat litter. Onions… Meat.
She bit at her frosted lip, worried, hoping she would remember everything. She scolded herself for not writing things down like any sane person would, but she usually relied on her own overloaded mind instead, readily at the cost of her own personal derailments. And the boxcars were piling up.
When she finally pulled into the gravely lot at the Lucky U, she shut the car down in a space in front of room No. 9. He appeared in the window without a shirt on and smiled at her through the glass. Part of her wanted to throw it in reverse and tear out of there and drive to the other side of the world. Another part of her wanted to break the rules of decency.
The next thing she knew she was lying on her back in the uncomfortable bed, and she mindlessly studied the ceiling while he thrust himself inside her. The landscape moved annoyingly — a visual jolt every time he went deep that was beginning to make her head swim. She closed her eyes and thought of Niagara Falls in the spring. She could hear the thunderous flow of the water as it went over the edge and fell with a power like no other. Who was this seemingly random person above her this time? He wasn’t nearly as strong as the falls. She had her hands on his upper arms that weren’t even very muscular. She looked up at his unappealing face, now twisted with his own hard work and pleasure. He was breathing like a marathon banshee and dripping sweat onto her face as he slapped against her skin.
“Please don’t cum inside me,” she warned him. “Not today. I don’t want to feel it today.”
His dead eyes went wide as he looked at her face. “I may not be able to help it,” he grunted. “You’re a dream come true.”
She suddenly turned away and tried to get out from under him by twisting her body. He popped out of her like a cork from a bottle.
“What the hell! What are you doing?” he wanted to know.
“I’m suddenly not in the mood,” she said as she straightened herself on the edge of the bed. “And I’m not anyone’s dream so don’t say that ever again.”
He scoffed in frustration and went to sit on the opposite edge of the bed. He was trying to catch his breath as he moved his hair out of his eyes. He reached for his pack of cigarettes on the nightstand and lit one. He just sat there naked and smoked quietly.
Why had she even chosen him, she thought, as the room filled with the haze of his smoke. Glenn. What an inconsequential name, she thought to herself. They worked together in the real estate office. He was an assistant to the more experienced brokers like herself. How did it even happen? She tried to recall. Then the memory suddenly bobbed to the surface of her jumbled mind like a dumpling in boiling water. One day they were driving in his car together, just the two of them, and they were on their way to the home of a prospective client out in the country who had a very large house they wanted to sell. They had been listening to the radio and laughing about something. He purposely reached over and touched her leg. She instructed him to pull off in a secluded spot and then she found herself leaning in and kissing him. He kissed her back ferociously like he’d never known love. She recalls seeing the glint of her wedding ring as she held his rough face. Soon after, her top was undone, and his hands were on her. She knew she had to stop, but she couldn’t. Then her head had fallen into his lap and this essential stranger was in her mouth, and then she began to cry because it wasn’t love. It was never love, but still, she kept at it. And now she was trapped in a cheap motel room once again, and she didn’t want him at all anymore.
She got up and walked past him without a word and into the bathroom to take a shower. But there was no erasing him from the hard drive of her body — only time and keen personal deception could do that, maybe. He was long gone when she came back out. The key to the room sat on her pillow atop a one-dollar bill.
Marsella Blume always ended up with the shopping cart that didn’t go straight or had a wonky wheel that rattled and drew unwanted attention. It was just her lot in life, she achingly figured.
She steered her trolley down the shiny, well landscaped aisles of boxes and cans and bottles and bags and tins and sacks and pouches until she reached the meat department at the very back of the store. The chilled and brightly lit cases gently hummed. She drew closer and peered down at the animal flesh neatly cut and presented atop the white foam trays wrapped in plastic. She studied all the various hunks of animal flesh. Some were bright red like blood. Others the color of well-tanned human beings. Others still were pale as a sun-bleached shell on a sandy beach or like a distant breakthrough muddied star in space.
