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The Butchers


They were not who Milwaukee's meat-lovers expected to find behind the counter of the new butcher shop. Mellie was tall and brunette and Samantha was slightly less tall and blonde, and they were both the kind of girls that men liked to see wearing flowered dresses, hair twisting in the wind as they strolled romantically through the park next to Lake Michigan. But Mellie and Samantha were not fans of floral apparel or waterfront promenades. They were fans of meat.

Legs of lamb! Pork shoulders! Whole goddamn briskets! Mellie's facility with a cleaver, Samantha's enthusiasm for the bone saw! These were all things to be marveled at. John had walked in the door intending only to get several boneless breasts of chicken, but as soon as he'd stepped over the threshold and seen the girls in their bloody aprons, gracefully grinding beef, tying up roasts with an elegance beyond compare, his brain short-circuited. He stood in the center of the shop, hypnotized by desire.

There are few solutions to insatiable craving of any kind, but John took a breath, stepped forward and did his best: he looked deep into Mellie's eyes and asked for flank steak and veal chops and mutton shank. As Mellie wrapped up the order Samantha smiled prettily and said, Is there anything else I can get you? He answered, Nothing but several pounds of your finest bacon and one or two whole ducklings. He went home, laden with meat, and slept fitfully, dreaming of sex and filet mignon.

The girls' dreams were not so lascivious. Mellie dreamed of boats and calm oceans, and Samantha dreamed she was Molly Ringwald circa 1988. In their kitchen the next morning, they fried up links of their own signature sausage blend and casually discussed ways to increase the profitability of their business. What we need is a publicity stunt, said Samantha. Let's have a contest! said Mellie.

When John entered the butcher shop for the second time in as many days, a banner hung brightly above the cash register. You Could Be A Winner! it proclaimed. The sentiment was something John had always suspected about himself, and he stepped up to the counter with a tentative kind of pride. Mellie and Samantha looked at him, exchanged glances with each other, then turned back to John. Would you like to enter the contest? Mellie asked with a smile.

John found himself sharing a long wooden table with an assortment of men, each looking hungrier than the next. Some of them had napkins tied around their necks. Others had prepared by pre-emptively unbuttoning their pants. Samantha set a heaping platter of buffalo chicken wings in front of each contestant. On your mark, she said. Set, Mellie said. Go! they said together.

The men attacked the fowl with a ferocity seldom seen in the civilized world. The gentleman to John's left picked four wings clean before John even finished with his first. John tried to pick up the pace, but before he had eaten through half the contents of his platter, a guy in a baseball cap sitting at the end of the table stood up with a roar. Done! the guy shouted, arms raised in victory. John began to hang his head with the shame of such crushing defeat, but looked back up at the sound of Mellie's honey-smooth voice. Done with the first course, she clarified, as Samantha presented the guy with a rack of barbecue ribs. His arms slowly fell and he sank back into his seat, preparing for round two. John felt the joint stings of hope and sexual attraction. The contest wasn't over.

After the ribs came burgers (thick, juicy, and smothered with provolone), then venison steaks, then bison sirloin, then kangaroo (so gamey!), then a delicate but rich paté made of liver and spices. John was not the fastest eater, but he consumed each meaty course in its entirety as the men around him hit their limits. One by one, they leaned back from the table, accepting their losses, groaning with the agony of their overstuffed stomachs. At last only two contestants remained: John and the guy in the baseball cap. The man squinted down the length of the table, yelling Aren't you full, bro? John looked at Mellie's soulful eyes, at Samantha's lovely lips. I am still hungry, John said.

The last course was a whole spit-roasted pig, one animal for each of them. John stared into the place where the pig's eyes had been. I Could Be A Winner! he whispered to it. There was no longer such a thing as time. There was no longer a difference between being full and not being full. There was only meat, and girls.

Who do you think is going to win? Samantha quietly asked Mellie. We will, said Mellie. Milwaukee's finest journalists clamored for the best view of the two remaining contestants.

The guy in the baseball cap was turning unexpected colors. John's belly bulged out inhumanly but he did not stop eating, not until he had swallowed the very last bite of the pig's crispy tail. I give up, said his green-tinted competitor. Cameras snapped photos en masse. Congratulations, said Samantha, grasping John's hand in an angel's handshake. You did it! said Mellie, and kissed him on the cheek.

Later, lying in his hospital bed, John still felt the heat of Mellie's lips on his skin—a burning far more significant than the one he felt in his gut as the bile from his ruptured intestines leaked into his bloodstream. His infirmity was not mentioned in the triumphant articles and local news spots about the contest, for mortal wounds that result from inescapable longing happen with too much regularity to be considered newsworthy.

Mellie dreamed of beautiful meadows, and Samantha of fun-filled circuses. They cheerily noted their shop's growing business in its financial ledgers, and word spread throughout Wisconsin of the girls' expert skill at butchery.