Love, look at the two of us
Strangers in many ways
“For All We Know”
Theme song from the movie
Lovers and Other Strangers
Retirees Louis and Leanne Lambert crossed the gaudy carpet at the golf club and headed for the bistro. They passed the bar and poker machines and settled at their favourite table beside the plate glass windows, overlooking a sweeping view of the back nine holes.
Louis and Leanne liked to go out on a Monday night for the steak specials.
They’d either walk the two blocks to the pub or drive a little further to the club. Both bistros offered a Monday night special. A deal that had started off at ten dollars a crack for a big steak, chips and salad; pepper, mushroom or ordinary gravy in a little plastic container included.
Louis and Leanne often bandied over which offered the better value; the pub or the club. Leanne preferred the pub because they served a porterhouse steak but Louis favoured the club, making noises about being a rump steak man. Over the ambience at these venues they reversed their positions.
Leanne preferred the club because the bistro area commanded that sweeping view over the back nine holes, which were especially green and pleasant in the long summer evenings. You could watch the golfers hitting up the hill towards the clubhouse and eventually landing a ball on the eighteenth green, then putting out and shaking hands at the conclusion of the round.
Louis preferred the pub. Its overgrown beer garden, where you could down a schooner and enjoy your dinner, was a bit more knockabout and just as good as the club in the warm, summer evenings. Besides, the joint had heaps of TV screens which allowed him sneaky glances at the Monday night football in winter. When he ran into a mate at the pub, he took care not to linger with him over the footy. With a hungry and impatient Leanne waiting, he’d concocted a standard get away line. “Excuse me, mate,” he would say, “but I’m off to murder a steak.”
Louis and Leanne peered out over their sweeping view of the back nine holes which looked especially green and pleasant in the last of the afternoon light. There were the ever present golfers traipsing the fairways. The emerald course meandered in a narrow valley, whose flanking sandstone cliffs would soon glow pink in the sunset. Louis and Leanne looked forward to the familiar sight. For the present a brassy late-afternoon sun fought the advance of evening.
Louis and Leanne enjoyed their ritual. The novelty, behind the thick windows, of seeing the ball silently struck from the last tee, then soundlessly falling, to bounce, slow, and nestle to the earth. They watched the golfers hitting up the hill towards the clubhouse and eventually landing a ball on the eighteenth green, then putting out and shaking hands at the conclusion of the round.
* * *
Louis went up to the bar. Old John the barman on seeing a regular calling out, “Semillon blanc and a Pale Ale.”
Waiting for his order, Louis glimpsed into the kitchen, with its flaring grill and its massive steaming pots; noisy, busy staff slamming utensils. Other staff were slinging orders onto a counter for the harried waitresses to fetch up and deliver to the diners. The hot steaks spattered and oozed, forming fatty pools on the plates. A pile of waxy chicken wings sweated in a bowl.
“Steak special as usual?” John asked, placing Louis’ drinks on the counter.
“Gone up,” Louis scoffed.
“What can you do?” John said opening his palms in apology.
Louis took up the drinks and made his way towards their table. Leanne would have ordered. A well done steak, no blood, mushroom gravy for him. A medium rare with ordinary gravy for herself.
Louis liked a beer with his meal or an occasional alcoholic cider. Leanne liked a glass of wine and sometimes ordered a second, which annoyed Louis.
“Why go out for a special then waste money on expensive drinks?” he would say.
“I go out to enjoy myself, Lew,” Leanne would retort. “If you have to scrimp, you might as well stay home. Being cheap just spoils the evening.”
Ferrying his drinks, Louis noted the patrons loudly jawing over their wine and gobbling their roast beef and lamb shanks and spare ribs; items most definitely not specials. This mob cries poor he thought, but no one is stinting. Well, if they’d earned the right to a slap-up feed that was entirely their business.
Louis laid down their drinks. Leanne lifted her glass and took a mouthful.
“Don’t drink it all at once,” Louis said.
Leanne’s head shot back.
“Don’t be a scrooge, Lew,” she answered. “What are you saving it for? So when we die our kids can buy a new car with our money?”
“Take your time for your own benefit,” Louis insisted.
“You say that every time.” Leanne countered. “You’re a stuck record. Take your time, for the benefit of your wallet.”
“I say it because you swig, you don’t sip,” said Louis.
“Perfectly true,” said Leanne. “I do swig a bit. And you’re terrified I’ll order another glass.” She took an exaggerated swig, smiled at him brightly with her vivid features, and broke into her infectious laugh.
Her cheekiness melted Louis.
“Did you tell them well done, no blood?” Louis questioned. “You know they think well done is rare.”
“Of course, Lew. I told them you like eating old boots.”
“And one day yours will moo and gallop off the plate.”
* * *
This morning in bed, sipping their tea and listening to the radio, Louis and Leanne had remarked on the news. Louis became impassioned over the rising cost of meat. He remembered when you never thought about the price and the butcher was likely to throw in an extra snag for nothing.
“It’s all this exporting of live animals to the Middle East,” he said.
Stirring the pot Leanne answered, “It’s all those animal rights activists.”
Animal rights supporters had filmed suffering Australian sheep and cattle aboard ship being exported to the Middle East. They’d previously shown disturbing footage of Australian shipped animals being slaughtered in a foreign country.
As a result the government had, for a time, shut down the live export industry.
“Knee jerk,” Louis had cried. “Knocks our farmers for a loop and threatens another country’s food security.
“But Lew, Leanne chimed in. “You, yourself said these countries don’t have state of the art abattoirs.”
“That they slaughter the poor beasts as best they can.”
“And they often operate according to their religion.”
“All true,” Louis said “but that’s not our fault or the fault of our farmers.”
“Well, I think it’s terrible those poor things crammed into ships like that,” Leanne said.
“So do I,” Louis answered. “But what can exporters do? Ship fewer beasts at a time. I’m for that. But would it help? Maybe put in air conditioning, and toilets? It’s a hell of a journey, regardless. It’s suffering from go to woe.”
“Why can’t they sell them packaged meat like New Zealand?” “Because they want the meat halal or kosher.”
“Well, why can’t we do that, asked Leanne? “It would add value.”
“Cost more,” said Louis. “You’re the businesswoman. You’d have to build new abattoirs or put in separate lines. You can’t mix our meat with theirs. They’d view that as contamination. You can’t just run a herd of pigs through after you’ve done the cattle. “Look,” he went on, “these people want to slaughter their way. A man wants to hoist a sheep on his shoulders and slay it in the village as a man should.
From his words Leanne gleaned a people who did not have a western mindset.
“Frozen chops in a cardboard box is hardly the same,” Louis went on. “This kosher and halal stuff, Lew. Is that you reading again?” Leanne asked. She liked Louis’ reading. He explained things to her. Of course, she was more practical. But it was nice that she could ask him things she didn’t know. “You see what poverty brings,” she said. “If they had abattoirs like us, they could also slaughter in a humane way.”
Louis lips twisted at the word humane. His smile stopped.
“That’s your activists talking Lee,” he said. And don’t get me wrong. “They are good, kind, brave people. But they’re emotional and soft thinking.”
When the live export scandal had hit, Louis had hoped that all those extra animals on the domestic market would lead to a fall in prices. But prices had remained steady. He’d wondered if the farmers with no choice had simply slaughtered their livestock and chucked them into some hole on their properties. What a criminal waste that.
Leanne usually went to the butcher’s alone. But Louis had surprised her by pushing into the shop first to check for a fall in prices. She’d watched the disappointment etched on his face as he’d mumbled to himself. “No such luck, Louis.” He’d looked so forlorn and endearing. She’d sparked some comment in the butcher’s when she’d reached up and kissed his unshaven cheek.
That was her Louis. He’d been more short than usual lately. He’d become awfully hit up when they’d raised the price of the specials.
“Exports boom and they neglect the home market,” he’d growled. Now I’m foking out an extra two bucks a special.
Yesterday, at the supermarket he’d been a bit of a trial.
“Christ, you can’t get any Australian tuna anymore,” he had suddenly burst out. Tuna, for God’s sake,” When Dean Lukin won the Olympic weightlifting, I was so proud because he was a tuna fisherman. Our man, our fish. I used to buy it even if it was a little more expensive, but it was ours. Now you can’t even find a sliver of it.”
He had picked up a can of tuna and thrown it into their trolley. Then he had snatched it out again and slammed it back on the shelf.
“Lew,” she had cried, “Behave yourself. Are you trying wreck the place?”
But he’d again gone off like a pork chop. “Look at the cherries, all sold to Hong Kong. When have you had decent, cheap cherries lately? They sell us slave labour berries grown in shit so we get hepatitis and die. And we ship them our best product, best practice, best standard, formula or whatever.”
“Lew,” she’d roused, “lower your voice.”
But he’d gone on spitting the dummy. “And they won’t buy their own product because it’s laced with bloody asbestos or something. But it’s alright to sell any unregulated stuff to us. And what about the gas? All sold overseas and then imported at twice the price to us. How stupid are we?”
“Pull your head in, Lew,” she had scolded and slapped his hands clamped on to their trolley “The whole supermarket can hear you.”
“Sorry love,” he’d answered glancing around and taking seconds on himself.
Out in the street, they’d had a laugh. Then, later, when he was calmer, “Fat chance, us beating global forces.”
* * *
Leanne didn’t mind that her Louis was a bit stingy and blunt. They’d run L and L’s Second Hand City together and sometimes in commerce you had to tell people the score. A business colleague of theirs had said he was cagier than a dingo and tighter than a fish’s arse, which had made her giggle.
