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The Butcher's Son
July 4th, 1943, was the hottest day of the year to date. I remember the wet, syrupy feeling in the back of my throat as I sat on the crumbling concrete steps in front of the store as I smoked a cigarette. The curling smoke seemed to get stuck in the humid, motionless air. I coughed and leaned my head back past my shoulders and squinted at the sky, which was bright, gray and cloudless. Every once in a while the hot wind would blow against the side of my face providing a momentary release from unbearable heat. Anyone would’ve thought me a complete dimwit if they had seen me sitting there still wearing my thick, dirty jeans and sweaty black shirt, with my black apron tied around my waist and bunched up at my knees. My feet as well were in the terrible discomfort, covered in black socks and heavy work boots. In fact, the only exposed parts of my body were my skinny, pale arms that stuck out from the black sleeves like blanched twigs, along with my equally pale neck and face. I lifted my head and stubbed the cigarette out on the hot concrete, stretching my thin arms overhead and yawning. My tired legs pushed me up and I turned to face the small, dingy butchery that would ultimately become my future and occupy my every day, my every hour, as soon as my father died. I turned back around and lit another cigarette.
I wasn’t sure how long I stood there, but it was long enough so that the air was starting to grow cooler and the clouds became more prominent. I took several long, slow inhales and squinted at the sky once more before throwing my cigarette on the ground and grinding it with my heel. I was overcome with a sudden wave of nausea, probably brought on by a combination of the cigarettes, the heat, and the lack of water, and I took a deep breath and tried to steady myself. I closed my eyes for a few long seconds and when I opened them, I noticed a figure twenty or so meters away from me. I recognized it immediately; it was Catherine Haugen, the daughter of the well-known lawyer Sven Haugen who’s shared law office, “Haugen & Bendtsen” across from the butchery.
“S***,” I swore under my breath as I swallowed and was once again bombarded by nausea, the sickly, bitter taste in my mouth doing nothing to help my condition. One moment I had thousands of thoughts racing through my head, and the next they were all gone. I coughed and almost instantly regretted it, as I gagged a bit and wiped my sweaty palms on my shirt. I forced a smile as she approached me, but I realize now that it must have come across as more of a grimace.
“Are…you alright, Andrew?” I could tell she was trying not to stare at my dirty clothes, at my sweaty hair, at the dozens of cigarettes at my feet. And for that, I loved her even more.
“Me? Oh, sure. Right. I’m fine,” I replied hoarsely, carefully shifting my feet so that the cigarettes remains were buried under my boots. I, too, was trying not to stare at her, but for a different reason. I remember to this day how she looked against the gray sky with the gray cement at her feet and the warm wind blowing her hair to one side of her head. Catherine paused before saying anything else and involuntarily reached for a piece of her long hair, twirling it around her finger. I figured she always did this when she was nervous or uncomfortable. She was raised in the kind of household where awkwardness and lack of charm is punishable, and here she was, face-to-face with me, as abhorrent as she was beautiful. I nearly sighed out loud until I realized she had asked me another question. I could feel my face burn red and I scratched my nose to hide my embarrassingly flushed cheeks.
“I was just saying how nice of a day it is. A little warm, though,” she chuckled and I saw a glimpse of her stunning teeth, a shade of white that made everything around it look extremely dull. “But never mind that, I always try to get a nice walk in before dark,” she added. I nodded like I understood, but inside I wondered why in hell anyone would desire to take a walk for their own enjoyment, let alone in a place like this, but quickly I realized that when one as lucky as Catherine has all the time in the world, so why not waste it walking? Oh, to be young, beautiful, and rich, I thought bitterly to myself. Yes, I possessed one of those, but she possessed three of them. And trust me, there are plenty of boys in the world that possess all three as well and would still jump for joy to be able to have Catherine on their arm.
“Do you enjoy…Beer?” I blurted out suddenly after a period of silence, and I instantly regretted it. Not because what I had said was completely and utterly moronic (which it was), but because the silence we had been standing in for the past minute or so had almost been…Comfortable. We hadn’t needed to talk about anything, or chat on about the weather, or discuss the new paintjob on our building. We just stood there, feeling the humid air wrap around us and listening absentmindedly to the ugly crow of the raven in one of the gnarled trees above us.
“Do I enjoy…Beer?” She repeated, looking straight at me and into my eyes. I tried to hold the stare but I chickened out almost immediately, glancing spastically to my feet, my fingers, then back to my feet. I nodded and shivered involuntarily as a cool wind dried the sweat dripping down my back.
“I was wondering if maybe you’d fancy going to the pub with me,” I said. “Anytime this week, or next, even. Doesn’t have to be tonight,” I added hastily. My mind was going crazy now, trying to stay a step ahead and figure out what to say if she rejected me. But she couldn’t, I thought to myself. Could she? After a long silence (this one not quite as pleasant as the last), I finally looked up at her. But she wasn’t looking at me. She had her eyes fixed on the raven, her lips pursed tight. She looked worried, maybe even troubled, anxious at the least.
“No, thank you,” she responded at last, finally taking her gaze off the bird and quickly moving her eyes past mine before aiming her glance at the ground. I paused, wanting to rewind time and wish I had never asked. But I had.
“Alright, then. It’s all right. No worries,” I knew my voice sounded forced, but I couldn’t help it. “I should get back to work,” I muttered, even though I wanted to heave nearly rotten animal meat from the street to the giant icebox downstairs about as much as Catherine wanted to go out with me.
She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and gave me a funny little smile, with her lips closed and the ends of her perfect mouth turned up at the sides as if she possessed a secret. She turned and never looked back, her hair flowing behind her and the raven crowing loudly as she walked away, just as sure of herself as she had been walking towards me five minutes ago.