“The Butchers”: A Fiction Excerpt from The Future by Alana I. Capria

 

On Sundays, we butchered. It made us so happy, S— and me. We did not mind the blood or sound. We butchered what crouched and quivered, what was soft against a knife. S— and I butchered until our hands were wet. We prepared the butchering for a meal, for stews, steaks, and roasts. I carried blood buckets and knives to the house, dragged the bones and fat, the unusable flesh. I sat with the corpses, wept over their deadness, wiped the death sweat from their brows, eased their frowns into easier grins. I sat with the corpses well until dark, when my mother began screaming from deep inside the house. My mother did not believe the dark was safe for any woman. Women were easily picked from this earth like blueberries, like daffodils. Anyone could come from the dark and rake a knife across my neck, push me into the dirt and cover my body until I suffocated. My mother screamed until I came through the door, and then she was quiet again. My mother lived in a little bed at the back of the house. She kept her room sealed shut and so was never seen. S— and I sat at the table with our bowls of carnage. S— ate his while I apologized to my bowl, cut the base of my hand with the butchering knife, and squeezed my blood in the mix. I ate everything, me and them, ate until I could no longer stand to swallow. Then I was sick, the bitterness of that meat sticking to my teeth, and I went to the bathroom to push a finger down my throat. Also in the house was my sister, who long ago stitched her lips shut for fear of what she might say or have happen to her mouth. When she ate, she loosened the center two threads on her lips, making a space just large enough to pass through. My sister stayed silent in her room now. Three times a day, I arranged small plates of food and slid them beneath the door to her. If I listened outside her room, I never heard her, and yet, the plates were always pushed back out, emptied. My sister was a byproduct of a time when she fell into a watery pit and sank to the bottom. My mother was not locked away in her room then; she fished my sister out with a rod but the damage was done—my sister was changed while sitting in that pit. I did not like describing the changing as a ruining but could not help what was true …

S— and I sat beneath the brother tree. It was a beautiful tree, blooming with flesh and hair. Our brothers hanged from those branches. Our brothers were dead for one thousand years, then one thousand more. Upon that tree, our brothers were stripped and skinned. They seized violently with death. They sputtered and spewed, seeding the ground with their liquids. Our brothers screamed with wide O mouths. Our brothers blistered in the daylight, peeled until cracked and rough. Our brothers suffered with hunger. They begged for a meal, for a drink. Our brothers were crucified, then laid out for the butchering. Our brothers held their tongues out for a communion they never received. Their flesh dried into scales. They asked why their flesh needed to hurt so badly. The pain they suffered was one I felt each menstruation, when my body seized against me, became cannibalistic. Our brothers now understood what it was to be eaten from the inside. Our brothers creaked and groaned. The branches grew around them, hardening their bodies into bark. We watched their tortured faces, snaking necks, pointed feet. The wood grew over their tongues and still, our brothers asked when the time would come that they could be let down …

S— and I walked hand-in-hand through the brother tree fields. The fields were built upon the remains of roads and wires, shutters and bricks, pavements and walls. Twice, I stepped and an old iron nail pierced my foot. Upon the trees were the brothers that were not made, the brothers that did not live, the brothers that were disappointments, the brothers that refused to speak, the brothers that stared wrongly, the brothers that were not thoughts, the brothers that were too many. All those brothers were looped with ropes and branches, strung up where the wind might reach. Where their bodies were formless upon the ground, they were shaped now in the trees. Miscarriages, menstruations, abortions, each looked human upon the tree. Our brothers were scattered about. Some were my blood brothers, others belonged to S—. I looked upon the brother trees and felt a great pain in my chest, a gripping, descending feeling that felt the same as the first day I was handed a knife and told to cut across a tendinous throat. It was the pain of grief and while it faded with each subsequent butchering, I still felt it when looking at the brother trees. One brother tree had all of my mother’s brothers strung up. My mother hated those men, all of whom had hands with dirt beneath the nails. One brother upon her tree snorted like a pig, another bellowed like a bull. Upon that tree, they were animals, deformed from so many encounters with tainted water and wormy grounds. Their flesh rippled with contaminants; I never went near the tree for fear their bodies might burst like an overripe fruit and shower me with more disease. In the sunlight, the brother trees browned and leaked. They leaked spittle and spume, the whole of it red and brown. S— refused to look for too long. Let us go away, he said and led me through the mud …

