Donal O'Shea. Celui qu'aime le dieu des viandes, je l'aime
There is a world above the city, a world of red-tinged clouds.
Weightless, nearly transparent, insubstantial, still this
cloudworld exerts strange influences on the city below. Almost
every day the red-tinged clouds filter the sunlight; the daylight
is tainted red.
There are long, linear
passageways beneath the tainted city: tunnels dimly lit and
quiet like the quiet of sleep before a sleeper screams out--as
sleepers in this city often do--in terror from red-tinged
dreams. At regular intervals the subterranean quiet is broken
by the escalating wail of a subway train.
* * *
Mr. Algernon Bindle, successful vice president for commercial lending at Laissez Faire Savings and Loan, rode a rush-hour train amidst a throng of other sleepy commuters on their way to work. With one hand Bindle gripped a handstrap suspended from the train's ceiling, while under his free arm he clutched his briefcase. The briefcase held important documents--with intensity he had studied them the previous evening.
Unthinkingly, Bindle's grey-blue eyes, set behind horn-rimmed glasses in his forty-year-old visage, wandered from face to face, from advertising placard to placard in the very crowded car.
Unthinkingly, the banker's nose analyzed the smells of the passengers in his olfactory range.
"Most of these people might fall far short of my level of culture and taste," Bindle, sniffing superciliously, observed to himself, "but each is a potential loan applicant and therefore I must respect them all."
A small notice stuck to the rocking wall diverted his attention. Half the size of a bumper sticker, the notice depicted a black and white photograph of a small dog's head emerging from a larger dog's flank. Above the photo ran the caption: DOG IMPLANTED IN DOG. Below: STOP "SCIENTIFIC" TORTURE OF ANIMALS.
The caption's letters were red.
"Disgusting," Bindle said to himself. "But if they're scientists they must know what they're doing."
The train stopped at Commerce Station, the doors opened, and the banker became part of a throng. Though he was carried by the rush of people, Bindle, his briefcase held reflexively to his chest, aimed to move ahead and gain a step or two on the harried crowd that surrounded him. He was just twenty paces from the escalator that would carry him to the world above when he heard a voice.
It cannot have been meant for him. Yet he looked.
A women beckoned to him. For some reason he turned against the tide of the crowd and approached her.
She was enveloped in the steam and smoke that rose from the hot dog concession she apparently operated. Bindle saw dozens of hot dogs browning, blackening on the incandescent grill before her. Next to the grill were piles of buns and vats of condiments. French fries roiled in a basket submerged in a vat of sizzling oil. The woman was gnomelike: short and robust with tremendous breasts sagging beneath her soiled apron.
"Like a dog?" She spoke in a sort of singsong.
An idiot, Bindle concluded.
"Like a hot dog?" Her eyes beamed in a face moist and pink with sweat in the almost otherworldly heat.
"A hot dog? For breakfast?" Bindle replied, recovering a portion of his composure.
"Sure. No better time for a hot dog."
"No thank you," Bindle said curtly.
The smoke that rose from the grill seemed to reach out and touch him, grasp him with greasy, vaporous fingers . He heard the sizzle of the cooking meat loudly in his ears.
He turned and strode away. He heard her voice after him. What she said in her singsong voice prompted him to look back. She spoke from a cloud of swirling smoke and steam which now billowed far beyond her stand, filling up more and more of the underground station.
"Hotdog in the morning or banker take warning."
What the hell did that mean, Bindle asked himself.
Or banker take warning!
Then he was on the escalator, leaving the hot dog woman and the fetid subway beneath him.
* * *
Twenty minutes later at the city's leading financial institution, Bindle sat behind his desk reviewing the loan application from a flagging meat packing plant that he had studied so assiduously the night before. Wanda, Bindle's secretary, entered his office.
Bindle looked up.
Initially it occurred to him that Wanda's breasts were two dog heads which would have barked were they not muzzled by Wanda's brassiere. He shook the thought from his mind.
Wanda had only entered Bindle's office because the intercom system was broken, due to be fixed later that day.
"Mr. McInerny is here to see you, sir," Wanda said.
"Well, show him in."
Bindle looked down again at McInerny's loan application as Wanda turned and departed.
