Never Open on a Wednesday
Stodge couldn’t find his keys. He scooped the spare set from below the plantpot, his face the colour of rare sirloin and breath like a burst liver. Bloody nightmare of a walk in. Still, enough time for a cup of tea before he had to open up the Butchers.
As he sipped, the milky infusion washed his mind down the stream of memory. Where had he had them last? The old lady had been in at home, hadn’t needed them there. Could have lost them any time in the course of the day… theoretically, then, they could still be in the shop itself. He popped his tea down with a splosh and went off to read the augurs.
Now Stodge wasn’t a superstitious man, but he knew a lot about meat. He could tell you how any animal had died, what state it was in at the time and, most importantly, how different parts of its body would taste when sliced and slashed and drizzled and dripped and smashed and mashed and burned and seared and set alongside pasta or a salad. Stodge liked to think of himself as the specialist that vets refer their toughest cases to. As such, he was entitled to his own particular brand of diagnostics, this being his taking of the augurs. Having torn open the first chicken of the day, he ran his fingers through the entrails looking for tumours, clots, anything that would indicate a poor day’s trading ahead. Finding nothing, he washed off his hands with a whistle and returned to his tea.
Getting out to the front he noticed Frigg, the apprentice girl, opening up the shutters.
“You’re here early, Frigg. You opening the shop without me eh?”
“Saw tea. Still warm. Assumed.”
Lass didn’t even turn around, thought Stodge, scratching at the scalp below his hat. She scared him a little. She had a deep, disembodied voice and all the gristle and the fat on her body never seemed to meet… separated like oil and water… covered in tattoos.
“You’re a sneaky one you, Frigg. I’m best keeping an eye on yer. Seen my keys by the way?”
Swallowing the last of his tea, Stodge was about to let out an exasperated sigh and say that of course he didn’t mean those bloody keys – but then the door slammed open, almost knocking over the crouched Frigg. It was Jacques. He swept in, behind the counter, past Stodge and straight into the back.
“Seen my keys Jacques?”
Stodge giggled over at Frigg, she not laughing as usual. Jacques didn’t speak any English. Stodge liked to point this out at every possible occasion as if to ask “who hired this guy?” but then of course, he was the one that hired him. Customers liked that joke – staff, not so much. Luckily Jacques was never any the wiser otherwise he might have left. He had quite the artistic temperament. You see, Jacques didn’t need to speak any English to work in Stodge’s Butchers, as his poetry was of a different tongue.
Jacques was a sausage poet. He designed and constructed his creations based upon the universal human condition. It was a poetry that spanned cultures, languages, even species. His latest creation had kept him up all night. He had smoked thirty or forty liquorice cigarettes whilst cursing the English weather that stopped them rolling properly, drank two and a half bottles of red wine, the type of piss only an Englander would drink, and eventually collapsed naked upon his bed to phone his current lover, tell her that he despised her, and have an epiphany. The sausage of desired heartbreak. Pig’s hearts - the gluttony of love - with the liver and spleen – bitter drunken madness – all topped with the tiniest hint of sacrificial bull’s neck. Another masterpiece. An epic of life itself. Jacques would leave in a month without telling anyone. He would disappear into the Amazon rainforest, chasing an unknown animal that had come to him in a dream. He was perhaps the most committed poet that the world had ever known.
Whilst Jacques went about his art, Stodge went around his work. It was Tuesday after all, and the last day before the next shipment came in. He’d only a handful of carcasses left and, it having been a rush week, he’d left the tough ones until last. The pig he was about to open up looked like it’d spent its last minutes performing a ballet. Perhaps trying to express its fate through tragedy, but finding its pleas useless against the machine-gods of the slaughterhouse. Stodge didn’t tend to think in animate terms, so such a “perhaps” wouldn’t have occurred to him. He began with the cleaver. SMANCH. Then let the soul drain out before disassembly.
She came in, hunched with a dustpan and brush. Stodge had a terrible fear of souls but he’d got around it by having Frigg sweep them up for him and take them around to the vat in the back.
“Thanks Frigg. Any customers?”
