Baltimore isn’t safe. Not even for the predatory meat that stalks its nights. Searching for victims who won’t be missed, meat doesn’t feel regret or pain—only thirst. But the meat remembers something more… doesn’t it? is there more to eternal life than finding another drink?
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 where we keep it, and a man in a uniform came around and knocked on the door the other day, of course we were all in the basement but still we could hear it. meat can hear very well but meat cannot smell, cannot smell fresh cut grass or rat droppings or skin scent. meat cannot smell meat but flesh can smell meat, and i think perhaps the neighbors have started to complain.
we will have to migrate. it is not difficult. in this part of baltimore most of the houses are vacant, and a few days before hand we will all go out to scout for a new home. i like to go scouting very much, i like it the most of anything besides drinking. we split up and wander all night, from sundown to near sun up. edmund and i go out together and walking side by side for so long we sometimes even forget that we are meat, we might even be a brother and sister walking together, like i used to do with my real brother. of course edmund is pink and i am brown but without a reflection it is easy to forget that our meat is not the same color.
we are supposed to stay in the east part of the city, where most of the houses are empty or filled with people who would leave them if they could, but i cheat and walk north into the suburbs that i did not even visit when i was flesh. there there are houses with corners that look a bit like castles and red brick walkways and fine green grass if it is summer. at the very pretty ones i stop and ask edmund if it is nice enough to live in, as if we were flesh and rich flesh at that. sometimes he even answers.
we can walk anywhere in the city if we please and never need to feel fear. there are cruel men in the city but we do not need to worry about them. that is one of the good things about being meat. we do not need to worry about anything except for that the night will end, although of course it will. it always does.
tyrone did not come back from scavenging last night, and we are all very frightened.
bill pretends that he is not. he spent the day rambling and cursing tyrone and saying that we are better off without him, but he did not go out that night to look for drink, and he did not let us go out to scavenge.
bill says sometimes that there are men hunting us but i do not think this is true. it is hard to imagine we are important enough for someone to spend so much time looking for us. then again there are people whose job it is to hunt rats and cockroaches so perhaps i am wrong.
maybe one of these men have gotten tyrone. i have heard the same stories that you have about wooden stakes but i cannot say if they are true or not. they say many things about being meat but most of them are false. i suppose it would be possible to cut the meat enough that it could not work anymore, and there have been times walking past the trash can fires that the bums light in the winter when i have stared into the flames and felt the promise of release, turned away before i sought it.
but i do not think anything like this happened to tyrone. i think he just decided that he would like to see the sun again. i am trying to remember if he said anything to me yesterday as a warning or farewell, but if he did i cannot remember. Perhaps I was not paying attention.
bill is very frightened still, and so he yells a great deal and sometimes hits us. of course there is no point in meat hitting meat but i suppose it makes him feel better. he is still insisting that there are men watching us but i cannot see them. if they were there i think i could see them. at least i think i would be more likely to see them than bill. really i think it is just that the fear has gotten to be too strong. of course at some point his thirst will become stronger than the fear. the thirst is stronger than everything.
Two nights ago bill brought home flesh bound tightly, and he said that we would keep it upstairs in one of the empty rooms, and that we would feed the flesh and get our drink from it. i thought this was a bad idea and told him so. flesh yells and attracts attention. flesh shits and flesh weeps. flesh is trouble. i was right of course but bill did not listen. when bill drank from her she had a look in her eyes that i had to turn away from. of course when it was my turn i drank anyway.
still all next morning I could not forget the look in the flesh’s eyes and I decided that I would need to find a way to make her into meat, not meat like we are meat but empty meat. but then we went to feed the next eveniing I found there was no point, the flesh had become meat all on its own. maybe she choked on the rag that bill stuffed into her mouth or maybe her heart stopped working, i am not sure. flesh is very fragile.
juana raged and gnashed her new teeth until bill grew angry and hit her. then juana whined and panted a while and even sort of pretended to cry, although she soon realized how stupid she sounded and stopped. then she took bill’s hand and went downstairs into the basement even though it was still night, and they slapped their meat against each other, and juana told bill the things that bill likes to hear.
after they were done they spent a long time whispering. juana told bill that it would be easier if they did not have to worry about feeding me and edmund, that there would be more drink for the two of them. they must have known that we could hear them. i suppose they did not care.
