The Meat Man
I keep seeing a man inside slabs of meat. To be specific, cured pork bellies. He’s doing all kinds of gnarly stuff: rock climbing, skydiving, lots of extreme sports. The pork bellies zoom down the conveyor belt sideways, and so does he. My job is to hook the ends, careful not to stab any part of him, and turn him upright. After a saw cuts off the edges, off he goes to be stacked in a cardboard box before being transformed into sausages and other pork products.
I have whole conversations with him a few words at a time. I ask him if he thinks I’d like snowboarding, if I’d like bungee jumping. I ask him if he’d want to get together. He always responds with: “Definitely, my dude.” Then the next pork belly flies up, and he’s flashing the hang loose sign, his tongue sticking out.
The second-shift lunch bell rings. I clock out, toss my greasy frock into the laundry bin, and head to the cafeteria. There I slide into a booth with a Styrofoam plate topped with glazed ham. Unwrapping my plastic silverware, I eat staring at the empty vinyl seat across from me.
“Ha,” someone shouts.
I look up, and it’s him, the meat man. A few laminate tables away, he laughs with a couple of blue-hat supervisors. To make sure, I cross-check with what’s left of him in my ham. Sure enough, same brown hair, same laidback eyes.
The supervisors get up and dump their plates, leaving the meat man alone. I should just go talk to him, convince him we should run away to the west coast and open a surf shop. We’d come home smelling like the sun instead of pig guts. We’d sleep in hammocks tied to palm trees instead of on a futon inside a studio apartment. We’d wake up limber and paddle out before the beach got crowded with tourists instead of sore, our finger joints frozen in the shape of a claw.
We’d be free.
I try making the hang loose sign but can’t get my pinkie to extend all the way.
The meat man stands and heads out of the cafeteria. I follow him. Near the equipment shed, his back to me, I tap his shoulder. He turns around. Up close, his face looks different, older. His skin, red with specs of gray, resembles tenderized ground pork. Wrinkles crease his forehead and eyes like strips of bacon.
I’ve made a mistake.
This isn’t the meat man.
“Sorry, I thought you were someone else,” I say.
I hurry back to the line to speak to the real meat man. Engines hum. The conveyor belt begins to spin. The first pork belly glides toward me. I hook the edge, but inside the belly the man from the cafeteria scowls. He’s in the next one, too. And the next one. And the next one.
“Go away,” I yell.
He disappears but takes the meat man with him.
Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Timber, The McNeese Review, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove or at williammusgrove.com.