For eighteen years Bindle had worked his way up at the bank from teller to senior loan officer to vice-president for commercial lending, and in that time Bindle had learned much about the ways of money. He knew how to nurture dollars, how to make them grow; how to protect an initial investment like a tender sproutling; how to water it with refinancing and subsequent loans. He could tell which investments would flourish, which would dry up, wither and die. And here, Bindle knew, walking nervously behind Wanda was a man whose hope to save his family business was a waste of money, a loser at the bottom line. Here was a man whose proud family firm was doomed to be gored by the bullish conglomerates which had come to dominate the national meat packing arena.
McInerny, a stone slab of a man whose face was worry, sat across from destiny, destiny in an expensive suit.
The banker coughed into his hand.
"Mr. McInerny," Bindle began, "I know that your father started your business sixty years ago with a loan from this institution, and I know that over the years the bank and your family have established a...solid relationship, but...I'm afraid I have some rather bad news for you..."
"You mean no loan," the meat packer interrupted, a nervous tic jolting his head to one side.
"Ahhh...yes, Mr. McInerny," Bindle said. "To get to the point of it, I mean no loan...I've spent a great deal of..."
"Mr. Bindle," McInerny said, his face made more brutish by anger, "my family and Laissez Faire go back a long ways. Why, before you were even born my family was paying back loans we got here and we've paid back every cent. Every cent! And let me tell you something else. When Tommy McInerny says he's going to save his business, by Christ he's going to save it."
"I don't need a lecture on your loan repayment record, Mr. McInerny," Bindle shot back, unaccustomed to having his decisions so strongly contested. After all, he was only doing what the laws of money demanded.
Another spasm jerked the packer's head.
"Oh, you don't? Well, Bindle, maybe if you had ever done a real day's work in your life, you might think a little differently..."
"Yes, and maybe if you knew how to run a business you wouldn't be on the verge of bankruptcy," Bindle almost yelled.
Bindle knew he was overreacting, but something about this man before him--his too tight jacket perhaps, or his too loud tie--put him on edge. For his part McInerny could see that he would have to use a different approach.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, just as his doctor had shown him. He put his hand up and held the side of his neck.
A less intense spasm. Another breath.
"But I need the loan," the ordinarily tough-talking businessman said softly, his anger having turned to resignation and despair. "I need the loan, Mr. Bindle, to save the business and my people's jobs."
Bindle looked at the meat packer and it was not as if the banker felt no sympathy for the man, but his was not a business for sympathy.
He had long ago put sympathy out of his mind.
The banker shook his head.
McInerny lowered his face into his hands.
For a moment, a most awkward silence.
A sob came from McInerny.
Then, the man whose extraordinarily wide shoulders and thick arms seemed squeezed into his polyester jacket knelt before Bindle.
Bindle felt embarrassed.
McInerny let his hands drop. Tears streaked across his leathery cheeks.
"I've never begged before," the meat packer said, "but I'm begging now. Please, Mr. Bindle, I need the loan."
Bindle coughed into his hand.
He hated this pathetic man for this unbusinesslike gesture, for kneeling to him as if he were Financial Life and Death, for turning a professional transaction into melodrama.
"I'm sorry," Bindle said, looking down blankly at the loan application.
With a handkerchief, McInerny wiped his eyes and cheeks and blew his nose. "Well, that's that," McInerny sighed. "No use crying over spilt milk."
"No," Bindle agreed. "That's the spirit."
"And, Bindle," McInerny continued, struggling to his feet.
"You'll get yours."
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
Although the banker had turned down hundreds of loans, looking at McInerny on his knees had filled Bindle with unpleasantness. Bindle felt as though he had cheated someone he should have taken care of; then he tried to wipe that thought from his mind.
But he could not, not quite.
After escorting the applicant from his office, the banker shook, tremor after tremor of an uncharacteristic anxiety bubbling up through him. To calm himself, he made his way to his office windows and looked up at the red-hued sky.
Billowing red clouds covered the city; this was nothing new, though to the banker, the clouds, even as he watched them, appeared to grow redder, filtering the sunlight, smearing the city in a bloody glaze. But as the hunter can become the hunted, Bindle, the watcher, was also watched.
* * *
Floating atop a cloud shaped like a slice of meatloaf which left in its slow wake a trail of pink mist, reclined a kingly figure who, though neither Bindle nor anyone else in the city had ever seen him, exerted strong influence on the metropolis below.
God Veal, the god of meat products, put down the telescope, fashioned from a cow's thigh bone, through which he had watched Bindle dash the meat packer's hopes, and muttered a powerful oath. Then he called to his consort, Goddess Milk, celestial protectress of dairy products, who rode upon a nearby cloud of creamy white.
