MEAT • by R. Gatwood

The date is going well, he thinks. She keeps giggling at the things he says. Like when he asks how come she ordered the ham omelet, if she’s such a big animal rights person. This is how they met yesterday: she was handing out flyers for Save the Animals and he took one and looked at her boobs a little longer than he meant to, and somehow (he has no idea how) they started talking.

(He asks the waiter if there’s any veal sausage on the brunch menu. She giggles at that, too. She has a way of giggling that makes him feel like he’s almost too twisted for her, too dark, only she likes it.)

The truth is, she says, she’s not such a big animal rights person, all that much. She does believe in it and all, but she gets anemic if she doesn’t eat meat occasionally. Anyway, it tastes good. What are you gonna do, she says. She guesses she volunteers with Save the Animals out of guilt, maybe. She’s ex-Catholic, she adds.

He asks if she’s watched any of the videos on their website, like the flyer said to. The sick ones about the slaughterhouses, he says.

She says like which ones?

He wants to say the one with the cow, but he’s afraid. He can feel his neck getting hot. Instead he says, like the one with the geese, did she watch that?

The video with the geese shows a food tube being stuck into a goose’s bill, force-feeding fatty mash down its gullet. This is how foie gras is made. He watched the goose video twice last night. The food tube pumps, pumps, pumps and the goose’s throat gulps, gulps, gulps, forced to take it all, to swallow it down.

He doesn’t say he liked it. He says, It was gross as fuck.

She giggles again and admits, yeah, she watched that one. She’s never had foie gras though.

He’s never had foie gras either, but he doesn’t say that. Her giggle makes him feel daring. How about the cow one, he says, and even grins a little.

The cow video is longer than the goose one. Save the Animals had to film it through somebody’s open jacket zipper, because you’re not allowed to film in a slaughterhouse. He watched this video four times last night. He imagined himself as the slaughterhouse employee standing over the sick, exhausted cow. Kicking the fucking thing in the ass, laughing. Stepping on that naked four-teated breast with a squish.

Her giggle has a higher pitch this time (embarrassed and maybe also delighted?), and he feels big. He feels special. He forgets all about the bus ride to work yesterday, how he was wedged between two guys hanging onto the ceiling bars and all around him was armpits and farts and cigarettes and aftershave: all the desperate damp grayness of the world outside, the feeling that he could hardly breathe: the feeling of being small. It’s like none of that ever happened. And maybe Monday morning he’ll be on that same damn bus, but right now he’s making a girl giggle and blush a little, ducking her head over her omelet.

She leans forward conspiratorially. How about the baby chicks one, she says.

He didn’t watch the baby chicks one.

She says when they raise chickens to lay eggs, they can’t use the boy chickens. The roosters. So as soon as they’re old enough to tell them apart, they save the girl chickens and throw all the boy chickens in a big trash bag.

It’s horrible, she says, still smiling. The chicks are still alive, so they just pile up in the bottom of the bag, one on top of another. The ones at the bottom suffocate first. Then when they’ve filled up a bag, they just tie it up and throw it away. Like living garbage. All those teeny baby boy chickens, slowly smothering to death in a damp pile of fluff.

He stares at her. The smell of the ham makes him think of sweat stink and suddenly he’s back on the bus, trying to get a glimpse of his stop between a dozen anonymous men’s bodies, trying to breathe. And he’s thinking: She’s won. The bitch, she’s won.

And she giggles again and takes another bite of her omelet.

R. Gatwood‘s fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, Per Contra, Monkeybicycle, Contrary Magazine, Nanoism, and other publications, as well as on Twitter (@iwantanewhead).

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