Meat Bundles

I enter the butcher shop.

“Hello, what can I do for you today?” asks the butcher.

I can’t help but notice his blood-streaked apron tied tightly around his wide girth.

“Um…well, I was wondering what your specials are today?”

“Well now…” He rubs his hands together. “We have two specials on today. We have some freshly ground beef ground up right here in our store, but if you want to spend a little more, we are featuring Canadian Black Angus ribeye steaks at a very reasonable price, anywheres from $6.00 to $10.00 per steak, depending on the thickness”.

I run my finger over the cool glass of the deli case, perusing the Italian deli meat – prosciutto, mortadella, genoa salami. I glance up at the butcher block with its boning knives and meat hook. The meat slicer gleams with a half-roll of Blue Ribbon bologna sitting on the edge of the cutter. I shake my head and ask: “What grade is the Angus steaks?”

“Triple A beef, that’s what I got here.”

“Well, I thought maybe I would buy some ground lamb for burgers, but I was also thinking of marinating some flank steak because it’s leaner and less expensive”.

“Oh well, the only ground lamb I got is frozen, but if you want it, I can get some from the freezer. You know what…let me just double check if we have any fresh lamb in the back – I haven’t checked my delivery this morning yet.”

The butcher disappears into the back room. I watch him as he searches the meat locker for fresh lamb. The humming of the fluorescent lights resonates and then begins to magnify in my brain and I feel anxiously stimulated by the sensation.

After a few more turns of his head and placing his hands on his hips, the butcher returns with a rather neutral expression on his face. “I’m sorry but you will have to come back Tuesday for fresh lamb unless you want the frozen. As for the other cuts of beef, well I don’t have any flank steak today. Then, while looking up toward the ceiling, with a finger on his chin, he continues: “I have some fresh offerings in the back – 16 ounce T-bones that are well-marbled – very tasty – but if you’re looking for lean, well I do have some New York strip loins that I can cut for ya’, half-inch or inch steaks.”

“Hmmmm,” I muse and then ask him: “Do you ever offer bison?”

“Well yes,” he replies, “every Monday I get ground bison, sirloin steaks and roasts too. Sometimes I get bison tenderloin, but I have a waiting list for ‘em – popular cut with some customers, that’s for sure”.

“I’d like to buy some bison. I’ll come back next Tuesday for both the ground lamb and bison if you could hold three steaks for me.”

“Sure, now what can I get for you today?”

“Just bag me up about three of those strip loins, and I’ll take about a dozen slices of that honey-glazed back bacon, and I’ll be back on Tuesday for the rest.”

“Okay, comin’ up.”

The butcher divides the meat and weighs it on the scale. The buzzing from the freezers and humming of the lights are still heavy in the room, penetrating my consciousness as I watch the glistening red and pink meat cuts packaged into little paper envelopes, taped up, and given back to me as bundles, my precious meat bundles. He stares at me while I fish out two twenty dollar bills out of my pocket and hand them to him. He then cracks a subtle smile, his eyes looking down. He places the bills in the register and then gives me back some change. I pocket the change, never taking my eyes from his face.

“Thanks for your help”, I say to him. The butcher’s eyes become fixated on mine, and I turn to exit the shop. He says nothing but I feel his eyes continuing to stare at my back as I step through the door.

I feel an overwhelming nervous energy from this encounter. I cross the street to where my car is parked along 11th Avenue. My car key is troubling me. The plastic shell around the metal key that acts as the lock/panic/unlock unit is busted up around the sides leaving the key vulnerable to contort sideways. Also, the battery inside the unit is dead rendering the device useless and forcing me to manually open the car using the key. This is problematic due to the sensitive nature of the key device – one wrong move and you have yourself a bent, broken and useless key. I fear this is my fate as I approach my car, feeling around for my keys deep in my pants pocket. To my surprise and delight, with just enough care and precision I open the door and start the ignition without any complications. I set my groceries on the seat beside me and grapple around in my glove compartment for a tape to listen to. I come across Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam. As I slip the tape into the deck, I pay close attention to the physical and sensory feeling of the tape as I transport it into place as it informs me of its correct position with a “click”. Everything feels so amplified in my mind as I hear the “click” and everything after that seems different. The tape begins playing halfway through the song “Green Earrings”. The melody and words are intoxicating and I listen closely to the lyrics:

“Greek medallion,

Sparkles when you smile,

Sorry, angel, I get hungry like a child”.

As I glance at the clock in the car I notice that it reads 3:22 p.m. The clock is actually seven minutes slow so the real time is 3:29 p.m. The drive home is unsettling. Heading south I light a cigarette somewhere between Hill and 24th Avenue. I manage to hit every red light possible on the way back to my apartment and this provides me with plenty of stop and go movement to the point where I feel car-sick. I tend to get car-sick anyway – it’s a problem I have had since grade school. I begin to notice things around my car – the dust on the dashboard, a dried up French fry on the floormat, some gum stuck to a napkin on the beverage holder. These properties catapult me further into a downward spiral of sickness. I try to keep my bearings but I break out in a cold sweat on my forehead. My windows will not roll down and it’s hot inside the car.