"Damn this banker Bindle," Veal called out across the sky. "He has put one of my faithful out of business."
"Retribution!" cried the goddess, raising a chalice of milk to her pink lips, her sparkling teeth, her milk-covered tongue.
"Yes," echoed Veal with such vehemence that the hot dogs which comprised the points of his elaborate crown shook violently. "Retribution!"
Wrinkling his meaty brow in thought, the little-known god lay with one veal-skinned arm crooked under his veal head. With his free hand he scratched lightly at his hamburger chest as he thought of a fitting fate for Bindle.
"Tell me who it was that this banker fellow has caused to fail," inquired Goddess Milk, interrupting her lord and master's revengeful reverie. She had pulled her cloud alongside Veal's and bound the two together with strings of gossamer. Hopping from her cloud to his, she spread a picnic blanket alongside the Meat God. Reclining by the blanket, the Goddess, attired in gauzy robes of white and blue, removed from her omnipresent picnic basket such succulent items as a cheesecake, chocolate milk and a string of Italian sausages--her husband's favorite "light snack."
Both gods were plump.
As the goddess laid the repast upon the cloud, Veal again took up his telescope and, looking down, espied McInerny arriving back at his plant. Veal saw the expectant butchers and meat packers waiting at the loading docks. He saw their looks of dismay as their boss stood before them next to his Lincoln Continental and told them that the plant must close. He saw their sorrow and desperation.
As the gods reclined on the soft cloud and dined, they spoke of revenge while all about them, high above the city, the winds made a gentle sound like cows lowing over sumptuous green grasses in endless fields.
* * *
By noon Bindle had turned down seven loan applicants, and since denying requests makes one hungrier than granting them, the banker had worked up quite an appetite.
"I'm off to my club," he told Wanda as he walked from his office through the marbled institution and out to the street where a reddish fog, blown in from the dirty bay, filled the concrete channels of the downtown district.
Bindle, lean, had never been fond of overeating. He took his meals in stride, as necessary interruptions in the workday, but as he hurried to his exclusive club he began, subconsciously at first, to think of eating, of the parade of sensations that begins with an emptiness in the stomach, includes the process of salivating, chewing and swallowing, and ends with a feeling of fullness.
A complex procedure, eating involves an intricate combination of numerous bodily functions and sensations. Of the five senses, all, with the possible exception of hearing, include themselves in the enjoyment of a good meal. While the paramount sense in the body's analysis of a dish is, of course, taste, smell holds a rank of nearly equal import, as the following example from the tragic circumstances which spelled "downfall" for the banker will illustrate.
Intertwined with the red fog were the odors of cooking meat, of hamburgers, meatloaf, beef stew, veal cutlets and sausages that wafted and curled from Hungry Hugo's Diner, an establishment that Bindle had never noticed before.
Now, the smell drew him to the diner's glass and metal door. Bindle, entranced, opened it.
Hot greasy atmosphere.
Hamburgers sizzling on the grill.
"Strange that I have chosen this place in which to dine rather than the far more familiar environs of my club," said Bindle to himself, but he sat down at the greasy counter all the same.
"What'll it be?" the waitress asked.
"The veal cutlet special," Bindle heard himself say, "...and a hamburger club."
"Hungry ain't we, honey?"
"Yes. Ha-ha. Hungry. Very hungry!"
As soon as the plates clattered down before him, Bindle began eating voraciously, and the trancelike state that had begun when he first smelled the steamy odors of the food intensified.
The banker's teeth opened and closed in waltz time: one two three, one two three; and in his mind a sort of mantra took shape: "eat eat eat, meat meat meat."
Soon the plates were spotless.
"Yes," Bindle replied, wiping his lips with a napkin. "A slice of meatloaf and a cup of coffee."
"You on some weird kind of diet?" asked the waitress, whose beehive hair-do reached a foot above her head.
"Yes," the banker laughed. "An all-meat diet."
Then he thought to himself how strange it was that he had made a joke, a small joke, because he so rarely made jokes.
Gorging at lunch barely satisfied the prim banker's craving.
By three o'clock that afternoon, Bindle found his powers of concentration waning. Instead of numbers and images of currency holding exclusive dominion over his mind, Bindle became gradually and uncomfortably aware of another image: hot dogs--no!--Italian sausages, surrounded by onions and red and green peppers, frying side by side on a hot grill.
