A dirty white truck with a shiny load labored up a lengthy driveway. Brunner’s Meats sent their trucks far and wide, far and wide within the city limits. Rarely did they venture out into Chester County, and never as far as Wabun. Wabun was full up with farms. Full up with cows and manure and chickens and pigs. The people of Wabun did not need store bought frozen meat, but the truck kept on anyway. It rolled along with a large freezer mount in the back. A freezer that was full of prime top sirloin, super trimmed filet mignon, and boneless rib eye. A controlled freezer that discriminated against light colored meats. It bore only the bare minimum of chicken and turkey, three whole of each to be exact. Most of the cold space was dedicated to neatly wrapped strips of deep bloody reds.
The driveway split two hayfields. Then it split two cow pastures, speckled with dozens upon dozens of fat cows, and entered the woods. Great oaks shaded the drive. Dune looked to the right and the left. The woods around him were so thick that one could not see clear space but every now and again where one might squeeze a truck in between tree trunks, but not very far. The driveway broke free from the shade and into a cleared yard with a farmhouse, several barns, and an acre or two of garden.
“How very self-sufficient,” commented Dune as he surveyed what was none of his business. He wore a button up shirt, two buttons undone and a size too small to annunciate his physique, and pants that fit well where pants fit best.
Dune inspected the yard. Two young children sat on overturned buckets shucking corn. They stopped their ripping and tearing and watched the stranger with unforgiving expressions, each gripping a shiny yellow cob with a left hand and freshly torn shucks with a right. Dune’s eyes kept going over the yard and barns as he stepped out of his truck. At the front door to the farm house a middle-aged woman appeared. At the sight of the oval of her face, the thickness of her lips and the size of her wide set eyes and long eyelashes, Dune smiled with satisfaction as if he had been proven right about something.
“Hello ma’am,” Dune said.
She read the red letters on the side of the truck and noted the shiny metal of the freezer as the man stepped closer.
“Hello there. Can I help you?” she asked hesitantly.
“Is the man of the house home?” Dune asked and he was answered with an over here from the barn. Dune turned as a sizeable man stepped out of the shadow of a barn and into the light of the yard. While Dune’s eyes opened a little wider in recognition, the man made no such sign.
“Can I help you?” asked the man.
“Yes sir. I’m selling meat. Are you in need?”
John, the large man, the family man, the man of the farm, blinked and cleared his throat, seeming hard put for a response. He considered the younger man before him, and then looked at the dirty white of the truck and the shiny metal of the freezer and the red letters. John’s gaze went from Dune to the pigpen where no less than twelve pigs rested in the mud and the sun. Hens roamed the yard, and at that very moment a noisy threesome of a screw was taking place between one hen and two competing roosters.
“Meat?” John repeated, sounding unconvinced.
“Yes sir. Prime top sirloin, super trimmed filet mignon, boneless rib eye, and . . .”
“Well Mister . . .”
“Dune,” Dune said.
“Well, Mister Dune …”
“Okay Dune. I don’t need any meat. I have about all I can handle already.”
“I understand that problem, but I can still give you a good deal.”
“But I don’t need any meat,” John repeated moving closer to Dune but then stopping suddenly.
John smelled of sweat and hay and tractor oil. Dune’s neatly pressed and tight fitting clothes gave off an odor of detergent, softener, and a cologne called Rustic Rain. The odors met between them and formed an invisible wall. The chickens had finished their copulation, several of the pigs adjusted themselves in the mud, and John’s wife’s face relaxed when John thanked Dune and told him to have a good day.
“You too sir, and I thank you for your time,” Dune said. He inserted himself back in his truck and shut the door firmly.
“You too ma’am,” he acknowledge the woman on the porch, who was adjusting her apron strings and watching him. Dune turned the meat truck around slowly and carefully in the yard avoiding the chickens and children and two cats. He continued to scan the perimeter until he was in the woods again.
John looked at his wife who raised both hands waist high, palm up in question, giving her posture the resemblance of the old paintings of the image of Jesus. John shook his head and said, “The man has got to be daft or something. Meat? Meat.” He mumbled still as he went back to the barn and his tractor and his tools.
