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When someone said “why don’t you publish short stories”, we said “hmm”. Then we said “heyyyy”. Then you’ve guessed our last answer. This Debut short-story conglomerate is called ON THE BRINK. First guest writer Sophie Adams with Dark Eyes. (Painting by Sophie Adams, Monkey on her Back, courtesy of the artist.)

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Monkey on her Back

Dark Eyes.

The meat is laced with rivulets of fat, great slabs of red and pink tissue all hunkered up. If you press the rump with the pad of your finger sweet blood will bloom out softly and wrinkle back in. Upside down carcasses hang headless from meat hooks. Parts of animal that look like knuckled fists sit in lines on the back wall. It is a veritable circus of red and white and ripples of yellow fat. The men spray the bodies with some disinfecting solution like doctors in their white coats, though the crisp cotton is stained and splattered with blood and juices.

I close the metal door, it shuts with a plastic pucker, and then I go to bolt it and I walk down the corridor with the same resigned gaze as my buddies who work at the abattoir, sling my latex gloves in the waste can.

I work here to provide for my kids and for Odette, my wife. In her capacious thighs at night I find sweet relief, afterwards I light a cigarette and let the incessant days go on. Odette, it has occurred to me recently, has acquired the same dull glaze in her round brown eyes that the cattle get after I stun them.  Maybe she’s doing too many night shifts cleaning the offices.

The cows outside are lining up, terrified sounds evaporate in the spotlight that glare down from the railings. Their eyes limpid and wet, dribble from their nostrils splashes onto the ground, shit falls from their rears. I glide past the new load of cattle and see my reflection in their desperate stares. They know,  I’m sure that they know , that their pitiful lives end like this, deep down in that bovine mind, that lives to eat, breathe and reproduce, there’s a little notch of soul carved in the spongiform coils of their lumpen brains that knows the ghastly confusion that precedes the stun gun. It doesn’t hurt, is all I can think, when those sad cows get stunned. That’s my job, I’ll do as many as I can in a day’s work. My quota is maximum 150 of them every 3 hours.

Globes of thick coagulated blood daub Frank’s work clothes as we kick back and down some beers in the evening light. The moon is rising, a pale lime green from behind the brow of the hills that undulate like still waves. Why do I do this? To relax. To forget. By the end of the evening when all is cloaked in inky darkness, and the moon is high in its house; in the harbouring arms of that grandiose sky. Infinite and miasmic with stars and silken cloud skeins, only an orange haze crowning the cusp of the sky from the street lighting interrupts the cloak of deep, rich, enveloping Prussian blue. A blue that is rich and plasmic like blood, just a different colour, that’s all.  My head’s swimming and Frank’s blood stains spin and splinter kaleidoscopic , refracting and catching light shards, as if holy fire were catching on his cloth covered body. I linger there at the terrace, until, Betsy, Frank’s wife, hollers for him.

At the funeral, roses piled high in configurations of cream and pink bursts. Studded together to spell ‘Dad’ and ‘Frankie’.  I wonder who called him Frankie, he was a close buddy of mine at the meat processing plant, and  I knew no one who referred to him as Frankie. Maybe they got it wrong at the florists. All though they paid extra for the ‘I’ and ‘E’ didn’t they. Another stinger for Betsy to deal with. It could have been her pet name for Frank, he always was a soft son of a bitch.

Betsy’s mascara runs down in crusty streams, the black mixing with the clear colour of tears. She’s worn her sister’s black dress and it creases and shimmies up uncomfortably around her wide, plump hips. She repeatedly tries to pull it down over her hips to fit neatly, as it would on her sister’s lithe figure.  The light in the lounge is milky and shafts of dust dance thickly in the stagnant air.

I’m sorry Betsy.

She grabs my upper arm, right on my stun arm. The one I hold the gun with, my right arm. The muscles a lot more developed there than on the rest of my torso. And she bursts into tears.

I hate our lives, Carl, I just hope Frank’s in a better place.

Sure Betsy, sure, I’m sure he is.

 Dust plays and comingles with the papery faces of people who expected a little more from life than this and with those faces who never had the capacity to dream for more.  At least I did. I go home, take Odette out to the river. Sweep a curl of loose black hair from her eyes, pin it behind her ear. And I kiss those lips. And I hope. And I think of the cows and their dark eyes, I see myself reflected in the fresh crimson blood on the cutting floor before it’s sloshed away with bleach and water and then it disappears.

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