by Kathleen Hood-Haskins

Second Place, ST "Eat Me" contest

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



My brother-in-law Walter is a complete ass. I mean, he's the kind of guy that my mother would have called a blow-hard. There is nothing he hasn't done or doesn't know everything about. If you mention something you have seen or done, Walter has been there, done that, and done it with more panache. There have been times when someone deserved to be in the limelight—a new job, a promotion, a baby, an engagement—but that jerk finds a way to focus on his talents, his life, his power, his whatever. I have wanted to deck the guy a dozen times, but I don't—for Kit. My wife can't stand him either but he's married to her sister, and she begs me to keep peace in the family.

Then the government came up with that stupid policy about conserving fuel and food: "Share and Spare Night." That meant everyone was required to share a weekly meal with extended family. The jingle did nothing to help, either. A cheery female voice cooing, "In New America, sharing is sparing! Spare the fuel, share your gruel. Love country and brother, have a meal with one another." Hey, I'm all for family unity, being patriotic, and that sort of shit, but then the lake weekend thing just pushed me over the edge.

If simply tolerating Walter at a meal was tough, an entire weekend in the woods would be torture. When Kit mentioned it, my first response was unequivocal. I'd rather gnaw off my own limb than spend more than a couple of hours with Walter. "He's always angry, nasty, and I want to pick a fight with him just to make him shut up. No."

"Honey, you know the kids would love it. I promise not to leave you alone with him all weekend." She didn't quit. I was as determined not to spend three days in the wild with that jerk as she was determined we would go. That's when she started with the sad voice. I swear women are born with an innate ability to create guilt. "Don't you love us enough to put up with a little inconvenience for a few days?" So we loaded up the SUV and headed for the damned lake to join Patty and Walter.

Things went pretty well at first. Then we were getting the grill ready, just Walter and me. I honestly don't remember exactly how the whole thing started. We were just sharing a beer, waiting for the fire to be ready, watching our kids. The wives were in the kitchen figuring out new ways to spend the money we brought home every week. It was so… well… normal. If you'd said we'd end up on such an odd subject, I'd have said you were crazy. But, somehow, we did.

Walter was leaning back in his chair, feet propped against the wall. "You remember that soccer team back in the 70s? They went down in a plane up in the Andes Mountains?" He shook his head, shivered, and took a long swig of his Coors.

"It was a rugby team, wasn't it?" I answered, forgetting for a moment that Walter knew everything.

His face darkened a fraction. "No, I'm sure it was soccer. But that doesn't matter. What I'm saying is that they ended up eating the ones who died."

I shrugged. "Yeah, but, man, they were just trying to survive."

"Whatever," Walter responded. "It's still gross." He rose, setting the bottle on the table between us, and opened the large grill. Turning, he slid open the glass doors and yelled, "Hey, Patty, grill's ready when you are."

Closing the door, he lowered his considerable bulk into his plastic chair and pointed at me. "I have read a lot about cannibalism, you know. It's one of the few subjects that almost all people think of as taboo."

I nodded, and then laughed. "Remember that obscure song that was popular for a short time back when we were in high school…? Hell, it may have been junior high. Something about one guy eating another guy. What was it called?"

"I remember that one," he said. "Wasn't it from some movie about rats?"

I wanted to make fun of him because he was so far off the mark, but I could only imagine what Kit would say if I pissed him off. "You're thinking of 'Ben'—Michael Jackson's song about his friendship with a rat." I pointed at the house. "You know Kit will know it, though. She's the fountain of useless knowledge for this group."

My wife always won at Trivial Pursuit. For some reason, she retained the most obscure and meaningless crap about music, movies, people… anything. But she couldn't remember to close the damned garage door when she left the house half the time. Go figure.

I was about to holler at her to come out and settle the question when the door slid open and she walked out ahead of Patty carrying a large platter covered with foil. Kit sat down on the cushioned patio swing beside me and I slipped an arm across her shoulders. "Okay, babe, we may be able to stump you. Walter and I…" I pointed my bottle across at him as Patty perched on the arm of his chair. "…are talking about cannibalism."

