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"Meat" Published in New South


–from New South (Spring 2013 Issue)

My husband is screwing the woman who owns the day care center. That day, when I arrived to pick up our daughter, I saw him flirting with her outside. Later that night, I found emails he’d written to her. Two days later I filed for a divorce.

For the last few months he’s been staying with her at a local bed and breakfast. My therapist put me on Prozac and recommended I get a hobby, so a few months back, I started The Peaceful Pines Vegan Ladies Club. It began as a small club for bored housewives to share vegetarian recipes and gossip mostly. Initially, I posted an announcement in The Peaceful Pines Monthly Newsletter, and after seven women responded, we decided to meet once a month at a private study room I’d reserved at the local library. For the first few months, the meetings were casual and upbeat. But a few months later, when a national restaurant chain called The Meat Shack opened on Main Street, the meetings gradually began to take on a different tone. At first, the discussions centered around a large roadside billboard for The Meat Shack, which had been erected across the street from the post office. The billboard had a skinny blonde model with a fake tan and big boobs biting into a bloody Porterhouse steak. In the picture, a line of brown blood dripped from the corner of her mouth and down her chin, before disappearing between the tanned cleavage of her breasts. The slogan beneath the picture read: The Meat Shack . . . Where Men Come for Fresh Meat.

“It’s bad enough they’re promoting sex,” Evelyn Marks said. “But to use meat to do it. That’s simply appalling. Did you know,” she asked the ladies, assuming some of them hadn’t seen the billboard yet, “that the bikini the model is wearing it made entirely out of meat.” 

Shocked, the ladies held their hands over their mouths. Sandra Michaels puked into her purse. Others looked stunned, like a cow struck in the forehead with the side of an ax.

That Tuesday, when The Meat Shack had its Grand Opening, herds and herds of men filled the restaurant, most of them skipping work or their usual golf games. Rumor had it that men from other counties commuted to the restaurant from as far as fifty miles away. The restaurant was so busy that the sheriff had to hire a retired deputy to direct traffic. Reservations were booked for weeks in advance, and there was even a rumor that Bill Matthews and Earl Jackson, who’d been lifelong friends, had gotten into a fistfight over a table. All the while, a constant plume of smoke that seeped from the restaurant's smokestack drifted over Main Street like a mushroom cloud.

Tonight, at our monthly meeting, the ladies of the group are convinced they’ve noticed a definite change since the restaurant opened.

“My husband doesn't even want to have sex anymore,” Rhonda Peterson says. “He just sits on the computer all night looking at The Meat Shack Website, staring at all the waitress profiles and at all those different cuts of meat. He joined The Meat Shack's Fresh Meat Club, which means he gets every tenth steak free. He even changed the desktop wallpaper on his laptop to a picture of that model in the meat bikini that you see in all their ads. He says he wants to have his 50th birthday party there. I tried to spice things up in the bedroom, but I’m almost fifty-three years old. I can’t compete with those young girls in bikinis gyrating around with all that bloody meat. 

"My son wants to have his bachelor party there," Sally Perkins says, "and his fiancé is ecstatic because she thinks he's choosing to have it at a restaurant instead of a strip club. I'm worried she might call the whole thing off, though, once she realizes what goes on at The Meat Shack. I heard they have a policy that requires men to tip the waitresses throughout the meal, and that some of the women even perform lap dances."  

Pamela Parks rolls her eyes. "It wouldn’t surprise me. My husband has eaten there every day since it opened. He always uses his debit card because he hates cash. Now he carries around a money clip with a wad of singles. He thinks I'm stupid, but I know what he's up to."

Tonight, on the way home from the meeting, I drive to the little 24 hour gas station on Third Street and buy a bottle of red wine and a corkscrew. When I’m done, I head over to the bed and breakfast where my husband's been staying since he left. As I park in front of the bed and breakfast, I notice his graduate student’s car parked in front. I sit in the car, drinking wine straight from the bottle, and I think about those murder mysteries I've always read, where the disgruntled wife bludgeons her husband and his lover, and for a brief moment I can see how someone might be capable of such a thing.

After I finish off the bottle of wine, I drive back to the gas station, grab the gas can from my trunk and fill it up. When I’m done, I head east, past Lara Linton’s Lipstick Boutique and Starbucks, past Emily Meyer’s Dress Shop and the Little Italian Eatery until I come to the post office. I park the car across the street from the roadside billboard for The Meat Shack, cut the engine and kill the headlights. Peaceful Pines is a prominent, wealthy community, but it’s small, and since it’s almost three am, the few coffee shops and boutiques that are located downtown closed hours ago, so no one’s around. From my car, I stare at the skinny woman on the billboard, thinking of the crow's feet around my eyes, the skin sagging off my arms, and as I do, a part of me begins to hate her. I get out of the car, grab the lighter from my purse and the gas can from the trunk. I cross the street, gasoline sloshing in the can as I take each step. When I get to the billboard, I pull the dirty rag from the mouth of the gas can, douse the billboard with gasoline, then light the gasoline-soaked rag and toss it onto the billboard. I watch it burn for a moment then head back across the street.

When I get into my car, I roll my window down and watch as the burned skin on the woman’s face peels off in flakes. Slowly, the flames crawl up her arm toward the Porterhouse in her hand, and when they finally reach the bloody steak in the picture, I can almost smell the stench of charred meat floating through the air. With red wine buzzing through my veins, I start the engine and turn the car around, and as I drive, I think back to those days before I was a vegetarian, and for a moment, I feel an ancient urge stirring inside me. What I want is blood—the juicy pink blush of a New York Strip, the cool blue marble of a sirloin. I drive toward the bed and breakfast, past Emily Meyer’s Dress Shop and Lara Linton’s Lipstick Boutique, feeling guilty and uncivilized, ashamed of the bloody thoughts crawling through my brain.

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