Of course, he worried too much over money. Retirement did that to you. Like most self-funded retirees, they couldn’t live on the bank’s interest and were forced into a precarious ride on the back of a super fund. Their hard earned money turned over to strangers to gamble with on the stock market. Supposed experts playing Russian roulette with their life savings.
Beyond business he was a bit of a thinker, quietly musing on his opinions which he would present in his slow way. She enjoyed cutting through the pedestrian march of his logic with a simple question, confounding him.
And every few years he turned moody. Dark moods, unpredictable, erratic. Then he clammed up and went off his food. He’d mope about poking his fork around his plate and turning up his nose. At first she thought these bouts were a reaction to business pressures, then she entertained the silly idea that it was her cooking. But he reassured her it wasn’t and she believed him.
Nevertheless, she worried over what triggered these moods, what had set him off? There was no knowing. She wished she’d known his parents, who had passed away when he’d barely been in his twenties, before he’d moved to the big city. Through them she might have found some key to his behaviour. He’d always been sketchy about his country life. Clamming up, becoming country again. Something hardened in him, a little ball of resolve that you could never crack.
Once, she even suggested he seek professional help.
“What, go to a shrink?” he’d snorted. “Are you nuts?”
In later years, she saw the signs. He’d get all snarky like at the supermarket. His black dog coming.
The best way, she found was to keep things light; give him a serve for being a dill and snap him out of it. And it seemed to work because he soon bucked up and they went on with their lives. But at the time, it was a worry.
After one of his bouts, she’d never known whether to let things be or to obey her urge to shake it out of him.
She had another urge at the moment. Perhaps she had swigged her wine a little fast. It was a big glass. John the barman filled the glasses of his regulars above the tot mark.
“I have to go to the loo, Lew,” she said, the old joke of their marriage hardly registering.
* * *
Louis sipped his drink and shaded his eyes from the glare on the windows, the sun hovering on the cusp of afternoon and evening. The emerald fairways reminded him of the summer pastures about his home when he was young. All these years and he still was taken by the green of the coastal city. Even in winter it remained green, just a paler green than in the summer. So different from the dull, yellow fields he’d grown up with around his country town. Those blanched winter scenes, the inert grasses threshing about in a cutting wind, a world away from these rivers of grassy green outside the window.
The foursomes pulling their buggies crawled along the fairways. They meandered around, stopping to pause over their shots, like cattle dipping their heads to graze on the grass. Little leisurely groups of humans moving to the conclusion of their game. They reminded Louis of a broken up herd soon to return to the night shelters of their barns. They had time yet, these players, to finish their round, the sun’s movement slow, in that extended time when it seemed to be stuck in the sky.
Louis fancied the world as forever suspended, just as afternoon slid into twilight to make a liar of him. They had slipped into the “gloaming” as he’d heard the Scots express it.
The sun was no longer a stalled fireball. It cast its slanting rays over the buggies whose shadows fell on the men, to create the illusion of four legged creatures out there roaming the fairways. The golfers looked more cattle-like now than Louis had first imagined them.
Louis saw the cattle dotted about in the green and yellow fields of his youth. How many times had he walked, as a youngster, among the beasts in the pastures on his friends farms? He’d heard talk of the harsh realities of farm life from those friends. And he’d seen something of them. He’d always thought that growing up in a large country town had connected him to the realities of country life. That’s why he’d been so surprised at his reaction. In hindsight, perhaps he’d been more sheltered from these realities than he had realised.
More images of the grazing cattle began to haunt him. At a distance, heads bowed, standing still, not flicking their tails, thigh high in the grass, they simply resembled boulders in a field. And they had as much inkling of their fate as those boulders.
Louis recognised the symptoms, that internal sensation of flood waters rising up a dam wall. The old, queasy memory dredged up like mud in his stomach.
* * *
It had started, he supposed, when some seniors from his school had been selected by a local beef company to train in Scotland as meat inspectors. Returning home, these young men had taken up posts at the nearby abattoir. The school’s geography master, in his careers capacity, had set up these apprenticeships. In appreciation, the new young employees had invited the master and his classes to tour the meatworks; the teacher including the visit in his unit on the local economy. Louis’ class was one of the first to go.
The abattoir was located out in the country fields a few kilometres from the town’s outskirts and hidden from the main road by a small copse of dusty gums. The facility was at a distance, well set back in these yellow fields. Louis had passed the site, with its shabby cluster of brick and iron buildings, many times. He’d always been aware of a vague, unsettling activity in the cattle pens beyond the screening trees; a smudged, obscured view, reliant on his imagination to bring it to life.
However, arriving at the abattoir in the school bus, things looked very real to Louis. The bus bumped over the broken shoulders of the rough tarmac road, bounced into a gravel parking lot, and shuddered to a halt in a swirl of fine dirt. In his seat as the students were getting off, he was aware of a confused sight in the distance. Dust rose from a colourless paddock where cattle shapes seemed to be skittishly milling about. He could just about hear the mournful lowing of a beast, but dismissed an echo of desperation he may have heard in the sound.
He got off the bus and stood around with the rest of the class while the schoolmaster went into the main building to find one of the meat inspectors. There was a pale winter’s sky, a country sky behind the dun fields of waving grass, clear as only a country sky can be; a winter light, through which a cool breeze sifted. A breeze faintly laced with the odour of dried grasses and cattle dung, which was no novelty to Louis.
Not too many steps led the group to an empty cattle pen. It was connected by a narrow race to a second empty pen further on and then, by another race, to the far upper pen, where Louis had seen the confined cattle. Another race led from where they were standing over to a huge roller door and a loading dock at the side of the slaughter house.
The students glanced about apprehensively. Louis saw that the cattle had been released from the upper paddock and were streaming down the race and spilling into the second pen. They flowed down in a cloud of dust, their hooves drumming, their moans and bellows now unmistakeable. He could see their barrel-like sides slapping each other as they jostled for position in the line. They were driven on by shadowy men who had covertly straddled the fences through the haze. These spectres languidly goaded the beasts on with bored but effective thrusts of their prods. And now, as if on cue, the huge roller door, in the manner of a theatre curtain, groaning and clanking, began to rise. It revealed the small figures of the geography master and one of the meat inspectors, dressed in white coats and gumboots like characters in a play. Behind them stood the factory scenery of the meatworks and all its latent machinery.
The pair signalled the students up to the factory. They filed along beside the race that ramped up to the slaughter house. Louis imagined himself as one of the cattle being marched up that inland gangplank, the fatal rise. He imagined his teenage classmates, the boy behind, the girl in front of him, being hustled along its confining rails. He followed the students up a small flight of stairs to the loading dock and the factory floor. Looking back, he could see the cattle churning inside the second pen, the ghostly men on the fences lazily poking the animals.
Now the workers released some beasts down the race towards the near pen, where the students had been standing, leaving the rest of the herd pent up and roiling in the second paddock. Following in a line, perhaps liberated by a greater sense of space, these first beasts seemed to increase their speed. They passed straight through the near pen and headed toward the final race with its easy incline to the abattoir floor.
Louis saw the first of the herd, a greyish creature, and the following cattle with their stiff-legged walks and swaying bellies. More beasts poured out catching up to the ones in front and stopping behind them like cars coming into a traffic jam. The grey cow made the leader’s decision to broach the ramp and the others followed in ignorance
Now this first beast came strolling up the ramp with the air of heading its fellows on a cross country walk. Perhaps it saw freedom in the cavernous factory at the open end of the ramp. Perhaps it suddenly felt the pressure of those pushing from behind. But it forged forward and in doing this, disappeared into a type of hopper, which the meat inspector described as a slaughter form. A lifeless metal clang tolled in the hollow hopper as the creature went out of sight. Then its spotted head appeared through the form next to the abattoir worker holding his bolt gun. The worker placed the bolt gun on the crown of its head and the animal’s eyes, soothed by the touch, as a patted dog is, softened with pleasure. As it enjoyed the caress, the worker shot it through its skull with the double-syllable kapop of the bolt gun. The startled beast went stiff with shock, its eye knowing the death blow. Louis felt the impact of the bolt in the creature’s brain. Its panicked eye rolled slowly back in its socket and Louis saw it letting go of consciousness, the unravelling of life in its death fight. A moment more, it seemed to him, would be enough for the creature not to exist. But then, from an overhead rail, with a fiendish craftiness, a steel arm with a claw, fastened to one of the creature’s hind legs and jerked it into the air so suddenly that the surprised beast seemed to convulse, the flickering revival of a life sign hinting at Louis. There the being hung, upside down, in the humiliation of its last self. Its panic giving way to doomed horror, as its eye drifted towards a stony coldness. Louis wanted to project life back into this slain body. He couldn’t accept that the creature was dead. But there it was, bulky and drooping, hanging upside down, slaughtered. An involuntary sense of loss ran through Louis. He put out a hand to stop the hapless animal’s progress on the rail, as it was slowly conveyed to the next station on the production line.
The next worker, with a long, curved scimitar of a knife, slashed the creature’s throat with a human movement more deft than the mechanics of any clamp. The blood surged like a geyser from the animal’s throat and splashed into a shallow trough, tracing a pendulum pattern from the upended animal swaying in its clamp.
Again Louis thought he’d seen the horror in the creature’s eyes as it watched over the outpouring of its own life. But he knew this was a false impression. Surely the creature was already dead. But the impression remained with him, overriding the reality he could not accept.
The blood continued to flood from the beast’s slashed throat, a solid volume, like someone sloshing water from a bucket, then the rate slowed, a spray of red black liquid passing over the surface of the trough like a fleeting summer shower over a pond. At the bottom of the trough the liquid gurgled round a draining plug, and swirled through a grate.
