Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Butcher Rings the Bell

by Brian Tucker

I cut up hogs for a living. Well, I used to anyways. Worked at the butcher shop in Seton, Kentucky. Population 581. Or, so the sign reads when you drive into town. My specialty was chops. I could cut a big sow’s bones into real fine slivers. People liked the way I did the butterfly chops. I’d stack them in the tray nice like with a heart shape in the middle. Always forgot to put those blood absorber pads in the bottom of the Styrofoam tray when I was finished, but I cut them like a pro. My boss, Mr. Elway, called me that—a pro. Imagine being a pro at anything! It wasn’t like me to brag, but I did get a fancy sense of accomplishment when I stacked a heavy tray of assorted chops together with no room to spare. Customers licked their lips when the tray was placed out front. We smiled behind the swinging meat department door, when they stared at the rows of pink and red marble.

Saul was our meat wrapper. He did an alright job I guess. Always getting into trouble with the older butchers for not coming in on time. Had a real struggle with the time clock. Saul said the clock didn’t like him. I didn’t give a shit what he or the others said. I just came in to cut up meat and go home.

For all of Saul’s problems, he wasn’t nearly as bad as the kook Mr. Elway hired to work the bone saw. Jerry Sarkins was a son-of-a-bitch if I ever did meet one. The bastard would walk right up behind one of us while we was cutting on a hog or beef cow and goose us real good. The laser sharp knife would slip in our hands and we’d almost slice the meat, our arms, or Jerry’s lips all the way into. I always threatened him that I was going to accidentally slice him from ear to hear and watch the meat fall to the ground leaving him with only a bloody skeleton. He laughed it up. My hand would grip the butcher’s knife like I was behind in the count in the bottom of the ninth inning. I was always pretty good at baseball.

Jerry Sarkins would work that bone saw like a freak. Best bone saw cutter I ever saw. But, he liked to give us a real scare by pretending to cut off a finger or hand. There was an Asian family that always wanted beef short ribs cut in a quarter of an inch, and Jerry was the only one that could do that just right. He’d harass us about getting the quarter inch short ribs out to Connie Chung, and he’d laugh like a hyena. Jerry was a real piece of work. His yellow teeth would be bared, reminding me of a clown at the circus tying balloons around spoiled kids’ hands. Even had a big rosy nose like a clown would. Then, after heckling Saul, me, and the others, he’d take the beef ribs that had already been trayed up, remove the shrink wrap from them, and begin cutting them even more finely. He’d cut a few strips and then howl like a monkey. Then, he’d cut some more.

We jumped often from the high-pitched sounds Jerry made the first few months. Gullible newbies like Saul jumped even more than the rest of us. But soon enough, we all caught on to his ways. Knew he was a prick. Jerry Sarkins had cried wolf too many times. We stopped listening, and boy if he didn’t really cut a finger off one day. No lie. Saul was clocking in late, and Mr. Elway was lecturing him yet again on punctuality, when Jerry, that deuchebag, cut off his thumb. He howled and this time none of us turned around.

“Cut that thing plumb off!” he yelled. “Youchhhh!”

He jumped up and down. Finally he passed out and collapsed in his own pool of blood. Trouble was none of us could tell his red blood from the puddles of sow, heifer, and hen entrails. Jerry lay there on the floor for a while. I was out turning the rotisserie birds in the large ovens and giving people samples when it all happened. Saul had just put on his apron and hard hat when he saw Jerry supinely sprawled on the cold floor. He kicked Jerry with his steel toed boot.

“Mr. Elway. I don’t think Jerry is fooling around this time,” Saul said.

“He gets you every time, son,” came Elway’s voice from the manager’s office.

“No. I think he’s really hurt himself. He’s not moving in here.”

And that SOB wasn’t. Jerry lay still like a fish that had wore itself out from flopping on the bank. His color had gone out of his face, and he was holding his wound. His lips were puckered like that singing bass I got last year for Christmas. I thought about where I had put that thing. Christmas was just around the corner again. Jerry was staring at the ceiling.

“Well, look who’s whining now,” I offered him.

“Paulie. Not now!” Mr. Elway barked.

“He had it coming. Serves him right,” I added, holding back a laugh.

“Get me some ice and a wash cloth, son,” Mr. Elway said to Saul.

Saul disappeared. I stood placidly looming over Jerry’s frame. I still had my butcher knife in my hand. In a matter of milliseconds, I went from standing like Michael Myers to hurling the Asian family’s unfinished beef ribs at Jerry. He didn’t try to deflect the ribs; he didn’t laugh that hyena laugh. Mr. Elway cussed at me. I threw filet mignon and rib-eye steaks when I ran out of ribs. Then, I found Atlantic salmon filets and threw them at Jerry. They looked like slimy orange rugs flying through the air. For the life of me, I don’t know what made me do it. Next, I un-skewered the rotisserie birds ready for the ovens and hit him in the head with those. Saul dropped the first aid supplies he had retrieved from Mr. Elway’s office, and he tried to slow me down, grabbing the birds as they flew through the air. But, I wouldn’t have it. I threw lobster tails at the stunned old butchers that had been watching me from inside the deli room this whole time. Their jaws dropped open, and I broke them all with meat trays.

The ambulance had a tough time pilfering through the blood and chops to try and find Jerry’s sawed off finger. Looked for about two hours before finally giving up. I was long gone by that time. Took off my apron and stormed out of that hell hole. Told Mr. Elway that butchering hogs was no living at all. Of course, I didn’t leave the meat department before ringing that bell and letting the Asian family know with a wink that their beef ribs were on the house.

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