She nodded her head. Walked off. Stodge rolled his eyes and went back to the cutting. They were remarkably like humans, pigs. Although the legs were all wrong of course, and some of the back muscles involving the head… but the rest was close enough. He’d grown a significant collection of anatomy books in his den over the years. It was somewhat of a fantasy to butcher a human carcass – not a sexual fantasy or even a compulsive one, it was merely professional interest. One night, sick of her husband spending all his time with his books, his wife had let him do a touch of role play. He’d taken out the chalk and attempted to draw dotted lines around her musculature in the style of the meat diagrams that hung around the walls of his butchery. Unhappily for his wife, it had somewhat backfired when he became all too aware of her body being filled with blood. The carcasses came from the slaughterhouse without it… the effect was rather uncanny.
Since then Stodge spent more time with his meat and his books. He couldn’t really face the customers and so, although he knew it was probably a bad idea, he had given control of the till over to Frigg. All these humans. They’d come in and smile and all the while they had all this blood rushing around inside of them... it worried him somehow. He still got on with his wife of course - love conquers all and Stodge was rather a passionate soul, although he did gain a niggling interest in her menstruation. Taboo forces and such...
Then, out of pure synchronicity, his phone began to ring. He answered,
“Good morning, my love. What can I do f’yer?”
“Do you want the hall for tonight or just the room at the side?”
Stodge wiped off a gore-specked hand and counted off thirty two on its fingers,
“I think the hall, my lovely. It’s been a rush week this one has.”
“Okay then. See you there at half five.”
“Will do. Oh, and I’ve saved you a bit of a treat for tomorrow’s dinner, m‘dear”.
“Well just don’t bring it to the party. You remember what happened last time. If it wasn’t for the exorcist being on hand we could of had the whole of Avon Murray up with the screaming.”
She hung up. Oof, charming! Anyway, Stodge went back to his work, pulling out the pig’s brain that he was going to save for Her Back Home. He had bought this batch in especially for such a gift, although they’d promised so popular that he’d had to go out of his way to make sure all the brains weren’t taken. They’d come from a farm out in Buxton that fed its animals Shakespeare and textbooks on quantum electrodynamics. All had gone well until they’d introduced chickens. It seems the revelation of their own mortality leads chickens into strange cult-like behaviour that inevitably ends in collective ritual suicide. Luckily, chicken brains aren’t much in demand these days anyway.
“Frigg!” Something had suddenly occurred to him. The till clanged shut out front and she appeared. How she managed to serve customers without ever speaking to them, Stodge would never know.
“Frigg, I’ve just realised that now I’ve lost my keys there’s only one set.”
She nodded, patronising. The statement was tautologous.
“Well, with only one set of keys I won’t be able to get back home for a shower in time for’t hall tonight. I can’t go all covered in blood and… forget that look too, I’m not walking again. I almost snuffed it this morning! See, I reckon you could drop me off in the van, take the van home yourself, then pick me up on your way back in for’t go hall. What do you reckon? I’ll throw in an extra hour’s pay for the trouble.”
“Yes.” She said. Then walked off.
They were almost at the church hall. Frigg was driving, still and silent as ever. From the back came all number of splashing, swooping, blowing sounds from the soul vat. Stodge was pulling at his tuxedo, his face the colour of a rare sirloin and breath like a burst liver.
“I bloody hate these things. Dressed up like a penguin. Always the same too, every Tuesday night. Phwoargh, bloody hell. Almost full that bloody vat as well. Is my bow tie on straight?”
In answer, the van pulled roughly to a stop outside the rear entrance of the church. Behind them came a great splooshing of souls in response. Struggling for a while, almost longer than was bearable, Stodge finally freed himself from the seatbelt and headed inside, indicating to Frigg that she ought to reverse the van up to the back entrance of the hall. She rolled her eyes. She knew already, obviously.
Inside Stodge found his wife and the vicar putting the finishing touches to the hall. Tables were arranged around the edges of the room, laden with all the makings of a good party – punch, wine, beer, spirits, crisps, peanuts, hats, poppers – both party and amyl nitrate – falafel rolls, vegan-sausage rolls, iced fingers, chocolate fingers, fingers of fudge… you name it. The floor was swept clean, ready for dancing, and the DJ booth was set up. Behind it Jacques rummaged through his collection of vintage jazz records, a cigarette hanging limply from his lips – today he was in the mood for Django Reinhardt. Along the walls were banners, streamers, flags of different colours. The ceiling held a disco ball and the cheap lighting had filters over it to give a sort of children’s nightclub feel. Above it all hung a huge “Happy Rebirthday!” banner.
