In the town, there were two brothers, one who wrote romances, and one who was a butcher. The brothers lived together in an apartment above CARNIVORA, the butcher�s shop. The apartment was very small, but the brothers made do.
On Thursdays, CARNIVORA ran a special on pork loins, and both brothers worked in the shop. The brother who wanted to be upstairs writing romances hated Thursdays and all the heavy chunks of pig he had to carry to the back for the butcher to chop. That brother loved Mondays when business was slow and he could be upstairs with the door closed and only vaguely hear the sounds of his brother�s saw cutting through flesh. In the small space he felt to be his sanctuary, he wrote romances in delicate longhand that filled up his notebooks and overflowed onto the long legal pads he kept stacked by the door. The noise from the butcher shop seldom bothered him unless his brother had to rip open a joint with the saw, and then the sound, like a nail being pulled out of wood, would send ripples of nausea through his body and make him wish he was a cloud drifting in infinite space.
One particularly busy Thursday, when the butcher was having a 2 for 1 sale on pork loins and bacon, and when the brother was carrying a carcass over his shoulder and thinking how absurd it was to be looking at the world through the back legs of a pig, Marie came in to buy some ham. Marie lived across the street from CARNIVORA and seldom came to visit, even though the brothers loved her dearly and always wished to see her more.
The brother adjusted the carcass so that only the pig�s foot and not the thigh obstructed his vision.
�Hello, Marie,� he said, and the weight of the pig was so much that he almost fell backwards and clipped Marie in the chin with a hoof.
�Hello,� she said. �I�ve come to buy some ham.�
�Here, I�ll help you,� the butcher said and pulled open the glass backing on the display case. �We have good ham today,� he said, lifting up a chunk of his best smoked ham.
�A quarter of a pound, please,� Marie said. �It�s for my dog.�
The butcher cut a sliver of ham and laid it on wax paper. He wrapped it carefully and put it in a bag with CARNIVORA on the side.
�Thank you so much,� Marie said, and gave the butcher two dollars.
�You�re welcome,� the butcher said, watching Marie exit and thinking how much the curves of her body looked like a spring lamb.
The brother who was holding the pig moved the torso just in time to see Marie go out the door. He knew that night the image of her body departing would blossom into words, long tendrils of words, as he wrote his romances and dreamed of being with Marie.
The butcher was sawing, the brother was writing. The brother felt particularly creative and had brought out his Olivetti typewriter. He was a poet on the Olivetti and wrote long, graceful sentences that curled into gentle romantic sentiments. He was at the Olivetti now, writing of his passion for Marie, who had walked through his dreams for the past eight nights in the deep penumbra of desire.
At his window, as he typed, were purple-hulled irises bent by the breeze. He watched the flowers swaying and Marie walking her dog, the dog that ate smoked ham and was named Freddie, a fox terrier with one white paw and black and brown curly fur. The brother watched Marie go down the long street and around the corner, and his longing for her mounted. He switched to his legal pads and wrote furiously until his wrist ached and his eyes burned.
The morning faded into a cloudy yellow noon. Late in the afternoon, the brother was hungry and went downstairs and got himself something to eat. He ate sitting by the front window, watching Marie. Marie picking daffodils in her front yard, Marie washing windows and dusting her house, Marie walking Freddie. He watched her until the bronze haze of sunset became darkness and he could see her no more, then he walked to town. He went to a bar where the neon lights were red flames and drank three beers. When he tired of drinking and there was nothing left to do in town, he walked home, trying to peer past Marie�s curtains but unable to see, sensing only that she must be asleep in her bed alone. When he opened the door to CARNIVORA, the butcher was snoring, a loud jagged rumbling snore that made the shop seem like a cave.
He stayed up late that night and wrote, and when early morning came he was back again, a cup of Irish tea by his side. He was writing when Marie and Freddie came out. Marie tended her flowers, Freddie chased squirrels up a tree. Freddie�s barks were playful yelps as the squirrels stayed just temptingly above his reach. The brother was writing of a woman lost in her lover�s embrace when a car hit Freddie, clipping him in the side as he chased a squirrel across the street. The brother heard the screech of the brakes and the hard thunk as the car drove off and left Freddie lying in a crescent of blood. The brother ran down the stairs and into the street and knelt beside Marie as she tried to lift Freddie. He took her arms from around the dog�s body and held her while she cried.
�I�ve got to get him to the vet,� she said, pressing her head against the brother�s shoulder. �He�s suffering. He�s in pain.�
�No, not any more,� the brother said softly.
He looked at Freddie as he lay in the deep red puddle of his own drying blood, looked at the matted fur, the broken neck, and at Freddie�s eyes, the gold and taupe colored eyes that looked not just empty, but deadly wise.
