It Was An Old Shop
Itâ€™s an old shop of a kind that has gone out of style.Â Lurking where this lot always has, dark corners older than the cities themselves, where the civilized world dead ends.
Most brush by without so much a prickled hair.Â Coming and going without knowing theyâ€™ve been.Â While a blivet of curious distinction, that small yet distinct symbol at the corner of the shopâ€™s sign, an odd pitchfork with a double head, goes unnoticed.
Even amongst crooked rows of barren pawns, bored strip clubs, and busted flop houses, thereâ€™s an assumption places like this do not exist.Â Traffic passes unable to grasp that forkâ€™s implication, reluctant to taste the dread from which the shadow under the sign spreads.
Iâ€™ve never heard mention of how the mark earned its grim meaning, but I donâ€™t make habit of chatting with the type who frequent such places.Â If theyâ€™re anything like me, why would I?
The rest of the sign reads â€œArmstrong Butchersâ€.
The entrance is barely manageable to those of us confined to wheelchairs. Â Its steeply angled ramp gives me the uncomfortable sensation of tilting too far, of flipping backwards.
I get a hold of the doorâ€™s handle with the prosthetic hook attached at my elbow and motor the electric wheelchair in reverse by sucking on the tube clenched between my teeth.
Leaning as far as gravity allows, I pull the heavy door past my bumper and prop it open with my left leg. Â I like to joke and call it â€œmy good legâ€ just to watch people squirm when they see it is, in fact, my only leg.
Protective rubber strips squeal sharply like stuck pigs against the metal doorframe as I ease through and into the butcher shop, huffing on my tube.
The butcher knows Iâ€™ve arrived by the commotion in his doorway, by the whine of my determined motor.Â He doesnâ€™t have to peer from around the rather plump lady placing her order, but he does, just to make sure I see his scowl.
Iâ€™ve often thought he looked like an insect and now, with his eyes bulging at me, I wonder what percentage of us do, in fact, descend from a bloodline of bugs. Â He certainly has the mannerisms of some mantis human hybrid.
A warm blanket of summer heat trails in behind me from outside. The shop is cool and checkered, trimmed with chrome in a manner that has gone out of style.
The plump lady seems to be ordering a monthâ€™s worth of meats. Â Selections neatly folded in brown paper are stacked like origami bricks along the top of the glass display case.
Sweat beads trickle over fleshy rolls down the back of her neck like a sweet and sticky glaze.Â I wonder how sheâ€™d taste basted in apple vinegar and brown sugar? Â The fat swelling around her bra straps, puffing her shirt with odd folds of lard, tells me her back ribs would make an incredibly tender meal.
I can smell now the caramelized collagen as I pull her carcass from my imaginary oven.Â Slipping a knife into her ribcage, sliding it along the curve, Iâ€™m lost in thoughts of carving towards the spine so I can snap one free, sink my teeth into the juicy morsels just barely clinging to the bone.
The plump lady grabs grocery bags stuffed with choice cuts, passing with polite enough pardon and nod, but there is never anything natural about the way strangers avoid looking straight at me, especially when they overcompensate by suddenly staring into a random corner.Â Instinctively averting their eyes as to not be infected by whatever horror or disease crammed me into this motorized half shell.Â Iâ€™m surprised she doesnâ€™t run into the window on her way out.
The butcher, on the other hand, is glaring directly at me with a look I can only call exasperation. Â Weâ€™re at a silent standoff, dug into the trenches of furrowed brows, until at last he flinches, pulls off his disposable gloves and wipes his hands clean on a dingy dish towel.
â€œLook Poppy, I already know you canâ€™t afford it.â€Â That is true, in fact, I never could. Â The meat he sold from the hidden freezer in the back was far too expensive for most. Â After all, spending exorbitant amounts on rare meats had largely gone out of style.
â€œWhat about the special?â€ Â I donâ€™t know why he looks so shocked when he already knows where this is going.
Few people are aware heâ€™d once been a skilled surgeon. Â Perhaps not quite skilled or sober enough to still be a surgeon, but watch carefully, those finely honed intentions, that delicate manner he sheers deli slices so thinly they vanish under bright lights.Â It is the absolute precision most butchers rely on machines to duplicate. Â Under the gore of that thick apron, under those ill fitted work clothes, every movement is effortless.
He keeps wiping his hands, â€œWhat about the special? I told you– Iâ€™m not serving you no more.â€
I didnâ€™t come all this way on city buses seasoned like rotting meat lockers, wheeling my tiny motor through byzantine streets in the oldest part of the city, just to be told â€œNo.â€ Â I place a pile of money on the counter.Â Itâ€™s all I have left, every last cent of what Iâ€™m still worth, but I canâ€™t let him know that. Â One thousand dollars in a neat stack, he doesnâ€™t bother answering my offer.
â€œI want the special.â€ Â Our eyes lock. Â He keeps rubbing his hands on that dingy dishrag.Â Iâ€™m not going anywhere and I doubt he wants to stick this tube in his mouth to force me back out.Â Another silent standoff and again he flinches first, grabbing the money and shoving it into his register without so much as thumbing through the bills.
He flips open the counter and I wheel around to join him. Â A hidden button is mashed and I hear heavy bolts click into place as the front door locks itself.
â€œI want a larger cut this time. Â Everything left.â€ Â His face twitches with invisible insect mandibles. Â Compound eyes rotate unnaturally. Â â€œI donâ€™t plan on coming back,â€ I assure him.
He shudders violently, briefly looking as if he might grab a butcher knife to give my neck a solid hack, to cleave my head off cleanly with one barbaric whack.Â Leaving him alone to bathe in a fountain of my spurting blood, to grin insanely at himself in reflections from every shiny chrome surface. Â He doesnâ€™t respond to me directly, but I can see the knives in his eye.
My motor whines as I wheel into a refrigerated room lined with stainless steel counters. Â Such marvelous varieties a butcher of his skill can prepare from a single animal, the myriad of steaks, ribs, sausages and ground chuck.Â Heâ€™s not concerned about the details of my order.Â He just wants to get this over with.
I get the wind knocked out of me as Iâ€™m hoisted out of my wheelchair and up onto a long counter equipped with drains.
The anesthesia takes effect rather quickly, yet Iâ€™m distinctly aware of the bone saw ripping back and forth against my hip. Â It sounds like the zipper of a jacket pulled up and down. Â Zip, zip, it rips. Â Just before passing out from the pain I notice the dull tickle of my blood trickling under me and down the drain.
There on the cool metal, surrounded by slaughtered beasts on thick hooks, he removes the last of my limbs with the tolerance of a butcher.Â In the back of an old shop, the kind that has gone out of style, the special is prepared.
It Was An Old Shop