He tried to drive the sausages from his head, but could not, and found instead his finger pressing the intercom button, now repaired.
"Yes, Mr. Bindle?"
"Wanda, I want you to go out and fetch me two...make that three...uh...better make that four of those Italian sausages they sell on the street. You know what I mean: they're enjoyed all the time by the lower classes...the hoi polloi...you know--your people."
"You want four Italian sausages, Mr. Bindle?"
"Correct. Anything out of order about that, Wanda? Mightn't a fellow enjoy a mid-afternoon snack, if he so desires?"
"Uh...sure, Mr. Bindle...I'll go right now."
Over the next few days, Wanda, sent more and more frequently for meat snacks, began to become aware that her boss was changing, though this change was not limited to his new desire for Italian sausages and tins of Spam. Bindle, who had considered laughing a grave impropriety and making jokes a stamp of baseness, began, his secretary noticed, to acquire an extremely bizarre sense of humor.
Bindle would now ring Wanda up on the intercom, say something barely comprehensible and then break out in the chortling sounds which were, she assumed, his laughter.
On Tuesday afternoon, five days after his first order of sausages, Bindle did something even stranger.
Over the intercom Bindle summoned Wanda to his office.
Bindle, sitting behind his desk, stared directly at Wanda's breasts. His eyes shone electrically. Then, shifting his eyes from one breast to another, the banker barked twice--"Ruff, ruff"--and howled, "I know you're in there, little fellas! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"
"Excuse me, sir?" was Wanda's curt reply.
"Oh nothing, nothing, old girl," Bindle responded, adding, "how about running out and acquiring an option on seven or so Italian sausages?"
"Yes, Mr. Bindle," consented Wanda and left the office which, though still immaculately ordered, now had about it a sausage smell.
Had Wanda been more assertive, less self-effacing, less subjugated by years of servitude within the starchy, male-dominated system of the bank, she would have filed a complaint regarding Bindle's behavior, but she firmly believed no one would believe her.
* * *
No one, that is, except Bindle's wife Margaret. She too was seeing the change in her husband.
When he got home from the office, Bindle liked to do two things as soon as he arrived: exchange his business garb for some comfortable khaki trousers and yachting shoes, and mix himself a stiff gin martini.
Gin, like vodka, is notable because of its clearness, and clearness in any liquid connotes the clearness and healthy purity of water, the prototypical liquid. Few liquids are as clear as water, and, indeed, liquids come in colors spanning the spectrum from the white of milk to the caramel brown of cola drinks and the rich, almost black of coffee or dirty oil.
Wednesday, six days after her husband had sent the meat packer packing, Margaret strolled out to the backyard where Bindle watered roses in the pink glow of late afternoon, holding a green hose in one hand, a clear drink aloft in the other.
"What's that, Algie?" inquired Margaret, informal, yet prim in a pink jumper decorated with occasional ducks, whales and alligators.
"What's what, my pet?" responded Bindle, who had been humming to himself vociferously.
"That. In the drink."
"Oh that," laughed Bindle--an electric look that his wife had only infrequently seen before coming into his eyes. "Why, my darling, it's a Viennese sausage."
"Oh," responded his wife, trying to hide her discomfiture, though what she saw only confirmed what she had growingly suspected over the past few days. Something was terribly wrong. "But, dearest, tell me something, please."
"Naturally, lamb chop."
"Tell me why would anyone have a piece of meat in his martini, instead of an olive?"
Bindle made a great show of thinking for a moment, while water, clear liquid, splashed on the red flowers.
Bindle smiled, then he said, "But, naturally, because it's made with Beefeater's."
It would be hard to overestimate Margaret Bindle's self-control as she listened to her husband's reply.
"Yes," she said blandly, struggling to maintain matter-of-factness, "that makes perfect sense."
But, when she turned away from him her expression changed from a mask of complacency to a face full of worry. First of all, she thought to herself as she walked through sliding doors into the library, Algernon had never joked before and it disconcerted her to see this new "sense of humor," poor as it was. Secondly, she was baffled by his new fascination with meat.
"Is it an obsession?" she asked herself, standing in the cool room lined with books, many of which she would never read.
Her heartbeat increased its pace beneath her modest breasts--flat-nosed Pekinese to her husband's deranged imaginings--as she reflected on how over the past weekend her husband had talked of nothing but what he called "the many virtues of meat."