“We ready for them, vicar?”
Thumbs up. Stodge feebly passed it on to Frigg who tutted in response, having clearly seen it the first time. Then, pulling a lever in the back of the van, she opened the vat and let the souls sluice out across the church hall floor. The great puddle flopped and rolled about on the brushed hardwood. Stodge tried not to look uncomfortable. From a microphone at the front of the hall, the vicar started to speak.
“Good day, friends. I must apologise for the rough treatment you’ve undergone at the hands of my fellows these past few days. It’s jolly awful of us and we like it just as little as you do. That is why I’m pleased to inform you that from this moment all your troubles are at an end…”
As the vicar spoke, the puddle was beginning to separate into distinct shapes. They rolled up into liquid-smoke pillars, some forming the shapes of the animal bodies they’d left behind, others forming into the shapes they’d always felt themselves to be on the inside, the shapes of hopes and dreams, all writhing around on the floor, slowly arising.
“…so we thought we’d throw a little party for you to sort of... make up for the actions of us humans. Feel free to help yourselves to anything on the tables there and if you need anything else don’t hesitate to ask, we’ll be most happy to oblige. There’ll be music from our lovely DJ Jacques here…”
Upon hearing his name Jacques reached over to the play button, only to have his wrist grabbed by Frigg.
“…now, if you don’t feel like joining us, and you have every reason not to, then just come along to the shrine next door and I can send you on your way. Otherwise, feel free to come at any time during the night – as long as you are gone by daybreak tomorrow then all shall be well, so knock yourselves out! As to where you’ll be going, well, from what I’ve been informed it’s a rather lovely place – the Elysian Fields. For those of you who are free range, it’ll be just like home only larger. For those of you unlucky enough to have ended up in our factory farms, well, erm… let’s just say it’s a little different but you’ll soon get used to it and I’m sure you’ll like it very much.
“So, without further ado… as I see we’re all formed into some kind of shape at this point… I’d like once again to apologise on behalf of all us humans and wish you a very happy rebirthday indeed! Jacques, if you wouldn’t mind…”
Looking to Frigg and getting the nod, Jacques hit the button that dropped the needle straight into “Minor Swing”. The various souls broke off into groups, introducing themselves, helping themselves to drinks and snacks, a couple of cows were improvising a waltz-style jig – making the most of their newly nubile bodies. Three foie gras geese were leaning against the DJ booth, smoking. Stodge had brought them in from France on special commission for the local aristos. Jacques has supplied the cigarettes and they were all playing it cool, discussing the music with many a wry, offhand comment.
Once everyone had got a few drinks down them, a handful of souls had Stodge backed into a corner, making pleasant conversation with his wife whilst he grunted along and chugged at a bottle of stout. The talk had come over to the nature of Stodge’s work and the whole killing/butchering situation in the way it always did at these things. Stodge found it uncomfortable; having much preferred the carcass to the animate animal on purely aesthetic grounds. His wife, however, was always very obliging,
“Well, you see. It’s a funny thing really but we humans, you see, are the only animals that don’t actually have souls…”
“Makes a lot of sense!” joked a chicken who was clearly factory-raised. They all laughed.
“Oh, outrageous fortune!” chimed in one of the pigs from the Buxton brain-farm. Then, finding that no-one had understood the reference he mumbled to himself, “Now a wise man knows himself to be a fool…”
Mrs. Stodge continued, “Yes, you see, because we don’t have souls we have to make all these machines to try and make life better for us whilst we’re here on earth. We don’t get to have another life, you see, so you see why we’d want this one to be good. Trouble is, you see, we spend so much time making all these machines that we forget about things like good and bad and what’s going to happen in the future and what’s going to happen to other people and animals and the planet… so, you see, we end up stuck in these machines ourselves and they end up in charge, you see, and no-one wants to change them because they only have the one life so they want to use it for themselves, you see, and they aren’t powerful enough to change them on their own. So, you see, they end up turning into machines themselves…”
“Oftentimes the excusing of a fault doth make the fault worse by the excuse,” quoth the pig. Then, upon finding himself once again surrounded by gawping faces, he stormed off to the shrine next door, hoping to find a higher calibre of company in Elysium.