She picked up a package of flank steak. She wondered to herself. Flank? She didn’t know what that even meant. The only thing she knew was that she was staring at a piece of animal flesh. It was the flesh of an animal that once walked around and ate grass or something like that, she thought. It breathed. It looked at the sun or stood on a hill in the rain. It had eyes and a brain. And now she was holding a piece of it in her hand. How incredibly odd, she thought. How when you really think about it, the truth of the matter is human beings savagely kill other living things, cut them up into pieces, wrap them up neat and tight and sell them for profit. Then we burn them, chew them up and swallow them down into our collective guts in a celebratory sort of way.
A man in a white lab coat streaked with red and with a hair net atop his head that made him look extremely peculiar smiled at her as he stocked more packages of animal flesh beside her. His eyes were alien blue and twirled like old time camera flashcubes when he smiled. “Can I help you find a particular cut?” he asked her politely.
Marsella looked at him. “Is that blood on your company uniform?”
He looked down at himself. “Yes, it is.”
She was alarmed. “Where did it come from?”
He looked at her strangely, but then again, he was used to odd birds swooping in from the ridiculous world. “I work in the meat department. I’m a butcher.”
“So, you cut up animals back there?” Marsella asked with a nod of her head toward an unknown space beyond them.
The butcher chuckled at her. “Not really. They come to us already cut up. We just cut them up more.”
“So that they fit neatly in all these little packages or in trays in your fancy little case over there?”
“That’s right. We take it right down to the point of purchase and consumption… Are you sure there’s nothing I can help you find?”
“Can you show me where you work?”
He made a puzzled face. “I’m sorry, mam. We can’t allow customers into our production area.”
“Then can you tell me what a flank steak is?”
The butcher cleared his throat and thought about it as he looked at her. “Listen. You seem nice enough. I’ll let you come back and look at my beef chart and I can show you exactly where the flank comes from.”
Marsella suddenly brightened. “Really?”
“Sure… But you can’t say anything to anyone. Okay?”
“Okay. But what about my shopping cart?”
“Just leave it. We’ll only be a minute or two.”
She followed him to an area behind the custom meat counter and through a set of swinging metal doors with two little square windows on each one. He led her to a white plastic table that was stained pink from repetitive butchering. Above the table was a big poster with a drawing of a cow except the cow was divided up into all sorts of different parts and the parts were labeled and color-coded. He pointed to the one marked flank. It was blue.
“See there. The flank is at the bottom of the cow, just forward of the rear quarter.”
Marsella’s eyes slow danced across the chart, and it almost made her feel like she was back in her high school biology class. It nearly smelled the same — like death and bleach. “I never imagined such a thing,” she said.
“Well, where did you think meat came from?” the butcher asked with a tone of sarcasm that made her feel stupid.
“I guess I never really thought about it,” she said. “I suppose like most people don’t.”
“Well,” the butcher smiled. “There’s a bloody reality behind every shiny facade.”
“I suppose that’s true,” she said, returning the smile.
The flank steak Marsella had purchased sizzled and smoked as it hit the hot cast-iron skillet. She turned to look at her husband who was sitting at the table behind her flipping through a day-old newspaper.
He sensed her looking at him. “What’s the occasion?” he asked.
“Steak. You never cook steak.”
“Oh,” Marsella fumbled in her thoughts. “I decided I would try something different. The butcher recommended it.”
He moved the newspaper away from his face and beamed at her from across the gap between them. “The butcher? What butcher?”
“The one who works at the grocery store. He was very helpful. Did you know they have a huge poster of a cow back there and it shows all the different ways they cut up that poor animal?”
“He showed you a poster?”
Her husband sneered with suspicion. “Did he show you anything else?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she wanted to know.
Her husband mumbled something undecipherable and rattled the newspaper in frustration. “Don’t burn it,” he said louder.
Marsella jabbed a large fork into the cooking flank steak and it bled out, the juices smoking and sizzling loudly in the pan. “I won’t,” she meekly answered.
She set two plates down. Her husband looked up at her from across the table and smiled after she took her seat. “This looks amazing,” he said as he unfurled his napkin. “I’m hungry as a dinosaur.”
