“The God of Meat” by Rachel S. Thomas-Medwid

18Dec10

It was the plastic palm trees that did it. Augie pictured his neighbors, whispering obscenities behind the drapes at the sight of them; Tricia ticking her manicured nails, Ted scowling in imitation of a dashing actor.

Initially, they had only hinted at their displeasure: Oh, a golf course, on your front lawn, isn’t that different! My, it does draw attention to your house. And, finally, after the traps were in and flags secured: Really, Augie, it just doesn’t fit the décor of the neighborhood.

Tricia had sent Ted over with the first official complaint, likely hoping his smooth talk would do the job.  But Augie would rather have faced Tricia, for as perfect as her appearance—tight bun, tighter clothes, constant heels no matter her task—she could not hide what was beneath it.  To Augie, the simplicity of Tricia’s anger was easier to understand than Ted’s veneer.

“Our neighborhood doesn’t have a décor, as far as I can see,” Augie had responded pleasantly.

“You got me there,” Ted said, “But I think there are certain standards we should try to live up to.”

“Like?”  Cutting fringe from the turf, Augie did not raise his head. 

“Neatness.  A unity.”

“I plan to keep my green very neat.  That’s part of the whole process.”

“Right, right,” Ted chuckled.  “I understand you probably need some projects now that your wife is gone.  But maybe you could take up an indoor hobby.”

Augie looked up.  “This isn’t a hobby.”

Ted understood his dismissal and Augie saw briefly a flash of Tricia, that interchangeability that occurs in longtime couples.  With a stiff wave, Ted walked back across the street.  In one of the upstairs windows, Augie saw the bottom of the drapery cut out quickly, as if sucked by a breeze; a valiant attempt at escape only to be drawn back by something equally powerful within.

* * *

It had happened one day at work.  Staring down at the meat under his hands, Augie saw something unforgivable.  The blood that had never bothered him coalesced into something spiritual.  It wasn’t as if he suddenly thought of himself as a killer, only that he couldn’t lay his hands on flesh again.  Giving up his lifelong career had been easy, not a choice—it instantly changed his back story, how suddenly God, whoever that was, showed up on a severed lamb leg.

He went home to Miranda and told her he was retiring.  His wife had not questioned it, nor how meat disappeared from their diet.  Augie knew it was only because he no longer brought it home and it wouldn’t occur to Miranda to buy it.  In any case, Augie was grateful to her.  It took weeks for the meat to leave his system, and it was only then he got the idea for the putting green. The strength of his desire, which arose swiftly and clearly, felt strange after years of routine.

They had moved into their new house after Miranda casually presented a fund from her parents, as if the amount weren’t large and startling, as if Augie had known about it all along. Aside from the money, what Augie found most disturbing was Miranda’s desire to live in the neighborhood where everything was so strictly aligned.

Once inside their new house, Augie had to admit to a sense of lightness, which may have been purely aesthetic, but felt like something more. It was only stepping outside that he missed the variety of their old neighborhood.

By the time they moved in, Miranda had already started to change.  It began with the furs, then the outlining of her lips and eyes with dark, thick makeup.  The fishnet stockings and rhinestone glasses were so unlike her muted style it seemed she was trying to fit in another personality before she died.

He had seen the neighbors stare as she walked down the street, and then talk, when she began frequenting the Kwik-mart on North Street.  Augie had followed her once—saw her chatting amiably and randomly with people getting their morning coffee, listening with eyes averted as if her eccentricity were contagious—and had not gone again.

It didn’t matter to Augie, their talking.  It was still Miranda.  And what did he know about makeup and beauty? You either loved someone or you didn’t.  There wasn’t much in between to him.

Even when Miranda colored her hair an alarming blonde, the only part that bothered Augie was how the line that defined her face had vanished. But he had developed some odd habits himself since retiring.  The dunking of his teabag twenty-four times, the nighttime apologies (sorry sorry sorry) to some being (who? The God of Meat?). The worry, equal to his skepticism, was that if he didn’t do these things, something would happen.

