Daniel Polansky


a fresh one last night, snow white hair, skin darker than mine, track marks on her arms if you cared to look or even if you did not. neck broken clean. before we could sip we had to pay bill homage, our father, the founder of the feast, the usual nonsense though i hardly minded it had been so long. bill took most of her, then juana, all but kissing his feet for the pleasure. tyrone would have gone then by rights but he gave it to edmund, who had started to get slow the way the meat gets slow when it has been a long time since it has drank. tyrone offered her to me next but for a moment i could not bear the thought of it, salty and growing lukewarm, like raw grease or the tip of a battery, and so i told him to go first. but watching him i had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming, new teeth making holes in the meat, and when he finished i was not slow in following, lapping at the wound though she was nearly empty. then we stuffed her in the closet with the others (it is getting full in there) and went down to the basement to wait out the sun.

* * *

when you die your flesh becomes meat. there are many things about flesh that you take for granted, that you cannot help but take for granted because you have not known anything else. many (most?) of the things that you think are your mind are really your flesh. anger is the heart beating faster. fear is the stomach tightening and untightening. lust is blood swelling between your legs. flesh is ever-changing, flesh is self-aware. meat is insentient, meat is stagnant. flesh is a part of you and maybe the greater part, but meat is something you carry along like a knapsack.

meat can do things that flesh cannot do. meat does not fear cold, nor the knife or the hook. mean never gets tired. meat can move faster than flesh and it can hit harder. meat cannot smell as flesh can but it can see through the dark, tell one shade of black from another. in the mornings and the long afternoons when we cannot go out i give them names, calling the black that comes when the shadow of the basement door lies over tyrone’s face baebeleus, and the black of the holes where the rats come in ariseen. over the windows we have hung trash bags and old carpeting but the backs of them are touched by light and i call their color tabbamel, like caramel but with a t.

setting up our quarters is the first thing we do whenever we move, even below ground the sun can leak through. the sun can always leak through, the sun is like misery that way. most of the basement is taken up by a water boiler which has not worked for a very long time. it is summer now and the day seems to last forever, all of us crammed down there until the light finally goes away, silent because there is nothing to say.

of course meat does not sleep. of course meat does not dream.

we have our distractions. tyrone owns a chess board with most of the pieces and he likes to move them around very seriously, though secretly i think he has forgotten how to play. edmund has some toys that we found for him but mostly they sit in the corner untouched. bill used to have a gameboy that he had taken from something we had hunted but it broke and he has never gotten another. now he just stares endlessly up at the ceiling (meat does not need to blink). that is part of the way you can tell he is so stupid.

when i am not naming different colors i read whatever i find scavenging. some days i think of breaking into a book store and taking everything i want, but i never do so, i am too frightened. the books i read are the ones left when someone does not feel like moving their library to their next house, already well picked over, mostly romance or self-help, neither of much good to me.

* * *

when night comes edmund and i go scavenging. that is our job. it is juana’s job also, though she usually does not do it. bill does not insist and i do not either. i do not understand why anyone would want to stay back at the house. perhaps when we had a tv that worked, but not now. scavenging is much better than staying inside and staring at the walls, or sitting on our small porch and watching the rats fight one another or the miserable flesh walking down the sidewalk, so sad and useless that it would almost be a kindness to drink from them.

the best place to go scavenging is outside of the baseball stadium downtown, but that is a very long walk and if you are not careful you may find the sky getting light when you are still on fayette avenue, and have to hurry home, pulling the meat along swiftly, which is the kind of thing which can draw attention. so most of the time i just take edmund to one of the streets that have lots of bars. it is easier in the weekends and easiest of all in the summer time when people sit outside. sometimes they put their bags down when they go to the bathroom, or leave their cell phones out on counter tops. meat is very fast and these things go neatly into our pockets.

while edmund and i go scavenging and juana does whatever juana does bill and tyrone go hunting. bill does not tell us how he does it but it is not hard to guess. the drink that he brings home comes from women who sell themselves or men who have rotted their flesh with poison. normally he kills it before he brings it home to us, in the alleyway outside. it is not hard to kill them. meat is stronger than flesh. i think i have already said that.

* * *

bill says that he is three-hundred and seventy-four years old but i do not believe him. sometimes i ask him questions about things he has seen or should have seen and he is never able to answer. also he is too stupid to have survived that long, often i am amazed that we have even managed to last since he made me, which i do not think has been more than a few years though i am not really sure.

bill says that he saw me coming home one evening from the library and that i looked so beautiful that he wanted me with him forever, but i do not believe that either. it is hard to remember the time when i was flesh but i cannot recall being prettier than any of the other girls i used to know. of course now there is no way to tell. that is one of the things about being meat. we have no mirrors in the house but when i walk past the shop windows on broadway i cannot see my reflection, even when the street lights are very bright.

bill says that he would be nicer to me if i was nicer to him. that i do believe. of course meat cannot love, but in the darkness during the day bill and juana nest together sometimes, rubbing their coldness against each other, juana crying out occasionally. it is all very stupid. still i know if i lay down with him one morning, and moaned as juana moans, and called him papi as she does, he would let me drink second, and for longer, and he would not rage at me as he sometimes does. it would not be so bad—it would not be nearly as bad as everything else—but i do not do it. anyway i did not have a choice about the rest of it.

* * *

i still do not know why bill decided to make edmund. perhaps it is only that sometimes misery seems to ease when spread about, or that spreading it seems to provide some purpose to the misery. perhaps that is the same reason that flesh makes more flesh. i am not sure.

but still bill should not have made edmund. i told him that and even though bill does not listen to me he usually listens to tyrone and juana and they told him not to do it either. it was hard enough to find enough drink for the four of us, at least i was always thirsty. and also edmund’s flesh was white, or pink actually but they call it white. no one will come looking for the sort of men and women that bill takes for drink but they will come looking for a little white child, even in baltimore which is where we live.

i think that maybe bill did it because he liked the idea of having a son, liked it at least for the few days it took him to decide to make him. of course bill tired of edmund very quickly, or perhaps not very quickly, but bill tired of him eventually and since time does not mean anything to meat the length is not really relevant.

when edmund was made meat he screamed for a long time, screamed through the rags we stuffed into his mouth, screamed for days and days. of course all of us do that (tyrone tells me that even he did it when he first became meat) but not so loudly and not for so long. edmund only stopped screaming when he had his first drink, but i think before he stopped he had screamed out most of what had made him edmund. now he does not speak very much.

tyrone and i try to help. tyrone lets him drink first and i try and find things for him to play with, bits of plastic from all night bodegas, toys for babies that are left sometimes with the books i find. neither are of very much use. i would say that i do not think edmund is sane anymore but i do not think that any of us are. still he is worse off.

some days i think about the sun, of setting up one morning from the basement to see it. of course bill would stop me, not because he cares if i am here but because if i did it than i think he knows that we all would do it, and he is a coward as well as an idiot. so far i have been a coward also, but if i ever grow brave i will make sure to carry edmund up with me.

* * *

the meat that does not move is starting to pile high up in the closet w ...