“Drops into a stainless steel vat under the floor,” the meat inspector instructed.
Another upended animal was already swaying up on the production line, its new volume of blood mingling with the faltering sprinkle of the first animal. The meat inspector began his running commentary.
* * *
Leanne came out of the loo exchanging remarks with a tall, flamboyantly dressed woman, who had made herself even taller by wearing extremely high heels. Her gold skirt and top had the metallic lustre of a brand new car. Green highlights streaked her dark hair. Her smiling purple lips framed uneven teeth. Thick mascara plastered her lashes, blue eyeshadow powdered her lids. Huge, silent, silver bells drooped from her ear lobes. Louis wondered if she chimed in the wind. At least she didn’t have a bone in her nose. Diamond or rhinestone nuggets flashed on her fingers as the two women came toward Louis. He thought he was in for a tiresome introduction but this fabulous creature veered off before she reached his table, tottering along on those heels. Louis watched her preposterous progress. She looked to be in her late fifties or early sixties. What had possessed her to dress like that? Louis chuckled. Mutton dressed up as lamb. She settled down next to a man with a foaming moustache and, from her place several tables away, waved too eagerly at Louis and Leanne.
“You’ve been a while,” Louis said “I thought you’d slipped through the S-bend.”
“Not nowadays,” Leanne smiled smoothing down her hips and taking up her almost empty wine glass. “I’d get stuck. I ran into Irene. You remember, Irene, the lady from the hospital.”
“How could I forget?” Louis said remembering nothing, surprised he’d forgotten the odd woman. “Anyway when I run into a mate,” he added, “I greet and retreat. You know, “Excuse me mate, I could murder a steak.”
“Yeah, Yeah, Lew,” Leanne said. “You haven’t died from loneliness” But it was a bit of a coincidence, I just saw Irene at the hospital this afternoon.”
“Then what the hell did you find to talk about?” Louis asked. “You were in there long enough to cure chronic constipation.”
“No longer than you and your mates gawking at the footy.” Leanne fired back.
Louis noted some pale neon lights splutter to life in the club’s lounge section. The rectangular shapes of the windows formed the faintest pattern on the eighteenth green. He sipped his drink, still two thirds full while Leanne gulped the last of hers.
She started in on the life story of Irene, the lady from the hospital. Louis reflected that when it came to conversations Leanne was like a miner. Sometimes she worked a bad claim, found no ore, so had nothing to say. Other times she would strike pay dirt, a rich vein. Irene’s story was a rich vein. Marriages, children, separations, new partners, melded families, children’s marriages, casual acquaintances that she knew and he was supposed to remember. Sicknesses. He had as much grip of the cast of characters as a passing cloud. But he wasn’t unsympathetic. He sensed the battle of it all.
Leanne stopped in mid-sentence. “Louis,” she said, “you haven’t been listening.”
“I have. I asked about what’s-his-face. I just can’t remember everybody’s name,” he said, hanging himself.
“Exactly,” Leanne rasped, triumphant, “If you had been listening, you wouldn’t have asked the questions.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. I don’t know the people but I get the story. He sighed and took another sip of beer.
Bestowing her gorgeous smile over the room, Leanne passed on from Louis’ excuses. She exchanged another wave, too friendly for Louis, with the tall woman.
Louis drank in Leanne’s beautiful smile, the well-being of it. During his troublesome bouts, he took more comfort in her presence than usual. Her sharp blue eyes, her no nonsense attitude. While he sometimes had to endure the shadows of memory, she lived in the sunshine of being normal. She’d been a haven for him in business and now in retirement. She shone with enjoyment. She loved going out. She wore a long skirt and a colourful blouse to match the high colour of her features.
Louis marvelled at the amount of volunteer work she’d taken up and still found plenty time for himself, their married children and their grandchildren. She was cheerful and positive, her natural integrity an asset at the palliative care hospital. In Louis definition, she was a person drawn to help without fussing.
That was the under the surface Leanne. The surface one was twirling her empty wine glass. She was about to chip him for not getting her another drink, for not being aware of her needs. Now she waved the glass at Louis.
“You want another.”
“How perceptive you are. You should have got me another while I was away.”
“I was watching the golfers,” Louis said, “I didn’t know if you wanted another.”
“Well, guess what, Louis!”
Louis rose to get her another wine. It was no use arguing over these matters. Leanne always won in the end, anyway.
“I’ll watch the golfers for you,” she said as a parting shot and pointed to the golf course in the early twilight, the first glimmer of pink on the cliffs. “If someone gets a hole in one, I’ll text you.”
Louis went up to the bar. There was a long queue that snaked round the kitchen. John was the only barman.
Louis groaned. What was it with people nowadays? Living high on the hog. Moet and Chandon, Chateau de friggin Bordeaux from the sloping vineyard facing your dick, boutique beer. No one just asked for a schooner, anymore. And in a food line the three fat persons in front of you ordered enough for the Russian army. And the order was so complicated that the poor, slack-mouthed kid behind the counter wished she’d taken up nuclear physics.
“You’d think management would have enough nous to get someone else in there,” he said to the fellow in front of him.
“The bloke’s doing his best.” the man replied.
Louis looked out of the western windows and over the golf course. The sandstone cliffs wore a pink blush, the fairway valleys were touched with indigo.
The line lurched forward and stopped opposite the kitchen. The clashing of pots and pans went on. Staff dodged clouds of steam as they opened pot lids. To the swish of fat, tongues of flame flickered through the grill bars at the steaks. The sweltering plates of food, stewing in their own heat, waited to be carried to their destinations. Louis could not avoid the association. This was just the end line. The kitchen housed the smaller retail machines of industry, completing the work of the bigger wholesale machines at the abattoir. Human mouths and delicate portions, the end product of the slaughter system.
The steaks charred on, spitting out once living tissue and functioning plasma. The hydraulic systems of living things reduced to a viscus waste on the searing grill. Louis body seemed to absorb the heat. He began to sweat, a trickle of wet sullied his underarms, then that slight trembling of his frame. That sensation of mud dredged up in his stomach. That old feverish sense. A pall of ominous mist descended on him.
* * *
He was back at the killing place, a kid again, his body withdrawn against the showering spatters of blood from the cow’s slashed throat, a jumble of impressions firing through him. Back at the industrial lines, the shifting, confronting, implacable scenes
His attention had been riveted on the grey cow, the first on the rail; one being, now post panicking, post anything, but still hinting at a living body despite its swinging dead eye and the logic commanding him that it was now a carcass. Its speedy execution continued to make its death hard for him to accept. But he could not deny that something bulky and innate, which hung upside down, was being slowly conveyed along on the production line.
A slippage had taken place in him back then. As if he had gone out of consciousness but, of course, he hadn’t. He’d been aware of a second carcass sliding by him. But he’d been surprised to see a chain of beasts swinging into place behind the first two. A couple of cows may have been a tragedy but now he had to cope with a mass event. A half dozen prone creatures hung on the factory rail. Could there be any clearer picture of death? Yet he kept on asking himself whether the beasts were alive. He kept on searching that wall of suspended creatures for some movement, any sign of life. So quick was the passage between one state and another.
He still wanted to think of them as alive, despite them being draped on the rail like so many widgets. With their unique markings, blazes on their foreheads, stars and spots on their bellies, they clung stubbornly to their individual identities. Yet, there they were, hanging. Carcasses more stunned by the ruthless facts of death than he was.
He was amazed that animals this bulky, this strong, this healthy, could so easily cross the threshold. And mankind, he thought, was just as vulnerable.
He was aware of being huddled with a group of gaping students trying to make sense of the swaying slabs as they slipped along the production line. His mind was racing, still trying make sense of the events he’d only just witnessed, searching for accuracy, validity, order.
He was not sure whether that leading, unnerved, grey cow had uttered the first roar of outrage and fear. Had it moaned in alarm as the devilish clamp had hoisted it? Since that first, groaning lament there had been plenty of panicked bellows from the line facing slaughter.
There seemed to have been two simultaneous signals. One was the first bellow, the other the compressed air pop of the bolt gun. One ran through the factory like an electric shock, causing all its lines and lights to spring to life together. The other ran out through the cattle as they sensed the betrayal of their kind being twisted up onto the production line.
* * *
There was a vibration and then a corny tune at Louis’ hip. He reached for his mobile. The text from Leanne read: albatross, eagle, birdy, par, bogey, double bogey, triple bogey, emu, ostrich, pterodactyl--- what the hell is taking so long? Louis saw Leanne at their table. She pantomimed swigging from an invisible glass. Despite the distance, Louis could see the cheeky smile that always disarmed him. He turned away. The queue had moved a couple of places.
* * *
The fulsome, dangling bodies slid further along on the production stages. They were a chorus line of manufactured death, swaying in unison. Against his will, Louis made a pattern from the gaping holes in their throats, their upside down heads swinging oddly, yet in accord, on their half severed necks. Through the collective pattern he saw how quickly these beasts had become industrialised; turning to products even in his eyes.
The students were invited to continue their trudge on the trail of dismemberment. Not catching each other’s eyes, they obeyed.
They arrived at the skinning station. Here, the line workers in blood spattered overalls, gum boots and surgeons caps, sliced with practiced wrists at the hanging forms. Equipped with specialist knives, they worked with precision, the skilful crew continually lancing at the contact point between body and hide. The constant cuts caused the animal’s coat to peel away from its body, and fall by its own gathering weight like a dropped cape. The pelts sank gracefully to the floor, sliding easily over the beast’s faces.