“Ah come on,” the chicken chimed in, “We don’t hold it against ‘em do we guys? At least it’s over for us, not like for these poor sods! Come on, fatso, come and have a dance!”
“No ta, I’m alright, ta…”
Stodge’s hand was suddenly pulled by a whole farmyard’s worth of animals, all of them laughing and joking and insisting he dance. He shook his head, tried to indicate that he was busy drinking, looked to Frigg for help. Oh, she would be smiling wouldn’t she! He looked to his wife, where was she? Already on the dancefloor it would seem. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em… Stodge poured the rest of his syrupy stout down his neck and waded out on unsteady feet. The animals all cheered, even the French geese that were now deep in an argument over the best accordion player for their dream quintet.
The night rolled on into the early hours. The most successful one they’d ever had, by Stodge’s accounts. Now, as the music grew slow, blue and introspective, Stodge found himself back in the corner complaining about his lost keys.
“I’m gonna harfer walk in erry day, aren I? Bastard keys. Bastards…”
“Nahnahnahnah man…” it was the chicken again, they’d become quite good friends by this point, “nahnahnah… we’ll, hiccough, we’ll help you find em.”
“Nah, tsnorra problumb”
“Nahnahnahnah… Frigg! Friggy baby! Lend us yerkeys…”
Soon the van was roaring through the night, swinging round corners with the radio blasting out late night rock and roll. Inside it was filled to the brim with animal souls hanging from every conceivable place outside too so the car seemed surrounded by a soupy wet mist. Swinging to a stop before the Butchers shop, they all dove out and ransacked the place. Pigs danced about in their old heads. Cows frolicked, wearing the meat-diagram posters as dresses. The chickens danced around the pantry, duelling with cleavers and spits, wearing pie lids for musketeer’s hats – some even with their old feathers stuck in the brim. Stodge was laughing along; sucking at a bottle of port that no-one at the party had touched, smoking a fat cigar his wife had bought for him.
Eventually, the keys turned up. Stodge had baked them into a particularly large steak pie that a grouse opened up to use as a sledge in an impromptu pie-crust race. Having found the keys, they remembered they’d only around an hour before the sun came up and they’d left Jacques and Frigg stuck in the church hall without a way home. Hurriedly, they shut up the shop and blitzed it back to the church.
Once there they said again their boozy apologies, goodbyes, thankyous, a few confessions of love, before finally heading off to Elysium. His job done, the vicar headed off to bed as Mrs. Stodge drove them all back to their respective houses.
“You av a gur night, Jacksss?”
“Oh shut up darling, you’re not funny, you see.”
“You arra gunaye, Fffff-rigg?”
Frigg nodded. Dark rings had formed around her eyes, she was tired and reflective. One of the Buxton brain-farm pigs had approached her, his soul the very vision of Johnny Depp and his words all poetry and smooth philosophy. He told her of how his humanity would be squandered in the world hereafter and how he would be forced to wander, lonely, for all eternity. Could he perhaps have just one moment of bliss before he crossed over? One stolen embrace to last beyond time? Well…
“Here you are, Frigg. See you Thursday.”
The door banged to and they headed home, stopping to drop Jacques back at his bedsit. His former lover had broken in and smashed everything. The floor was strewn with shattered glass and, amongst it, torn roses. He’d given them to her that first night. He began to weep and plan another great poem.
“Right, back home and straight to bed for you, dear. You’re getting too old for all of this, you see.”
“Yes, mah lurr. Yesh indeedydoo.”
Mrs Stodge sighed. The daft apeth that he was. And again she’ll be responsible for the big clean up the next day whilst he lies in bed, moaning and groaning. At least he’d enjoyed himself for a change… and tomorrow was a Wednesday after all. Butchers never open on a Wednesday.