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My life as a tradesman had been determined by a matter of lineage, having followed in the footsteps of my father, who’d followed in the footsteps of his own father when he began his career by toiling away at our family-run butcher shop. I hadn’t given much thought to my prospects beyond basic schooling after my mother had succumbed to stomach cancer, at that juncture in life when I would have availed myself of her counsel. And so when I was confronted with a choice between pursuing the rigors of a secondary education and an assured line of work, I eagerly settled for the well-trodden path that had already been paved ahead of me. 

What should have been an opportunity to forge a closer bond with my father instead only reminded me why my mother always played the intermediary between us. He was tall, brawny, and aggressively bald—a plodding man whose gait was characterized by the shapely gut that pulled the rest of him in tow. My short and wiry frame in comparison must have felt like a disservice to his virile genes. Even his approach to life was starkly distinct from my own, because unlike the clear-headedness he possessed of only knowing as much as he needed to know, I found myself perpetually preoccupied with thoughts of both real and imagined worries. 

He was still a gracious enough father to accommodate me at the butcher shop. It was barely a week into my employment though, when he revealed business had been dismal—a steady downturn supposedly precipitated by the shifting sentiments towards the slaughtering of innocents—because it was now deemed disagreeable with the moral wranglings of our civilized era. Families, he complained, no longer sat down to hearty feasts, instead nourishing themselves with some dreadful chickpea concoction, or drab lentil soup, or worse yet some horrid assortment of nuts. He claimed though that on the other side of this cultural divide was a market of ardently devoted meat-eaters we could capitalize on. His plan was to conduct a public slaughter outside the shop so that we could demonstrate the freshness of our cuts. A few days later he even had a glossy banner hung above the awning that shaded the storefront to advertise our grisly marketing ploy. At first there was barely any mention of the scheme besides write-ups in locally-circulated periodicals, but within a week we made national headlines after he’d hurled blood-soaked bones at the crude scrawls of protesters’ placards outside—specifically the ones branding us as murderers. 

I’d been saddled with having to organize the logistics—hastily sourcing a specimen from some nearby farm, hiring a driver who could transport livestock, and recruiting a team of handymen to install a plexiglass enclosure by the entrance—a brazen display that my father believed could only help arouse further interest amongst passersby. Once erected, I furnished the makeshift lodging with a steel bucket filled with fermented grass, beside which I placed another smaller bucket of fresh water. The next morning a red pickup truck equipped with a steel-framed trailer tugging behind, lurched to a squealing halt by the shopfront. A strong but silent type, the driver tumbled out of the cab and tipped his hat my way, then marched around to the rear of the vehicle to unlatch the trailer door, permitting me to lay eyes upon the cargo—the unblemished ivory of bovine hide, her hooves a gentle shade of beigey-brown, ears pointing out sideways to reveal the smooth salmon of cartilage flaps, and a wide head tipped by the brightest of pink muzzles. The most conspicuous feature of her face though, were her glistening blue eyes, staring my way with a look of seeming resignation. 

She hesitantly descended the trailer’s ramp with a single tug of the rope lead clasped on to her halter, then after I slid up one of the plexiglass panels, was ushered into the enclosure by the man who’d brought her here. Having fulfilled his obligations he tipped his hat again towards me before climbing back into his truck, which as it departed, strung a thin billow of black smoke behind. I immediately turned my attention to the occupant, watching as she gracefully swiveled her head from side to side to examine the crammed nature of her confines, then bent down to sniff first the bucket of grass without even bothering to take a nibble, then the bucket of water without lapping up a sip, as if the need for nourishment had now been waived by the consideration of her grim circumstances. Before long I noticed my father gesturing from inside the store, beckoning me to my more mundane duties— the thoughtless carving up of some dangling carcass, having to meticulously weigh what had been trimmed, and the wrapping up of what was edible into tightly packaged portions. The end of this exhausting day coincided with an abrupt nightfall. As we left the store, we noticed the blue eyes had disappeared behind the collapse of heavy lids. She’d apparently found enough calm for now to rest, though this had to be done standing up, because the space was so tight that she couldn’t even maneuver herself to lay down.

