Upon closer inspection, there are noticeable clumps of dark hair sticking out of and around the drain. This looks like human hair. Where did it come from? Buck thought with a sinking feeling in his stomach. He ran a hand over his close-cropped hair. It certainly wasn’t his. Whatever he’d jammed in the drain, he hoped it didn’t screw up the garbage disposal. That would be one more thing he couldn’t afford to fix.
Looking over the blood-spattered counter, Buck’s eyes landed on the meat grinder. It might be in the worst shape of all. While no more bloody than the sink or floor, chunks of warm raw meat cover its sides. The worst part, though, is that this seems to be ground zero for the smell. Buck has one of those classic grinder models; the kind where you pile a stack of meat on top and use a manual hand-crank to turn it into fine ground meat. It’s a little more work but he doesn’t mind. It makes for a good forearm workout. The downside to this model, though—made most evident when the apparatus isn’t cleaned properly—are all the small crevices that pieces of meat and juice can get into. These crevices can get mighty foul when left to marinate for some time. Like when the butcher grinds up a lump of mystery meat and then promptly passes out without cleaning up. And unfortunately for Buck, last night was an unseasonably hot night in the shop, and now the unchecked hunks of meat absolutely reek. The stink of rotten meat is so strong that he fears it might work its way to the front of the shop.
Buck spent the morning cleaning up as best as he could, but by opening time it still wasn’t done. At least he managed to make it look less like a crime scene, though. The floor is still stained and the sink could use some more work, but the smell is mostly gone and he was able to get the garbage disposal working again. That was crucial for getting rid of all those tiny meat and bone bits that had been strewn about.
The thought of closing shop for the day had occurred to Buck, but after thinking things over, he came to the conclusion that he couldn’t afford to take a day off. It takes a lot of money to run a business (even one as small as his) and this was the time of year where business tended to pick up. One saving grace, though, is that things wouldn’t get busy until the lunch rush. Which gave him time to sober up and clean a little more.
The day started like any other. There were a few small bursts of customers here and there as lunchtime neared, but the rest of the morning was uneventful. Buck’s hangover had subsided enough to handle his business—the wrecking ball in his head had been downgraded to a pounding jackhammer—but he wasn’t sure if he could handle the lunch rush. Fortunately, before the lunch crowd came in, Jim stopped by for what was becoming his daily late morning meal: a hot Reuben sandwich with a side of coleslaw and a can of pop.
Even though he’s not sure why, Buck enjoys Jim’s company. Every time the man comes in he has a warm smile on his face and something new to talk about. Whenever he thinks about it, Buck isn’t sure if it’s Jim he likes or the simple fact he has someone normal to shoot the shit with. Either way, things seem to get a little bit easier when Jim comes in. It’s almost as if the day’s tasks become less daunting when there’s someone there to help keep his mind on other things. Often, he thinks about asking Jim to go out for a few beers after work. Despite talking to him every day before lunchtime, he knows so little about the man. And for living in the city as long as Buck has, it’s about time he made a genuine friend.
“Hey, Jim. What you think about going to get—”
“I hope you got some new shit in this morning!” As if on cue, Buck’s “favorite” customer stormed through the door. And like always, he’s able to use his special talent to rub Buck the wrong way. “I’d hate to change my Yelp review,” Toby threatened.
Buck gritted his teeth as Toby slapped his hands on the counter and scanned the product with a probing eye. Just as he’s about to lay into Buck over god-knows-what, his eyes stop on something behind the glass. Buck followed his gaze to the front of the display case. Whatever is there is enough to finally shut Toby up for a moment. Thank God for small favors, Buck thought to himself.
When he looked in to see what stopped Toby dead in his tracks, the only person more surprised than Toby about what was in there was Buck. Sitting in the front right corner was a bowl of ground beef that wasn’t there yesterday. Buck ran out of that the day before and wasn’t due for a new shipment for at least a few more days. This must have been what he made last night during his drunken stupor.
Without warning, the first memories of last night start to reveal themselves. Through the haze of his hangover, Buck is able to recall sticking large slabs of freshly cut meat into the grinder. For some reason, he still can’t remember the kind of meat he used or where he got it from. The only logical thing he can think of is that he must have stumbled upon some old product in the back of the cooler. How he was able to thaw it so fast or why he felt he needed to grind it in the middle of the night was still a mystery. One that might be lost forever at the bottom of that vodka bottle.
