1st in awhile. Am surprised at myself for the gruesome subject matter. Hope it works.
| Calvin was hungry. He was always hungry, whether he had eaten or not. And if he had eaten, it didn’t matter if it was cat food, cheeseburgers, or caviar. It just wasn’t enough.
Lately, though, it was getting hard to find any kind of food at all in his area. First, the nice old lady on the corner of 8th and Center died, so there were no more paper plates of leftovers on her back porch every couple of days to look forward to. Then the little grocery store on 7th closed, and the trash company hauled away their dumpsters. On top of that, the vacant house he’d been crashing in got knocked down, and there was a new cop who seemed to dearly love chasing him away from anywhere he happened to be, even if he wasn‘t causing any trouble.
When he was old enough to understand, his mother had set the boundaries for him. He remembered it. She took him up the steep hill that led to the highway, because you could see forever from up there.
“Look, Cal,” she said, tracing a line across the landscape with her finger. “The bridge.” The cars looked like ants. “The river.” Big ugly poop-colored ribbon. “The junkyard.” Dead trucks. “And the bottom of this hill, before the trees start. Got it?”
He got it.
It was so she could find him if she needed to--not like she cared enough to look, once she started shooting up, but those were the rules, and he‘d never broken them, not even after she took too much of that stuff and died.
But things were harder now, and he was hungry.
The other part of the city was a lot bigger, and a lot brighter, and it seemed like every single person he saw was eating something. Fried dough drizzled with honey. Weird chunks of meat and vegetables on sticks. French fries with cheese all over them. Ice cream. So much food, and it was everywhere.
At first Calvin was scared to be there, and he expected to be snatched up and kicked out immediately, but it didn’t take him long to see that there were plenty of folks who looked dirtier and crazier than he’d ever looked in his whole life, and they were grownups. Even his mother hadn’t looked that bad at the end.
He found almost a whole hot dog sitting on a bench, still wrapped up in paper. He sat down, eyeing it half-heartedly. It would fill him up, but…
A breeze kicked up, and Calvin caught the scent of cooking food. The best smell he’d ever smelled. Saliva squirted into his mouth, and he realized he was standing, sniffing the air like a dog.
Where is it? Calvin trotted down the street, poking his head into the doorways of restaurants and shops as he passed them. Then he stopped, struck dumb.
There it was.
That good smell, it was coming from this shop.
Calvin stood in the doorway, scanning the glass display cases. There were so many different kinds of meats, sliced a thousand different ways.
“Can I help you?” A man came from the back and stepped up to the counter, wiping his hands on his apron.
Calvin took a step backwards, looking over his shoulder.
The man smiled. “Don’t be afraid. You look kinda hungry, kid. Anything here catch your eye?”
Calvin edged up to the glass, darting glances between the food, the man in the apron, and the door. Everything looked good but…
Calvin shook his head, confused. “I smelled something, but it’s not here.”
“Is that right?” The man in the apron leaned on the counter. “I think I may have something…just wait a second…” He disappeared. Calvin heard something being opened, and there was a blast of the good smell. He swallowed hard and wiped his chin with his hand.
“C’mon back here,” the man called, and Calvin couldn’t resist. He ducked under the counter and scampered into the back room.
Arlo the butcher watched the kid eat, amused, disgusted, and fascinated. He never had to advertise--the ones who wanted his “special” products could always smell it. It was like a sixth sense with them. And as he always did at those moments, he wished he was a scientist so he could explain it, if only to himself.
“What’s your name?”
The kid mumbled something that sounded more like a growl than anything else, not looking up from the meat.
“Say again? Like a human being this time, maybe?”
“Calvin.” Subservient, but impatient.
“Okay, Calvin, you’re done for now. Put it down.”
The kid growled, for real this time.
Arlo always had a knife nearby. He was a butcher, after all, and butchers have big knives. “I’m sure you know what this is.”
The kid dropped the meat and sat back in his chair, all eyes.
“Now listen,” Arlo said…
One Year Later:
Calvin banged a stick softly against a chain-link fence as he walked, humming under his breath. It was the good time of year, somewhere between spring and summer, when it was just warm enough and just cool enough both. He was happy.