John’s eldest daughter came out of the far chicken coop where she had been forking out old bedding. She wore denim shorts and a thin shirt in the heat. Sweat shone on her freckled forehead and her long hair was trapped in a loose knot at the nape of her neck. She was even better looking than her mother had been which was saying quite a bit. She was in full bloom at seventeen, a soft shape despite farm work but something was off about her gaze. Her green animal eyes seemed to know of things beyond her pastoral home.
“Who was that Daddy?” she called.
“Nobody. Somebody’s idiot,” her father called back from the barn.
Ellen, dragging the pitch fork along, went over to her brother and sister still shucking corn. They were covered in silk. Ellen picked a piece off of her brother and petted his head.
“Who was here?” she asked.
“A meat man,” said the boy ripping half of the shuck off an ear.
“Yeah, a man selling meat,” said the younger sister, also ripping a shuck off an ear.
“Meat? Well,” Ellen said. She squeezed the boy’s ear lobe playfully and went back to her chores.
The next day John quit cutting hay at noon and got in the truck and drove to the house for lunch. He was washing up at an outside spigot when the dirty white meat truck rolled up the driveway again. John looked up and the water ran down his face darkening his shirt in the shape of a bib.
Dune’s arm had been resting in the open window and he raised only the tips of his fingers in greeting. John did not respond.
“Hello again sir,” Dune said matter-of-factly.
John’s wife looked out the screen door from the kitchen where fried chicken cooled and corn on the cob steamed. The table was set. She stood cradling a bowl of dough in one arm and punched the quickly rising yeasty mass back down with firm thuds of her balled fist. When John spoke she stopped pounding and her fist settled down in the dough and stayed motionless as she watched the exchange, the dough filling in around her fist.
“You’re back?” John asked with a definite slant to his voice.
“Well, Sir. We try to give people plenty of chances when we have sales going on. I have shoulder pot roast and sirloin steaks on sale. Top quality,” Dune straightened his collar as he spoke. He wore a different set of tight fitting clothes and today smelled of an aftershave someone had named Summer Heat.
“Mr. Dune. I don’t know how else to say to you that I don’t need any meat. Did you see all those cows in the field when you drove up here?” John asked, bewilderment clearly contorting his face.
Dune’s eyes darted around the yard. He looked to the barn and then at the house and up and down the gardens and as far around the clearing as he could see.
“Well, yes sir. But my boss tells me to try unusual places. To sell in places you don’t even think would need selling to and you are bound to find someone who wants to purchase. That is what he says, and it tends to work for me,” replied Dune.
“With all due respect for your boss, Mr. Dune…”
“It’s just Dune.”
“Whatever it is, Dune, with all due respect you are trying to sell meat to beef-raising, hog-killing, chicken-growing farmer.”
“I have two frozen turkeys left. Eighteen-pounders. Grain fed.”
“Grain-fed turkeys? Mr. Dune. Dune. Mister. I don’t need any meat!” John had run out of patience. It was hot. John’s dinner was waiting. His fields were waiting. “Now, thank you and have a nice day, but we won’t be needing any of your meat.”
“Well sir, I think it is not always a question of need, sometimes it is about the wanting,” Dune said.
“If you wouldn’t mind seeing yourself down the road, I have to get back to work. Or lunch. Somewhere, but I have to get there.”
“Yes sir. I understand,” said Dune.
There was another smell in the air. Coconut or butter cream. A lotion or a hair shampoo? As Dune climbed back in his truck his head turned back suddenly as if he had caught it too. It could have been John’s wife at the front door scraping the dough from her arm with a knife, or the shadow behind her which Dune saw in the rearview mirror as he drove the truck back into the woods then the cow pastures and then the hay fields.
The next day Dune drove his truck along the highway in the afternoon. He had only made one sale today and his face was grim until he passed by the country store and saw John getting out of his truck all alone and going in the front door. It was the same front door that Dune had gone in three days prior when he passed by Ellen on her way out and she smiled to him a direct invitation.
“Third time’s the charm,” he said out loud. He tapped his hand on the dashboard as if possessed by a sudden enthusiasm.