Marsella looked down at her meal as he worked his knife and fork into the slab of animal flesh before him. His utensils scraped and clinked against the oval plate, and that combined with the sounds of his prehistoric chewing made her skin crawl and her teeth hurt.
She crinkled her nose at the hunk of flank steak before her. She thrust her fork in followed by her knife. She sawed, pierced the piece she had dislodged from the bigger piece and brought it to her mouth. She pushed it in and started chewing. The taste of salt and blood and iron played out strongly on her tongue. She forced herself to swallow and then she gagged a bit.
Her husband quickly glanced up at her. “Are you okay?”
She ran her tongue across her lips and fake smiled. “Do you see what we are doing?” she said, and she took a sip of water.
He looked confused. “I thought we were having dinner,” he answered.
“Yes. But no. Think about what we’re doing. I mean really think about it.”
He looked at his plate and then back up at her. “I’m having a steak, some potatoes, green beans…”
“No!” she blurted it out. “I want you to think about it at a much deeper level. Why can’t you ever do that!?”
He slammed his knife and fork down and they rattled angrily against his plate. “What the hell do you want me to say!? And I’m sorry if I’m not as intelligent as you supposedly wish me to be.”
“Do you not see it!?”
“See what, Marsella!?”
“We’re eating animal flesh! Look at your plate. That used to be a living breathing being with a heart and a brain and eyes to look upon the world with.”
He rolled his own eyes at her and wiped at his mouth with a napkin. “Oh Jesus. Here we go.”
“Is this your way of telling me you’ve decided to become a vegetarian now?”
“I may consider it.”
“Because of your great enlightenment following your visit with the butcher? I bet you won’t swear off all meat,” he scoffed.
She avoided his comment for the moment but filed it on the horizon of her memory. “Don’t you see how heinous it all is?”
“We stand over all these poor animals like gods and treat them horribly while we fatten them up just so we can cut them to pieces and then cut them to more pieces until the pieces are just the right size of convenience for the bloodthirsty bah, bah, bah consumers. Look at what you had in your mouth! Look at it!”
He watched her carefully in case she physically attacked him, and then he looked down at his plate.
“That’s right,” she continued. “We cut them up into little bits and package them up nice and friendly like and stack them in a refrigerated fluorescent case for the humans to prey upon with their watering eyes and nimble fingers. Oh, but to all of them it’s just a good piece of meat. It’s just something we breed and harvest to feed ourselves. We’ve turned other living creatures into a commodity to buy and sell by the pound! And then you put it in your mouth and shit it out later! Does that not bother you in the slightest?”
“It’s simply the cycle of life, Marsella. The cycle of life,” he answered sternly.
“It’s barbaric. If a man did that to another man, they’d send him to the electric chair and then some… And how many people out there do you think would even buy a steak after watching it gutted and plucked straight from a cow right in front of them? Hmm. Would you?”
He stood up. He was perturbed and he yelled at her. “I don’t know what you want me to do about it! It’s just the way it is, Marsella, and I’m sorry, but there are a lot of things in this crooked world far darker than you realize or wish them to be. But man is at the top of the food chain. That’s reality. It’s where God put us. It’s called survival of the fittest. Cows weren’t meant to plow fields or operate machines or be doctors. If you don’t like it, then go ahead and stop eating meat, but I for one will continue to eat meat because humans are carnivores… And I happen to like it.”
“Omnivores,” she said dejectedly.
“Human beings are omnivores. Maybe if you educated yourself, read a few more books, you’d know that.”
“Why is this suddenly turning into an attack against me. Jesus Christ, Marsella! All I wanted to do was enjoy my dinner and you launch into this psychobabble about meat and insult my level of intelligence. I won’t stand for it anymore.”
He snatched up his plate and started to walk away.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to finish my dinner in the den. There’s a game on I want to watch. And I would appreciate it if you just left me alone with my subpar thoughts.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Aaron Echoes August
An online journal of fiction, essays, and social commentary.