Other choices, more subtle, such as morning coffee in white mugs and afternoon tea in black, made sense to Augie.  Tea, after all, stained the white ceramic, which then had to be scrubbed with bleach. In any case, it came easy to him to chalk these new rituals up to old age and the regression that tagged along with it.

But then Miranda had the stroke. Taking care of his wife—spooning, wiping, trying not to look at the questions in her eyes during moments of lucidity—Augie only had time to plan the green in his mind. In there, the course grew to spectacular proportions. Their front lawn, he believed, lent enough space for five holes, a gazebo, and a stream.  The décor was pieced in as Miranda became less responsive: Chinese lanterns in the gazebo, a checkerboard table flanked by two chairs, azaleas in window boxes, a sand trap that could double as a sunning area.

It never occurred to Augie that he would offend anyone. If he had known, his vision might have remained only that. Augie was not a confrontational man, not someone who enjoyed hurting people, no matter the trivial nature of the wound.

At least that’s what he believed until something looked up, his apron stained coincidentally in the shape of a heart, and told him to put down the knife.

 * * *

Augie hears the clack of Tricia’s heels against the walk as he’s working on a hole for the sand. The sandbags are piled in the back of his pickup in the driveway. Augie unfolds as Tricia nears, leaning against the shovel.

Tricia doesn’t bother with a greeting.

“What’s this?”  She points to the ground and then his truck.  Augie notes the color of her nails, how they almost match her skin.

“Sand trap.”

Tricia’s sigh is a hiss.

“We’re going to have to take action if you insist on continuing with this.”

Augie wants to ask her why his lawn is bothering her so intensely; why she wraps herself into a view he doesn’t believe she looks at.

“There’s no association here, is there?”  He asks instead.  “Like a neighborhood association, with formal rules?”

Tricia rolls her eyes.  “Maybe it’s time to form one.”

Augie picks up his shovel and continues digging. The handle beneath his fingers reminds him of the bones he would encounter at work. On occasion he would bring one home to Miranda, who acted like he had waltzed in with a new diamond. She would make stock with them, freezing portions in Tupperware for future use.

After she passed away, Augie had found fourteen unused containers with dates and cryptic initials. Upon the discovery he wished he had paid attention to her method. He had not been able to throw them away, afraid he would miss something important by doing so.

As Tricia walks angrily away, Augie turns to watch. He is about to say something—Let me know if the association needs a president. I’d be happy to help—when he notices the run in her stocking. Beginning behind her knee, it travels thinly down to her ankle. On anyone else, it would simply be a damaged piece of clothing. On Tricia, Augie finds it inexplicably sad. Without comment, he proceeds with his work, mindful of how each jab of the shovel changes the shape of the earth before him.

 * * *

He had woken up in the middle of the night to find Miranda gone. Augie could not tell how long it had been, if they had crossed paths in their journey—him toward waking, her leaving for good. Closing his eyes again, he had breathed in.

Tomorrow, was his thought. Tomorrow I can start.

 * * *

Tricia and Ted’s boy was only seen in glimpses from a distance, ferried from door to car, attached to soccer balls and backpacks, often disappearing for large chunks of time. The first time Augie sees him up close is after Miranda dies. Augie answers the door to find the boy standing on their stoop.  He is dressed neatly, formal in a button down and pressed pants.  A combination of Tricia and Ted’s genetics in coloring and features, his eyes seem to be his own.

“I’m sorry about your wife.”  His sincerity takes Augie off guard. “I’m Marc.”

“I thought it was Marco,” Augie says, admitting to overhearing.

“That’s what they call me.  I think the ‘o’ is a little much.”

There is a pause where Augie doesn’t know how to respond.

“She was like a mom.”

Augie doesn’t really know what he means. They had never had kids. It wasn’t something they had discussed, why it never happened or why they never even talked about it. If Miranda was bothered by their lack of offspring, she never showed it, unfailing in her steadiness. 

Before her stroke, they had taken turns cooking and although Augie never truly enjoyed her food—too bland, too uniform in color— he missed the act of it. The jolt of gratitude, of luck, to have something prepared and hot placed in front of you.

