Slaughterhouse: short stories about women
by Mia Miranda
The first time she saw a pig die, she thought she could be brave. She stood there, boots pressed into the soft mud, watching like it was something out of the Bible. It was the hammer that changed things. Why use a hammer when you have a gun? It makes everything intimate, or brutal, or both because, really, what’s the difference? She never wanted to know what flesh felt like under the weight of a hammer. She already knew what it sounded like.
Pigs cry like humans. She thought: I can’t tell the difference between my screams and hers.
He tells me that he is looking for a nice girl to settle down with. By this, he means he is looking for a girl who will not cause problems. Nice, which is to say malleable. Which is to say easy. Say soft, say submissive, say I am looking for a wife but also for a mother, say sex but only on my terms, say an object. A nice girl is what he says. Which is to say, not me.
But he takes me anyway. To dinner, to his bed. (Not in that order). I keep telling myself that this means I am a nice girl, or at least that I can be, for him. Everything I say starts and ends with him. I hand my body over, I say surrender, I say I don’t need it anymore now that I have you. I say take it, take it, take it.
And he does.
For days after watching the pig die, she would toss in her sleep, her dream-self running through mud, leaving footprints, heavy with pig-blood, in her path. In her dreams, she yelled, her throat supple, merely a place to be sliced, the site of a botched excavation. She would run and yell (run and yell, run and yell, over and over and over) until she wasn’t sure whether she was running for her own life or for the pig. She didn’t even know where the pig was. Had there been a pig? But then there was all that blood. She started running again, yelling louder now:
I am the pig! She was me! Why didn’t you hear me screaming?
The first time we have sex the blood runs all the way down past my ankle, pools at my big toe. He tells me he loves me but only when he is inside of me, and every time he says it looks like it hurts. I feel bad, even though I’m in pain, even though I told him please don’t, even though he promised it would feel good. He says I love you like it’s a bandage or a blindfold. Then he takes me from the back, so he doesn’t have to look at me. I am hog-tied, squealing, sweaty under the sticky mass of him. His hands on my throat feel like a blade.
I love you, Dolly. I keep trying to listen to him when he says it, but all I hear is a slice.
When she woke up (soft with sweat, throat raw as a slab of meat), he would make her drink Gatorade—the boring orange type— ignoring her pleas. He would call the priest from across the street to kneel against her the next time she slept, praying into her ears. Hoping to pray away the screams. But it was too late. She knew, then, that she was marked with an expiration date, the same as the pack of meat in the freezer, or the gallon of whole milk dripping with condensation on the counter. When the priest asked if she felt better, she responded with a smile and went back to dreaming about a butcher’s knife.
One day in the spring he tells me that he is in love with another woman. He tells me that she is nice, so of course, I should have expected it. A week later he tells me that he cannot live without my body. I know I shouldn’t be happy but I am. So he is dating her, pining like a puppy, and fucking me like he’s in heat every other Thursday. So I’m happy but only sometimes. He doesn’t say he loves me anymore, but he repeats my name and I tell myself it means the same thing.
Dolly, dolly, dolly. Yanking at my hair. Dolly, dolly, dolly. My face against the cold tile floor. Dolly, dolly, dolly. In the back of a car, sweating against the leather. Dolly, dolly, dolly. Until my skin doesn’t feel like skin. Dolly, dolly, dolly.
Until I learn to cry at the sound of my name. Until Dolly turns into Doll turns into Dorotea turns into nothing.
She understood that there were few things more important than consumption. It was a tale as old as cavemen. The craving for meat is enough to turn lover on lover. Carnivore instincts tell us: you can have this heart and hold it, or you can eat it. Nine out of ten times men choose to eat it. She understood this. People keep telling her that men are like beasts. They can’t help themselves. It is natural. She keeps thinking: if men are beasts, why are we the ones sent to slaughter? But she understood that there were few things more important than hunger, and women are all flesh: tender meat stuck between crevices of teeth, his canines rupturing veins.
To have and to hold or to eat. Semantics. She understood this.
The night that it ends I have dinner at his mother’s house. It goes like this:
Here is the pot full of butternut squash soup. Here is the girl (me) at a dinner table that is not hers. Here is a mother (not my mother) stretching her mouth open with a fist. Here is the butternut squash soup barreling down her esophagus. Here is the nausea. Here is a reminder to be polite; she is a guest, after all. Here is the boy watching her gag. What else to say about the butternut squash soup? Well. There is a lot.
When she goes to the bathroom she decides three things. The first is that she is definitely about to vomit. The second is that she will never see him again after tonight. Mostly, she decides she hates butternut squash soup.
Here is the girl as she leaves the bathroom. Here is the girl two hours later in a car (not her car). Here are the new stains in the backseat. Here are the fluids and here is the blood. Here is her body pretending to be a body. Here is the boy.
Where is the girl?
She wants to be more than flesh. But then there’s the problem of all the blood; if a rock can be eroded by water, worn down to a pebble, then what of the human body? What of her body, that her mother always said could be kneaded like dough, the flesh of her arms so soft and giving, meant more to be trampled than loved?
They never find my body after that night.
The way he tells it, I was hysterical. I was yelling. I was the crazy one, accusing him of unspeakable crimes. He was the one who had to escape me. The way he tells it, he dropped me off on the street in front of my house and never saw me again. He doesn’t know what happened to me after that, he swears. The way he tells it, he never did anything wrong. He cleaned off the stains from the backseat, sold his car at a discounted price. The way he tells it, it turned out well for him in the end.
There is an empty grave somewhere marked Dolly. There is a body somewhere with no face, no name.
I couldn’t tell you if it was me.