“Kid, the first time is always the best.” The Master said as he handed me a form.
I nodded. The form was just one-page long and was printed out in a dark red. I skimmed past all the lines that told me what I had been told since I was born: my meat consumption was only specific to those who had given consent by voluntarily eating meat. By eating meat, I would give up my body after my life was over; I vowed not to eat any animals; I would not harm any living being.
The words grazed my mind in all its bureaucratic triviality. I ticked the Terms and Conditions box, then signed my name and my body off in blue pen. The Master handed me a necklace that said “LIFE” in crimson.
Bodies were hung on vine-like ropes behind the Master and mummified with cherry wood smoke. Before i could ask, the Master interjected, “These are the defects behind me. They’re still edible but they’re not as good. Here, we try to preserve whatever we can get.”
Some faces looked old and wrinkled and looked down at me; others were disfigured beyond recognition, but the trauma was merely cosmetic and the flesh was edible. They all had the same necklace that I was given wrung around their necks.
“What does meat taste like?” I asked.
“Usually I tell people that it tastes like a burnt mushroom, but to be completely honest nothing in the world really feels the same. Now is there anything particular you want?”
“I heard that there was a person who passed away last night. The one with the brain aneurysm.” I could feel my body tremble as I spoke, “she passed away in her sleep, so the muscles on her should be less tense.”
“Ah that one! Cute girl too, not much meat on her though.” The Master said, “Do you want anything else instead?” I shook my head.
The Master continued speaking as he rummaged through the giant freezer behind him, “She was on ice all night after the hospital, the poor thing. However, I’ve got some decent cuts of her: flank, shoulder, or sirloin – back when people ate animals, they served the sirloin in the grandest hotels, the Peninsulas and Grand Hyatts of the world, filled with savages of the richest type. Everyone came for them. Who could believe that now! The poor things don’t even give their consent. Those factories pumped out animal meat like an assembly line. Hell! Times were different back then, they didn’t know anything. Now this is completely different – death for life, life for death – everything is so neat. To die like this is to die…”
He handed me a paper package with a part of Julia’s body inside, “with meaning.”
* * *
It was the first Life Day in the household in five years. Ma ran around all day in a frisson of excitement to gather what was needed, and what she could not borrow or make do with, she bartered and traded with her friends in return for future favors. After all, she told them, Life Days did not come every day. Despite this, Ma could not find a meat-knife for tonight’s occasion.
Tonight, a white tablecloth covered the blemishes of the wooden table. The vegetable stir-fry everyone else was eating was long cooked, but Ma had spent extra time fussing over my dinner. It had been a while since she had last cooked meat and she scoured through four recipe books before she found something that she thought I would like. “I remember my first Life Day. I was so proud when I got my necklace. And the same day, why, I had the best thigh meat in my life! Just some garlic…and some paprika, and you’ll be in heaven!”
When Ma was cooking the sirloin, I sat in the room farthest to the kitchen. But still I heard her sing in the pan, the meat and fat crooning to me in a melisma of hot oil from which a smoke arose and filled up every nook of the house.
When dinner was served, the meat sat sullenly on the biggest china plate that we owned. On the plate, it did not look like it came from anything; one could not come to the conclusion that it had been brutalized from the human body. It was just a browned hunk that was a husk of something substantial, and indeed, it wasn’t difficult to detach myself from her. The dull edge of the margarine knife, unfamiliar to its task, sawed quite uselessly against the flesh.
“Just use your hands! I’m sure that’s how those people ate meat back then.” Ma said.
“It’s his Life Day,” Pa responded, “He’s old enough to have proper table manners.”
I finally cut through the flesh and forked it into my mouth. The juices that ran down my fork and stained my shirt were red and pungent. I did not know that my body contained so much liquid. I read that the sirloin was the small of her back, and I recalled how Julia’s body looked from behind in her little floral blouse, her skin so close that I could smell the bergamot that clung to her neck like a noose in fury. Mastication: my jaws acted upon her so that she could be reduced from a body to a body part to something so small that I could digest her thoughts and meditations overnight.
All of this that was once hers, moving breathing living, now reduced to flesh and fat singing in my mouth, a song limned with her once spry, cat-like movements made motionless in my maw.
“How do you like meat?” Ma asked.
“Delicious.” I said. She was indeed delicious, but the word betrayed me, for how could something that felt so good be taken from another body? I now knew what I tasted like. A body naked in its most naked form. My teeth scraped my tongue red – a red like a mood, but it was not anger. No, it was the fire of a Martyr crucified on a roasting spit. A red that taunted me to look at a dead person and realize that this was all we were, bodies on the vine.
Dinner was over, and I snuck outside the apartment for some fresh air. The sun had not yet set and the world was still alive. Some sparrows crowded by me. These animals were not scared of us anymore so they had no reason to run. Of course, we were no longer the monsters like we were back in those days. They fluttered by my side, nipping at my feet as if they knew of my weakness.
Suddenly I felt something. Something lodged deep inside me that was attached to a chain that clogged my windpipe and pulled me down into a pit, inching into myself. I drew two fingers and choked myself to release the body inside of me. I retched out everything: her body, her blood, and the day dragged like a daydream, and the sun stank upon my jacket and my sick, and I was sick enough to drown myself a thousand times. And the birds, still they came and nipped and sang their songs for they had a mouth to sing. In a flutter, I caught one of those little beasts with my bare hands and crushed it with all my strength into feather and blood and bone. Oh flesh and meat, I fed on the bloody sap that was now motionless upon my hand. And the bird rested snugly in my stomach, unlike the meat that I had for dinner.
The other birds flew away at the sight to a nearby tree. Little warm bodies perched on the branches that grew and grew without limits. From afar, they looked like strange fruit, and my belly rumbled. My mind began to burn anew. I was chained to the thought that I wanted to eat them all.
So I walked everywhere and anywhere before my body gave into my impulses. I watched the walking bodies pump blood into their muscles, watched them gaze at one another, ravenously, hungry for their next Life Day. The lithe bodies. The heavy breasts. The backs of their legs stretching and collapsing upon themselves.
I felt the dried blood of the sparrow smeared upon my upper lip and against my cheek. I saw faces that walked by me, faces that saw me and wanted to eat me. They were all wearing the same necklace that I was wearing: LIFE! LIFE! The word hung from their necks salaciously, like bodies on the vine.
I saw them everywhere: the faces of men who ate men who ate men, their lips wiped clean, their bellies full of bodies like mine, like Julia’s, like others. Their mouths are full of truths and untruths: warm little bodies tonight, the first time was the best time, life oh life, or, with the red that burns like a stove on heat, I may never eat again.
I hope you understand. I hope you understand me. How can you judge me when I’ve tasted you? When we’ve all tasted me?