There is something different about the silence here. It is a ubiquitous silence, as quite as a morgue in the early hours of a slow day. A silence that leaves a trail in your mind, that only leads back to the silence itself. It wakes you in the night and keeps you from sleeping. It reverberates sound as if clinging to each note for longer than it should. With each new day the silence crystallizes like ice, then gradually melts into the hot air. The days and nights here are clogged with a heat as hot as fumes rising from hell. The temperature only cools between one and four am, which is usually when I drift off to sleep. Before then I am always looking at my husband; wondering how it is that he can sleep at all. I always tell him he is like a bear; if he could, he would sleep for months. His snores blissfully float past me as I stare at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to come like a slow boat sailing in the fog.
We live in a small community of less than sixty people, in a remote area close to the lake. I know none of my neighbours. I never see anyone walking around and I never to run into anyone. My husband goes to work at eight-thirty in the morning and returns home at five in the evening. I spend my days doing household chores, reading, sewing or painting. Sometimes when it is not too busy at work, my husband will call me at lunch. We talk for about thirty minutes and I share the mundane details of my morning. Then my husband will then tell me about his, but I never really understand what he’s talking about. I think I would only understand his work if I was actually there, seeing him do what he explains to me over the phone. I give the periodic replies of uh huh – because I am listening. I’m just not understanding all of the mining jargon.
On Wednesdays I do the weekly shopping in town, which is approximately an hour away. I spoil myself as much as I can during this time. It is my only chance to feel like I am a part of a society, and not some lonely alien stranded on earth. On my last grocery run, I had lunch at an Italian restaurant that had recently opened. There was only one other customer when I arrived, and it felt like we were the only two people who had shown up to a church fundraising event. I ordered Pasta Bolognese with a glass of chilled white wine, and for background music, there were the loud staccato slurps of the man seated to my left. He was eating ox tail, loudly sucking and slurping up the tiny pieces of cooked bone marrow wedged between the bones. Fortunately, when my plate came, he was nearing the end of his meal.
After lunch I went straight to the supermarket, and they were having a special on meat. A small group of people were huddled around a freezer, and I overheard one man say it was the best meat he had ever eaten. He said it with such conviction that a few people immediately reached for a meat pack. I asked one woman what type of meat it was.
“It just says venison,” she said. “Wouldn’t hurt to try,” she added then picked up two packs. I caught a glimpse of the meat as she dropped it into her basket. It looked red, very red; as if it had been dipped into a bucket of thick blood before being sealed up. With a subtle frown, I walked past the meat and continued on with my shopping. By four o’clock I had returned home. My husband arrived from work an hour later. We had supper and by ten, we were both in bed.
At around eleven in the evening I woke up suddenly. The room was dark with silvery slices of moonlight slipping through the curtains. I sat up and looked over at my husband who was fast asleep, as usual. Sleep was flowing out of me like dry sand pouring out of a burlap sack. I quietly slipped out of bed and went to the kitchen to have a glass of water. From the window I could see a moon so full, it was as if it was slowly approaching the earth. The more I looked at it, the more entranced I became. The moon seemed as if it was the beginning of a question and the very answer itself.
I finished my water and placed the glass into the sink. As I raised my eyes, I caught a glimpse of a distant light through the window. A small, yellow sparkle of light I had never noticed before. A tingling curiosity gripped me, and I went outside to follow the light. I walked all the way down to the edge of our property, and when I came through the trees I saw the clear outline of a small farmhouse. What was strange was the sound coming from the direction of the house. It was a low buzzing sound like a swarm of bees. I was tempted to keep walking; to follow the sound, but I resisted the urge and went back inside the house. For the next two hours I lay wide awake, waiting for sleep to come.
The following day I decided to visit the farmhouse after breakfast. After all, we were neighbours. My husband called whilst I was eating; he had forgotten his tablet and asked if I could email him a few of files.
“What are you planning to do today?” he asked me.
“Oh, nothing,” I told him. “I think I’ll just walk around for a bit.”
