The Sweetest Meats

When I was younger, my father took me to a sweets factory. He felt guilty, I suppose, for divorcing my mother and taking the house with him, the car too and all her belongings. Anyway, we had a good day. There was so much to see at this sweets factory. There were special machines which cut shapes into chocolate, people in funny hats pouring colourful juice into moulds, a room chockfull of strawberry laces. I don’t know if it was a storeroom or what, but you were allowed to go in and even touch the stringy candy. The stuff was strung from racks tied to the ceiling – long thin strands of it like spaghetti – and you could lie back down on piles of it which were heaped on the floor in messy bundles. There was a sign on the wall explaining how the room was meant to test the ‘elasticity’ of the laces, and there was a diagram which showed how they were made. I wasn’t interested in any of that. I just liked the colour and the waxy, sticky texture, the slightly sour fruitiness that filled my mouth, the endless scrapping with the other kids as we fought for the longest, thickest pieces.

My father would stand in the corner and watch me playing. I suppose it amused him to see me high on E numbers, racing around and swinging from strips of red candy. Maybe it was a power game too, since my mother would never let me near so much as a square of chocolate. I remember feeling wild in that room, tearing and snapping lace after lace, shoving the sugary goodness past my lips.

Sometimes I feel like that now. Wild, that is. In the abattoir where I work, picking and sorting pile after pile of animal carcasses, I sometimes get the same burst of primal excitement. Maybe it’s the sight of red that does it: that dull, fleshy red that signals the release of something. A spirit leaving the body, ten grams of sugar gushing through the bloodstream. I tie up, I measure; I slice and cut. It is not the same as ripping with my fingers, as bending and biting with my milk teeth. Still, there is something of a similar thrill, a need for tangibility.

When my father visits now, frail in old age, we talk about the news, about airy things like art and philosophy. He pretends not to notice my bloodstained aprons, drying in the living room, the books on butchery stacked in my kitchen. We never mention my mother, or what happened to her. After a few days, he leaves me with a feeling of deep dissatisfaction, an emptiness and longing for something unplaceable. I feel like an abandoned hatchling, picking at scraps of carrion in the undergrowth of some lonesome forest. No matter how I try, I can never get back to that memory, the snap and tweak of those sugar laces between my teeth, the feeling of sweet, fizzy joy.

I can only raise the cleaver, imagining the tug of muscle, sheaths of connective tissue clustering with fat cells and capillaries, becoming something solid and substantial, becoming meat. And that red stuff – dried, salted and cured – is all I can cling to, all the love I have for the world.

— Maria Sledmere

(Flash fiction February prompts: carrion, laces)

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