“If you need anything, let me know,” Marc says.  “I’m home now.”

As the boy turns, Augie addresses his back.

“Where were you before?”

“School.”

He looks young to Augie.

“You’re done?”

In the flash of Marc’s grin, Augie sees something likeable.

“No, I got kicked out. Prep.”

As if the last word explains it all.

“Remember,” Marc calls back from his driveway. “If you need anything.”

But Augie doesn’t need anything.  Standing in his door, the world looks the same, which  disappoints him.  He is alone.  What could he possibly need?

* * *

Augie heads straight for the meat case. There are old friends; thighs and ribs and breasts.  The plastic that holds them is slick and clean, not hinting at what came before this resting place. He browses for a long time, strolling the length of the case, unable to decide. Finally, it is a bone that he goes for.

At home, he unwraps it carefully. The surface is smooth against his skin. Placing it in the largest pot he can find, Augie adds chicken broth, carrots, and celery and puts the burner on low.  Later he sprinkles in garlic salt and white pepper and then lets it simmer until dinnertime.

The first spoonful is deceiving.  He can’t taste her, only the ingredients, one by one as they pass his throat.  But by the time it reaches his stomach, there she is.  Augie eats three bowls, watches a bit of television and then goes to bed.

It is early morning when he wakes up to find her gone again.  Augie makes his way to the bathroom and silently vomits as the sun makes its way up the horizon.

 * * *

After Augie puts the finishing touches on the turf and the chipping mats are placed, he starts on the gazebo. The sawing, which he confines to the garage, perks Tricia and Ted’s horns up even farther. Marc appears one afternoon on his front yard without Augie noticing.

“Have you hit any yet?”

Augie looks up from his tape measure.

“Balls. On the course.” Marc gestures toward the green.

Augie shakes his head.

“Why don’t we?  I can go get my putters.”

“You’re a golfer?”

“Not really. I have clubs only because my parents make it a prerequisite.”

“For what?”

“Being their son,”  Marc laughs.

Augie wonders where Marc obtained this lightness, which appears to be lacking in his parents, at least in full view. Augie is smart enough to know that what people show at any given moment is only a layer of who they are. At the same time—and he’s unsure if this is a conflicting thought—he is a firm believer of first impressions.

“Your parents don’t approve of this.” Augie nods toward his construction.

“All the more reason to play.”

“Ah, the rebel.”

Marc turns serious.  “No, that’s not what I’m about.”

“Getting kicked out of prep?”

“That was about balance.”

Augie places his tape measure on the wood and thinks about his own clubs. Where are they?  In all of his plans, he has never pictured himself actually playing on the green.

“What do you mean?” He asks Marc.

“I left to provide more balance to the school.  With me there, it was off kilter. I don’t actually enjoy breaking the rules, but had to do it to restore the evenness.”

Augie ponders the boy’s mannerisms, still mentally searching for his golf bag.  Miranda would not have minded him golfing, but he had preferred spending time with her.

“It’s the same way with my parents.  I have to do certain things to balance out what they do.” Marc pauses.  “Maybe that’s why I’m here.”

Augie thinks his clubs must be in the attic, nestled in pink insulation, mice droppings sprinkled like confetti along the leather.

“Why don’t you run over and get those putters,” Augie says and feels a brief flutter of what he would label excitement if it weren’t so small and fleeting.

* * *

Augie is in the kitchen having afternoon tea when the doorbell chimes. The sound confuses him at first, not having heard it for awhile. Wandering into the living room, he sees Ted through the side window and sighs.  When he opens the door, Tricia is there next to him. 

“How can I help you?”

Ted holds out his hand as if they are just meeting.

“Nice to see you.” He booms.

Augie waits.  He can tell Tricia is holding her tongue, although she makes no attempt to rearrange the displeasure on her face.

“So, we see you met our son.”

Augie nods again.

“Good boy, our son.”

Tricia elbows her husband.

“Ah, yes,” Ted coughs. “We, um, would appreciate it if you could refrain from giving him any ideas.”