After we spoke I emailed him the files. I then changed into a pair of boots, and grabbed a hat and my cell phone. There was a field I would have to cross between our property and the farmhouse. I predicted the walk to be about fifteen minutes. Even though it was still morning, the sun was already at its zenith and showing no signs of a reprieve. The wind blew for a short moment, but it just felt like hot air flowing from one space to another. In eleven minutes I had arrived at what looked more like a workshop than a farmhouse. It was a flat roofed building with a sign that said ‘M.A.K. Inc.’ in a large black letters. There was no one around and every window was covered with blinds. I knocked on the door and even tried the handle – the door was locked. The yard had no garden or even a patch of lawn. There were a few trees around but nothing that could be considered decorative, and there were no cars or any other types of vehicles. After I had seen all there was to see, I gave up trying to figure out what it was and walked back home.
My husband came home at five-forty in the evening, and at seven we had a dinner of beef stew and brown rice. After dinner we watched a movie, and by ten thirty, even I was asleep. Unfortunately, an hour later I was up again. I woke up with a strange feeling stirring inside of me and instantly thought of the farmhouse. A few minutes later I was outside walking towards it with a torch in my hand.
The air was hot and humid like the Devil’s bathhouse, and drifting through it was the same droning sound I had heard the night before. The closer I got to the workshop, the louder the sound grew. I quickly crossed the field, and when I was a short distance away from the building, I turned my torch off. Thinking back, this really wasn’t like me, but for some reason a persistent curiosity kept nudging me forward. I stopped behind a tree a few feet away from the front door. A minute later, a pickup truck arrived and three men climbed out. Two of them went to the back and unfastened the tailgate, then climbed onto the cargo bed. They dragged out a long sack that was dripping with blood – or what looked like blood, and carried it inside. The third man opened the door and the buzzing sound escaped through. As soon as I heard it, I instantly recognized the sound. It was the sound of meat cutting machines. I carefully went round to the back of the building and hid behind another tree. The blinds were up, and I could see a large room with long metal tables. Inside, were white uniformed men wearing caps, gloves and aprons. There were about ten men in total. Some were slicing meat, and the others were carrying it, to and from the cutting stations. It was a butchery, I thought to myself, but I wondered why they only worked in the evening. The three men who had just entered came out from a side door, wearing the same uniforms as the rest. A man dressed in a white shirt and black pants followed behind, carrying a clipboard. He briefly spoke to the recent arrivals then disappeared into another room. It was just a butchery I repeated to myself, as I slowly moved away, crouching close to the ground.
The next morning as my husband got ready for work, I asked him if he knew anything about the butchery.
“What butchery?” he asked.
“The butchery at the farmhouse across the field,” I told him.
“There’s a butchery?”
“Ya, I heard it. I heard the sound of the meat cutters and saw men dressed like butchers.”
“You saw them from all the way here?”
“Well, no. When I was walking around, I saw them,” I mumbled.
He turned and looked at me suspiciously. “Hmmm,” he simply said. “I didn’t know there was a butchery nearby. I can ask around if you want. Did you want to buy some meat from them?”
“No, no. I was just…curious,” I answered.
“Okay well, I’ll ask anyways,” my husband said as he fastened his tie. Today he had a big meeting in the morning. They were giving a report to the executives who were coming down from the city. I stood behind my husband and helped him put on his jacket.
“There,” I said. “Don’t you look handsome?”
After my husband left, I couldn’t help thinking about the sack the men were carrying last night. It was oddly shaped; long and thin. Maybe crocodile? Probably crocodile, I thought to myself. At lunch my husband called and asked me how my morning was. I shared the usual boring facts of an uneventful morning, and he told me about his meeting. It had gone well, he said, but the directors wanted to make a few changes. My husband’s supervisor apparently felt the changes were completely unnecessary.
“You know how it is,” my husband said. Honestly, I didn’t. I had worked as a school teacher for children under the age of nine, so company bureaucracies were a foreign thing to me. “By the way,” he said, “I asked about the butchery.”
“Yeah?” I responded, waiting to hear what he had found out.
“Apparently, there are no butcheries around.”
“Huh,” I uttered.
“Are you sure it was butchery? Or maybe it was just a group of men slaughtering a cow.”
“No,” I said shaking my head. “They had all of the machinery and tools.”
“Wait a second, how close did you get? Were you trespassing on someone’s property?”
“It’s not trespassing if there’s no gate – or wall,” I said. I heard him sigh through the phone.
“Is that what you meant when you said you were just going to walk around?” my husband asked.
“Maybe,” I said, and he groaned. I decided to keep the details of my nightly walk to myself.
“Well please don’t go back there, the owner might not like the idea of you snooping around.”
“Okay, I won’t.”
“Good. I know there’s nothing to do around there but please don’t go wandering around.”