Everything in this world was rotten now and I was no different. My deformities were numerous beneath my skin. I leaked black, brown, and red. This leaking was not healthy menstruation. It was spew and putrescence, one I smelled long before it came out of me. My womb was fragmented, throttled until dead, stitched shut. It was a useless sack, ripped and torn. Everything stuffed within fell free. My womb was in prolapse. I pushed it back in but it found its way out again. I secured the womb with ribbons and yarn and thread, and still, my womb slipped out into the poisoned air. I accepted my womb’s deformities; it was the only womb I knew. I knew some wombs were pretty and fertile, others pockmarked and scarred. My womb was unattractive but it was mine. S— swore he loved me despite my womb’s constant escaping. My womb peeped out of my body and S— pushed it back inside. He did it lovingly, as if it were not the first womb he caressed. My womb poured onto him but he did not let go. We fell in love with his hands on my womb, my womb outside my body. His fingers rearranged my parts—made my womb my womb, my cunt my cunt—, and then he fucked me but we did not make anything, not even a dot of blood housed in gelatin …

How patient S— was. He thought if we tried hard enough, we could finally make a child. He ignored what my womb’s dropping meant. He laid me down in the cold aftermath of the Sunday butcherings, pushed me against the brother trees, shoved me facedown in the mud. S— placed me on the dining room table, climbed into my bed, put me on the butchering block. And still, we did not have children. S—’s face grew drawn and lined. He placed an empty coffee mug between my legs to catch my menstruation. When the cup was half full, S— jerked himself into it, then stirred. We looked into the slurry, as though it would soon make something from our nothings. The sputum was a pink color now and as it sat, it hardened, until a thick crust coated the glass bottom. The crust was so solid, it did not slide out of the mug and so we broke the entire mug upon the countertop. S— refused to catch my womb after. It slipped inside my underwear, the meat of it overhanging the cotton crotch. I pushed it back with my hand but the womb was too exposed now. I did not like the feel of it, the slipperiness of organ. The prolapse began aching; I tried pushing it back again but when I felt the fleshiness, my stomach seized with sickness. S— did not share my bed that night, opted instead to sleep at the bottom of the largest brother tree where the heaviness of the dead bodies cracked above his head. Without S—, I dreamed of formless, mouthed specters gnawing me from my womb out. In the morning, S— turned me onto my side and pushed into me. This ached more than I expected; my womb grew inflamed. And still, I remained voided, my flesh uninhabited by another body, my skin always escaping itself …

On the next Sunday, S— decided to crucify me. If my womb would not stay in place, then he would hammer it into me. The crucifixion was not unexpected, only untimely. Such rituals were left for the springtime, so that the blood and sweat were better able to mix with the constant mud. My body was adorned with countless scars from all the nails hammered into me. I laid down in the butchering yard and closed my eyes as he approached with a box of iron nails. I smelled the warm rot of the brother trees, the mustier decay of the muddy ground. S— arranged my arms at my sides, then hammered the first of the nails into my right wrist. Despite so many crucifixions, I was not ready for the pain. I screamed and screamed as the nails broke through my skin and veins. The longest of the nails wedged between two bones. Thus, I was nailed to the ground, and S— paced above me, clapping the hammer against his open palm. He walked along the length of my body, pausing near my exposed womb. S— apologized, then drove a nail through the bottom of my womb. The meat sagged against the point, resisting the stabbing, but then it broke, causing me to bleed. Blood ran from between my legs, mixing with the muddy earth. I struggled against the nails, twisted at my hips, but when I turned too far to one side, my womb was pulled, widening the puncture hole. S— shook my shoulder until I opened my eyes. I saw him, silhouetted against the yellow sky, and he glowered at me. He said: Will it stay? But already I felt my womb slipping out of place. It scraped against the gritty mud, the nailed hole filling with clay. If only my womb remained inside, I would not be in such pain. If my body was not so deformed, then S— and I would have our child, then he would no longer look as though he hated me. Whether nailed or glued or stitched, my womb still moved. And so this crucifixion was worthless, culminating in nothing more than my bleeding discomfort. S— rubbed a nail between two fingers as he paced around me. When the nail inevitably slipped and caught his finger, S— looked down at the blood and rubbed it on my forehead. Hallowed be, he said …