When we returned to open early the next morning, I didn’t see her swishing tail, or wide head, or blue eyes, but instead a thick spray of crimson graffiti all across the plexiglass, from top to bottom, except for a few pleasant specks of her ivory coat peeping through. My father visibly bit his lower lip to quell what I imagined would have been a rabid outburst, then, nodding my way, tacitly delegated the task of cleaning up the vandalism. I rushed inside to retrieve a sponge and a cannister of paint thinner from our supply closet, having to scrub at it for the rest of the day, till I could see those familiar eyes again.

I now began to feel an unnerving intimacy with my work, because I could see the stark difference between death and life—between the splotchy pink of cadavers in the shop, and the warm body of breathing life outside. Even my father, who wasn’t known for being particularly discerning, had noticed a change in my demeanor—the look in my eyes, the hesitant shaking of my head, or how my knees would twitch throughout the day. In an uncharacteristic display of concern he even asked if anything was the matter. I instinctively lied—saying I was fine—which was enough to satisfy him, because that was the extent to which he pursued it.

On the eve of the slaughter he approached me, clutching firmly on to his long boning knife, his head tilted as if graced by a sudden realization, informing me that I’d have to assist him the next day. I suspected he’d left this for as late as he had to force my hand, which under such paternalistic duress I unthinkingly acquiesced to. He assured me though that my role would be little more than supportive—that he’d assume responsibility for all of the more gruesome aspects it would entail. 

Relentless torrents of rain poured down that whole night, gently lulling me to sleep. A thick haze of grey had enveloped the city by morning as if a shadow were being cast over the world on this fateful day. I slipped out of bed wearily, showered, then donned our uniform—a crisp white coat, a pair of black unpleated trousers, and of course my slip-resistant boots—before stepping out into the living room where my father had been waiting expectantly. His demeanor, counterposed against mine, was that of an unperturbed man; his otherwise hardened countenance softened by an unrelenting smirk, his square head propped with an assured posture. I mimicked what I could of it in a sort of strained solidarity. 

A large and restless crowd had already gathered under a dawning sky as we approached the shopfront, its composition separated by either of two stances on the matter—those in support and those fiercely opposed. When we reached the entrance my father clawed the jangly set of keys from deep out of his pocket to unshutter the store, unlocked the glass-paneled door behind, then stomped his way in without the least bit of regard for all the commotion outside. I meekly followed before stopping a few strides in, standing awash in the sharp white of fluorescent lighting where I composed myself for the deed at hand. He in the meantime had marched off into one of our backrooms for what I presumed was the last of his preparations. He reemerged thirty minutes later, grasping a short barreled bolt gun in one hand and a gleaming machete in the other. His previously lit-up face was now back to its coarsened seriousness—his eyes enflamed, his nostrils flared, his mouth knitted, pouting. He threw his machete-wielding arm up, pointing towards the door that I immediately swung open. We stepped outside into a cacophony, as much haranguing as there was encouragement, to which we refused to respond either way, striding forth reticently. 

As we jostled ourselves into the plexiglass enclosure I saw her head droop mournfully. Her body though remained still and compliant. My father handed me the machete and then swiftly thrust the gun barrel against her wrinkled forehead. Her blue eyes flickered up to look at him before shutting with a firm press. He clicked down on the trigger, a mechanism that forced a retracting bolt to shoot out through the muzzle. Even before her heavy head struck the ground she’d been stunned into a state of instant unconsciousness. He turned towards me and assertively thumbed a horizontal line across his throat. I found myself practically stupored, and so he performed the gesture again to confirm what I feared was expected of me. I finally summoned the nerve to lift the machete, then in one motion flashed it across her sagging flab of neck. The flesh immediately peeled open to release a gush of blood that swiftly poured out from the enclosure and onto the sidewalk, forcing the crowd to retreat the way a flooding ocean current might chase away beachgoers. A puff of steam then rose so high up out of the gaping wound that I felt the warmth of it around my clenched jaw. I withdrew myself from the scene, struggling with what I’d done, trudging away under the weight of it. The protests by now had waned as the sound of our supporters became more vociferous, some of them even slapping their palms against my hunched back, seemingly oblivious to my dismay. I then heard from behind me the distinct thwacking of my father’s boots against the now bloodied ground until he abruptly halted by my side. He slid his bulgy arm around my shoulder and turned us back in the direction of the enclosure. As we looked on I felt his fingers dig sharply into my arm, a force that corresponded to his swelling pride. To the sheer delight of our triumph.