Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Butchering Day

rough draft of a short story written last year. comments, criticism, and suggestions welcome.

When Mary woke, the sky was a cool gray with the first rays of sunlight just making an appearance. She dressed quietly in the dark and left her snoring husband where he lay. Her steps were muffled by her thick wool socks as she padded into the dark kitchen. Starting the coffee on the stove she made a sweep of the house, gathering clothes for the morning wash. Mary's day was going to be a busy one. Not only did all the regular chores have to be done, but today was butchering day. The fat hog in the pen was to be slaughtered, the meat: cut, cured, and put up. She stood looking out the frosted window above the kitchen sink and watched him wallow in the mud as she sipped steaming hot coffee from her mug.

Grabbing the laundry basket from the counter, she slipped out the screen door to the back porch. As she sorted the clothes: lights, darks, work wear caked in mud, and her delicates, she thought about her sleeping spouse. He had came home long after she had gone to bed, but this was nothing new. Jake was never home before supper and she often left it in the oven for him. She would wake up as his truck pulled in, and lay in bed, listening to the fork and knife clank against her fine china. Mary always put Jake's dinner on the nice dishes, preferring to eat out of the pan herself since she always ate alone. Brought out of her reverie by the squealing coming from the pigpen, she filled the washer with water from a bucket and threw in a handful of soap. Mary noticed a scrap of fabric peeking out from the sideboard next to the washer. Tugging on it she saw that it was her husband's shirt he had worn the night before. It needed to be washed anyways, might as well be now. Checking the front pocket for bills & change, she noticed the red stain on the collar. Well that would never come out she reasoned. Nevertheless, she applied some homemade stain remover and threw it in with her undies. It was a nice shirt and she hoped that particular shade of tramp, along with the cheap dime store perfume smell would come out. Pulling the lever and giving the washer a good kick to get it going, Mary stepped back into the warmth and solace of the kitchen.

Eggs and bacon went into the pan, biscuits in the oven. She sliced a few pieces off of a thick loaf of bread and threw them in as well. Another cup of coffee for her as she straightened the house, washed the dishes and waited for the breakfast to cook. Thirty minutes later she sat down at her old oak table and dug in. The bacon was crisp and meaty and she wondered if the old hog outside would taste as good as Pete had last year. She hadn't bothered to name this year's pig because he was an ornery one and liked to charge her when she went in the pen to slop him. Mary sank her teeth into a thick piece of sourdough smothered in jam. She had made the bread and the preserves and both were heaven on a crisp morning such as this. She had so much work ahead of her, but no mind. She was used to man's work. That reminded her, she checked the old clock in the sitting room, it was half past seven. Jake would not be up for hours. The whiskey bottle in the foyer and the fumes that came from him as he slept told her so. She wrapped up the rest of the bacon, eggs, and biscuits and left them in the still warm oven. Buck had risen from his place by the stove and stuck his cold nose on her as she pulled on her boots. She patted him softly on the muzzle and they both headed outside.

It was going to be a beautiful day. Mary could tell by the light breeze that blew through the yard and the birds that were in full song. Buck raced ahead waking up the chickens and goats. Her and Jake had a nice little place, about ten acres with a humble barn, two horses, two milk cows, and a handful of other barnyard animals. Jake worked in town for the co-op so the small farm was her job. Reaching the barn, she pulled hard on the rusted iron rung and swung the huge door open. Three cats streaked out and made for the house. One stayed by and snaked his way through her legs. She reached down and gave him a good rub before stepping inside the dark building. It smelled good in here. A bit musty, but also sweet and mellow like hay that had just been cut. It was her favorite place to be besides her kitchen. She grabbed a couple of buckets and filled them from the grain bin standing in the corner. Walking back outside she scattered grain for the hens and the rooster and then filled the feeders over the fence for the livestock in the pasture. The hog was snorting in his pen and she wondered if she should slop him. Maybe he did need a last meal, but then maybe that would be a waste. He was such a grouch she decided to ignore him until later. With the animals fed, she went back to the barn to put up her buckets and fetch the knives she would need for the butchering. They were dull, probably from last years slaughter, and Jake, the lazy son of a gun, hadn't bothered so it was up to her.

Mary stepped back into the kitchen for another refill and checked on him in the bedroom. He had not moved an inch. Whatever he had been up to last night must have worn him smooth out. For that reason Mary avoided town and stayed put with her animals. She didn't want to hear the talk. She wasn't dumb, like people assumed, she just didn't care so much. A woman knows when her man isn't faithful, but what can she do about it. Leaving him wasn't an option, cause she surely didn't want to lose her farm. She knew Jake well. Well enough to know that about two seconds after she was out the door, her side of the bed would be warm just the same. She sat down on the back steps with her whet stone. She had thought about what to do about Jake often. He wasn't a bad man, just a bad husband. If only... if only he would just disappear. That would be a blessing. She'd be widowed, have her farm, and never have to go anywhere. Mary stroked the butchering knife along the sharpening stone over and over. The glint from the sun struck her in the eyes and made her squint. There went that hog again, rutting and carrying on. She would be glad to slit his throat and hang him from the tree, ornery old son of a gun. Son of a gun... that would be easy now wouldn't it, she thought. Just slit his throat and hang him from a tree. Cure the meat and eat fat all winter, spring, and summer. Mary tested the blade of the knife on her thumb and drew a thin line of blood. She turned her gaze back into the house and pondered her thoughts. She stood up and opened the screen door quietly. Easy as pie. Mary figured the hog could wait one more day, but the butchering could not.


  1. Has hubby read this one? Cuz... maybe he should know this came from inside YOUR head :-) Kidding! The detailed images were wonderful --great writing in my opinion (sorry, it is worth nothing). Will you remember me when you are famous?

  2. Wow...you are a GREAT writer! Love the story....and yur blog. You may also enjoy my new blog. I hope you visit. I wll surely be bak here.

  3. That's great! I would very much like to continue with part 2. Tomorrow will be fine! ;)

  4. I'm impressed. It's very "dark", but good. And the subject matter is one that many can relate to. Cheating is bad...but maybe he also abused her, and that is why she went over the edge.....

  5. Thanks for all the compliments folks. But...what would you have done different? Is the structure off somewhere? Do I ramble?

    Shania- I wish there was a part two. Unfortunatly I don't think ole Jake made it to supper that evening. I never know how to end a short story and this is the only one I've ever written that had a decent ending, despite the leaving you hanging part.


Now play nice and for every comment you leave, I'll buy you a pony.