I’m afraid of death. I thought of this while I was watching a movie last night, but not because the movie made death seem like a scary thing, rather it seemed like a glorious, glorified thing, and what scares me is that it won’t be glorious or glorified at all—just nothing, just death. Maybe this bothers me because I’m a claustrophobic. I don’t like the idea of being stuck anywhere. I would rather be in hell. You know why? Because even though they all say that hell sucks, that there’s nothing decent going on there, I’ll bet you a trillion dollars that every once in a while you’ll be resting on your pitchfork, taking a slight break while The Whipmaster sips at his coffee, and you’ll look out over the valleys and hills of hell and think, hey, fire and brimstone are sort of pretty at this hour, almost like a big, violent sunset. And right before The Whipmaster takes up his whip and starts clobbering your back again, you’ll think, hey, even those baby-heads, the one’s that have no bodies—just wings where their necks used to be—even those baby-heads floating around biting people can be pretty cute sometimes. That doesn’t sound so bad. If you’re conscious enough to at least have thoughts, then I’m sure no matter how horrible things got, there would still be some goodness there, and sometimes I’ll bet that goodness would almost make everything seem worth it. Even if you are damned for eternity.
This is why I took that job as a butcher. I’ve been looking for mortal answers. There’s something about working with large slabs of meat that’s terrifying. I mean, these slabs used to be alive. In the mornings, brushing my teeth, I’ll picture the skin peeling away. I’ve heard that sheep are stupid animals, not very self-aware. I wouldn’t mind coming back as one, for that very reason.
The other day a woman asks for a lamb shank and I go to carve the meat for her, and as I’m carving I’m thinking about how little Lambert was probably skippidy-dooing just the day before, until he was herded up with the others in a barn and shot smack between the eyes. I got to feeling really sorry for the thing, because now it was going to be sold to some fatso woman in a paisley dress, bustled home to her four blotchy, screaming children, only to be pooped out by the whole miserable family the next day. The lamb was pink and warm in my hands and I almost cried. I turned and told the woman, “We’re out of lamb shank.”
“You just said you had it.”
“No, I’m sorry. We’re out.”
Her fat mouth twisted up. “Well then what, young lady, were you cutting at just now?”
“I thought it was lamb shank but it’s not, it’s the lamb’s gut, I think.”
She rose on her tiptoes and looked over my shoulder. “That’s fine,” she said, “that’s fine, I’ll take that.”
I looked back at the meat. “It’s not lamb,” I said, “it’s bear.”
She grimaced. “Bear?”
“Yes, I’m sorry, it’s bear. The butt, I believe. Or the intestines or the spleen or something.”
“That,” she said, pointing a sausagy finger, “is not bear. And it’s certainly not intestine or spleen.”
“This isn’t even meat,” I said, “this is like that tofu-ish meat. Tofurkey or Tobear or tolamb or something? It’s not very good for you. They douse it in pig’s blood, to make it look more real.”
“I’m telling the manager,” she said. He asked me later to go home, but his voice wasn’t angry, just tired or something.
I took the meat home with me. I figured, if someone’s going to eat this meat, it should be someone that’s deeply, importantly afraid of her own mortality. It was tasty enough. But after a few bites, the meat began loping about in my stomach. I clutched my gut and went to the toilet and heaved. Each morsel had turned into a little red lamb, complete with a head and legs and hooves and eyeballs and everything. Most of them galloped frantically around the bowl of the toilet, skirting the water’s edge. One of the braver morsels ducked its head and lapped at the water. I felt sorry for the whole lot of them, but there really wasn’t anything to be done. Where would I keep them? In an aquarium? A hamster cage? They were marbled and dripping. Despite their playfulness, they were hideous.
“All things must come to an end,” I said.
And then I flushed.