There is a science to peeling meat from bone. Separating skin and limbs. Detaching unneeded organs and flesh. He has to be proficient. Calm. Collected. Most of all he needs quiet so he can concentrate. So he can function.
It’s not quiet yet. He can hear every noise, every scratch, every twitch of grasshopper leg. They fill his head, leaving nothing else. He breathes, tries to block it out. He sharpens his knife until it’s the only sound he hears. It’s near, the place he wants to be. He tests he blade with his index finger. It parts the skin. Not much more than a paper cut but it bleeds. He knows he’s ready. He knows he’s there. He can resist the urges now. To tear and rip and gnash. He can work.
The body on the slab is sus scrofa domesticus. Common domesticated pig. Nothing different or special about it. He’d purchased it from a butcher who was sure he wanted to cook it whole. Instead he uses it for practice. He’d washed it first, unsure of what horrible preservatives were used in it. Its eyes were closed, the skin exsanguinous. Pale white pink, its tongue poking out. He removes the head, hefting it in his hands. It’s heavy. Surprisingly heavy.
“When I was fourteen they took us to a farm. My teacher, a well meaning blond of indeterminate years, decided we all needed to learn about how our food was grown. We looked at the corn and the chickens. We looked at the cows chewing placidly in the pasture. We looked at the milking barn, where a few of the boys giggled and asked to see the girl’s udders. Around the corner from that we came upon a pig strung up, dripping blood. It’s how they drained the bodies there. It was slit over the throat and stomach, its pink belly exposed. Cut open so we could see the insides. Some of the girls screamed. These high screeching noises, like birds when they attack. I stood for along time watching the pig bleed. Listening to the girls shriek.”
The girl he’s speaking to would shriek if she could. If she wasn’t bound with duct tape over her mouth, hands, and feet. Her mascara has cracked, circling her eyes like a raccoon mask. It drips down over her cheeks and the silver covering her mouth.
He pauses, as though remembering, the knife held high in his hand.
“The teacher. She got fired I think. We didn’t see her the next day. She claimed she didn’t know about the slaughter but really, how do you think we get pork chops and ham and bacon? You have to kill some things to enjoy others,” he said.
The girl isn’t a common pig. She’s special. He hopes she appreciates that.
He slices into the belly, the part already partially opened. He takes the intestines out, holds them in his hands like a bracelet or a necklace. They’re a rosary of waxen flesh. Fat bulges, almost bursting out of the skin holding it. She tries to inch back from him but there is only the wall behind her.
“You have to be careful with these. One wrong cut and it makes such a mess. No one wants shit in their food,” he says harshly.
She starts to cry again, though she knows this is futile.
“Shh shh,” he says, putting his gloved finger to his mouth. “I shouldn’t speak like that. You’re special, aren’t you? Can’t talk like that around a lady. My momma wouldn’t like it. Women are different. They’re better. Have to treat them with respect.”
He pats her awkwardly on the head. She tries to move through the wall. When he goes back to the pig he starts to speak again.
“My father was a butcher. I’m going to learn his trade. It makes me feel closer to him. He’s gone. My mother too. Although her death was strange. They called it auto-erotic asphyxiation. Such an odd way to die. Hung, by her own garters. Down here. Near where you are. The beam is strong. I’ve tested all the beams and the one above you is strong,” he says.
He cuts the skin off next, carefully removing what he can. It was a point of pride that it was mostly in one piece. He’s getting better. He cuts the pig into two, carefully measuring along the backbone. He separates the pig into parts; according to the chart he’s been given. The feet. The hock. The shoulder. They fall into the cooler near his feet with meaty thunks. He cuts the ribs and rump. Ham and loin.
All the while she watches. Not the man or the pig. The knife. She tries to curl herself into a ball. If she’s small, he won’t notice. If she’s small, he won’t see.
She knew his face. She’d met him at a party once. Her friend Kelsey begged her to go. Some minor celebrity from a reality television show was going to be there. Jerry or Terry. He’d worn red shorts and no shirt, showing off his fish pale chest. Kelsey had been all over him, practically drooling on his hairless flesh.