More carcasses now than creatures, the swaying bulks encased in their body bags of fat, seemed to touch off an aura of silent moping. Without their hides, they were hideous in their similarity to real cows, their denuded forms stressing their bewilderment at the violence inflicted on them. Further away they simply looked like cow figures cast in outsized moulds. Close up the pink and purple byways of their existence hinted through transparent membranes. Louis was awed by the death factor in these bodies and the uncaring potency of the death method that had reduced them to this alien form; swinging there by their feet, the uniform tilting of their violated figures. The macabre dance. And once more this forced submission took him back to the living creatures, as if these cow shapes were again calling to be restored to life. He had the hopeless yearning to cover their bodies with their hides as you might cover a naked accident victim with a blanket. But here his resistance failed him. Without their skins, he could not imagine the creatures as whole again with their coloured patches or faint stars on their underbellies. There were too many similar hides to ever match them to their correct blank carcasses. And now the hides were being dragged off for processing. He’d conceded a battle win for the abattoir in his war against the inexorable process. Or perhaps this was a turning point for him. There was no redemption for these creatures
“The hides must be handled with speed and care,” the meat inspector announced, in a grave and formal tone. Louis wondered if Scotland, with its wet weather, had dampened the spark in this once spirited senior. In a few months, it had transformed this former larrikin into a very serious working person.
The class followed the forlorn path of the carcasses as they jerked and swung on their conveyor rail to the next station. Louis conceded that the abattoir was highly, in fact, ingeniously planned. Its processes followed an orderly logic. But what about the staff? They looked busy and eager, certain in their jobs, as if what they were doing had never been questioned. Well, he thought, if you worked here you either hadn’t asked yourself the question or you had settled it.
He followed on. The industrial process, the whirring of hydraulic equipment, the hissing of steam, the men wielding power tools, was a worrying activity all about him. The chaos of workers in overcoats, caps, and gumboots, moved in every direction as the secondary lines, whose patterns he could not follow, radiated out from the major stations.
Now they came to a station where the heads were lopped off with unusual round power saws that reminded Louis of cement cutters. The operators seemed to find these heavy, circular instruments hard to handle. But once the man got the tool pointed at the right level, it cut through the already half severed necks with a magic effect, the weighty skulls dropping to the floor with a thud.
* * *
Louis carefully placed Leanne’s second glass of Semillon on the table. Filled to the brim by John, a minute slop of the wine spilled over the rim of the wineglass. Leanne eyed the operation. Louis hoped she hadn’t seen the slightest of tremors in his hand
“You got a mate there, Lew,” she said. “Old John. Gives you value for money. He’s your kind of guy. He costs the house a tot a bottle.”
“And he brings people back because he’s a bit generous.”
“With his bosses’ money,” Leanne quipped.
Louis sipped his beer. Was the schooner half empty or half full?
“Have another, Lew,” Leanne taunted. “You’ve nursed that one to death.”
“I’m only half way through and I can’t be bothered to stand in line again,” Louis said.
“Talk to the moths in your wallet while you are waiting.”
She jumped to her feet.
“C’mon Lew, she said, “I’ll buy you another.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Louis. “You’ll be in that queue all night. The service in this joint is getting worse.”
Leanne displayed her guilty, school girl smile and pulled a twenty from her bag, Louis sighed. The pokies, of course.
“Just a little flutter Louis.”
“How can you stand those boring machines?”
“No more boring than your grumpy conversation. Geez, Lew, you’re a real gloomy guts tonight.”
“They’ll bring the steak. It’ll get cold. You’ll miss out.”
“But you would tell me if it arrives, my darling.”
“No, I won’t.”
Leanne picked up her glass, turned on her heals and, with a defiant swagger of her hips, sashayed towards the gambling room. Lew would tell her if the steak arrived. He’d never let something he’d paid for go to waste.
* * *
With Leanne’s departure, Louis’ recall of the skulls, inevitable as gravity, found him out again; that dropping to the concrete with a shudder which had gone up his legs. The sound clear despite the huff and puff of process in the background. He’d been drawn to the staring eyes in those dismembered skulls, the locked jaws and teeth, the lolling tongues. Years later, in a fish shop, he’d peered at the serried ranks of the catch laid out on ice, and the blank, fishy eyes had brought back the death stares of those bovine skulls bumping to the abattoir floor
That connection had been easy to trace. And tonight’s little bout of memory was obvious. This morning, arriving at dawn, as usual, his old mate, “the dream” had paid him a visit. Then he’d had that talk with Leanne over live shipments. Given those events, his memories had shown up this evening but why hadn’t they shown on his many other visits to the club? There were times when, for the life of him, he couldn’t find what thinking had brought him back to the abattoir door. He tried to be aware of the triggers, but, of course, there was no logic to it.
Louis handled the dream the same way he dealt with his memories when awake. Even when asleep, he was conscious of stepping aside, making himself a humble observer and letting the sequences in his mind play out. Not resisting was better than trying to block his recall or forcing himself to wake up. Yet he knew his strategy was dangerous to his mental health that he was playing with fire.
Yes, when “the dream” visited, even in his unconscious state of sleep, Louis knew enough to let it play out. It was no use trying to stuff his old mate back in his box. Both his dream mind, and his waking mind, sparked by unknown triggers, had minds of their own. Both picked their own sweet time to visit.
The dream had its variations but remained surprisingly the same. Sometimes his classmates were with him trapped in the fatal race, about to be slaughtered, the mad cattle pressing in on them. Sometimes his cornered parents were with him. Or a friend or some business colleague he’d been dealing with recently. There was always the march of the cattle to execution, his panic as they drove him along the race to the bolt gun. Surely the abattoir staff would see that he was a person. But, no, he was just another cow in their eyes. Always the stream of backed up cattle, the herd roiling in the dust. Beyond the paddocks the winter world of his country home hovering in a trance. The dun grass waving in the cold wind, the dusty gums huddled together, the sky fading to colourless infinity. Always the scene changed from order to chaos. The transformation sparked by the nearer animals in the race, catching the smell of death, the scent of kindred blood. That fatal smell, the fear passed from animal to animal, the blood of their companions, their blood touching off their panic. They knew they were being herded to spill their lives, their personal blood, to have their arteries and veins severed in spurts and gouts of blood, their organs scraped out, their brains and their hearts torn from them, and they were to be turned into carcasses. They smelt the blood of death and terror was in their bulging eyes.
And always as he drew near the hopper and saw the bolt gun, he vanished from the race and found himself watching the deathly parade from the abattoir floor, no longer a cow but human again, watching with the cold, objective eyes of a human. Watching the beasts thrown on the path to destruction with no capacity for reason to save themselves. And they bellowed and bucked and reared. In their panic they gored each other and dropped their shit and chopped it with their hooves and ground it to mush mixed with the piss that issued from their soon to be docked genitals
On the fences, the merciless abattoir workers, in their shabby red bandanas, listlessly prodded them on. He wanted to tell these men to throw away these red ribbons of shame, abandon their bravado and admit their sorrow. He wanted to say, he did not blame them, that their need for a job and the nature of it, would not allow them to see these beasts as living creatures. But for all his passionate pleas, he might as well have been talking to stones. He would sit with these men astride the fences and when he looked at them their sad, taciturn faces would dissolve and they would simply disappear. The ghosts of lost souls.
Then, with the crazy logic of dreams, he was back in the abattoir. The ominous, dormant factory waiting to spring to life as that first hoof struck the insidious hopper. The fatal step so unremarkably passed. The step he yearned to reverse. The clinical set of the place, the anticipation on the workers’ faces. Then the bolt gun. The sense of movement everywhere supporting patterns and purposes he could not discern. Yet he wanted to put his faith in the orderliness even the ordinariness of the process. Anything to mitigate the chaos of the scene.
One more quirky shift in this dream took place. And it involved the meat inspector. Unlike the schoolmaster, he never appeared in the race with Louis, who was about to be slaughtered. He never accompanied Louis on the paddock fences. An irresistible dream force condemned Louis to follow the man to each butchering station, the instructor’s once crisp white coat, encrusted with rancid layers of gore, the clip board under his arm stale with stains. At each station the inspector stopped to deliver his next lecture. Louis followed in dread waiting for the inevitable transformation--- the inspectors head displaced by a cow’s head, which loomed up close to Louis, its eye sockets slithering with bloody worms. Louis whole body would jolt as he opened his eyes on the fading image. Tropes of slain beasts would invade his wakened mind.
Outside it would be light. Way above him with the night curfew lifted, some jet plane would be coming in to land, its whining engines reversing.
* * *
Louis looked at and then through his own faint image in the plate glass window, which had grown slightly opaque in the advancing evening. Beyond his reflection, the eighteenth green still invited the golfers, the pink sunset glimmered more intensely on the darkening cliffs. In a trick of the light he could see some sort of hologram of himself projected on the eighteenth green directly below. He wondered about the creature down there. How it had played the hand that fate had dealt it.
He cast about for Leanne who hadn’t yet returned from the pokies. She’d probably blown her first ante and was off stoking the one arm bandits with a second twenty. Her absence sparked, in him, a sense of betrayal. He needed to talk to her. To be a buffer, despite his passive strategy, between himself and those memories. All this was so wearisome, it tired him out. The rerun in his brain started down its arbitrary path again.
