“So I told my boss to piss off,” I said.
My wife’s normally serene face turned to stormy red. Was it the unusually colorful language I used in front of our three children?
“You can’t quit!” she said. Nope. It’s the paper scraps of worries in her mind ignited by my unilateral decision to stand up for what I believed was right. Bad call. Stupid. Stupid.
I was so proud of my idiot self earlier in evening, but now, the only warm feeling from within came from the beet soup that trickled down my parched throat and into the swirling anxiousness in my stomach.
The warm beet soup, which was normally a treat, lost its heat quickly and became dull in the tense silence of the sparse dinner table, and the flavor was exacerbated by Martha’s eyes and her skepticism of who I even was anymore. A provider without a job is just another mouth to feed.
“I told you about how people used to keep them as pets, right?” I said.
“Peter, that was during the good times,” she said.
“But still. It’s not right.”
“Go back tomorrow. Apologize.”
The children tried to hide their faces in the clay bowls, and blocked their eyes with the tiny hand carved wooden spoons. They methodically pulled soup back and forth between their pale lips and the room temperature reddish liquid baths in front of them. It shouldn’t have to be this way. Blood red liquid dripped from the corners of their mouths.
Later that night, the children snuggled into in their sacks and the two of us curled up in our quilt. We didn’t speak to each other. She was relaxed and cold enough to be next to me, but had no interest in wasting words on my dumb ears.
She ate only vegetables, but had no qualms about what I did. I loved the taste of meat but couldn’t explain the strangeness that came over me when I had to execute them for my job at the meat camp. I pitied the creatures, but Martha was right. I had to go back after all. She dozed off and when she snored, I was even more alone.
There were only a few ways to make an honest living anymore and with my chronic ankle problems, the militia was not for me. Martha was glad I wasn’t a soldier, and liked the compensation I got from my employment at Canidae Meat Camp. Besides the half pound meat ration per week, we could live and move freely within the tall safe and war-free fences of the pentagonal Sector 65223.
Everybody grew subsistence vegetables and herbs in clay pots in the yards, but meat was so wonderful, especially for the growing boys. I zigzagged towards the slaughter rooms. Martha was always right. I wondered if my coworker Ron saw things the same way after a night to sleep on it.
“Hey Pete. What you doing back?” he said.
“This is where I belong,” I said.
“But, the way you spoke to the supervisor yesterday. You said yourself—”
“I spoke with Martha. It’s not about principles. It’s about responsibility to my family.”
“Principles left with the last overthrow.”
Ron shuddered and lowered his head at my sudden retreat from yesterday’s aggressive stance against the boss. After all, it was only yesterday during our normal scavenging for lunch in the dump at the edge of Sector 65223 when we found a tattered copy of The American Kennel Club’s Book of Dog Breeds. What a relic from the past!
A book was rare enough, but what amazement it was for me and Ron when we learned about the variety, the companionship and the extensive capabilities of dogs. Who knew they were more than food!
With this enlightenment, we vowed to purposely get fired, but Ron couldn’t bring himself to it. He couldn’t farm the pots like I could and his anxiety was so bad that he avoided confrontation of any kind at all costs. I was his hero for yesterday’s moral stand against the man.
And now, hearing that I was coming back to reconcile with the supervisor, Ron cowered with shyness and fear that I had seen too many times from man and dog alike at the meat camp. His posture was crushed. Crushed by Sector 65223 and by the weight of our shred of humanity in such an inhumane world.
With most able bodied men off with the Militia, my upper body strength and Machete experience, my rehiring was inevitable. I had an alpha strut when I walked away from my friend and towards the supervisor. Ron raised his head and gave me a slight smile.
“Pete?” he said.
“Yeah?” I said.
“See if you can get a raise in your ration.”
“You know? I will.”
That evening, I returned to Martha and the boys to eat after a long day of slaughter. Her roasted radish and kale greens smelled divine and the steam filled our tiny space. Martha’s eyes met mine and asked question after question even though she didn’t say a word.
“I got my job back,” I said.
“Great!” she said.
“I also got a raise in my meat ration and have extra for tonight!”
“It looks different than usual.”
“All looks the same to me. Veggies please.”
Tom Cracovaner is a fiction author, poet and songwriter who has been published in SandScript, Painted Cave, Work Literary Magazine and The Blue Guitar Magazine. He won the 2016 Second Place in Poetry award from Pima College and was named a finalist in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards fiction competition. He won the 2016 1st Place in Poetry from the Community Colleges Humanities Association and is working on his first novel.