Tina had given up after a half hour of watching Kelsey coo and bat her eyes, finding a quiet corner to drink beer out of her plastic cup. A few college boys tried to hit on her, breathing their rank beer soaked breath in her face. She’d been called bootiful once. Smexy another time. It wasn’t her idea of a great night. Now and again she’d think I should go. I should go home and leave her. Tina had the car and she was reasonably sure she wasn’t drunk. She’d stared at the keys and tried to talk herself into leaving.
Kelsey was okay. She’d had drunk hookups before. Tina needed her sleep anyway. There was that job interview tomorrow. She wanted to look refreshed not like some hung-over co-ed. She was smart; she wanted them to see that.
When he approached her she’d had her keys in her hands and was about to get up. He was a little too old for the crowd. He had a pleasant face though. She thought of it as a librarian’s face. Or a kindergarten teacher’s. Trustworthy, is what it was. His skin crinkled around his clear blue eyes, as though he were accustomed to laughter. His head was too round for his body. She thought of Charlie Brown and smiled.
“Hi there,” he’d said. “I’m Mike. I see you’re enjoying the party as much as I am. He’d held out his hand and she’d shaken it, surprised at the roughness of his grip. He hadn’t looked like a laborer, she’d thought.
“I came with a friend,” she’d said, nodding towards Kelsey who was licking lime juice off of Terry or Jerry’s chest.
“Me too,” he’d said, pointing at a small man in neon pink shorts grinding his way through the male dancers.
They’d spoken for a few minutes about books and movies. Things they might have in common. It was nice, she’d thought at the time.
Kelsey ended up puking all over Terry or Jerry’s fine unclothed chest and Tina had to bring her home. She’d given him her phone number but he’d never called.
He’d watched her. Of course he’d watched her. Before and after the party. He’d felt a connection. He knew she did too.
She’d gotten the job at the office with the slate gray doors. They worked her hard, poor girl. She came home late so many nights. He wanted to save her. She would be different. This time it would work. The perfect girl. The perfect time.
He had to wait until that horrible slag of a roommate was out. Wait until the girl came home late. She was opening the door when he came up behind her.
“Hello,” he’d said.
She turned and saw it was him. She smiled before she realized she should be afraid. He put his hand over her mouth. She tried to scream, scratching at his face with her nails. He held her until she stopped struggling and put her into the trunk of the car.
When she woke up he was butchering the pig. She couldn’t move much or speak.
Now he is quiet, the discarded parts of the pig are all that remains of it. He kneels in front of her.
“I’m going to untie you now. I know you’ll be good. You can be good can’t you?” She nods frantically. He releases her arms and legs. Starts to tear the tape from her mouth. She lunges for the butcher knife he’d set down on the slab. He curses, tearing at the back of her shirt to stop her.
“You were supposed to be good! You were supposed to be good!” he squeals, sounding like the pig he’s just butchered. She grabs the handle and hits him in the face once. His blood sprays over her face. She hits him again as he goes down, clutching his face.
Tina girl makes it to the door while the man groans on the floor. She opens it, her hands bloody, shaking. She screams. A hulk of a man stands on the other side, holding his baseball bat in one hand and sucking on the thumb of the other. Something is wrong with his face. It bulges where it shouldn’t. His mouth is red and swollen, like a bee stung him there. He’s taller and bigger than her, almost breaking the seams of the blue jean overalls he wears. He takes his thumb out of his mouth and looks at her. Her knees tremble, she can barely stand. Somehow she does though. Somehow she stands and looks right back at him.
“No!” he shouts, pushing her back. She falls falls falls, landing at the foot of the stairs.
She wakes. He holds the knife they’d fought over. The knife she’d used to cut his face. His face still bleeds from where she cut him. She’s glad. It’s clean now, gleaming at her with a metallic wink. She watches her reflection come closer and closer. She’s not afraid yet. Not until he starts to cut into her middle. Not until she feels her blood gush hot wet down her thighs, She can’t feel anything then. She can’t feel anything at all.
By Jasmine Templet