That keen employee, the inspector, in his clean, white coat, scanning his clipboard in case he missed a detail, had launched into another lecture
The newer slaughter houses in Scotland were more delicate about dropping skulls. They had better more scientific machines, which, in one operation, easily separated the jaws, removed the tongues, (unharmed) lopped off the ears and extracted the teeth. The old method was to prise the jaws open in an action rather like removing a stubborn hub cap from a car wheel. The new machines executed quickly while the skulls were still fresh and pliable with heat, otherwise, if the jaws set cold, it was a devil of a job to open them. Cold jaws simply split, damaging the tongues and lost tongues meant loss of revenue. Once the tongue and brains were removed and the eyes plucked, Louis assumed that whatever wasn’t reserved for eating, was boiled down in those large vats. The rest of the skull may have been ground down for garden blood and bone. He wasn’t sure, other details may have escaped him, his concentration had begun to waver. He hadn’t resisted the information, he’d just been tired and defeated letting the words of that droning man wash over him.
That lecture had been a long time ago. Louis realized his memory of events had blurred and may have been influenced by his reading in later years. Because of this abattoir experience, he’d developed a sensitivity, which had led him to pick up on the subject of slaughter. He’d done some unusual reading for a businessman. Sometimes he wondered if his reading had coloured those youthful scenes. Considering his upheaval, had he properly remembered? But deep down, he trusted his memory.
* * *
On another memory Louis was clear. Time had not warped it. Reading had not blurred it.
Their little party of learners had moved on towards the next station, given over to eviscerating and trimming. “A double function station,” the meat inspector had proudly announced. Nearing this station, they found themselves in the way of workers carrying silvery innards in wheelbarrows that went wobbling past them. A groan of revulsion came from the group. They moved on, the workers with their barrows of offal baring down on them and skittering past. Then a tilting, unstable wheelbarrow almost careened into them and a trembling jelly of offal slithered off the barrow and slapped against Fiona Mayfield’s leg. The group flinched. A cry of horror and disgust went up, the barrow pusher flashing by towards his destination. A mortified Fiona Mayfield stood there cringing, her long limb pushed out in front of her as if she would disown it from her body. She made no attempt to wipe off the gelatinous mess clinging to her school skirt, wetting her socks and spattered over her school shoes. She was stuck in a frozen stance as if stung by some paralysing jelly fish, the sourest of wounded grimaces on her face. She was a tall girl who, at the best of times, wore a sour expression. And the incident seemed to grant her a god given chance to express all of her acid nature. The girls in the party, producing tissues and handkerchiefs, worked on the mesmerised Fiona Mayfield, who could only stand there immobilised, reviling her fate, the gooey substances plastered to her outstretched limb. Louis had turned away from the loathsome washing. Fiona Mayfield was led away to clean up in the company sick room. She did not re-join the group. A staff member had driven her home.
Louis learned in later life that Fiona Mayfield had become a respected abstract artist overseas. She had always been good at art but Louis wondered if perhaps her canvases were filled with the shapes of her schoolgirl trauma and therein lay their allure. He smiled to himself. He had never liked Fiona Mayfield. He’d asked her to the school dance and she had refused him.
* * *
Louis sensed a shadowy presence at his shoulder. That tall woman, Iris, no Irene, towered over him. Anyway, the constipation lady.
“Excuse me, I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she said, her purple lips twisting in a bizarre smile.
Louis hid his scowl. Why did people say that, when they clearly were disturbing you. “You have,” he said spreading his arms and making a joke of it.
“I’m sorry,” she said cocking her head. Her metallic dress shimmered, her green highlights sparkled, but her tone was tentative “You’re Louis.” She said.
“Last time I looked.”
“I’m Irene. I work with Leanne at the hospital. She may have mentioned me.”
He was growing suspicious. Was this leading to an invitation to join their table? What had those women hatched in that toilet room? Leanne had set him up before or just brought it on by her friendliness. Mostly, he didn’t mind, but not tonight. Not the way he was feeling. He just couldn’t face it.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “You did look deep in thought.”
“I was thinking of Fiona Mayfield,” Louis said.
Irene again cocked her head, her green highlights sparkling above her puzzled face.
“I was at school with her,” he said.
“Aah, yes ---?”
“She wasn’t an old flame or anything. We never got on.”
“You ever heard of Fiona Mayfield?”
“Can’t say that I have,” said Irene.
“She’s a well-known artist in Europe.”
“Well, there you go. Does she do landscapes?”
“Abstracts,” Louis smiled, noting the woman’s cautious grin. Had he said enough to put her off an invitation?
“Well, we noticed Leanne trotted off to the pokies leaving you on your own. Come and join us if you care to. Leanne can come over when she’s done.”
“Kind of you,” Louis said. “She’ll have squandered our fortune on the one arm bandits by now. When she comes back broke, I’ll give her the message.”
“Good, we can have a little chat, and I’m sure Wally will be glad to meet you.”
Louis looked over at Irene’s table where the moustachioed bloke, third husband or something, gave him a small nod. Louis nodded back. There was no possible subject in the universe that he wished to discuss with the man.
“Great,” said Irene, we’ll see you in a short while. And cheer up, she might win the jackpot.”
She is the jackpot, Louis thought.
“Irene, a revolving tower, turned to go but stopped short. “I hope I haven’t been too forward,” she said. But I feel I know you a little from what Leanne has said.”
“I think I know you too,” said Louis, “just a tad.” He watched Irene teeter over to her table, her green streaks coruscating. She reminded Louis of a stepping water bird.
Louis hoped he hadn’t been too rude. It was self-indulgent playing games with the woman about Fiona Mayfield.
He saw how tense he was, his legs crossed tightly, his folded arms pushed on the table. His old symptom emerged, the image of floodwater rising up to a dam wall inside himself. His body the wall, braced against the water. The murky seepage sidled over the wall’s crest, a little stream slipping down its face. Then a fuller volume of disturbing memory began to spill over. Louis knew better than to hold this spillage back, these small streams of recall flowing to their place of rest. Let them leak away
* * *
On they went to the eviscerating and trimming station. The eviscerating consisted of cutting the hanging carcass belly-side, from stem to stern, with a power saw similar to a chain saw, then butterflying the beast open towards the spine as if it were on the hinges of a bi-fold door. The gap created allowed the intestines to simply subside from the stomach and the hip cavity and fall bubbling into a vat on the ground. Louis’ guts had pitched with the sliding organs.
While the flashing knives of the trimming went on, the meat inspector had examined a hollowed out carcass, applying the vigorous training of his apprenticeship in Scotland. His eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed, his nose wrinkled as he sampled the air. He stood close, close to the swinging carcass, touched with gloved hands a spot or two, explaining that he was looking for any discolouration. He was highly suspicious, very professional. At length he nodded his approval.
“You want to be here when we find a diseased one,” he announced, “especially if the animal has an abscess. The stench is terrible. The whole place just reeks.”
Louis wondered if he could have handled an abscess that even put the meat inspector off. He would have fled that hellish, carnal scene retching his guts out. Some of the group had nearly done that, had almost thrown up after foolishly poking their noses into simmering vats churning with soupy substances
Next came the cooling rooms, surprising in their aura of quiet detachment. Shut off from the frenetic slaughterhouse, the static carcasses hung in hushed rows, recognisable now as the sides of beef glimpsed in the backroom of any butcher’s shop. Perhaps the stillness of these carcasses compared to the frenzy of the production line, re awoke in Louis that unlikely sense of longing these bodies had brought to him at earlier stations. But this time his projection arrived with a strain of reproach. They seemed to be protesting their dismissive handling, while calling again for the individuals they had once been. Happy in their patchy hides, snaffling grass, chewing the cud, swishing their tails, lowing to their young in the sunshine. Their sly, little known, cattle curiosity. Now they hung in their static rows almost whispering their injury to each other. Was he fanciful enough to sense souls in this room? A sadness welled up in him, for the beasts and for man himself who must slay them.
The inspector droned on about how the cooling rooms didn’t merely chill the carcasses but functioned as a complete system of temperature control. Louis marvelled at the man’s detachment in the face of the almost chiding carcasses. Had his training taught him to see only commodities and block out all life?
They arrived at the cutting and deboning station where the sufficiently chilled carcasses hung on offer. The cooler the meat the easier to handle, the blood having time to congeal, according to the inspector. It was difficult handling hot, unco-operative flesh with fresh, warm blood squirting from it. A notion had lodged in Louis’ head, although it took him to adulthood to express it. Even after death life needed time for subduing, time for its functions to cease, some quiet sanctuary to finally give way.
The carefully prepared sides awaited their manipulators; a knot of workers, armed with specialised knives, attacking the lifeless body, their expensive blades glinting. In their surgeon like uniforms they carved away with their quality tools: physicians presiding over an operation. Knives with moulded yellow and orange handles; razor sharp, the pride of German or Japanese engineering, were wielded with nonchalant confidence. The workers swarmed the drooping carcass setting to from all sides, plunging in these knives of all sizes, gauging with the short thick ones, carving with the thin delicate rapiers. The silver blades winked and danced, a bit of fat or sinew sometimes stuck to the honed steel, although it wasn’t supposed to. Sometimes a brown stain smeared a polished surface or a blood spot glowed brightly. Louis wondered if the proud toolmakers would have been a touch embarrassed by this slight failure. But the knives were easily wiped. They were mostly potent and worthy, cutting clean. They dug, they pried, they sliced. Familiar cuts of meat took shape from them.
And so it went. Louis remembered being saturated by the whole process. He’d had enough. He tried to block the meat inspector’s continued monologues, his droning on about grinding, curing, pickling, smoking, cooking, canning. All that palaver about “edible or inedible rendering,” “lard,” “edible tallow,” “edible offal,” throbbing in his head. And just when he thought it was all over, they went on to “manure traps,” “secondary treatment,” “final effluent.”
