Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Meat Deboner – a short story

By Aingeal Clare

Aingeal Clare's reviews have appeared in The Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books. She lives in Aberdeen.

My next task is to make a great show of taking to it, until I can dispatch Pinky to a safe and necessary distance. The first thing does not turn out to be difficult: I carry responsibility pretty well. The second task might have proved tricky had Pinky not been one of the few day-shift workers whose lunch was not administered by the pasty machine. “That muck don’t agree with me,” he said when I asked him about it. Instead, he brings a pack-up to work, usually Mighty White bacon sarnies his girlfriend prepares for him. She slaps a lot of brown sauce on them, which is how Pinky likes it, and which makes it all the easier for me to mix in a special substance of my own one morning while Pinky is attending to a mysterious problem with the bins at the other end of the site.

The plan’s only flaw is that by the time my lunch break rolls around, my mid-shift vomit is stymied by the presence of a loudly retching Pinky, who is monopolising the only working male cubicle. I’m forced outside, where Luke on his fag break hears me and approaches, saying, “Fuckin’ hell, mate, not you an’ all? Tony says Pinky’s parked in the men’s shitting out his liver.”

I straighten up and wipe my mouth. “It’s nothing, mate,” I say. “Had a blinder last night, that’s all.”

Luke looks suspicious. “Yeah?” he says, suspiciously. He throws the butt of his roll-up over the wall into the dark spume of the estuary. “Well I better not come down with ’owt,” he says in that vaguely threatening manner general to the young men of this region. “Our lass is having a baby.”

With Pinky off sick with his gastric eruptions, I am given full charge of the deboning floor. I feel confident. Phase Three.

On the appointed morning I wait at the pick-up stop with a heavier-than-normal rucksack. As well as my lunch, I have with me a quantity of tools, some travel documents, two changes of clothes, an extra mobile phone, and a certain substance I’d prepared the previous evening using a recipe communicated to me privately a few months prior to the date. Like the substance, I am feeling volatile, but as with the substance, I’m keeping a lid on it for now.

During my lunch break, Tony gives a history lesson about the effect on the deboning industry of mad cow disease, for which MSM was, he felt, “Wrongly blamed. Yes, spinal cord matter was a contaminant. Yes, with the deboning process comes risk-attachment. I’ll be the first to admit that. But was farmers’ malpractice properly taken into account? Fat chance. Did the ministers agree us the subsidy we wanted? Never. Did anyone listen? Not a bit. Did anyone do ’owt? Did they fuck.”

“I agree with you, mate,” says Luke, opening the wrapper of his meat pasty. “Not a fucking squeak outta those fuckers when you ask for ’owt.” He takes a bite and some brown material oozes out inconveniently, causing him to quickly lick the back of his wrist to stop the spread. “Take it from our lass – took her fuckin’ ages to get her council flat through. They had her, pregnant, crashing on her brother’s couch for six weeks, and that place is a right junkie shithouse.”

“Oh, aye,” Sheila chimes in. “Tight buggers, them lot.” She licks salt off her fingers. “But it were a dodgy business, that mad cow whatsit. Them poor bairns.”

“Well, we’ve come on from those days,” says Tony, briskly but with a conciliatory softness in his voice.

“Oh, aye,” says Sheila again. “Leaps and bounds.” Crumbs from her pie gather on her bosom.

I finish my lunch quickly, so as to perform my task uninterrupted. Under the pretence of checking each deboning apparatus for possible malfunction, I am able to deposit small but significant quantities of a certain substance into their inner workings, while the low-skilled members of the workforce, among whose rank I’d lately numbered, stand aside in obedience. Then I press on as normal, blood on my hands quite as normal, for another hour or so. This time, though, I do not finish my shift, for finishing on time would mean a slow ride home on the minibus, and I have other plans today. At three I depart the deboning floor, hang my bloodied apron on the overhead, bundle my overalls into my locker, shoulder my rucksack, and – fleet-footed – exit the building via the back door, avoiding Tony with all his cheerfulness and passion.