“Ideas?”

“He’s very impressionable.”

Augie experiences a sudden thrill at this imagined power they think he has.

“Your son is a smart boy.”

His compliment seems to throw Ted off but not Tricia.

“Leave him alone.”  She shrills.  “He doesn’t need any more influences.” 

At her outburst, Ted turns his attention away from Augie and toward his wife. When he touches her forearm gently, Augie sees the shine fall away.  Free from it, the two of them are temporarily outlined by their ordinariness.  Augie sees that they are not, in fact, attractive, only packaged in details that make them appear so.

Tricia’s flash is back quickly, her eyes on Augie.

“Just because he came over, doesn’t mean he doesn’t agree with us.  It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.”

Ted takes her arm, this time less gently, and steers her down the front stairs. It is only after they are gone that Augie realizes that not once had they mentioned Marc by name, including himself.

 * * *

It soon becomes their ritual on Thursday,  Marc bringing over his clubs, tapping a few balls, and then helping Augie build.  He never interferes with Augie’s plans or questions where they are headed.  Occasionally they talk, Marc asking questions, Augie answering sparely.  One day after they complete the straw roof of the gazebo and are starting on the flower boxes, Marc brings up Miranda.

“I saw her down at the Kwik-mart.”

Augie keeps sorting nails.

“People really liked her.”

Augie looks up to see if he can read the question in Marc’s statement.

“I don’t know why that happens.” Augie finally says. “Why people start doing different things before they go.”

“Did it bother you?”

Augie shrugs. “I knew who she was.”

“People really did like her,” Marc picks up a hammer.  “I think she was a bright spot in their morning.  You never knew what she was going to say, but it was always nice, always surprising.  No matter how much someone denies it, everyone likes to be surprised.”

“Most of all your parents,” Augie jokes.  “Boy, are they going to be surprised at what we have planned next.”

Although he is slightly ashamed at his mocking—Augie is not someone who typically likes poking fun—he finds in Marc’s laugh a satisfaction he had not expected.

 * * *

The stream is the most challenging in terms of engineering.  Marc, it turns out, is talented in that area, and works on logistics of design and water flow that Augie would have had difficulties with. It is when they get the water moving that Marc brings up the idea of the palm trees.

“They would never survive in this climate,” Augie comments, although he incorporates them instantly into his vision.

“I mean plastic, of course.” There is a glint in Marc’s eyes.

“Of course,” Augie answers.

The rest of the afternoon they transfer rocks from Augie’s pickup to the stream. When they are done, they sit in the gazebo, lemonade on the table between them.

“My parents are trying to find a way to sue you,” Marc says after gulping his glass down.

Augie is startled back into reality.  He had been lulled into believing that Marc’s presence had diffused them.

“For what?”

“Disturbing the peace.”

Augie laughs and then realizes Marc is serious.

“Do you think the neighbors all dislike me for this?”

“Only my parents.”

Augie is unexpectedly hurt, which must read on his face.

“Tricia and Ted have a hard time separating action from person,” Marc says.  “I think that’s their biggest weakness.”

“You’re a smart kid,” Augie comments, slightly embarrassed, not used to head-on compliments. “What are you going to do with yourself?”

Marc shrugs. “What did you do?  Before this, I mean?”

“I was a butcher.”

“Did you like it?”

Augie had never given it much thought, at least not until the God of Meat showed up. He was a working man; chopping and slicing was simply what he did.  He never considered anything else. The day he handed his soiled apron to his manager, there was no fanfare in giving it up. Augie had just said, I won’t be in tomorrow.  Since that day he had not missed it.

“Does anyone like what they do?”  He finally says.

“My parents,” Marc says.  “They like it more than they like me.  That’s another of their weaknesses.”

After a long pause, Marc speaks again. “I think they’re sending me out again.”

“Where?”

“Some other prep school. I can sense it coming.  It’s pretty predictable at this point. Ted and Tricia’s waves, where they originate, how they crest.  I’m betting that the sight of the plastic palm trees will do it,” Marc laughs.

