Just as Tinker Bell led Wendy astray from time to time, I've followed my inner whisper right into all manner of scrapes and heartbreaks these last years. But I trust it, because I've also followed it to my apprenticeship. My haven. My butcher shop. I spend my days now breaking down meat, with control, gentleness, serenity. I've craved certainty in these last troubled years, and here I get my fix.
I wipe my hands on a hand towel I grab from the bin and bring the china plate with its glistening offal rosette up to the front of the shop. As I do I feel an insistent beelike hum at my left butt cheek – the Blackberry tucked into my jeans pocket. I only get phone service at the front of the shop; the walk-in coolers at the rear block the signal. Though I do, if I'm honest with myself, still feel a small adrenaline-stoked surge in my chest whenever I feel this, I ignore the buzz, and instead hold the plate up to Hailey, who's ringing up a couple at the cash register. "For the case," I mouth at her.
She nods. A line is forming, the beginning of the afternoon rush. "Can you put it in for me? There should be room on the top shelf."
"By the oxtails?"
I slide open the glass door of the case, bending to rearrange the crowded array of meat to accommodate its new addition. It's full to bursting already, with dry-aged steaks and unctuous Berkshire pork chops, heaped bowls of ground lamb and rows of spice-spiked homemade sausage. I thought it beautiful the first day I entered this shop, nearly a year and a half ago. Now, as a contributor to it, I find it more beautiful still.
As I close the door and straighten up, I find myself eye-to-eye with one of those women. They come into the shop every now and again, these women, with their raised eyebrows and sourly flared nostrils, as if they're walking into a refugee camp latrine. Vegetarian or merely squeamish, forced by whatever circumstance into a clean-smelling but unapologetic temple of meat, they exude supercilious disapproval, as if this place I have come to love is a barely endurable abomination. It's all I can do to be civil, honestly.
"Hi, whaddaya need?"
"Two boneless skinless chicken breasts, please."
These women always want boneless skinless chicken breasts. "We've only got bone-in, sorry."
The woman sighs noisily at this affront. I try, not entirely successfully, to repress a roll of the eyes. Of course, I could offer to bone them out for her, I now know perfectly well how to remove the breastbone and cartilage from that insipid slip of white meat. But I am offended by the very notion of skinless boneless chicken breasts, and the boring stick-like women who eat them. This is why I don't work the counter; my people skills leave something to be desired. "Well, that will do, I suppose," she mutters. I turn to one side to reach for a pair of latex gloves.
"Ex- Excuse me? "