Freezer

Frank had always wanted to be a butcher. He was an embarrassment to his parents at parties during the inevitable round of, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” Good children said doctor, lawyer or banker, and there was always a nerd wanting to be Prime Minister. Frank was honest and always said, “A butcher”. When asked why, he replied, “Because I want to kill and eat animals”. His parents tried to train him to say something else, but he wouldn’t lie. That’s what he wanted to do, truly.

Franks inspiration was the local butcher’s shop. His visits there with his father were highlights of his childhood. The tinny smell and glistening haunches; the sounds of sharpening, chopping and grinding; slabs of meat slapped onto blocks; paper rustling and wrapping up; the grass – fake he knew – but making it seem like a natural place, where animals were born and died; pink tongues poking out; red livers slipping; trails of white intestines, and black-tipped hooves. The Master Butcher was pleased when little Frank said he would like to join their trade. He wiped his hands, removed his apron, and said, “Would you like to see the freezer?”

He led Frank to a room at the back with a big steel door. Inside was really chilly. Frank shuddered as he entered, and his breath created a small cloud. There was strong humming and whirring. The room was filled with slabs of red flesh hung from steel hooks – fat strips dangling, thick legs, and whole sides; white ribs shone within red bodies, like long teeth smiling. There were trays of round chickens, bowling-ball turkeys, and curled strings of sausages. The Master Butcher held up a huge ox heart, and said, “This is what you need for this job.”

A lot had happened since then. Frank was now dating a Vegan; Linda was a beautiful girl with dark glossy hair. Despite their differences, they got on well. Their ethical disputes sometimes got out of hand, but were mostly good-natured. He played up his carnivorous credentials, and she called him a “depraved killer by proxy with ambitions to descend lower”. He didn’t often remind Linda that her father owned the grocery store, and that she had at least partly been raised on blood-money. He only did that during serious arguments, like the one they were about to have.

“Linda, what on earth are you doing?” he said.

“Teaching you a lesson, my love.”

“Come on, don’t be silly. It’s late. Let’s get out of here.” As much as he’d loved the butcher’s freezer as a child, he had no wish to spend the night in this one.

“We can’t, my love.” Her eyes shone strangely.

“Yes we can, watch this,” Frank walked over to the door and pushed the safety latch. Nothing happened. He looked at her, confused.

“I disabled it this morning. I’m sorry, my love, but this is necessary.”

“How long must we spend in here?” He was getting annoyed now.

“Let’s put it this way, my love; our last moments will be spent together.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We could survive all night here if we cuddled up…” He stopped as he sensed something. “What’s the temperature in here? It seems colder than usual.”

“Yes it is, my love. I turned it down to minus forty.”

“Centigrade or Fahrenheit?” Now he started to panic.

“They’re both the same, my love. Minus forty is the same on both scales.”

He had a rush of thoughts. They’d had some colourful arguments, and Linda was the queen of dramatic gestures. She’d worn a meat dress to a fancy ball as a way to promote her views and shock his friends. She’d somehow sourced a piece of in vitro meat, grown in a lab from animal cells, but “without consciousness or the need for murder”. After serving him dinner one day she’d revealed a bandage beneath her blouse and asked how she tasted, for the stir-fry contained a little piece of her flesh. When her mother’s dog had died, Linda used its meat to make him a curry. She said it was a guilt free offering from Scruffy. One morning he awoke to find the bedroom transformed; it held a terrible installation of animal skulls. How she hadn’t woken him, he didn’t know. It had to be Rohypnol. All of these things he’d found exciting; and the sex that resulted was awesome. It was animalistic, complete with roaring sounds. But he should have seen these as warnings, and now she was trying to kill him. But wait a minute; wouldn’t she also be killing herself?

“Yes, I will, my love. You are a murderer by proxy and deserve to die. But I am killing you directly, so deserve at least the same fate.”

What should he do? He tried the door a few more times, but found it was locked firmly. He bashed the insulated steel walls, which didn’t budge. He tried the many controls in the freezer but none were operational. The only thing left was to force Linda to release him somehow. But it seemed that she was very serious, and had thought things through. He would only be hurting a person he loved, and really achieve nothing. He said, “Let’s talk, my love.”

He told her about his childhood dreams of being a butcher. How he had the greatest love and respect for animals which had given their bodies to nourish him. The more he learnt about butchery, the more he saw it as a spiritual exercise. Like native cultures, he honoured his brother cow and sister sheep. He said prayers before each meal, ate consciously, and never wasted meat knowingly. Butchery was a noble profession, he said, a metaphor for the disassembly of self, and a giving of that self to others. The primal cut at the slaughterhouse separated the ego from the self, and secondary butchery destroyed it. He was really angry at her for wasting his life like this, but he wouldn’t hurt her. She was his love. These were the things he said as he became tired and confused. His breathing and speech slowed. He saw her lying beside him senseless. He lost movement in his arms and feet. He dreamt that he fell and shattered.

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