He allowed himself a smirk over these professional terms. “Manure traps” held no notion that the beasts had shit themselves in fear. And what was the “secondary treatment” for an eyeball gored by a horn? And was “final effluent” the moment they had pissed themselves to death?
The inspector waffling on station by station to the smell of those terrible vats boiling and simmering away. The diabolical liquids like lumpy gravy percolating inside them, where they had been brave or silly enough to stick their noses for a sniff.
And the smell, the smell, the all-pervading, acrid smell of the blood within the beef.
* * *
Making his way back to the bus Louis had taken a short cut down a narrow alley between buildings, while the rest of the class had kept to the road. He’d had a little trouble co-ordinating his walk. His legs had buckled imperceptibly. The film of slaughter images had flickered through his head. Then the first of his now familiar sweats, the churning of his stomach, the feverish distortion, the descending mist. He’d found himself reeling and stumbling but quickly straightened, redeemed that nobody had noticed.
He’d been relieved to see the familiar, pale sunshine and the powder blue sky beyond. The same sky he’d seen when he’d stepped off the bus. But the world as he knew it hadn’t quite welcomed him back. Something in the universe had shifted; he was in an altered place. For the present, he couldn’t think. He was numb.
* * *
Leanne came back from the poker machines. Her glass was empty and she’d blown her twenty. Her smile was as broad as ever, despite the loss. Louis knew enough not to harp on it.
“Steaks not come yet?” she asked. “They’re a bit slow tonight.”
“Gone back of beyond for them,” Louis said.
The gambling room was baron ground for Leanne to mine new conversations. So they talked over bibs and bobs, like old marrieds. Small comments thrown into the silences.
“A think of something to say talk,” as Louis labelled it. Were the new licensees of the bistro better or worse than the last lot? Weren’t the grand kiddies cheeky, though they loved them to bits. They made occasional comments on the golf shots. The evening was slowly closing down. The club lights burned brighter, the windows threw rectangular pools of light onto the eighteenth green and lit the bunkers with a faint, eerie glow. Pink flares marked the cliff line. They waited for their steaks.
Louis decided he’d better tell Leanne about this Irene woman’s invitation
“Your high heels lady wants us to join her table,” he said.
“Oh Irene,” Leanne said. “Yes, she teeters about a bit. All the girls at the hospital know it. She’s a showy dresser, but she’s very nice, even a bit shy. Anyway, what did you tell her?
“I said I’d talk to you, but I’m not going.”
“Ooh, C’mon Lew, why not ?”
“I’m not in the mood.”
“C’mon, Lew it will be fun.”
“No it won’t.”
“Because you’ll be yacking away and I’ll have to make small talk with that old walrus. Then we’ll have to shout each other drinks. And I’m just not up for it tonight.”
“You haven’t been up for it a while, Louis.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Meanwhile, we’ve been sitting here talking, how rude. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?
“Because I don’t want to go.”
“Look Lew, you’ll have to go. This is the height of bad manners.”
“Please Lee, I just don’t want to go. I just can’t handle “hail fellow, well met,” tonight.”
“What’s that supposed to mean. You’re damn reading again?”
“It’s Shakespeare. I learned it at school. I couldn’t help it even in a country town. Look, Lee, you go over if you want to.”
“And what am I going to say about you?”
“Oh, tell them I’m meeting a bloke about some money matters or something.”
“You’ll be sitting there in full sight.”
“So, I’m waiting for him.”
“And when no one, turns up?
“Then he hasn’t turned up, has he,” Louis said shrugging his shoulders. “They won’t fall for that. They’ll think you’re strange,” said Leanne.
“I am strange,” said Louis.
“They’ll think there’s something up with our marriage.”
“No more gaps than in any one else’s marriage,” Louis said.
“Well, I’m going over,” Leanne said getting up from her chair. “You do what you want.”
Louis watched her determined walk over to Irene’s table. It was a power play, of course, to make him follow. And he’d hated to see the trouble in her eye. But he couldn’t help it. He just couldn’t face idle chatter with strangers.
His murky memories began to flow over the spillway again. He had to let them roll on, be their pained observer. This was how he coped.
* * *
After the abattoir, he had come home, the blood smell following him about the empty house. Its lingering presence had penetrated into his mouth and throat, coating his taste buds. It had penetrated into every fibre of his clothes. He had sniffed his shirt sleeve and there it was, the sickening blood smell. He had tried not to breathe in too deeply, tried not to ingest the basic reek of the slaughterhouse. All that modern equipment and vaunted scientific method could not defeat that underlying smell.
He had filled a bucket with hot water and added detergent, carried the bucket to the bathroom and run a bath. Then he’d stripped off, thrown his clothes into the pail and taken to the tub, where he had scrubbed and scrubbed at the smell. He’d washed and rinsed his hair twice. Then scrubbed again till he could do no more. Sniffing himself yielded the soap’s scent and the signature of his own body, but beneath those surfaces, the nagging blood smell persisted.
He’d put on fresh clothes, brushed his teeth several times, gargled with salt water and cleaned his teeth again. Mixed with the salt and mint aftertaste, the blood taste still curdled in his mouth.
He’d put the bucket of clothes outside to soak in the fresh air, and come back inside. The electric saws squealed, ripping through bone. He saw the patter of blood sprinkling over the concrete trough; the cows moaned, the bulls bellowed.
To distract himself, he’d gone across the road to his friend, Mick. Fighting images of the slaughter house, he’d joked about Fiona Mayfield. He’d played the funny man. Oh, he’d entertained Mick, all the while seeing the bolt gun to the grey cow’s head, its soothed, gentle eyes. He’d blathered on, haunting images screening in his head: the hulking beasts hooked on the rail, the distressed animals, the indifferent humans. He had hidden his dismay, his sense of being captured in that charnel house for beasts. He had not told Mick he’d lifted a veil and peered into the face of man the demon. Boys were cruel but men were crueller in proportion.
Returning home he’d stepped into his front yard and, as if the devil himself was compounding his nightmare, he’d caught the blood smell in the steaks his mother was frying. He’d tried to suppress his revulsion. He went into the kitchen, trying to avoid looking at the fry pan, hoping that if he did look, the sight of the cooking steaks would seem normal. His mother was unaffected, just preparing an evening meal. He felt as if he’d stepped into another dimension and was looking in on her strange, accepted world, where there was nothing sinister about three frying pieces of meat. Despite his intention, he was drawn to the smouldering lumps, the browning, crackling flesh of the cooking process coming to him as unnatural and corrupted. It seemed purer to eat the flesh raw. He fought down another bout of nausea. He hadn’t mentioned the excursion to his mother and she hadn’t asked about it. She had evidently forgotten. He went into the lounge where his father was watching the evening news.
They were summoned to the table. His mother laid down the steaks with a small flourish. She beamed, pleased to be serving her family, proud of the bountiful meal, the rewards of family labour. They were providers and useful citizens. They made their way.
“There you go,” she cried, “lovely steak.” There was an approving glint in his father’s eye.
His parents had cut into the flesh of their meal and chewed with relish. No awareness, no guilt for them. He’d forced himself to look at the meat on his plate, the juices respiring from it, but the blood smell undid him. He bit down hard against his exploding stomach. “I can’t eat this,” he said and left the table.
It was months before he began to eat meat again and, when he had, it was with a sense of misgiving. Each forced mouthful seemed tainted.
* * *
Leanne came back from Irene’s table. She stood next to Louis, arms folded. “Louis, I want you to come and meet these people,” she demanded. “But my finance fellow hasn’t arrived yet,” Louis shrugged.
“Oh don’t go on with that crap,”
“Are you saying my mate, Jim’s financial advice is no good.”
“Louis, you’re being very silly.”
“You don’t think it’s a good excuse?”
“I don’t think it is any excuse.”
“Well, tell them, I’m waiting to arrange a lesson with my golf pro. He’s been delayed. That should do the trick.
“Louis, you’re being very immature. No one is buying this. It just looks rude or strange, and you’re embarrassing me.”
Louis turned to the window, grown more opaque in the last of the twilight. He could still see through to the golf course but the grimace on the face of his reflection had grown a little more defined.
He knew more flashbacks were to come and his best bet was to let them play out in the present. They were his pain and his relief. But he’d clamp down on himself for Leanne. Maybe talking to these folk would be a diversion, although he knew that the delay of fighting down these memories only made things worse. He turned to face Leanne and his reflection and the whole of the lighted interior of the golf club seemed to float out over the fairway and hover there. He shut down on his disorientation and a rising tide of sorrow within him.
“Alright, Lee,” he said, “alright, I’ll come over. Just give me a few seconds.” He sighed and sipped his ebbing beer. There was less than a quarter left.
“What’s up Lew,” Leanne now implored, her whole countenance shifting from anger to concern “Black dog, love.”
Louis pursed his lips hard. Stupid tears were welling up behind his eyeballs. He wouldn’t allow them. For an instant Leanne and he were a frozen tableau, the man slumped over his beer glass, the lady with her arms folded.
She’d seen something beyond a sigh and a sip. She’d been jollying him up all evening, She knew when to give up, when his blues got the better of him. When it got bad kicking his arse did not work.
“If you are feeling that bad, love, don’t worry,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Louis croaked.”
“It’s okay, Louis.”
“What are you going to tell them?”
“Your story, of course.”
“What have you said?”
“That you were waiting for someone. Nothing more, no fuss.”
“I’m sorry, Lee, I’ll be along in a minute.”
