The Meat Peddlers

We hadn’t slept. Something unspoken sat at a third place setting, chewing loudly. I walked back to the table. Kat grabbed the coffee from my hand.

“I’m a writer…and you…you might be a hipster. We’ll never make it in this place. We must elope-perhaps some Eastern Bloc country. We must resign ourselves to humble lives peddling meat on the sidewalks.”

I wasn’t sure whether “elope” was a slip or not. Kat treated it as such and the subject was never raised again.

The townspeople had taken to tarring and feathering suspected hipsters in the public square. This supplemented their usual regular Friday night mass burning of items elected officials deemed as having the hipster taint. A light jazz ensemble from a nearby college played in the gazebo. Local scout troupes had their meetings. It was very popular. The board was happy with the event turnout.

My coffee got cold. I had forgotten to drink it. I took one big gulp. “But what will I do with my three children?” Kat asked.

“The children can sell meat too. We can all be a happy meat selling family.

“It’s just too dangerous for us here. And there is, of course…the other issue.”

“Yes. My children are half-hipster.”

“Yes. They’ll come for them soon too.”

It had been 20 years since the event. A large parade enveloped the town. Paper mache floats crawled down the main drag, past the McDonald’s and the elementary school, past the DMV and the gas station. Large men waved mechanically from the sides of fire trucks. Police detailed the perimeter. This was the time to escape. But first there were things I needed to take care of. I needed to give over my half of the record store to my business partner.

I went in, unnoticed. I’d ironed my clothes. It was enough to throw the pursuers off my trail. I looked at the employees, filing vinyl in their flannels, wiping their big glasses. How much did they know of what was coming? They seemed blissfully unaware. So long as they had jobs, they were safe. For now. But the political climate was worsening.

I could’ve saved them. I could’ve saved more of them. I looked at the items in the store. The first pressing Canterbury prog LPs could’ve paid for several overseas passages. I could’ve saved them. Weeks ago. But there wasn’t time now. In the new world there would be time for such regrets. But there was no more time. Not now.

I composed the note to my business partner Peter, giving him my half of the store, a terse goodbye placed in the post script. We’d been close, but no one could know where I was going.

On the boat trip over we lost one of the children, little Morrissey, to scurvy. Kat was heartbroken.

And so we settled in a small country in what was the Eastern Bloc. It’s pretty obscure. You’ve probably never heard of it. We peddled our steamed meats in the public square, until a meat shortage forced us to peddle miniature meat pies with little actual meat.

The death of little Morrissey soured Kat’s disposition. I often would wake up in the middle of the night to hear her mumbling his name through nightmares, her hands tousling his absent pompadour. The other two children did what they could to cheer her. They tried, they really did. But their efforts were met with absent looks and pats on the back.

After a couple years, she gave up sleeping, or if she did sleep I wasn’t around to see it. She just cooked the little meat pies angrily throughout the night. When supplies ran out she’d put pots of water on the stove to watch it boil and hear it bubble. The other children came to accept this as normal. I took to wearing ear plugs to bed.

My advances were met similarly. We’d never clarified the state of our relationship to each other before our sudden voyage. It was my own fault. I assumed the decisive moment, the flurry of excitement and danger in our oceanic crossing would provide a spark. But it didn’t. Circumstances had brought us here, but no farther. I found myself friend-zoned by the enigmatic machinations of history, much like the dream of Soviet communism.

I hadn’t known little Morrissey well, though the other kids, Mogwai and lil Souxsie, came to accept my care taking with less reluctance over time. Someone had to watch over them and their mother.

The time came when meat prices rose beyond where even the pies were feasible. Kat’s furious baking had ceased. She still never slept, but now mostly just sat staring out the window of our little apartment saying little. The children enrolled in the local school, a one room hovel, while I sold black market cigarettes on the street corners. It continued like this for some time.

Years after, after the children had grown and gone away, news from the old country finally made it to ours. The feared hipster purge had never happened. Relations had eased considerably. The population had just elected their first hipster president. She was the same age little Morrissey would’ve been.

Kat grabbed my throat in the middle of the night, halfheartedly trying to kill me. I removed her hands my throat gently. She started crying.

“Why won’t you just let me kill you?

“I…uh…”

“I mean…it was all for nothing wasn’t it, wasn’t it? All of this. For nothing.”

“But all in all, we were happy, right? It was a hard life. Much meat went rotten. We stretched out meager ends. But it was worth it. We were humble. But happy.”

“I’ve lived your vulgarized dream of meat peddling too long. I was never happy, not for a second. I didn’t choose to be born a hipster. Did you ever know what I really wanted?”

“Umm…”

“I wanted a mid-range sports utility vehicle. I wanted a 401K. I wanted central air. I wanted to die in Florida. I wanted to have stupid arguments about where to eat. I wanted to ease out of active living into a canasta league. I wanted…we made a stupid bet on nothing. We abandoned our home. I lost my child. All so you could slum it peddling stupid meat products living out your Cold War fantasies.”

“But, all the public burnings…”

“You were just a coward. A real man would’ve stayed and fought. And apparently a lot of men did. I just…I look at you and feel visceral disgust. I see small stupid ambitions. And I have my own small stupid ambitions. And I could’ve gotten mine. But I’ve lived yours, and now we’re old, and there’s no time left. And it was all a waste. You could’ve sold meat out of a wagon back there. I never needed to be involved. You’re like one of those raccoons happy to steal others’ garbage, the little scraps of the spent bits of their lives under the protective cover of night. And all this time I’ve had no clue what to do. I should’ve killed you years ago. I should’ve gone back.”

“But how was I supposed to know?”

“I should’ve…”

She collapsed. I lifted her onto the bed. Her pulse was steady. I let her sleep for a while.

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