After reading Charlie Brooker’s latest column in The Guardian, in which he suggests the horsemeat scandal in the UK may just be the thin end of the wedge and that: “They'll be turning up evidence of peopleburgers next. I know it and you know it. Might as well get used to the idea: you are a cannibal, and have been for years,” it called to mind a short story I had published last year in the charity anthology True Brit Grit.
If it proves to be prescient, and I very much hope it won't, it was unintentional...
‘Meat is Murder’ appears as story number 22 in the collection.
Meat is Murder
“Kurwa” (“Fuck”), she whispered to herself as she stepped off the coach timidly, her feet all blown up due to the 36 or so hours spent stuck rigid in her seat. Birmingham didn’t impress, not in the slightest. The rain looked as if it had been coming down for a month at least and the buildings looked as if they had gone up yesterday.
Not that Czarna Bialostocka, where Dorota hailed from, could claim much more in the aesthetics stakes. But that was one reason among many why she’d left the place. No shops, no nightlife, no young people, at least not anymore. Dorota had been the last person without grey hair to get out of the place. And her hair had always been a problem in Czarna Bialostocka, spiky and purple as it was. As the only punk bi-sexual in town, Dorota wasn’t much liked.
But she was cool, had friends in nearby Bialystok, who she’d meet up with, share joints and booze with and speak of dream-lives to spend elsewhere.
“Na Wyspi” (“to the islands”) was the common refrain, and by that they meant England. Now she was there. “Kurwa,” she said again as raindrops pelted her head.
But they were there. Her friends and acquaintances: Andrzej, Marcin, Aneta, Iza and Michal. They grabbed her bag and surrounded her with hugs, Polish style. She felt their love and the rain went away, even when it didn’t.
Home was a house, not a flat like in Poland, and there were more people in it than back in Czarna Bialostocka. Dorota shared a room with Aneta, who she liked, but didn’t think the feeling was mutual. She tossed and turned that night, wondering where she was, both sexually and geographically.
Work was in a meat packing factory, which is where the others made their money. Dorota pulled on her overalls with a grimace.
It wasn’t fun, much as she’d anticipated as soon as she stepped into the place. Glaring lights, having to wear a stupid hat and sticking floppy meat into bags wasn’t Dorota’s idea of a good time. Neither was it anyone else’s, but she seemed to suffer more than most, or so she assumed. Clocking off couldn’t happen soon enough and she felt a strange, maddening urge to wash her hands as soon as she left the line, despite the fact she’d been wearing plastic gloves throughout her shift. It’s because I used to be a vegetarian, she tried to convince herself. Yet, she had a hunch there was more to it than that.
Home meant more meat, cooked for dinner, which happened communally, each of the residents taking it in turns at the stove for one evening a week. Dorota wanted to say she’d become a vegetarian again, but knew she couldn’t. They’d look at her with incredulity.
Rejecting the consumption of flesh had ultimately proved futile in Czarna Bialostocka. All her parents would give her was potatoes and salad – while they enjoyed their schabowy (pork cutlets). The two of them made her sick, in more ways than one, but she couldn’t beat them so she had to join them. She swallowed the meat, opposing every inch of its journey to her intestines.
Work began again, another day of hell, yet sometimes it wasn’t. She saw that Andrzej and Marcin had developed a routine of abuse towards the factory’s product. Sometimes they would spit on it before packing it, other times they would drop it on the floor accidently-on-purpose before sending it down the line all neat and in tune with customers’ expectations. Dorota soon learned to copy her friends’ behaviour. Made her laugh for once.
Then, there was the beer and vodka at the weekends, which she couldn’t afford but the others could. It ended with her having sex with Andrzej on the floor of the living room after the rest had passed out. She liked it but he couldn’t stop grabbing her ‘dupa’ (arse) as if it was two pieces of, you know, meat. There was another thing. Andrzej liked his job way too much.
Dorota started to look at the beautifully demure Aneta once more, with increased fascination. But Aneta didn’t look back. “Kurwa,” muttered Dorota.
Aneta was wan, frustrated to the point of implosion and in a suicide pact with herself. Dorota yearned for her because she exuded knowledge, whereas Andrzej did not.
Then once on the packing line Aneta suddenly whispered to Dorota: “This isn’t real meat. You are the only one who doesn’t know.”
She looked over to see Andrzej playfully stamp on a joint.
“But it looks real.”
“Can’t talk,” replied Aneta. “We’ll get into trouble.”
At lunch time Dorota went into the car park for a smoke, while the rest ate their sandwiches inside. A van pulled up. “More deliveries,” she said. “Kurwa”. Unknowingly the workers dragged out their cargo before her eyes. It had two arms and two legs. “Kurwa,” said Dorota.