He drove up the highway and turned up that same driveway, watching in his rearview mirror. He passed by the hay fields, then the cows in the pasture, and crept slowly into the shaded woods. This time he picked a spot in the woods where his truck fit in between the trees and he pulled off the driveway, having only inches to spare on either side. Branches scraped and screeched against the mirrors and the freezer and he had to back up and angle better several times. It would take skill to back that vehicle out again. He looked to make sure his truck was not visible from the road and then he got out and went on foot toward the farmer’s house.
At the edge of the clearing he saw her. She was tall and had brown curly hair tied back in a ponytail. She could have been sixteen or twenty-two, hard to say. She was heading toward the largest barn, one wall of which also formed the back wall to the pigpen. She carried two buckets of scraps piled high. Dune went around to the barn staying in the edge of the woods just out of sight. This barn was open all the way through the middle on the bottom floor so trucks could pull under. Dune stood just inside the barn where he was not visible to the house, but where she would be able to see him from the pigpen. He watched her dump scraps to the hogs and they jostled and grunted. Satisfaction and stink filled the air. When he saw her put the last empty bucket down he made a noise, trying to imitate a bird, but it just came out as a weird noise and she looked his way.
She was startled for a moment but recognition followed quickly and she turned her head slowly backward for a quick inspection of the grounds before she began to walk toward him.
“What took you so long?” she asked as she moved into the shadow of the barn’s loft and then closed in on him.
“I had to find out your address first,” he said.
“You found it.”
“I’ve been here three times now,” he said watching her without blinking.
“Well. I know some who can get the job done the first time.” She gave that inviting smile again and walked toward a section of barn that was partly full of clean, stacked square hay bales. Dune followed.
If he had not taken his time, he might have been all right. But unfortunately for Dune, he must have known a thing or two about women and he took his time. Time enough to hear a farm girl say nasty things. Time enough for her to kiss him with those wide lips she had inherited from her mother. Time enough for her father to come home, walk into the barn with a pitchfork and find Dune screwing his eldest daughter.
What could John say later, but that his arms followed his brain’s immediate command, which was to jam the pitchfork into the meat man’s back. The screaming brought his wife out of the house, leaving tomatoes to scald too long in a creamy white pot of boiling water, so that later, by the time things settled, there was only a burnt paste of red, permanently glued to a blackened pot.
John’s wife entered the barn within seconds of the screaming, eyes wide and probably expecting to find either John or one of the children, who fortunately, were swimming at the creek just then, the victim of a farming accident. Instead, she saw her eldest daughter reclined on the hay, naked from the waist down, healthy thighs opened to a man that had tried not once, but twice to sell them some form of sirloin, his pants unbuckled and around his knees, the pitchfork sticking from his back, his body writhing atop Ellen’s, and John looking toward the loft in some sort of effort not to see his daughter, undoubtedly debating the medical benefit of removing a jammed in pitchfork lest he cause further damage. John’s wife’s shrieks joined her daughter’s, and the barn cat’s kittens awoke in the loft and tottered sleepy-eyed to the edge to see this exhibition at its peak. John kept looking toward the rafters as if searching for something, an answer, a different story, or a better ending, but there was none.
Amanda Pauley completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Hollins University. Her stories have appeared in the Press 53 Open Awards Anthologies, Cargoes, Clinch Mountain Review, Canyon Review, West Trade Review, The Masters Review Anthology III, 2014, Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review, Gravel Literary Journal, Steel Toe Review, Mud Season Review, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, and Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. She was a 2012 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize finalist, a runner up for the 2013 Andrew James Purdy Prize for Short Fiction, the runner up in the 2013 Bevel Summers Short Short Story Contest, and the winner of the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction in 2013.
Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece?
A: How much fun it is to take a true story – there was a meat seller who came to visit me at my invitation when I was a teenager, under the guise of selling meat to my parents – and twist it into something else.
Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received? Did you follow it? Why, or why not?
A: Elevate the text! Though oddly enough, I’d say that doesn’t apply to this particular story.
Q: What three to five authors and/or books have inspired your journey as a writer?
A: Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Conner, and Joyce Carol Oates.
Q: Describe your writing space for us. Are you someone who finds the muse in a public space such as a café, or in a cave of one’s own?
A: I write best at home at my desk next to a window with a view.