I am undeniably anxious about returning to my apartment. I begin to think about my guests. They are probably wondering where I am by now. The closer I get to my apartment, the more uneasy I become. I think to myself: “Is this really what I want to be doing with my life?” I feel hollow all of a sudden, like an empty vessel navigating familiar pathways through the city. The retched presence of bacteria and the cigarette I smoked leaves my taste buds scorned and soured. Only now do I really begin to feel the effects of the last night’s drinking – I am parched, dry, thirsty and I feel sick. I heard somewhere that alcohol deprives the brain of oxygen and inevitably shrinks it. As I take a left on Gordon Road, I anticipate getting out of my car and liberating myself from the constraints of the seat belt, simultaneously dreading entering my apartment building.

I pull into my parking space and quickly release the seatbelt and stumble out of the car. Immediately I vomit a beige and green display all over the ground. The puddle of vomit looks crude, vile, grotesque and yet helplessly vulnerable. I can see half-digested green beans and creamed corn bubbling on the surface like something out of an alien movie. I take a moment to compose myself. After only a few seconds of relief, I begin to feel the anxiety set in again as I make my way through the parking lot to the front of the building.

As I enter through the doors, the stairs appear steep and impossible. My hands are shaking and I tighten my grip on the grocery bag. I visualize myself vomiting again and I try to gain control. I put one foot in front of the other and drag myself up each stair. Things become increasingly disorienting and unstable on the way up. The experience is incommensurable. There is no standard or measure to describe the torture that I feel on this jolting, nightmarish journey up the stairs. I cling to the railing for support and I hear the sound of my knee accidentally hitting the brass crosshatched metal bar along the side of the staircase. The resulting sound throws an electrifying vibration through my system – a sensory pain so deep it is almost pleasurable. My eyes tear a bit as I approach the top. I wipe the sweat from my forehead, realizing that I am still breathing.

At the top of the stairs I see a silhouette of a figure from down the hall. As I gradually prepare to make my way to Suite 14 where my guests wait, the figure reveals itself as Mrs. Saunders, my elderly neighbour. Mrs. Saunders is a woman in her late 60s and she is somewhat eccentric and sociable. She parted ways with her husband Tom about two years ago, and I know that she loves Chinese food. I know this because I often notice it being delivered to her place and sometimes the delivery man comes to my suite by accident. Usually we greet each other with a quick hello and exchange of polite acknowledgement of the weather or some other social nicety, but never anything on a subject that would be too energetic or time-consuming. Today, strangely enough, she stops me in the hallway to tell me that the branches from the trees are rubbing against the windows on the east side of the building where both of our suites are located. The frustration caused by her conversation tests my ability to remain even mildly composed. I reach deep down within myself and search for a social interchange and then it surfaces. The conversation went like this. “Hi Mrs. Saunders.”

“Oh hello – how are we today?”

“Doin’ all right I suppose.” I try to sound relaxed and casual.

After just these first few words, my stomach feels like cottage cheese on a hot plate. Dreadfully I watch as she puts down her heavy bags to speak to me with a sigh. Putting the bags down is a bad thing – when they hit the floor they sound like a baseball bat hitting a row of metal high school lockers, though slowed down considerably. My stomach is bubbling something fierce.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you.” She pauses.

“What’s that?”

She answers immediately. “Do you hear the branches from the trees scraping against your window at night?”

“No, I don’t think I have, I…”

She cuts me off. “Well I’ll tell you I always hear the branches against my windows at night making this really screechy noise, but only at night though. It keeps me up and it’s just such an annoying thing, you know.”

“Well, maybe…”

She cuts me off again. “I’m going to have to talk to Murray about it because I just haven’t been able to sleep very well. I suppose maybe the winds pick up a bit…”, her voice trails off.

I take another breath and prepare to respond, and before I can let it out, she cuts me off again.

“Because I just don’t know…”

I force out the words: “Yes, well I’m really sorry to hear that. I’m sure Murray could talk to maintenance or go up on the ladder and trim the branches”.

“Yes, well, I’ll have to talk to him. Well then, I don’t want to keep you. You have a nice day.”

“Bye, Mrs. Saunders,” and I turn to leave.

“Oh wait,” she says.

I feel like turning around and screaming in her face, and then she quickly responds:

“Oh never mind. I thought I had something else to say. Take care now.” She walks slowly down the hallway with a slow measured gait, and the scent of flowery perfume lingers after her and it makes me vomit a little inside of my own mouth. I force myself to swallow the few chunks back into my stomach, having nowhere to discard them. I take a really deep breath and feel the oxygen enter my body. With a last attempt to collect myself, I take one more even deeper breath and head towards Suite 14. As I rattle around for my keys I detect an absence of noise from inside. I turn the handle of the door and enter cautiously and I still hear nothing.