“Fine, Louis, she said her voice rising with frustration, “but I wish you’d tell me what’s behind these moods. Once and for all. It’s enough. Do you hear, enough?”
“There’s nothing behind them, Lee. I just get down.”
“Louis, can’t you see. If you could just say what it is? It would help you. Get it off your chest.”
“It’s nothing, Lee. I’ll bounce back.”
“Until next time.”
“I always come good. I’ll be over it in a minute.”
“You won’t be, Louis,’ she said.
She spun on her heals.
Louis watched her dogged walk back to Irene’s table. He hated to see Leanne troubled by his moods. They didn’t happen often but he hated the whole damn sham. Despite her questioning, he could never tell her about the abattoir. Hot shame suffused him. The experience had gone deep, overwhelmed his resistance and defeated him. He never understood how it had beaten him, those moments of despair. He was guilty of being weak. He would never be looked on as weak. Anyway, the whole thing had become part of his fabric, a gauze bandage that sucked up internal bleeding. It was too late to change things now.
He would never tell Leanne that months after the abattoir visit, his thoughts, seeded on that day, had become a weed in his brain. He’d seen the world as every creature eating the other. An horrific picture of existence. And he had asked what kind of dark God had set this scheme up for mankind and all of the earth’s creatures to follow.
Louis watched Leanne pull up a chair and make herself at home at Irene’s table, rabbiting on as easy as if she was having a good old chin wag with her mum. He admired her poise in the face of the embarrassment he was causing her. Walrus moustache, an abashed expression on his dial, sat silent listening to the ladies yak. Third husband or something. Louis trusted Leanne not to wave to him over to join them. She understood. He just wasn’t ready to play that game.
And he really didn’t understand how Leanne could be there chatting away. But there she was, going at it a hundred to the dozen. She’d just spent an age with the woman powdering noses. What on earth was there still to talk about?
He turned away to the window. There were the golfers enacting their silent rites on the fairways, a mist of purple dark slowly sliding into the valleys, the heads of the cliffs glowing red and violet. The last straggling foursomes were wending homeward. Soon it would be too dark to play.
In the fading light the players no longer resembled cattle. They were humans, alright. Predators at play.
An exhibition at the gallery in his little home town had sheeted home to him just how predatory humans were. That artful display had reversed the roles on humans to make its point. That strange, gruesome show. A second challenging experience for him as his mother had called it. Yes, sir, that exhibition had been the culprit. His little kicker. Fates bonus after the prize of the abattoir.
* * *
Some years after the abattoir, when he’d almost forgotten his aversion to meat, an exhibition came to Joe Bishop’s photo shop and gallery in his little country town. Louis would sometimes drop to Mr. Bishop’s for a roll of film or just to look at the seascapes and landscapes in the gallery section. The modern art on the walls drew puzzled looks from the townsfolk, although the men’s askance glances didn’t apply to the paintings of the unclad ladies. Louis had heard rumours of the racy photos sold in the back section of the shop known as the “garden of earthly delights.” The men made obscure references to the place and pretended the ladies of the town new nothing of it. Hell, Louis knew the game. He’d heard his mother and her cronies whispering. This loose material and the bold exhibitions Bishop sometimes “put on” in his gallery, caused concern in sections of the town. But he was a lively and likeable character who did good things for the community, even if he had refused to join Lions or Rotary. A bit of a bohemian who was tolerated well enough. Louis looked back on him as a free spirit.
* * *
The black, plate-glass window offered Louis’ his clear reflection. Darkness, descending from the cliffs, filled the steep valleys of the fairways. Louis stared into his drained beer glass, his throat dry. If the bar queue shortened, he’d might order another drink. What the hell. He deserved a second tonight.
So there it was. Louis thought of the matter of fate in anyone’s life, not the big issues but the small shadings that colour your journey. He permitted himself a grudging snicker. To this day the identity of the artist who’d created that awful show remained unknown. The man had gone to some lengths to hide it. But how the hell that travelling exhibition had landed in Louis unimportant little town with its art following of almost zero was no mystery. Bishop’s arty connections. To this day Louis wondered at the man’s motives. Did he promote that exhibition as a champion of the arts or just to shock the town? Or both.
He had walked into Bishop’s gallery to find it got up like a butcher’s shop. But instead of having animal carcasses and cuts of meat on display all the offerings were made up very cleverly to look human. There were human chops for sale, human spare ribs, human ground mince, all professionally displayed in the butcher’s counter, all properly priced in their trays with splashy signs. There was leg of human already garnished for delicious roasting, and spare ribs. Kidneys, livers and tongues were piled high on silver platters. Rump was cheap and on special. There was a mock freezer room lined with the sides of humans hanging on hooks.
However nothing had affected him more than a pile of hands tossed carelessly into a tray on the counter besides the butcher’s scales. These expressive hands seemed to be reaching for each other in poses of agony and despair. He wanted to restore them to their owners. Lives seemed to spring impossibly from the pile. The births, homes, studies, hobbies, businesses, holidays and funerals of these humans. Hands reaching for lives wastefully severed.
The protective web he’d spun around himself over time tore away. Those mournful cattle bodies hanging like clothes on a rack at some obscene dress shop; the longing that had emanated from those bulky carcasses. Back then he’d had the same stricken urge to restore them to their families. Bulls, cows, calves---husbands, wives, children. So what was the difference? Nothing as far as emotions were concerned. It was only our self-awareness, our intelligence that was different. So what gave us the right?
He had stared at the hands as if hypnotised. Heaped on each other, the beseeching array assaulted him. Topping the heap was an insulting sign impaling the flesh of the upmost palms, a sign meant for jocular reading: GOOD FOR SOUP. As if the lurid pile was no more than a bunch of pigs’ trotters or chickens’ feet. Next to the obscene pile, in a shallow tray of marinade, the wrinkled hands of old people were advertised as delicacies. TASTY APPETISERS. Louis realised that the artist had done his job. He’d entrapped his viewers. He’d fallen for the trap as if cast into a powerful spell. He’d known he’d have to break away. Yet he’d remained mesmerised in a hypnotic field, captured in his disgust for the appalling pile.
His resistance had swept through. He’d wrenched himself from the spell. What had he been doing? He’s been making up lives and people where no such beings existed. The hands were rubber, everything in the exhibition was artificial.
There was an awed silence in the gallery. The only sound he’d heard was the front doorbell tinkling as the patrons came in and out. He’d seen the stunned faces on the pavement.
Joe Bishop had been lambasted. The letters to the editor. The town had demanded that Bishop reveal the artist’s identity. They wanted revenge. Bishop had to use all his charm to keep the citizens at bay. Some claimed that he was the artist. But Bishop had refused to buckle, arguing that no artist would exhibit in his gallery again. Louis had read the paper and listened to the spitting harangues around town.
He had gone off meat again. His mother furious that her efforts to “normalise” his eating the first time, had been blown away in fifteen minutes. She’d written to the paper herself, demanding that Bishop and his “milksop” artist, be run out of town for corrupting sensitive young people.
The scandal had died down. Sometime later Louis read a review of the latest show at the gallery. The reporter had begun: “Since presenting the butcher shop exhibition, the tenor of Mr. Bishop’s staging’s have become somewhat less adventurous.”
* * *
Louis saw Leanne’s make her second firm walk back from that woman Irene’s table. If she looked sure footed and determined from behind, she looked even more so from the front. She was only sympathetic for a short while, then she rallied. Louis half rose from his chair. The jig was up. He’d have to go over to Irene’s table and make small talk. But at that moment the waitress arrived with the steaks.
“One steak medium rare, one well done,” she called out, cheerfully detached.
Louis was tickled. No qualms over what she ate. She was a healthy little carnivore.
“Yes, steak here,” Leanne replied.
“Where’d you go for them, back of Bourke?” Louis said.
“Sorry,” the girl said sheepishly, “we’ve been a bit busy tonight.”
“That’s alright, love,” Leanne chirped, “You’ve got us good and hungry.”
“Now whose is the medium rare and whose is the well done?” the girl asked.
“Guess,” said Leanne friskily, glad that the steaks had arrived.
The waitress laid down the plates, little flags on toothpicks skewered into the meat. A brown cow on the flag for well done, a pink cow for medium rare. Louis and Leanne swapped plates; the waitress had got it wrong.
“Funny,” she said as she turned to leave, “it’s usually the men who order the rare.”
Louis looked at his brown steak with its alternate bands of sealing. Leanne’s oozed blood-stained, ruddy secretions. Louis gave way to amusement when his hackles should have risen. Not only had this new management increased the price, but they had also reduced the size of the serving. There was no way the rump on his plate was a two hundred gram steak. It was one hundred and fifty at the most. But Louis was not in the mood for pettiness. What was the difference? He hardly fancied his meal, anyway. The whole evening at the golf club was a shot deal.
But not for Leanne. She was tucking in, relishing her meal, having a good time. “That was a good shot,” she suddenly exclaimed.
Louis peered into the dark. “They can’t see out there,” he said. He tipped his empty beer glass, sucking at the last dribble.
“Yes, they can,” Irene said playfully. “See the ball. Right there. Six inches from the hole.”
She put on her glittering smile. She was having a lend, keeping things cheerful.
“How’s your wine?” he asked just for something to say, appreciating her effort.
“No great shakes,” Leanne said. “By the way, they are charging two dollars extra for the gravy.”
Louis was incensed. Hiking the price of the steaks was bad enough but an extra two bucks for a lousy thimble of gravy. He would not be coming to the golf club for the steak special again. They had priced themselves out of the market. For a fortnight, anyway, because Leanne would insist on coming back after next week’s turn at the pub. Besides, he’d heard on the grapevine that the pub had also raised its prices. He’d lost his revolt before he’d mentioned it.