Then just this morning, delivery men had shown up at their door with a cavernous freezer that they said her husband had instructed them to put in the basement. The banker's wife had been even further baffled when earlier this very afternoon a second set of delivery men had come bearing a side of beef that, they explained, her husband had ordered only a few hours before.
What was the matter?
Unslowed by Margaret's apprehensions, Wednesday ended and the week moved forward, the dying spirits of the concluding hours ascending into the heavens. God Veal nodded to them as they passed, happy to be released from their sixty minutes of service on this orb of drudgery, avarice, lust and pain.
Veal had a transistor radio held aloft above his sumptuous cloud by a small helium balloon. In general, he listened to the public radio station--the good taste of the gods!--as he reclined and peered at the world below through his telescope, a habit broken only, though infrequently, by his tremendous lusts for eating and enjoying the soft pleasures of his milk-white consort. Occasionally the god combined the two pleasures, hiding an Italian sausage in...but enough description of the Sacred Realm! Back to our banker.
* * *
Thursday afternoon. Bindle sat behind his desk. Outwardly, he appeared composed, perusing financial documents. But under Bindle's bald dome, his brain cooked like a meat pie left in a piping-hot oven for days on end. In the theater of the loan officer's mind, here was what was playing.
Bindle thought of a spacious, square concrete grill cooking--at full force--an array of hamburgers, Italian sausages and Fenway Franks. At first, to the banker's imaginative eye, the grill seemed huge--universe encompassing, the cosmic grill! But, too startling a thought for even the banker's imagination, the grill shrunk, localized itself. He imagined the grill on a white beach near clashing black surf. The three components of the grill image were flames rising from mounds of charcoal enclosed in the concrete square, flames lapping at the sizzling meat, and greasy smoke swirling up from the grill.
A fourth image introduced itself. Bindle saw himself wearing bikini swim trunks, bending over the grill, bathing in the luxurious braids of smoke. Beads of oily sweat flowed from his ripe armpits, dripped from his nose.
A fifth image. A bevy of beauteous, bikini-clad beach bunnies, fulsome and tanned arrived out of nowhere. They approached Bindle. In unison their full-lipped mouths opened and they sang:
We love you Bindle
oh, yes we do;
we love you Bindle,
let's eat, then screw!
The banker at his desk, beset by these images, felt himself growing aroused. His fantasy continued.
"Take, eat," the banker said to his beach bunny disciples. "This is my meat."
In calm unison the women, twenty of them or so, all running tongues over lips most suggestively, removed their bikini tops, revealing, instead of breasts, schnauzer heads.
The schnauzer heads snarled and yipped, excited by the proximity of the meat.
Excited to the utmost by these images, the banker pulled open a desk drawer and yanked from it a raw tenderloin steak. It was cool and thick in his hand.
He raised it.
He bit it.
In his mind, the women fed Italian sausages to their dog-headed breasts.
The banker threw his head back. His chortling overspilled his office so that Wanda heard it at her prim, orderly desk. She knew that soon her buzzer would ring and he would ask her to buy more sausages.
* * *
By the following day, Friday, Bindle could think of absolutely nothing but meat; but there had been another change in him. Since the previous afternoon, when his fantasy in the office had caused him to comport himself in a way not wholly in keeping with his high station in society, the natural reserve of the banker had reasserted itself, so that Bindle now dissembled his curious lust. So effective was Bindle's pretended normalcy on Friday and Saturday that Margaret only hesitated somewhat before going ahead with their plans to have the Balzacs over to dinner that Saturday evening.
Margaret figured, since now her husband seemed again his steadfast self, that his apparent preoccupation with meat earlier in the week must have only been "something men go through."
Perhaps it had been; but even if this was so, Bindle was still "going through it" in a big way.
Yet, he kept up a good front.
At the table that evening, while Bindle talked interest rates and municipal bonds with Mr. Balzac, the banker's mind was a mental grill, cooking meat image after meat image.
He was in effect operating on a sort of psychological auto-pilot powered by habit and the vestiges of his depleted will. Bindle's body and power of speech played one role, while his mind yearned to play on a different stage, one hung with curtains of gauzy tripe.
These Saturday dinners at the Bindle's followed a regular pattern, as had virtually everything in the banker's home up to that fateful week. While Margaret prepared the sumptuous meals, her husband fixed drinks and desserts, which usually involved ice cream.