later i went out scavenging down by the water, which is a long walk but offers good pickings. there was a pretty white girl drinking a beer on a street side table, and while edmund was asking her directions i snatched up her purse and fled into the evening. inside was a small computer and eighty dollars in cash, and i hid sixty of them beneath a loose floorboard in one of the other vacant houses on the block. i will do the same tomorrow.
bill was waiting for me when i got back from scavenging last night. he was sitting on the couch inside. juana was sitting next to him. at first i thought he knew about my hiding the money and i was frightened the way you are frightened when you have done something wrong, even though i had not. i mean it was not wrong to have hid the money. of course i have done very many wrong things.
bill asked for my take and when i gave it to him he said that it was not enough. he said that edmund and i were useless, two extra mouths to feed, that he was tired of having to put up with us. i told him that edmund and i were doing more good scavenging as he was hunting, and that he ought not complain.
bill said that he was thinking about leaving, or expelling me. i could tell then that he did not really want to leave, but only for me to not want him to leave, and to let him know that.
but in fact i did not care. i told him that he was welcome to leave but that he could not take edmund. when i said that he realized i wasn’t lying and he looked for a long time at juana but she did not say anything. juana has no point, and bill could tell that easily if he was not so stupid.
bill said that we would not survive without him. he said that i did not know how to find drink. i told him that i did not think there was any trick to luring prostitutes but if there was i would be able to figure it out. he raised his hand to hit me but i bared my new teeth and told him that if he touched me again i would do my best to end his meat.
sometimes you do not know a thing is true until you have said it aloud.
bill did not hit me. instead he gnashed his new teeth and said that we would not survive a week without him but he said it the way people say things that they are not sure that they believe. by then it was almost morning and we went down into the basement. when night came bill and juana left without saying anything. edmund asked if they were going to come back and i said no and he nodded but i am not sure he understood.
the thirst has gotten very bad. it is hard to think about anything besides. i try. During the day i tell edmund about what i remember from when i was flesh, which is not very much. little snippets mostly, and they do not add up to anything. i tell him about the time i went to the church basement in a pink dress and, and that there was a boy that i wanted to dance with but he did not ask me to dance. i tell him about a holiday we used to celebrate about a dead man who came back to life. i tell him about the time i saw the ocean, that it was blue but looked yellow when the sun hit it and that it seemed to go on forever. i tell him about my mother, and all sorts of stories about here, but these are all lies because actually i cannot remember much about her. i should remember but i cannot. perhaps i made a point of forgetting.
i tell edmund everything that i can think of. i think perhaps it will do something to keep him sane, or stop him from going any madder. or perhaps i think that it will stop me from doing the same.
either way i do not think it is working.
last night i went out dressed in a skirt and a blouse that i bought with some of the money i hid from bill. they were short and tight and if my meat was flesh i would have been cold. i put on lipstick but could not manage the eye-liner, not even with edmund helping me, lining up my hand against my face, so he rubbed it off. but still he told me that i looked good, or that he thought i did. it is the most that he has spoken in a long time and i was happy to hear him though i was not sure that he was right.
but i knew that i looked fine when i got to the bar and the bouncer let me in even though i didn’t have any id and even though i am only seventeen. i mean my flesh was only seventeen. i do not know what my meat is anymore.
it was very loud inside, the meat can hear things that the flesh cannot and for a moment it was so loud and there was so much flesh seething around me, flesh covering drink, that i wanted to run out screaming.
i did not do that. instead i went to the counter and i ordered a beer. of course i did not drink any of it.
the first man who came to talk to me was young and when i looked at him the drink ran bright into his face and he could not look back at me and he stumbled over his words. i was rude to him and soon he left.
the second man was older and pockmarked and drunk and he he put his hand on my meat almost as soon as he saw me. meat cannot become angry as flesh can but after that at least i did not so much mind doing what i was going to do. he bought me two whiskeys and did not notice that i didn’t drink either. i thought his smile was ugly and mean and not really a smile at all. i asked if he would like to come home with me.
his car was dented and he did not open my door. when i told him where i lived he sucked his teeth and said something about the ghetto and told him he would take me back to his house, but i insisted. he did not like that but i put my meat onto his flesh and he groaned and panted and after a while he turned the car on and began to drive. on the way over he said stupid things that i did not pay any attention to.
he did not like the look of my house but i touched him again and after a while he let me drag him outside. when the door opened and he saw some of what was inside he became frightened, and he tried to run but i did not let him.
edmund drank first. for once there was enough for everyone.
“meat+drink” copyright © 2016 by Daniel Polansky
Art copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey Alan Love