After a moment he speaks again. “I love my parents, you know. Despite anything I say or how it may look to other people.  Maybe more than they love me, which they do.  I know they miss me when I’m gone.”

Augie wants to tell Marc that he too will miss him if he goes, but does not know how.  Instead, he fills Marc’s glass with more lemonade and when they are done, they set to work again. In the fading day, the bright hum of cicadas accompanies them as they travel the path from truck to water and back again.

* * *

Augie has always had difficulties labeling relationships, other than Miranda. He knows he isn’t a role model to Marc, certainly not mentor. The closest title he can arrive at is friend. So he is thrown off when Marc does not show up on Thursday and then feels a brush of anger at Ted and Tricia.  It is easy, he finds, to place the blame on them, almost enjoyable to allow the emotion to slither somewhere close to the surface.

When it becomes clear Marc is not coming, Augie finds himself down at the Kwik-mart.  Inside it is cool and cleaner than he remembers. The light makes him nervous, how it seems to expose things that aren’t meant to be seen. At the coffee counter, he debates between decaf or regular.  He knows the caffeine will keep him awake, or worse, throw him in that uncomfortable place between dreams and sleep. Yet he wants it, feeling a need to fill himself with activity.

There is no one but the teenage girl at the register, the hum of the refrigerator mirroring her tedium. After he stirs in a creamer, Augie takes his cup up to the counter.

“Afternoon.”

The girl grunts at him as he counts out change.

“Slow day?”

Taking his coins, she looks at him like he’s crazy. Augie wonders if she worked here when Miranda came in.

“Have a good day.”

Again she grunts and then falls back into her pose of boredom. As Augie walks across the linoleum, he feels the urge to spill his coffee, just to see the pattern it would make, how far the liquid could spread and where it would finally settle in its journey. Instead, he opens the door and as the bell above it jangles, he feels the sound like a cry of something wounded. 

* * *

The second week Marc doesn’t come, Augie ponders where he was shipped out to. He doesn’t dare ask Tricia and Ted and doesn’t know what he would do with the information anyway.  Instead he focuses on what to add to his front yard, which at this point resembles a park. He has seen people slowing to take second glances, on the sidewalk and from the road. It has been active lately, an unusual number of people arriving at Ted and Tricia’s.  He imagines their comments as a form of entertainment for guests; look at that, they might say, can you imagine? The gaudiness, the eyesore!

Although he wants to go to the Kwik-mart, Augie stops himself, wary of a force that gripped Miranda and is possibly waiting for him by the Ramen noodles. He busies himself with the new umbrellas, which he positions around the sand trap. Marc, he thinks, would appreciate the setup, how it mimics a beach and how maybe, upon his return, they can lie back in recliners with some lemonade.

By the third week Augie gives in and goes back to the Kwik-mart. Today it is not empty.  Grace Morrow is by the ice cream freezer, her nose pressed to it in eagerness or indecisiveness, he cannot tell. Augie has never liked her, in her gossipy way, but Miranda had been friendly with her. When she spots Augie, he tries not to let his dismay show.

“Did you hear??”  Grace doesn’t bother with frivolities.

“Hello, Grace.”

“How horrible, how awful.”

Augie wonders how many conversations she begins this way.  If she ever actually means the words.

“What is it, Grace?”

She eyes him cautiously.

“The Cavanaugh boy.”

“Marc?”

“Marco, not Marc.” 

Augie shakes off her reprimand, annoyed.  “What about him?”

“You didn’t hear, did you?”

“Apparently not.”

He sees Grace hesitate, back off, and in the gesture, Augie is suddenly frightened.  His annoyance drops into the depth of him, turning to something harder.

“What is it, Grace?”

“There was an accident.” She stops. “A car accident.”

“What happened to him?” But he already knows. Augie can see it in her face, no longer eager with news.  Right now, the only thing Augie does not want is for her to answer. He holds up his hand and Grace, thankfully, understands.

Augie walks past her and continues toward the coffee. There he chooses decaf, stirs in his creamer and pays at the register, not once looking back toward Grace.  At home he finds himself in the kitchen, the coffee cold and untouched. Around him the light is changing and for a moment he does not recognize where he is.