�I�ll help you with him,� he said, and carried Freddie to a place in the backyard where Marie wanted him buried. He went across the street to CARNIVORA and told the butcher what had happened. The butcher stopped slicing meat and got a shovel from the basement, and the two brothers dug a hole for Freddie beneath a sycamore tree ringed with clover.
The brothers felt very sad for Marie and could not eat their dinners. They pushed food around on their plates and thought of Freddie in his grave and Marie alone and sorrowful in her house. In the morning, the brother brought her violets, and Marie put the flowers in a glass vase. When Marie spoke of Freddie, she cried and the brother held her, letting her tears lace into rivulets on his chest. In the afternoon, he helped her box up Freddie�s toys. When he left, he asked Marie if there was anything special he could bring her tomorrow, and she told him she loved the chocolate truffles from Mourant�s. The next day he brought her truffles from Mourant�s in the gold box with the red M on the front, and they talked and drank tea for the afternoon. That night he stayed up almost until dawn writing his romances on the Olivetti and, because it was Thursday, spent the next day carrying pig bodies from the storage room to the work area for the butcher, who was having a special sale that week on pork and poultry products.
The brother went to see Marie often, and soon she filled his thoughts. He took her to movies, to coffee shops, to local theater plays. He bought her as many truffles from Mourant�s as he could afford. He wrote letters to her and called her on the phone. He helped her plant her garden in June and in July became her lover. She had stretched out her arms to him to say goodbye and he had held her, kissed her, with a deeper feeling than the tender kisses they had shared. She led him to her bedroom and lit candles for them and put flowers by the bed. He watched her undress, her body emerging from her clothes like petals from a flower. She undressed him and stroked his body and he was good to her as a lover, holding her for a long time after they had made love and the rhythm in their bodies was like a sea ebbing.
They were lovers often that summer, and he was very happy, so happy that he didn�t mind carrying the pigs up from the freezer for the butcher, who had one day found him dancing in the storage room with a leg of lamb. His happiness was large and intense, something palpable, and something that he thought could not get any sweeter until one day he passed by Mourant�s and saw the butcher buying chocolate truffles in little gold boxes and knew that his brother was Marie�s lover, too.
When he came to Marie�s house, the curtains were drawn. She let him in, and he stood beside the door.
�I know about my brother,� he said.
She sat on the couch. �It doesn�t matter any more,� she said. �I can�t continue. I�m pregnant, and I don�t know which of you is the father.�
He thought of his child, or his brother�s, a thumb-sized seed growing in the darkness of her womb.
He sat beside her on the couch. �What are you going to do?� he asked.
�I don�t know.�
�Will you have the baby?�
She looked at him, his tenderness, his concern.
�I�d like you to have the baby,� he said.
�It�s not your decision to make. You don�t even know if it�s your child.�
He held her hand for a long time, until the room was dark and she asked him to go. His hand on the doorknob didn�t feel like his hand, didn�t feel like anything human. When he went across the street to CARNIVORA, he told his brother he was going to town for the evening to make it easier for his brother to see Marie and find out her sad news alone.
Even during the Thursday special they didn�t talk. The butcher, who used to shout out to his brother how many pigs to bring from the freezer, now wrote the number on a chalkboard above the door. At dinner they didn�t eat, at night they didn�t sleep. Several times they caught each other staring out the window at Marie�s house. Saturday morning the brother was upstairs writing when he saw the cab pull up. Marie came out of the house, a small suitcase in her hand.
All day he thought of Marie and what would become of the baby. It made him restless to think of what Marie was going through, and he stopped writing and left the apartment. He was walking down the street when Marie returned. He started to come to her, but she waved him away. He stopped. It didn�t matter. She wasn�t Marie any more. Her eyes were like Freddie�s.
He stood outside in the twilight, looking at Marie�s house, and feeling very alone in the quiet. He wanted to be with Marie but knew that hope was lost. The separation he felt from her was a hollow sadness as he fought against letting go.
When he went inside CARNIVORA, his brother was in the work area cutting lamb. He watched for a moment, the precise tearing of flesh and bone, then went upstairs to his writing. Outside his window, the sky was colored by the soft glow of sunset. Bits of golden light splashed against the windows of Marie�s house and cascaded to the flower beds by her doorway. He thought of Marie as he took out his Olivetti and began to type. In the silence, his fingers moved gently across the keys, translating his thoughts, his dreams, as the twilight receded and evening cast its gray shadows upon his fading page.
BIO: Christina Murphy lives and writes in a century-old house along the Ohio River. Her writing has been published in such journals as Modern Short Stories, New England Review, Greensboro Review, Crescent Review, Descant, and Storyscape. Her work has received an Editor�s Choice Award and Honorable Mention for a Pushcart Prize.