By Jess Charle
Have you ever met a cannibal? I assume not. Or at least, not that you know.
What do you picture when you think of a cannibal? Someone from a country far from yours, with sharpened teeth, straw skirt, and black mud painted on their face, skin browned by sun and dirt?
Or do you picture a moving corpse, shuffling over the pavement towards you, one arm dangling uselessly while the other points at you, not accusingly, but with a lazy determination that pulls them forward closer to your still-living brain?
Do you imagine a man in a grey and yellowing wife beater, large sweat stains permanently etched under his arms, his forehead slick with perspiration from the humid southern heat, sawed off shotgun in one hand and his wife/sister smiling gleefully behind him, revealing two incomplete rows of teeth, as you struggle against the restraints of your bounds?
Does a white wintery mountain top fill your mind instead? Blistering wind swiping at her face as the stranded hiker grits her teeth, stabbing desperately at the frozen elbow of her guide, ignoring the frostbite sinking deeper into her lips and nose, tugging at the forearm in an attempt to free it from the corpse for her weary trek downward.
Mrs. Jones was an old woman, plumb with age and prosperity. Her face traced by the lines of age, wisdom, and, what some would consider to be valuable experience. Her long fine grey hair, cleaned and brushed every morning, hung behind her back in a neat simple braid. She did not live in a shoe, nor did she live in a house made of gingerbread and candy. She lived with her husband, Henry Jones, and her Grandson, Billy Jones. Billy’s mother died of a staph infection when he was very young, so the older Jones, having money and room to spare, adopted him and raised him as their own.
Mrs. Jones, or Beatty, as she preferred to be called, was very happy living with her little family in their modest but comfortable two bedroom home on their sunny friendly suburban street.
All of Beatty’s neighbors, as well as the teacher’s at Billy’s school, and the girls who played Bridge at the community center every week, loved her. She was kind, and gentle, and everyone agreed that she made the best snickerdoodles in town.
But Beatty was also the one responsible for the string of missing people that occurred over the span of thirty years, only a few miles away from her home.
See, every six months or so, Beatty would drive twenty minutes to the bus hub. Chrome buses that took passengers from one city to another would stop briefly in the town next to Beatty’s sunny suburbia, before continuing on. When the night was still and calm, and the neighborhood slept around her, Beatty would climb out of her warm bed, careful not to disturb Henry, snoring peacefully beside her. Her slippered feet would pad across the carpet, quiet and light as a cat’s paws. She’d shuffle to the front door, put on her gardening shoes, and get in her low grey Buick, the door closing with a small audible thud behind her.
Once at the station, she’d laboriously pull herself out of the driver’s seat. She’d have parked at the back of the parking lot, just out of reach of the few yellow lights standing close to the busses, as if huddled around comfort and warmth. She’d grab her cane from the back seat, and depart to the hub. The rubber tip of the cane coming down onto the ground with a dull smack, followed by one slow footstep, and then another, making the trek to the lone bus or two, waiting to reboard.
There, she’d stop and scan the desolate crowd of tired travelers, the wind lazily blowing around her, pulling and pushing at the long heavy braid. None of them paid attention to her. They never did. It was late, and dark, and they were weary, All they wanted to do was get on their bus, fall asleep, and wake up home, or on vacation, or with a long distance lover, or an old friend.
Beatty would find the most pathetic, loneliest of the bunch. The man, woman, girl, boy, or none-of-the-above who was distancing themselves from the rest of the waiting group. Maybe the skin of their cheeks was stained with tears. Or maybe they were rubbing their arms, not for warmth, but for comfort. They were the ones who didn’t have a cell phone in their hands. The ones who didn’t seem impatient to leave the isolation and emptiness of the bus station.
Once found, Mrs. Jones would walk slowly to this person, her cane hitting the pavement in front of her with each step. Maybe the person would look up at her. Maybe they’d be so involved in their own issues that they wouldn’t notice. Maybe they just wouldn’t care.
She’d clear her throat, and say, “excuse me, sir” or “pardon me, madam” or “hello?” They’d lift their head slowly, locking eyes with this sweet, kindly old woman, and smile slightly.