I am two hundred yards from the site when I hear the running thump of footsteps behind me, and briefly my heart starts thumping too and I am all out of character, paralysed and alarmed. I turn, and it is Luke. I keep walking till he catches up to me. There is a hammer in my pocket, just in case.

“Mate!” he says, jubilantly. “You skiving, then?”

“What’s it to you?” I say, not because I’m cute enough to mimic the defensive vocal quirks of Luke’s ilk, but because I’m genuinely quite on edge by this point.

“All right mate, climb down!” he says. (Calm down, does he mean?). “Can I come with yer? I want to see my girlfriend.”

I decide it doesn’t matter, and agree. We walk fast, like a pair of fugitives, through field after field of budding rape seed. We both know, without saying it, that it’s better to stay off the road, though anyone looking for us couldn’t miss from the road two lanky chaps in overalls heading across a close horizon at speed, in the only direction on offer.

“What’s your excuse?” says Luke after a while.


“Mine’s my girlfriend’s in labour. What’s yours?”

I think for a moment. “Zombie apocalypse,” I say.

“Fuck yeah, mate,” says Luke sympathetically. “I’ve played that. PS3 or X-box? Fuckin’ right.” He shakes his head. We tramp on for a while. My toe-capped size nines gradually fill with clay. In my haste I’d forgotten to ditch them for trainers. “Me to you,” Luke continues: “Never smoke ’owt while yer playing that shit. It fucked me right up for a good while, did that. Now I can’t toke without seeing zombies crawling out the walls.”

“Flesh-eating zombies?” I ask.

“Is there ’owt other kind?” asks Luke.

“There is not,” I say, knowing by now that it definitely doesn’t matter. “Just the lot of you zombie fuckers who eat animal flesh every fucking day of your lives.”

“You what?”

“Never mind.”

Luke stops and squares up to me. “Mate, you work at a fucking deboner’s, yeah? What the fuck are you on about?” I can see that he’s flaring up with the type of anger others would call confusion, but I’ve timed everything just right, and here we are at the gates of the ferry terminal. “This is me,” I tell him.

He looks angry/confused.

“I work here sometimes. Nightwatchman. Off to collect my wages.”

“Right,” says Luke, slinking backwards now with a finger cocked gunlike at his temple. “See yer mate, yer fuckin’ barmpot.” He crosses the road, vaults the cemetery wall, and tears a crooked path between the stones. So long, Luke.

The Humber is heavy, smooth. It is brown and full. You might think I’m gazing into it, but really I can barely see; I’m away with my thoughts and all the concentration I have I’m using to keep my nerve. There will be headlines, hashtags, red alerts and frantic recalls. A small boy will lie in danger in hospital, and a pensioner will be found with a rupture, hunched over a toilet bowl, her head low. And I will not be caught. Luke will be named as my accomplice and Sheila will appear on local radio to clear his name. “He’s a good lad,” she will tell the press.

“He’d not hurt a fly,” she’ll say.

“He’s a bairn on the way,” she’ll say.

“I’ll kill that little shitbag when they find him,” she’ll say privately, to her friends, referring to me. About 30’000 people will stop eating meat altogether, which is a start.

Oh sure, all that will come, soon enough. But for now I wait by the river, it swells, and I watch for the cuttlebone profile of the due ferry. Now I am eating a banana. Now I am boarding, the tin gangway clatters beneath me, and I’m studying the faces of my fellow travellers. Now I’ve slipped in with a crowd of stag-weekenders, they are all bald and drinking, and I seem normal, and bereft of politics, and almost like them. Now they are asleep, and I am planted face to the black wind on front deck, expecting a call. I am wiping my streaming eyes, and thinking about my destination; my warm approving comrades; our safe house with its potted herbs and lilac painted walls; all our plans, all our disguises. The sky is turning quickly pale, a shade of oyster over a cold slow-witted sea. There is a city in the distance. Hello Rotterdam, come in Rotterdam, do you read me?

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