Caroljean Gavin ~ The Meat Market

The jin­gle bells tied to the door jin­gle, clank, rat­tle, and then set­tle, as we push our way inside and take our place in line. The fog up from the ocean across the street stays on the oth­er side of the door, con­tent to wait, to swal­low us back up later.

Freshly mopped tile, and the smooth smell of fat. The butcher’s sug­ges­tive­ly stained apron. His net­ted head, his washed down thick­et of arm hair. The dia­grams on the wall, divid­ing out the cow, the pig, the chick­en, the lamb by qual­i­ty and ten­der­ness, by appro­pri­ate­ness of prepa­ra­tion and con­sump­tion. Shank. Round. Rump. Shoulder. Loin.

I fin­ger the ser­rat­ed edges of Mother Goose chip bags on a rack. Daddy is look­ing at the case. I bend my leg, and then quick­ly straight­en it, mak­ing my knee pop. I love sour cream and onion best. I decide to save my plead­ing for a box of rice can­dy before we leave. Already plac­ing the col­or­ful stick­er prize inside my stick­er book beside the Cabbage Patch Kids puffy stick­ers, and the scent­ed Strawberry Shortcake ones.

Daddy scans the case, the slices and cuts, laid out on boards behind invis­i­ble glass. His eyes water. He talks to him­self over his mus­tache. Ground chuck. Bacon. Capicola or mor­tadel­la? Liver for your mother.

The cus­tomer before us takes his white paper wrapped steaks, and his change, is about to leave, to step into the fog where we will nev­er see him again, but before he does that he looks up at Daddy. “Hey Paul?” he says, “And he says, “It’s good to see you. It’s been a while,” and while Daddy nods, the man says, “This your daugh­ter?” and he looks at me from foot, to leg, to shank, to breast, to neck, to head, and Daddy is still nod­ding, and the butch­er asks Daddy what he would like, and the butcher’s wife hands me a tiny lemon lol­lipop, and the meat sighs and bleeds as they wrap it, and they wrap paper so tight­ly, I can’t breathe.


Caroljean Gavin’s work is forth­com­ing in Best Small Fictions 2021 and has appeared in places such as Milk Candy Review, Barrelhouse, Bending Genres, and Pithead Chapel. Her flash chap­book, “Shards of a Stained-Glass Moving Picture Fairy Tale” is forth­com­ing from Selcouth Station Press. She’s the edi­tor of What I Thought of Ain’t Funny, an anthol­o­gy of short fic­tion based on the jokes of Mitch Hedberg pub­lished by Malarkey Books. She’s on Twitter @caroljeangavin