I take off my shoes and make my way to the kitchen. I pass a dispersion of shoes, carelessly scattered along the hardwood floor. Although I anticipate seeing them, I also feel anxious and unnerved when I catch sight of three individuals who remain tied to chairs with gags in their mouths, ropes binding their wrists and ankles, and blindfolds over their eyes.

Following routine, I don’t say a word. I head toward the kitchen counter and place the plastic bags containing my meat bundles next to the stove. All the cooking utensils and ingredients are already set in place. I sense a major tension between my guests and me. Something feels odd. They remain quiet as my toiling and kitchen noises ricochet off the yellow walls of my apartment, creating volume to the previously silent space.

After I unfold the butcher’s neatly taped-up packages to reveal my portions of meat, I reach for a large clove of garlic. I place it on the cutting board and begin to remove the outer skin; I then proceed to cut the ends off. Eventually when I have four gleaming, smooth pieces of garlic, I begin to slice them up into fine pieces. I pour in half a tablespoon of glistening gold cooking oil into the frying pan. As the heat from the element increases, I stare over toward my guests. There is the man with the dark hair, a woman with blonde hair and the tall fellow with the fancy sweatshirt.

I begin to peel an onion and the dice it up into fine pieces. The process is painful and pleasurable -- sharp tears sting my eyes but it takes my mind off my roiling stomach pains. The intoxicating smell of chopped up raw onions elevates my consciousness to a state of euphoria. I toss them into the heated frying pan and stir them around with garlic for a few minutes. As these ingredients synthesize into a powerful and seductive aroma, I toss three juicy, dark red strip loins into the pan. As soon as the meat touches the surface, a sound so sharp and unforgiving, demands the attention of everyone in the apartment. The meat looks so handsome bunched together in the frying pan. I make sure to smother the meat with a pat of juicy yellow butter. I observe that I have captured the attention of my guests and they are now all sitting up straight as pencils, appearing tense with a sense of anticipation. I let the meat soak up the flavours, periodically nudging it, pressing the garlic and onion onto the surface of my exquisite, dancing meat hunks. All of my guests are sweating quite profusely. As I catch a reflection of myself on the door of my broken microwave, I notice that I too am experiencing perspiration, my forehead glistening with beads of sweat.

The scent of body odour is potent and synthesizes with the smell of cooking, and I am forced back into a state of sickness. The bubbling in my stomach begins again. Staring down at the shiny dancing flesh cuts, I fear that I may have another vomiting episode. I grab my stomach and pray for this to be over. It feels like the worst carsickness combined with a horrible hangover and increasingly mixed with a considerable mounting paranoia. I stare at the red sizzling, gradually-browning meat cuts embellished with savoury flavours. As a sharp crackle of oil spits up toward my arm, I feel an urge to run to the bathroom, but I fear I won’t make it. My hands begin to shake again and just before I attempt to exit the kitchen, my alarm clock goes off.


The feeling of sickness subsides and I feel relief at last. A few silent moments pass while I catch my breath and gather my thoughts. I rise on my toes to pick up a mask from the top of the fridge and I put it on. I speak aloud to my guests: “That’s all the time for today. I will untie you and then you must leave my apartment immediately. If you want to book another appointment, please do it by phone or secure email. Each person nods politely. The tall man with the fancy sweatshirt responds: “Okay.” His voice is muffled from the gag.

I make my way over to stand behind where they are seated. As I untie them, I can smell the excitement on their necks. I pay close attention to the way it feels to loosen the rope on the wrists of the man with the dark hair. Each person remains quiet as I loosen the bonds and feed my fingers through the rope knots. The smell of cooked meat and strong garlic and onions drift through the apartment. Soon I am watching them rise to their feet, put on their shoes and make their way toward the exit. One by one, my guests quietly leave my home. I stand in the hallway for several moments after they leave. I anxiously looked forward to getting this over with so I could be alone in my space. Now that I am alone, I feel like a ghost of a ghost. I stare at the empty chairs and the loose and scattered rope and bindings on the floor. I feel as if I could walk through my kitchen wall and disappear. No one would ever know that I lived here. As I clean up the kitchen, I peer outside of the window and notice a young couple walking side by side, holding hands. This reinforces my sense of isolation. The sun will soon be setting and the day has met its plateau. I light a cigarette and open a bottle of ale. I cannot even remember the last time I drank a glass of water. After my smoke, I walk over to the chalkboard to make note of the groceries that I would require for my next client.

I smell awful. I walk into my bedroom and stand still for just a moment. The room is very humid. I notice my precious red blanket sprawled across the bed. I pick it up and crawl underneath. As I vanish within its folds, I wrap myself into my own fleece bundle.