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A Butcher Fantasy

It is dark inside the cow. Space is limited; you can crouch or curl or squat on your haunches. My favorite position is fetal: chin down on my stomach, knees drawn up in a tight ball. I sleep like that most nights. Cup my head and close my eyes. I don’t really need to close them. All around me is darkness—to the left and to the right, I can see nothing. The cow is seamless. After it has eaten it is gassy, a thick blanket of mist that shimmers and smarts, clouds everything. My head grows heavy, falls into my chest, and my body, always weak and sickly, topples, exhausted, onto the methane mattress that holds me. I sleep with my knees bent, my hands tucked between my thighs. At some point, my body sprawls; my arm drops. The contact with the cow’s insides stir me and my eyelids flutter open. It is early morning. Before day starts; daybreak. I know because of the space, the air. I can breathe again. Before dawn, the cow’s body temperature drops and its belly is empty. The space expands. I unbend my spine, shake out my wrists and roll my ankles. I have about an hour of freedom before it starts again: the process of feeding. It’s endless. All day the cow grazes. It chomps and belches, farts fat flammable clouds. From inside, the cow reverberates and rolls. Each bite is a bulldozer, swallows like thunder. I block my ears and clasp my knees, try to close the cow out but it is impossible; the cow encloses me. By midday it is fat, swollen and grinding in heat. Nothing is as hot as the inside of an animal. Nothing is as empty. My throat burns, tears come to my eyes, mixing with the noxious cow fumes and my own perspiration. My head grows dizzy—a sense of falling even though I cannot fall; the cow holds me. There is no escaping it—the assault continues until evening. I have long since given up crying. I no longer beat my fists against the cow’s innards. I breathe the hot gas and feel myself slipping. Each day, I lose more of me. My body is small and wiry, muscles balled tight from crouching. I can make a fist in the pit of my belly, always so hollow, hungry from masticating grass. My teeth have turned soft from chewing slop; milk teeth. I run my tongue and try to remember the taste of solid food, of meat, steak T-bone, chuck, and short ribs. I see the pieces laid out in shiny silver trays and smell the burning charcoal of the braai. My stomach knots, hungry for the sizzle of fat and flesh thrown on the skillet so the outside is charred and the inside bloody. I take a bite and try to hold the memory in my mouth, try to make it hum and squirt but already it is fading. Nothing coagulates. Steak is indistinct; merely a sucking, a metallic recollection which teeth can no longer bite into. Liver is long gone. I have no recall, neither taste nor texture. It doesn’t matter. There is no question of eating cow now.

{TO READ THE REST OF THIS STORY, PLEASE PURCHASE ISSUE 43 (The African Literary Hustle).}
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