And he was annoyed with Leanne. She could have told him about the price hike straight off instead of rabbiting on about that Irene woman at the hospital. She always did this; talked of other things before she hit you with a whammy. Why did she do it? To see him steam so she could be the calming, one?
Louis lapsed into a browned-off silence.
Leanne looked up at him and cajoled, “Don’t worry Lew, it’s only a few dollars. It’s nothing in the scheme of things.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me in the first place?” Louis hissed.
“Well, I’m sure it’s not my fault, Louis. Don’t get mad at me.” Leanne retorted.
“Let it go Louis,” Leanne implored. “It’s only money.”
But the conversation had created a little rift and they fell silent.
Louis was aware of the dinner session in full swing, the lights in the golf club blazing. They burned out into the night, yet they lit nothing. Only the blackness answered blocking his sight and reflecting his distinct image in the maw of the window.
His mood darkened. As if he were a piece of meat, the indelible effect of the abattoir was stamped on him. It had altered patterns in his life, it had affected his cast of mind, it had influenced his reading. It had struck a sombre note in his life. Most of the time he was fine with it, lying there, dormant in him, like sludge in a reservoir. But every now and then, like tonight, it took its toll. Some invisible current stirred in his depths and the muddy waters silted up inside him.
His enforced interest had brought him to some intriguing reading. It had guided him to the Judas Steer who leads the other cattle to slaughter but is saved itself. The disdain heaped on the creature despite it being blameless. There were also Judas sheep and Judas goats. And, of course, lure ducks who led their own kind to their destruction. The innocent leading the innocent, manipulated by mankind. The trust put in mankind by creatures and the cunning of ingenious man in betraying that trust.
Louis recalled the articles he’d read about kosher and halal killings, Leanne’s surprise that he knew about them. The articles proposed, besides killing protocols, prayers and eating rules over slaughtering animals: for yourself and the animal. He liked the idea. You were bound together
The kosher laws implied that one shouldn’t be crass and greedy by eating milk and meat together. That you should not slaughter a beast and also take its milk. Even in death, don’t take all, they instructed. Don’t rob the creature of all dignity with your wantonness. Be bound by some pledges, some after-death promises. Even though you are slaughtering the animal, you are bound to it in a relationship: that was his understanding.
And what was this relationship between man and beast? Somehow a diabolical and holy one tied together, the dilemma of man.
These ideas had filtered through to him over the years. They had brought him some comfort although they weren’t a mantra. He wasn’t going to let on to Leanne, suddenly demanding they say grace before meals. Besides, the matter was as much between yourself and the animal as between yourself and God. At his first Catholic burial, he’d seen all that burning of incense and scattering of waters. Yet that smoke and mirror carry on somehow seemed to work. It eased the pain.
His thoughts skipped to the ancient Bushmen of Southern Africa. When he shot an animal for food, the hunter carried out a personal conversation over the dead creature apologising for killing it. The hunter explained he could do nothing about his hunger and asked the slain beast to understand that he had a wife and children to sustain, but was, nevertheless, sorry for what he had to do.
The old debate raged on in Louis. These animal lovers who cried foul when a beast was slaughtered overseas in a manner not up to their standards. Well, he partly agreed. He didn’t like the creature’s brains bashed out with a sledgehammer either. But did the bolt gun bring instant death? There was no way of knowing unless you were the creature. And even if it did, it didn’t solve the problem of having to kill the animal. Everyone should visit a slaughterhouse; there was no humane way to slaughter a beast. No making that creature unbound to you. You lived with this state God had thrust on you as best you could. If you were lucky, you could be comforted by prayer. If you were lucky you might ascend to a higher understanding of this act of slaughter beyond initial kindness. Louis had reached for it and reached for it but had never found a clear way through. Otherwise there seemed no humane way. It was only humane in that humans did their best. We were all bound by this act of man, defining our essence. Or was this reasoning just pretence? Perhaps in the future we might find a better way and not eat meat. But dammit for these conditions, for our condition, there was no way out of the pain of the living, for either you or the creature, no humane way to slaughter a beast. That was what he had come up with. That was the best he could do. That was his crutch for now, that was what he would have to survive with. Mr. Louis Lambert.
* * *
“Louis, eat your steak? You’ve been poking about that plate for the last half hour.” Leanne said.
“That’s an exaggeration,” Louis answered.
Leanne was well into her meal. Nothing to comment over that. She was a fast eater.
“Well, whatever. You’ve been off with your black dog,” she said, her agitation turning to concern. “Are you Okay, Louis?” she whispered leaning in over the table. She knew the signs.
“Couldn’t be better,” Louis said.
“Are you sure, Louis?” Leanne continued through a drawn smile.
“I’m about to embark on my epicurean journey, to partake in an elegance of sufficiency,” Louis chaffed.
“Meanwhile eat your steak, you’ve whinged enough about its cost.”
“My dear, my dear, all is fine. The world is as it ought to be.”
“Then go for it, Louis. Eat your steak, pig out.”
Louis raised his steak knife but it remained poised in the air. The muddy, sickly waters of his those old memories, took hold of him again, the burden of them over the years. His body, his will was the dam wall that held them back. This time he feared the wall really would burst. The pressure to articulate those memories pumped up from his legs, rose through his torso and reached for his tongue. It filled his mouth, his confession ready to surge out and spill all over their evening.
He should have told Leanne years ago. Bloody well fessed up. She would have understood. Had he caused her a damn sight more worry by not telling her? He would tell her. He felt sure if he talked to just her and no one else, it would be a great relief. He would get it off his chest at last. He would even go to a shrink.
“Lee,” he said, “I have something to tell you.”
“Eat up Louis, your steak will be ice cold.” She prised out her reply, not wanting to appear too keen to listen, not wanting to disturb the turmoil in him, the delicate balance that could shoot him off on some erratic path. They’d travelled this road before. But perhaps this time.
“It’s about my black dog.”
She knew. He’d been building to this for days. “Talk, Louis, talk,” she blurted out. “Get this poison out of your system once and for all.” And immediately she regretted it. She should have played it casual. No, casual or raving, she couldn’t pick how he would react.
She watched his jaws clamp, his lips seal, his tortured eyes fight down whatever it was in there trying to escape. He wrestled with himself for moments turned to eons. The trouble in him shrank to a small spot in his pupils. His expression grew clear, almost serene. She recognised her deadly accurate disappointment. They’d reached this fateful impasse before. Stood on the brink, on the dam wall, as he was inclined to put it, “letting the spilled water slosh over our ankles.” They held each other’s gaze understanding perfectly and utterly baffled.
Louis bowed his head and shook it.
“Aah, Louis, will I ever get it out of you?” she said.
“One day. I’ll send you a text.”
Leanne, occupied herself with her food, mechanically placing one forkful after another into her mouth without pause. Bent over her plate, she ignored Louis. But he knew there’d be no tears, no recriminations. Perhaps a little sniping. She was granting them room for recovery, a little healing space before they again shared their cross. Letting the flood waters subside, as he thought of it.
No, there would be no shrinks. No bleating to the world. No reforms, no sudden surprises for family and friends to laugh at behind his back. How about that Louis. All those years we’ve known him and he turns out to be this vegan kook. How hard would that have been on Leanne?
No, he’d made his stand. Others had faced far worse in their lives than seeing a few cows killed. They’d faced wars and tragedies and made it through. They limped along like he sometimes did. So what. He’d beaten these moods before and would again. Why fess up at this late stage? There was no point?
There was no point, either, in ordering another drink. He knew he’d wind up shouting that old walrus one. That’s what got him. He always landed up spending more than he had planned. But that was the gaff. Management’s strategy exactly. To lure in customers on slow nights and get them drinking and playing the pokies. The whole idea was to take advantage of the specials and not drink; to leave that to the mugs.
But he’d shout the old bastard for Leanne. Even if it meant him shouting two extra drinks. Forget the one he wouldn’t have now; there’d be one for him and one for the walrus. Then there’d be worse to come. Leanne would probably insist on him shouting the whole bloody table. Little miss generous.
He’d do it for her all the same, his Leanne. She’d put up a lot from him with his attacks. And if these turns became more frequent, he would tell her. He promised himself that he would tell her. “Lee, I have something to tell you,” he imagined himself saying. Lee, I have something to tell you. The refrain of their married lives.
In the meanwhile, after their meal, to please her they’d go over to that woman Irene’s table and make small talk with her and the third husband or something. It was the responsible thing to do. It was the way to distract himself, to keep things normal. It was a way of winning and not giving in to the black dog; the mauling he periodically took from it. Instead of wallowing in defeat, in negativity, it was his way of biting back.
Yes, they’d go over and talk to exotic beanpole, Irene, and her walrus mate. From what Leanne had told him, the woman had weathered some tough times. Well, he had some sympathy even if Leanne didn’t believe him.
“Lee,” he said. “When we’ve finished our steaks, we’ll, go over to your friend Irene for a natter.”
“That might be a bit late, Louis. They’ll most likely have finished their meal and left. Besides,” she said, opening her arms to show her plate, “I’m just about finished and you haven’t started.
“It’s not too late,” Louis insisted.
“Okay, Louis,” Leanne replied. “Catch up then for goodness sake. Go ahead, pig out, murder your steak.”
Louis bit into his steak. A spurt of tender meat and delicious juices laid claim to his palate. What could be better so long as he could suppress the blood smell in the beef.