“Okay, I won’t,” I assured him.
“Thank you,” he said in a satisfied tone. To further appease him, I told him I would be painting all day. He was very happy to hear that. We ended our call and I did as I had told him, I spent the day painting the workshop from the comfort of our property.
The next Wednesday I drove into town for the groceries. The venison was still on special. I picked up a meat pack and glanced at the favourable price. That was when I saw the letters M.A.K. Inc. printed on a second sticker, on the bottom.
“Delicious meat,” a woman said to me, nodding to the pack I was holding.
“Is it really?” I asked her.
“Oh yes, it’s venison you know. Not too popular around here, but once you try it, you simply can’t stop eating it.”
“Really?” I repeated, looking at the meat pack.
“Trust me, and it doesn’t take long to cook, so easy – and so juicy,” the woman said with the voice of an infomercial host. I immediately threw a pack into the trolley.
I didn’t cook the meat that night; I wanted to save it for Friday. That Wednesday I cooked us spaghetti and meatballs. My husband was excited to hear I had bought venison because he had never tried it before.
“It seems like tricky meat to cook, though,” he said with his voice trailing off as if following a thought. “They always have it on those cooking shows – you know, the competition ones.”
I slowly lowered my fork when he said that.
“You’re right,” I replied looking up at him. “Venison is tricky to cook. But she said it was so easy, that it didn’t even take long.”
“Who said that?”
“A woman who was doing her shopping. She had bought the venison before and said it was so easy to cook.”
“Maybe she has cooked venison so many times that for her it’s now easy,” my husband said. I gave him a concerned look. “Don’t worry, you’re an excellent cook, I’m sure it will come out great.” I wasn’t as convinced.
On Friday I searched for venison recipes online and came across an overwhelming number of ways to cook it. I kept it simple and settled on fried venison with grilled potatoes. At five o’clock I turned the TV on and started to cook. My husband came home earlier than usual, and I really hoped it wasn’t the venison that had brought him back so soon. I wasn’t even sure if it would come out right. Once I had finished grilling the potatoes, I started on the venison. The sizzling sound of the meat cooking quickly filtered through the air. At six o’clock the news came on and in the headlines they mentioned the arrest of a politician. Another corrupt official, what else was new? I thought to myself. I flipped the meat over, but it appeared to be reddening rather than browning. As if it had been soaked overnight in red spices and oils. My husband came into the kitchen.
“Is it supposed to look like that?” I asked him lifting the pan off the stove for him to see. He glanced at the meat.
“Mmm, gives new meaning to red meat,” he said. I placed the pan back onto the stove, examining the meat like a scientist performing an experiment. “I’m not really sure,” he said coming up to my side. “Hey, it’s meat, as long as it doesn’t burn it should be fine.” He went into the living room and stood in front of the TV, as I tried to figure out how one knows when venison is ready. The sound of his phone ringing interrupted my focus.
“Phone,” I yelled out to him. My husband patted his pockets then realised the phone was ringing from the bedroom. I rolled my eyes. He smiled at me then hurried out the room.
I suddenly heard the reporter on the TV saying the name M.A.K. Incorporated. I turned to look at the television and saw a man with his head down, being led away in handcuffs. It wasn’t a corrupt politician who had been arrested, it was the head of M.A.K. Incorporated, also known as M.A.K. Inc.
“There had been an increase of people admitted into the hospital with cases of severe diarrhoea,” the reporter said. “All of the patients were said to have eaten meat from M.A.K. Incorporated. The Food Standards Agency opened up an investigation, and it was discovered that M.A.K. Incorporated had been selling human meat as venison, which is deer meat.”
I slowly turned my head and looked down at the pan. Blood was mingling with the hot oil, splitting into particles like molecular cells still pulsing with life. The air was tinged with a strange smell that would rise and fall in the odour of the cooked meat. All I could hear now was the sizzling of the meat, like the hiss of a sharp warning shooting out of the pan. A prickling sensation crept down my arm as a flush of goose bumps instantly appeared. I felt sick. I turned the stove off and dumped the contents of the pan into the bin. Tied up the trash bag and took it outside. When I came back in, I scrubbed that pan so hard it was as if I was trying to remove the coating. I was so disgusted.
“What did I miss?” my husband said standing in the doorway. There was a perplexed stare on his face as his eyes moved from me, to the stove, to the table.
“What happened to the venison?” he asked in a disappointed voice.