Because not even nailing my womb in place prevented it from sliding out again, S— was furious. He butchered without me, drawing his knife across soft flesh many times in succession. Blood sprayed his face, got in his mouth. S— did not seem to notice. He gripped the knife more tightly as I freed myself from the nails connecting me to the ground. The nails ripped from the dirt, then my flesh. S— sliced again and an arc of blood struck me across the breasts. I looked down at this redness and felt a piercing in my stomach. I bled all over then. My sister entered the yard, saw the butchering, and returned to the house. She avoided the butchering whenever possible; my sister despised this ritual. I was glad when she was gone back into the house; S— grabbed me by the hips and yanked me close. He undressed me on top of the butchering, forced me open. I felt myself sliding over the butchered flesh, the loose arteries and rubbery segments. I tried easing myself away from S— but he gripped too hard, nearly piercing my sides with his fingers. S— growled low in his throat while running his fingers over my fresh injuries. Tell it, he demanded, as though I could convince my body to conceive a child from the air alone. S— was on my back, pushed me facedown into the bloody mud. I gurgled and spat. The blood wavered as a scarlet oil streak across the top of the mud. S— worked my body for another child. He fucked me four times, then left me on my knees in the butchering yard. I watched his back as he returned to the house, cradling my womb in my arms; I tired of carrying it all the time. There was no child. There was only a trimming from my intestines, pockmarked and pink …

And then, S— left me. He walked across rotten earth with his back to me. S— followed the yellowing sky, the muddy land. He did not clean himself of me; from a distance, I thought I saw him raise a hand to his mouth and lick. It was because of my womb, because with me, he would never have children. He tired of cupping my womb in his hands, was disgusted by the grease my meat left upon him, the blood stains he could never wash away. I ran for him but just before the final stretch of muddy fields began, I tripped upon the raised root of a brother tree and lay, wishing I was not as I was. I wished I was not a woman, that I did not love S—, that my insides were in tatters. I watched S—’s body become a blob; twice it wavered, as though it turned around. I lay with my face in the mud, breathing the wet dirt. The wind picked up and the brother trees seemed to sob with me. I wanted S— to return, to lay me across the block and chop. Then he could leave and I would not suffer. I lay in that mud for too long, then crawled in a concave in a brother tree trunk. I sat there, nestled in rancid wood, until I was numb, my body cold with mildew and fungus. I imagined S— choking as the yellow sky thickened around him, drowning as the mud he slogged through deepened and swallowed. I left my womb dangling; as I slept against the brother tree, the wood scraped my womb, studded it with splinters. I bled thickly and hated my womb for this betrayal. Because of it, S— left and I tore the meat in a rage, beating it with the tools scattered about the fields, the screwdrivers and hammers, wrenches and pliers, hoes and trowels, until the meat was wounded and bruised. I picked the scabs so they did not heal. My fingers crusted with my fluids and I wished to pry my womb out fully, to heave it on the ground until it deflated in the sweltering noon air. I tried many times, wrenching my womb with both hands, but just before jerking fully, I felt a weakness in my fingers and stopped, leaving the organ as it was. And a voice said (perhaps my sister mumbled behind her stitches or my mother bellowed from the house or the brothers rattled upon their trees): He will be back.

 

 

Alana I. Capria is the author of the novels Mother Walked into the Lake (KERNPUNKT Press, 2017) and Hooks and Slaughterhouse (Montag Press, 2013), the story collection Wrapped in Red (Montag Press, 2014), and the chapbooks Organ Meat, Killing Me (Turtleneck Press, 2012) and Lilith (dancing girl press, 2015). She resides in Northern New Jersey with her husband and rabbit.

Image: thereader.mitpress.mit.edu

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