The only reason Toby finally shut up—at least for the moment—was the sign next to the meat stating, NEW ORGANIC MEAT, written in bold, uneven letters. Of course, Buck didn’t remember writing the sign. But it was most certainly his drunken print. There was no doubt about that.
Toby managed to pull his attention away from the meat and looked up with a great big smile. The poor bastard must have thought Buck finally caved into his demands and brought in a new product specifically for him. He couldn’t keep his attention away, though, and returned his gaze back to the meat like an overjoyed child about to receive a present. He got so close to the case that Buck thought he was going to stick his face against the glass. It’s amazing how highly some people think of themselves. Toby truly believes he got Buck to change the way he runs his business.
After a few more awkward moments of silently staring, Toby looked up to meet Buck’s confused face. Without any fuss or questions—which was a real surprise—he placed his order. ”I would like half a pound of the organic stuff.”
“Ya. Coming right up.”
It only took a few moments to finish the order. After weighing and tagging it up, Buck placed the neatly wrapped package on the counter. Some part of him felt excited that it was his most snobbish customer who bought the first batch of this mystery meat. After all, if it was old or tasted bad, the hipster jerk might not come back again. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Buck snapped out of his brief daydream to see Toby holding out a small stack of cash. Before he even finished making the change, Toby already had the bag open and was pulling out a tiny piece of meat to smell.
“Look at that color! And the smell. It’s so fresh.” Toby licked his lips. At that moment he looked like a fiend getting his fix. “Is it venison? No, wait. Don’t tell me. I want to cook it up and guess for myself.”
Even though Toby looked excited, Buck could tell he was about to say something snarky. He was willing to bet anything that it was going to be some smartass remark about how he should’ve gotten this stuff sooner. He was half-right. But to his surprise, Toby wasn’t as patronizing as usual.
“See, I told you if you got some organic stuff it would be pretty good,” Toby said with a sincere smile. “Do you think I could get this sliced? I would like to try this on a sandwich.”
“Ya, I should be able to have sliced. Need to check what is left.” Buck paused and thought for a moment. It wasn’t a good idea to look now. What if he found the remains of a stray dog in his cooler? Toby would actually be able to make good on his past threats about getting the shop shut down then. “Come back later,” he said, figuring it better to play things safe.
“Why can’t you check now?”
Buck wasn’t sure how to respond so he blurted out the first thing he could think of. “No, too busy now.”
Toby looked around. Jim was sitting at a little round table in the corner eating the remains of his Rueben and reading something on his phone. The only other people in the shop were an older couple who were off to the side reading the sandwich list above the cash register. It looked for a moment as if Toby was going to insist. To Buck’s relief though, the hipster didn’t push the issue for once.
“Okay, man. I’ll stop back later today or tomorrow. Thanks.”
As Toby walked out, Jim glanced over and gave Buck a quick wink. The surly butcher couldn’t help but crack a smile. But that smile wouldn’t last long as it wasn’t just Toby who seemed to enjoy the new ground meat; the stuff moved like crazy. If he didn’t know any better, Buck would have to say he sold at least ten pounds of his new product throughout the day. Luckily, he had plenty in the back cooler. Though, much to his dismay, he had butchered the meat in unusual cuts. This made it difficult to pinpoint the type of animal it was.
He was sure it wasn’t venison, beef, or dog. The latter of which he was most thankful for. The closest thing he could compare the meat to was pork. But the cuts were different and the meat was exceptionally lean. It didn’t make sense to him how he could’ve done so much work without being able to recall much of it. Then again, even though his mind couldn’t remember, his body surely did. The last time his joints and muscles were this sore was when he still worked for the family business.
Bits and pieces of memory came back to him throughout the rest of the day. Most of them were no more than quick images—like puzzle pieces that had gotten wet but still went together even though they didn’t quite fit. This lapse in memory and the lack of control Buck exhibited the previous night reminded him of why he’d quit drinking in the first place. He rarely felt shame or remorse, but the fact he’d succumbed to the bottle at the most minor of annoyances was enough to fill him with both. Hadn’t he already learned this lesson a long time ago?
Fortunately, his hangover had subsided by closing time and was replaced with exhaustion. This meant he was far too tired to dwell on his mistakes. So after rushing through his closing duties, he crawled up to his apartment and sank into a dreamless sleep. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.