"Ewwww," Patty grimaced. "What in the world got you boneheads onto that topic?"

"Shut up," Walter blew her off and motioned toward me. "Go ahead."

"Okay, Kit, help us out. There was a pop song back in the 70s about some kid eating his friend. What was it?"

I'd barely finished the sentence and she'd put a celery stick in her mouth, but Kit said, "'Timothy' by the Bouys. Would have been early 70s, maybe 1971."

Walter looked smug and slapped the arm of his chair. "See, Bud, I knew it was a guy's name. Just got the name wrong."

"He said it was 'Ben'," I told Kit, trying not to sound too sarcastic.

"It was about a mine collapse," Kit began. "A few guys are trapped… they're rescued… one guy comes up missing…"

Patty, still repulsed by the whole line of conversation, shuddered. "You guys are sick. I don't remember that song."

"Come on…" Kit started to sing, "'Timothy, Timothy, where on earth did you go? Timothy, Timothy, God, why don't I know?'" She giggled. "Then one verse was about how the two men who came out alive were full, but nobody ever found poor Timothy."

Patty uncovered the steaks. "I never heard it and would have remembered something so disgusting."

Using a pair of large tongs, Walter popped the thick red steaks on the grill, adjusted the flame, and closed the lid. "Well, I remember it. " With his I-know-everything-about-this-subject look, he began to pontificate about cannibalism. "It was pretty common in prehistoric times, before civilization. Tribes in Africa… like the old movies where the people on safari are dragged in to the middle of the tribe's big group and there's a huge pot of boiling water."

Patty opened the door. "I wish you'd talk about something else."

I tossed my empty bottle into a trash bag near the grill. "But I read something about cannibalism still going on in New Guinea."

Kit pushed her sandaled feet gently against the deck floor and set our swing moving slowly, pulled her legs up and scooted closer to me. "I wonder why people would even consider eating other people?"

"Sickos," my brother-in-law, always the thoughtful genius, said abruptly. He opened, then closed the grill and sat back down. "No way anybody ever did that who wasn't completely whacko."

"Wait a minute," I said, leaning toward him as Patty came back to the porch. "The fact is that in some cultures, especially in ancient times, eating the body of someone was a way of honoring them. It was like they remained a part of you forever."

Walter laughed. "Yeah, well, trust me, nobody with half a brain ever believed that. They're nuts. Period." His expression and tone made it clear: this conversation was over and his opinion was undeniably correct.

Kit squeezed my hand. Trying to stop me, I'm sure. But I shrugged and went on. "Nah... The biggest reason for cannibalism—other than survival, of course—was eating the bodies of enemies after beating them in battle. The final way of showing who won."

He snorted dismissively. "So Jeffery Dahmer was just showing he was the boss?"

"Of course not." I shook my head. "Dahmer was insane. I'm talking about earlier centuries, in primitive times, when people gauged their lives by the sun and moon, believed in gods who lived in the clouds or lightning or fire, thought the world was flat. Not modern civilization. Cannibalism made sense to them because of the world they inhabited."

His voice was getting colder and we recognized Walter's way of clarifying that he was in charge and was going to win. "Well, if ya ask me, they were all just plain crazy. You obviously don't know a damned thing about this, Bud. Like I said, no way any normal person thought it was okay to eat people. Anybody who did for any reason is a freaking lunatic." He stood up, his mouth a grim line, and slammed the lid of the grill against the house.

Patty cringed. Watching her husband get angry and frustrated always meant a bad time for her. As I watched him, I realized what an idiot the man really was. I could have left it alone. Hell, I knew it was better to leave it alone. But I couldn't. "That's not right," I announced, matter-of-factly, walking over to the ice chest to get another beer. "Walter, cannibals were usually just regular people. They were living lives that seemed as ordinary to them as it does to us to throw these steaks on the grill."

