Short Story, Written by Dakota Snow
Three racks are waiting in the walk-in when I arrive this morning. It’s going to be a busy day. The holidays are coming, and everybody wants a slab of meat to serve with Christmas dinner.
Most butchers receive their stiffs already skinned, but I order mine whole. I like to know exactly what I’m getting. It’s more work, but it’s worth it because customers always have specific preferences about their meat, just like their women—white meat, dark meat, leaner, fatter, older, younger, muscular, more tender, a particular ethnicity, perhaps.
I unwrap the first cadaver. It’s an older woman, maybe fifty. Divorcée. Oriental, very pale. Her skin is smooth and hairless, almost porcelain. Her hair is black, streaked with silver. Soft. Exquisite. It will be a shame to shave. Perhaps I’ll have it made into a wig.
I lift the body off the cart and lay it on the chopping block. I drain the fluids and remove the skin. The whole process has become such a routine operation it hardly requires any conscious effort anymore. In an hour’s time, the body is displayed, unrecognizable, neatly arranged inside the case. A tender, lean selection. Sure to sell. Except the ribs, which look a little pitiful.
I save the bones and slops for later. My first priority is stocking the case. The flesh is cut fresh every morning. Once I finish stripping all three bodies, leftovers are processed into pet food. As a butcher, efficiency is the art of my trade. Nothing goes to waste.
I clean the block and change my gloves before retrieving the next body. This one is young and muscular. Dark skin. African-American. Wiry hair. Late twenties, I would guess. Very athletic. Tougher meat. Thick arms and thighs. Tight abdomen. I prefer less muscle, personally—it’s too chewy.
I lift the body up and haul it to the block. This one is heavier and taller than the first. Most butchers purvey consistency, but I prefer to offer a variety. Each delivery is a surprise. Although, certain qualities are more profitable. White meat sells for more per pound than dark meat, even though it’s all the same under the skin. Young meat also sells for more than older meat. A raw vegan diet adds value. Grass fed women always sell for more. These details are included in the invoice with each delivery. The names are, by law, excluded.
The first two stiffs should sell for about the same. The first is white meat, vegetarian, but also significantly more mature. The second one is dark but young, and standard diet. The funny part is, at the end of the day, most of the customers would never know the difference. Age and diet are detectable in taste to some degree, but ethnic preferences are purely placebo. Men like to eat the same meat they lust after. The sickest part is when they send their wives to buy the groceries, and the wives are standing there describing the type of meat their husband wants, reciting a list of their own physical attributes, knowing their wedding ring is the only thing keeping them in the kitchen, making dinner, instead of on the dinner plates.
I clean the block once more and prep the cutting station for the final body. I unwrap the last cadaver. I recognize her instantly. It’s Olivia. My ex. Her eyes are shut. Her hair is long. Her lips are purple, almost blue. Her skin is cold and gray instead of golden brown, like I remember. We lived together just a couple years ago. She would have been thirty-two this year.
Her body is as I remember it, but lifeless. I remember laying next to her in bed. The warmth and softness of her skin. Her arms and legs all wrapped around me in the morning. Us tangled together in the sheets. The salt of her sweat when we were finished. The scent of her hair.
I lean in to smell her neck, but I smell nothing. She is cold and sterile. Not herself. I gently slide her eyelids open. She stares through me. Her gaze is frozen. Unfocused. I search her eyes for any sign of recognition, but she doesn’t see me. How could she? She’s dead.
“Olivia,” I whisper. My voice sounds strange against the silence. The absence of her answer rings in my ears. I lift her lifeless body, her familiar shape now hanging limply in my arms. I hold her there, imagining the wedding day we never had, remembering the woman who could have been my wife. That wedding would have saved her life.
Ever since Congress declared a state of emergency on all fronts a few years back— overpopulation, overconsumption, overuse of precious resources, excessive waste, etcetera—numerous solutions were proposed, each remedy more drastic than the last. Conditions were critical, and each proposal was accordingly extreme. Ultimately, it was decided that too many resources were being wasted raising enough livestock to accommodate our growing appetites, and the number of people inhabiting the planet was too immense for it to support. The answer was obvious.
Women are valued highly in our society. We depend on them to have our babies and raise our children. They provide pleasure for their husbands, and care for their daughters and sons, while their husbands are working. Women who don’t marry, however, are equally essential. We depend on them for food. Since animals are no longer available to eat, unmarried women are our meat.
Women are kept alive as long as they hold marital value, and harvested when they become expendable. Women have until their “prime” to wed, and if they don’t, they’re dead. It’s extreme, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
I lay Olivia down on the block. Her arms fall limply at her sides. I trace the familiar shape of her body with my fingers. I regard her naked form in front of me, once more. I close her eyes and grab my knife. It’s time to get to work.