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 limelighta new job, a promotion, a baby,
an engagementbut 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'tfor 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
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.
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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."
" 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 cannibalismother than survival, of
coursewas 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
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 shatteringwhich was, no doubt,
the effect he wantedit 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
" His thumb jerked in my direction. "
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
I sagged back into the seat. "I'm
exhausted. Time with him always wears me out, but this was
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
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
"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
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
"What?" I turned to face
"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."