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Short story: <i>The butcher</i>

When the butcher’s wife left the house late one afternoon, he knew something was up.

She wasn’t quite herself, hadn’t been for a little while really. (The butcher wasn’t sure how long it had been.) Or maybe she was acting like herself now, but hadn’t been acting like herself for all that time he’d thought she was being herself before. So she either wasn’t quite herself or very much herself. In any case, she had definitely been acting different.

The butcher was pretty good at noticing things like that. A lot of people disregarded him because he was a butcher. Manual labour, a little shop-keeping, pretty blue collar. There wasn’t a great deal of money in the meat trade, and there wasn’t a great deal of prestige, either. He was pretty sure that people didn’t care if he’d graduated high-school, didn’t care if he’d been to college, didn’t care if he’d been to university even and played football and graduated top five in his class. All they cared about was that now, the butcher wore a big bloody apron and stood in his little butcher’s shop from six in the morning to six at night, cutting up big stiff sides of meat, cutting through bone with his knives and saws, and listening to the old ladies encouraging him to cut an extra good side of meat specially for them. They sure did like to talk with him though. He was pretty sure some of them came in just to chat, and to pass gossip, like about Ethel’s new grandson, and Mary-Alice’s pneumonia, and wasn’t the weather bad this time of year?

The butcher’s little shop was on the third level of a big glass and chrome and cement shopping mall, full of fake palms and glass atria with plastic plants and plastic chairs and air conditioning and people who leave their empty coke bottles at the bases of the plastic plants. The shopping mall was the unofficial center of town, where all the kids came to hang out after school and on weekends, sloping around in their sneakers and pouting through their long fringes and smoking cigarettes while furtively looking out for their parents. All the adults hung out at the shopping mall too, going to the movies, browsing the fancy department stores for chrome coffee grinders and gawdy glass martini glasses and expensive bedspreads that they could get on credit for their proud little houses which all sat around the mall like servants looking up to their queen.

The butcher’s shop was right inbetween the pet store (you can imagine the mileage smart-arses tried to get out of those jokes) and a toy store, but for bigger kids, with things like chess sets and wizards and do-it-yourself model car kits and train sets. The butcher didn’t much care for the pets... In truth, they reminded him too much that they were living creatures like his meat used to be... But he did like those car model kits. And the chess sets. He was pretty good at playing chess, even though most people wouldn’t think it.

That was the thing about being a butcher. People thought that a man who dealt with lifeless flesh all the time, whose business revolved around death all the time, whose apron and hands were always bloody and who wielded a knife with such ease just must not be capable of feeling like a normal person. Or of doing things that normal people do, like playing chess, or football, or putting together model cars, or watering the plants, or getting married. Butchers just... cut things. All the time. And this worried the butcher, because he wanted his wife to see that he was actually not just a butcher, that he was a man as well, who didn’t like being covered in blood during his non-work hours. Who might have wanted to go to the mall and look at coffee makers. Or, more likely, have scoffed at the people who wanted coffee makers and shared a private joke about them. But he just wasn’t sure that his wife could see past his bloody apron. And he was worried, when she left that late afternoon, that she was leaving him and his job and his model cars and his chess and his university education for someone slightly less complicated but more superficially complicated so that she didn’t have to be a butcher’s wife anymore.

The butcher’s mind spun round. He sat down in his favourite chair and his thoughts flew around like a bird of prey with a purpose. What if she was gone? What if she’d taken off for good? What if she asked for a divorce? They’d only been married a little while, only for three months. What would she ask for? Her car? She could have it. Half the house? He didn’t really like it anyway, with its neat finnicky lawn and its ugly canvas awnings and its white painted iron railings, and its clear view of the mall. He would have preferred something in the country, something rambling, where he could creep ivy up the wall and write poetry by the fire. If it came down to a settlement, she could have the house too. He would work a bit more, save up a bit more, and get a rambling cottage where he could write poetry and not think about his bloody hands and apron.

The front door latch jiggled.

“Hi sweetheart!” Called the happy voice of the butcher’s wife.

The butcher sat up suddenly. He’d dozed off for a moment there. His wife tripped into the room, and threw herself on his lap.

“Guess what?”

“What?” He asked thickly, still not quite sure what was happening.

“Today is our three month anniversary from when we were married, and I have been so worried for the last couple of days about what to get you! Maybe it’s silly to celebrate three months, but I just really wanted to give you something to show you how much I love you, and I’ve been wracking my brains. Here you go, I really hope you like it!”

The butcher’s wife handed him a brightly wrapped box with a bow on it. He pulled the bow off and gingerly pulled at the joins in the paper, so that it didn’t tear. Then he looked in the box.

It was an expensive chrome coffee grinder.

“Do you like it?” She said. “I think we really need to start getting more things for the house. I want it to be beautiful. And I really like that new department store they’ve put in at the mall. Maybe we can go and get a bedspread on the weekend? Maybe on credit?”

The butcher leaned back in his chair thoughtfully. His ivy cottage disappeared.

“Sure, honey.” He said appreciatively. “That sounds great.”

This is the result of a thirty minute writing exercise. The only constrictions were the time limit and five randomly selected words from the dictionary. Today the words were:settlement, taken off, butcher, pneumonia, and encouraging.

Image courtesy of Cobalt123.

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Not bad for a writing exercise!