Beatty would open her mouth into a wide, gummy smile. “I hate to be a bother,” her weak voice would creak and groan over the words, “but would you mind helping me with my bag?” She’d lift her cane slowly and point to the buick, waiting in the inky darkness.
The trunk would rise slowly into the air, revealing a small black bag sitting inside. The stranger would turn to her and smile, often saying, “is this all?” Mrs. Jones would chuckle, the sound escaping her throat dryly, and the person would feel lighter, freer. Maybe more than they had in a really long time.
They’d grab the handle of the bag and pull, but the bag would not come easily. It was heavy. Very heavy. They’d be surprised. Sometimes they’d make a joke, “are you bringing the mixer?” and Beatty would repeat the same dry chuckle. They’d reach into the trunk, grabbing onto the bottom of the suitcase with one hand while keeping the handle in the other, and prepare themselves.
A quick deep thunk at the base of their neck would leave them limp. Billy, holding an old worn bat, would look into his grandmother’s eyes. She’d nod her head, slowly, and he’d return the nod. His dark gaze would survey the area, double checking the parking lot to make sure no one saw. No one ever would.
Beatty had noticed Billy’s particular appetite after he had turned eight. It started with Billy refusing his vegetables, which Beatty laughed off as normal childhood behavior. Then he started refusing potatoes and bread, and even cakes and candy.
She was a smart woman, and she soon realized that Billy would only eat meat. Over time, his preference became specific to meat that was practically still raw. The tiny boy refusing anything that wasn’t red and juicy when she cut into it, the flesh cold to the touch. Just like his mother. She knew the tastes would change, morph. She knew what she had to do.
Beatty was a good grandmother. She took care of Billy, and due to her efforts, Billy grew up to be big and strong and successful.
We all have to make our way in this world. We all have to learn to satisfy our own cravings.
The felt tip of the black marker glides over her skin. Stacy, or Tracy, or maybe Laura, sits back onto the plastic medical chair, the blue and white gown draped over her slight body, to protect a modesty wholly unnecessary in front of me. I mark her cheekbones, her ears, her neck, her arms. The marker metaphorically cutting into her, showing me where I’m going to dissect her skin, lacerate her tissue, tear her muscles, break her bones. It is the outline of where I will rip her apart, where I will saw and pick and slice. I push aside her gown and mark her waist and thighs, the soft fleshy feminine parts of her body that I will cook, chew, swallow.
When I am done, her face and body are a mask of black war paint, signally death and rebirth, a battle upon her body that together, we will overcome. She to return, not as the wounded warrior, but as the hardened princess. I have reclaimed her body as the cubist mirage all matter can be broken into. I, the Picasso who will rearrange her until her form is mutilated beyond beauty and perfection. Until she is no longer whole, but pieces of a human transcendent of biological need and years of evolutionary progress. She is a canvas of all our posthumanistic desires. Why be mere mortal when one can become art?
Pulling the medical gloves taught, I let go of the wrist with a sharp snap, picturing the blood oozing through my fingers, the feel of the firm sticky flesh, dulled by the slick rubber. I salivate as I walk into the operating theater. I think of bowing to an imaginary audience before I begin, but I refrain. I am the silent director of my own macabre masterpiece.
Afterwards, I return the pieces of flesh, fat, and meat that I’ve taken from my victim, wrapped delicately in plastic, to my personal lunch cooler in the staff fridge. My mind lazily toys with thoughts of the nurses who walk out of the room, focused on the next task at hand as they leave me to deal with the biological trash. I’ve spent years insisting on cleaning up after myself. I think they believe I’m being sweet, the only surgeon who has remained humble here in this house of butchery. No one ever notices the suspiciously light biowaste bags leftover from my operations. Or if they do, no one ever cares.
I feel bad that my grandmother had to go through so much pain to provide for me. But now, people are prepared to throw away their meat and flesh, desperate to pay me lavishly to cut it out of them and take it away.
I pat down my tie, and walk into my office. The next Stacy, or Tracy, or Laura, sits in the leather chair, waiting patiently. Her perfect frame outlined with flowing blonde hair. Long eyelashes plastered black, firm lips painted pink. I gaze upon her sunkissed skin. I can already taste it.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Roberts,” I say, extending my hand. “My name’s Dr. William Jones. It’s very nice to meet you.”