He heard a little girl’s musical laughter, and he smiled, remembering his little sister. She died even before their mother did, thank God.
He followed the sounds and found the girl splashing in a puddle. At three in the morning. She didn’t look like a street kid. Someone was supposed to be watching her. Where were they? Calvin was angry for a second, and then he felt guilty, but then he was what he always was--hungry.
“Hi,” he said brightly, sitting on the curb.
“Hi.” She beamed at him. “I’m six!”
“Uh-oh!” he said. “I’m eight! Gotcha!”
“Nah.” She sat down next to him, fast friends.
“Wanna see something cool?” he asked.
“Okay.” She put her small hand into his, and he led her down the street, squeezing his stomach together so it wouldn‘t growl.
Calvin sat on the bench by the butcher’s shop, swinging his feet, waiting for it to close. He watched the people that streamed up and down the block, grinning when a man in a suit with a tie stopped cold in front of the shop, sniffing. By now, he knew the look. The guy in the suit was obviously a first-timer--didn’t know what he actually wanted, only that he’d finally found it. Another one hooked. Calvin sighed and went around to the back of the shop. Eventually, Arlo came out with the trash bags.
“Hey,” Calvin said. “New guy?”
“Yep. You got something for me?”
“In a TV box behind the repair shop on 16th.”
“Thanks.” Arlo held out a foil-wrapped package, and Calvin snatched it up greedily, grateful that the butcher had warmed it up for him.
Calvin was on his bench again, watching the man with three chins waddle towards the shop. He was a regular customer at Arlo’s, and he today he looked like a man on a mission.
After the fat man was inside, Calvin sidled up to the door to listen.
“I just can’t have it every once in awhile,” the fat man was saying in a You’d Better Listen To Me kind of voice that made Cal‘s skin prickle with irritation.
“You’ve heard of Kobe beef?” Arlo asked, and the fat customer was momentarily at a loss. “It’s a Japanese delicacy. Very similar to the cut you like. Rare and expensive. I can only get it when it‘s available.”
“Can’t you tell me where you get it?”
Arlo lifted his hands, palms-up. “I can’t afford to lose your business, Mr. Sherman.” He beamed. “But I’ll do my best to meet your needs.”
Calvin walked the midnight town, hands in his pockets, disgusted. Sir. Arlo had called that fat fuck sir. And because of that fat fuck, Calvin had to get two, two in one week…
Wait. He had to? Did he? Did he really?
Without realizing he was doing it, Calvin slowed, and then stopped.
And then he smiled.
“Nothing,” Arlo said, watching the kid closely. “You couldn’t find anything?”
Calvin shrugged, picking dirt out of the treads of his sneakers with a toothpick he‘d snagged from the counter. “Too risky. If kids go missing, parents watch ‘em better. Even the homeless ones.” The last part was thrown out almost as an accusation.
Arlo sighed. He could see through the kid--could watch his thoughts like a slide-show. Why not? He’d been through this before. Many times.
Why does he make so much money? It isn’t fair.
Why does he get the money and I only get the table scraps?
And then, inevitably…
Why should I be satisfied with table scraps, when I could just…
“No problem, kid. The last thing we need is trouble. Want anything before you go?”
“A soda,” Calvin said, and then Arlo knew for sure. For the first time in over a year, the kid wasn’t hungry.
“Coming right up.”
Calvin had a few sips of his soda, and then he got really tired.
Hell with it, he thought. I’m just a kid. We get sleepy sometimes.
He felt someone grab him under the armpits and lift him up high. He smiled, thinking of his mother picking him up when he was really just a kid.
Mom’s dead, a voice whispered in his head, and Calvin opened his eyes.
Arlo smiled back at him, and Calvin felt the meat hook slide in between his shoulder blades.
The fat man opened the styrofoam cooler and plunged his hands into the ice. The enclosed card read:
Dear Mr. Sherman,
As a most valued customer, we hope you enjoy this free gift.
Arlo’s Fine Meats