When it is completely dark, Augie rises and heads outside. He walks across the green toward the palm trees and pulls one over.  One at a time he dismantles and drags them into the garage.  On a graveyard of plastic trunks he sits with his garage door open, watching Ted and Tricia’s. Although there is no physical change, the house is altered.

Augie, above all, is disturbed by his inability to see the moment when it had happened.  He is frightened that all he can think of are the palm trees, hard and distracting beneath him. Augie waits until the last light across the street is gone and then stands and goes back inside.

* * *

That night, Augie dreams of the Kwik-mart. There is Miranda in a white fur and black fishnets.  Her nails and lips are fire in the fluorescent light, hair the color of the moon.  Seeing her, Augie is overwhelmed with the missing… Miranda!  He wants to reach out but can only watch as she teeters down the aisle. She is trying to make her way to the coffee counter, where everyone is gathered. Augie knows she has things to say, he can feel them boiling up in a rush. Something is wrong.

The people at the counter do not turn around. They are dressed for work, ready for the routine of their day, loading up on caffeine and sustenance.  Augie wants to yell, listen to her, listen to her, she will tell you something that will make your day more, make it matter! As he watches, Miranda is now hitting the sides of the aisle, falling this way and that. It is then that he realizes it is the floor, not her, that is tilting. Augie’s helplessness is unrelenting, a heavy weight he has to drag with him, attempting to move in front of her.  He wants Miranda to see him as something to grab onto.

But before he can make it, the door to the Kwik-mart opens and there is Marc.  He is dressed as he was that day on the stoop.  Upon his first step in, the floor levels and Miranda gains her balance.  Although Augie cannot see her face from where he stands, he knows she is smiling. Augie can picture it perfectly, the outline of her lips bigger than life.  No one looks at Marc or Miranda, unaffected by the change, but it doesn’t matter, because Augie can see that they are looking at each other.


Rachel S. Thomas-Medwid’s fiction has been published in Farmhouse Magazine, In Posse, Literal Latte, and A & U Magazine. The short story is her first literary love, but she recently discovered the bigger task of writing screenplays. Her scripts have placed in eight contests and while they haven’t reached that elusive number one spot, Rachel plans to keep having fun trying to get there.

As news editor of the American Meteorological Society’s monthly magazine, Rachel edits and writes about the hot topic of global warming. She lives on the North Shore of Boston with her husband and three young children. When not writing or traveling, she can be found dancing, sword fighting, or teaching her kids about the necessity of fictional villains.


To read Rachel S. Thomas-Medwid’s comments on Ellen Reeder’s “Gracie in Pink,” click here.

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Notes from Chad Peterson, Managing Editor
In “The God of Meat,” our author has given us a quintet of well-actualized characters, and woven together a pair of storylines in such a way that the lives of each family informs and compliments the intricacies of the other. What impressed me most, however, was the patience of this story. The pacing works exceptionally well, doling out information in perfectly measured beats, and segueing into and out of flashback in a way that kept me engrossed throughout. Reading a story like this serves as a reminder that writing is a craft—and it’s a pleasure to read a piece that has clearly been so carefully crafted.

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Comments on this story by Eli Hastings, author of “Ghost Train”
In “The God of Meat,” we are given extraordinary literary elements and great humaneness. Rachel S. Thomas-Medwid has such a repertoire of skills that we can almost see her perusing her lovely arsenal with a finger to her lip. Somehow this translates into the utter impossibility of guessing where this story is going. While it feels like George Saunders in places, the entire enterprise is imbued with a kind of heart that satire can’t contain. The author hints at fate and destiny even as her protagonist pushes forth actively making his odd choices, day by day. The war between the main character and his neighbors is mutedly vicious, matched only by the measure of quiet grace and empathy that concludes it. A ten-year-old hellion as a prophet and angel; a suburban housewife as a bringer of truth. “The God of Meat” astonishes the critical writer-reader and will move anyone who has lived through death.




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