Walter's eyes were hard. He threw the tongs across the porch. "You know, Bud, you think you know everything just because you have a college degree. Well, la-dee-fuckin'-da. You don't know everything. Eating people is sick. Only shit-for-brains people would do it." Then he slugged the last of his beer and threw the bottle toward the wall. Instead of shattering—which was, no doubt, the effect he wanted—it clanked onto the floor and rolled, landing near the bag. When even that simple act failed to make him look successful, he bellowed at his wife, "Get your ass up, we're going home. I don't need to stay here with this…" His thumb jerked in my direction. "…this asshole."

Patty tried to calm him, but he was worked up and was having none of it. "Now!" he screamed in her face, pushing his way into the house.

After Patty disappeared behind him, the silence on the porch was deafening. Kit, still beside me, had her eyes closed. I waited a few minutes, listening to the sounds of things being thrown around inside the house, and then sighed. "Sorry. I guess I pushed a little harder than I should have…"

Kit's eyes opened and she looked at me. "Ya think?" But then a smile slowly spread across her face. "But I admit, that was funny. He can't stand being wrong or anyone else having a different opinion, can he?"

I sagged back into the seat. "I'm exhausted. Time with him always wears me out, but this was really bad."

Kit was about to say something when we heard Patty. One piercing scream of pain followed immediately by a slamming door. A car roared into life and peeled out of the driveway before we could get into the house. She was standing near the front door, back to us, shaking with sobs.

Kit touched her sister's back. "He left?"

Patty nodded, turning, and I saw her face before Kit. Her left eye was bloodshot, her nose bleeding. "Good God!" my wife screamed, clutching at Patty as she collapsed. Kit ran to the kitchen as I carried Patty to the couch.

"I'm calling the cops," I snarled through clenched teeth, watching my wife clean up her injured sister. "That son of a bitch broke your nose."

Patty, still sobbing, gripped my arms as I tried to rise. "No, don't. Please Bud, he doesn't mean to hurt me. He'll be fine when we get home. He just… gets…"

"Upset? Mad? Crazy?" I shook with anger. "Obviously he has done this before. Damn it, why have you stayed? Patty, nothing you do or say warrants this kind of reaction. A real man… a decent man… doesn't hit a woman."

Blood stained the fronts of their shirts and Patty's eyes were swelling. Her voice was muffled by the ice pack and Kit's hands. "I don't know what I'd do if he was in jail, Bud. I have nothing of my own, no job, no money… Please just let it go."

Kit was staring at me. We were torn between Patty's pleas and the simple, brutal truth that Walter was someone we truly didn't know. He was no longer a simple irritating blow-hard, he was a wife-beating maniac. Patty continued to beg us to leave it alone. Said she would take care of it. Said maybe now that we knew what he'd done, he'd be better. Kit murmured words of comfort to her sister while I wondered what I could do about Walter.

Three months later, we sat on the same porch. Kit poured iced tea in tall glasses and the three of us watched the children play in the yard. The women were together on the swing, gliding slowly to and fro. I stood at the rail, looking out across the water, listening as they talked. Lost in my own thoughts, Kit said my name twice before I heard her.

"What?" I turned to face them, smiling.

"Is it time?" Kit pointed at her wrist. "Dinner?"

Glancing down at my watch, I nodded. "Yeah, it's six. We ought to start cooking."

I set my tea on the table and headed for the grill.

"Bud," Patty's voice was calm, quiet. "Where do you think he went?"

I stopped in front of her. "Patty, Walter left here that night knowing that he could no longer hide silently behind his ignorance or his fists. He knew Kit and I would not ignore what he did to you. I guess he took the coward's way out and disappeared so he wouldn't have to face the music."

Patty stared at me, expressionless. Then, suddenly, she shook her head and smiled sadly. "You're probably right. And things have been good for me and the kids. It's just that every single day I wonder if this is the day when he will show up on the doorstep."

"Nope, take my word for it." I pried the tin foil away from the large wooden platter beside the hot grill, exposing the thick steaks beneath. "We have now seen the last of Walter."




Copyright © 2008 Kathleen Hood-Haskins

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