The Butcher and the American

By July 19, 2015 36 comments Permalink

Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuanacocainespeed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)

This week, Andrew Cotto takes us to a butcher shop after a night of Italian wine.

Andrew CottoThe Butcher and the American
by Andrew Cotto
Alcohol

The American walked the ancient Italian countryside on unsteady feet. It was a familiar path, but he had been up very, very late with guests from the States, toasting to liberal optimism with liberal quantities of Tuscan wine. They had, essentially, drunk all night, waiting for election results from the States, which didn’t report until three a.m. Italian time that Barack Obama had become the forty-fourth president of the United States.

In the early morning light, the American left his slumbering guests to embark on his daily routine. He walked down the private road, scraping across the hardened dirt buttressed by an Etruscan wall draped with buzzing rosemary curtains. The adjacent valley was overwhelmed by autumn poppies above the green, green grass. The sky shimmered in swimming-pool blue.

Under a gated archway by the road, the American felt his stomach roil as his head spun with euphoria. Despite the limited sleep and abundance of alcohol, he’d never felt so alive, so optimistic, so proud to be American. He crossed the road and turned down a path that threaded a grove studded with olive trees that shimmered green-gray in the hazy light. Down, down he went, nearly stumbling at times, into a hollow that hosted a village.

On the piazza’s corner, he purchased a newspaper to confirm the reality of his dream state, then, as church bells rang, he crossed the narrow street, through the magical light, into the butcher shop of his unlikely friend.

The American entered the shop. Cuts of meat garnished with rosemary and thyme glistened under glass. From the ceiling, shanks of prosciutto and cylinders of cheese dangled. Bottles of wine and condiments were shelved on the walls.

“Oh!” the butcher bellowed, lumbering through an opening behind the counter, his face buoyant and rosy. “Che cosa fai, Johnny?”

He called all Americans Johnny, out of fondness for the Allied soldiers who liberated Florence from the Nazis. The butcher had been a boy during wartime. To the American, he was still a boy.

Vieni qua.” The butcher waved him in back.

The white room was well lit, with a large table in the center flanked by a wooden block draped with mallets. The tiled walls and floor sparkled. Through a glass door, massive carcasses—bone white and blood red—hung from hooks. There was no odor.

Salsicce,” the butcher said, motioning toward the table where ceramic bowls were filled with ground pork and pancetta. Next to a sullied meat grinder was a sausage-stuffing device, with an opaque casing hanging flaccid off the tip. The butcher pulled off the casing to make a predictable gesture at his crotch.

Guarda,” the butcher instructed the American to watch his sausage-making technique. He added hand-measured quantities of salt, pepper, and fennel seed to the ground meat before folding in the seasonings with thick fingers.

Without washing the meat from his hands, the butcher retrieved a loaf of fresh bread, tore off two steaming pieces, and spread the sausage mixture on top.

“Salsicce sushi.” The butcher toasted their raw breakfast.

The American has had the raw sausage before, but this morning was different. The smell of anise and pepper accosted him. He put the newspaper on the table, steadying himself on the counter. He tasted salt and licorice, felt the paste of raw meat on his teeth and tongue. The butcher, chewing blithely, nodded at the newspaper’s large photo of the ebullient president-elect.

Non mi piace,” he said.

Perché?” the American asked.

“Non so,” the butcher responded with a shrug, before pulling at his face with sausage-smeared hands. “La facia. Brutta. Brutta.

His ugly face, the American thought to himself, instantly overwhelmed by the certain manner in which so many back home would react to the new president. He could sense, far from American shores, the subterfuge already underway. The optimism curdled in his stomach as his throat choked with fear.

The room began to shift. The American smelled dead animals. The inside of his jowls sluiced with saliva as he acknowledged the indomitable forces of ignorance and hatred which had inspired his reprieve from America in the first place. As he reached for his newspaper to escape the butcher shop, the American suddenly lurched and vomited across the table, onto the pristine floor.

***

ANDREW COTTO is the author of two novels, Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery (Ig Publishing, 2012) and The Domino Effect (Brownstone Editions, 2011), which received a Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal Award. He has written for the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Men’s Journal, Salon, Parade, Relish, Babble, Deadspin, Teachers & Writers Magazine, and The Good Men Project. Andrew has an MFA in creative writing from the New School. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

***

Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com, and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

***

About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry StahlLydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).

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