When the chatting foursome had finished their Boeuf Bourguignonne--no one had seemed to notice Bindle's five helpings--Bindle left the other three to bring forth a dessert, which he promised them earnestly would be "a surprise."
"How simply appropriate for the onset of summer," laughed Mrs. Balzac, chair of the city's Opera Society, when she saw that Bindle had brought out soft ice cream cones for dessert.
Always partial to ice cream, Bindle explained a bit woodenly that he had recently purchased a soft ice cream machine and "wanted to try the damn thing out."
Plump, red jowled, Mrs. Balzac licked tentatively at the vanilla cone, then bit it eagerly with her ruby lips.
"Oh, this is good," she murmured.
But, soon thereafter, Margaret and Mr. Balzac were shocked to see Mrs. Balzac gasp, rise with much commotion, her eyes rolling up into her blanching forehead, and then, swooning, crash to the plush Persian carpet below.
Bindle, eagerly licking his own cone, took small notice of the reaction of his dinner guest to her dessert, but his wife and Mr. Balzac leapt to her aid.
"What's this?" inquired Balzac, seeing that from the ice cream of the cone his wife still held firmly in her plump fingers the tip of a hot dog protruded.
"What's this?" he repeated with more emphasis, so that Bindle shifted his attention from his cool dessert. "What the hell is this in Bovina's cone?"
"Oh that," smiled Bindle. "That's a Fenway Frank, a premium hot dog. I put one in each of our cones. What's the matter, didn't the idea appeal to your wife?"
"Apparently it did not," chortled God Veal to his pretty wife as the two looked down on the dinner scene from Veal's lavish meatloaf-shaped cloud.
"I don't know why it wouldn't, my tender morsel," cooed the Dairy Queen, peering through opera glasses that she held in one dainty hand as she caressed her paramour with the other. "A hot dog hidden in soft ice cream! Mmmmm, it sounds scrumptious."
"Make us some then," Veal commanded.
"Thy will be done," Milk responded, as she floated off--her lovely white breasts dappled by moonlight--to the sizable refrigerator the gods maintained in the sky.
But, on the mundane level of this earth, where sacred inspirations are seen by profane eyes and disdained by profane tongues, the idea of finding a tube of meat in the creamy vanilla swirls caused dismay and abhorrence.
While Bindle, who had sought only to please them, looked on without comprehending why his friends were acting the way they were, he saw the Balzacs, after Mrs. Balzac had been revived, leave in a huff. Then he saw his own wife Margaret pack a small bag and drive off; she was retreating to her mother's where, she promised him before she departed, she would stay until he dealt with "his disgusting, uncouth, morbid fascination with meat."
He watched her car turn at the end of the drive and speed out of sight. And out of mind.
"If Margaret chooses not to be my wife," Bindle reasoned, "then I must have another. And one with some meat on her too," he laughed.
Huffing and puffing, the obsessed man carried the frozen side of beef from his basement up to his stately bedroom. Rolling back the bedspread and top sheet, he put the side of beef on his wife's side of the bed. Then a more perverse idea boiled up in his stewing mind. From his wife's drawers of lingerie he selected one of her more appealing nightgowns. Then, in the closet he spied a multi-colored wig she had worn once to a disco party at the country club. How perfect! He dressed the side of beef.
"You are so lovely," Bindle cooed, feeling for the first time in his life true love, true desire.
Fetching a chilled bottle of champagne to enhance his first evening with his chilly bride, Bindle poured a drink for each of them.
He raised his glass to his lips, dry with lust.
"To us," he toasted.
The side of beef, remaining still, perhaps dizzy with anticipation, declined to raise her glass. She simply lay there, waiting.
Feeling more aroused than he ever had, Bindle slowly removed his evening attire.
"Oh God," Goddess Milk shuddered, looking down from Veal's vaporous bed at the scene below and then at her veal and hamburger-covered paramour laboring above her. "What ecstasy!"
As it was in heaven, so was it on earth.
And, waking up some ten hours later, on a cheerfully bright Sunday morning, in a wet bed next to thawing meat, it was to heaven that the banker turned his thoughts; for Bindle had reached a new stage in his perverse lust: a stage of realization, and so, a stage of guilt and shame.
Before that sparkling morning on which the city basked in the midst of early summer and even the usual cloud cover had somewhat abated, allowing the sun's yellow beams to flow purely into his bed chamber, Bindle had never fully, consciously realized that he was a man who, for no apparent reason, was consumed with a lust for meat that drove his entire being. He had never worried that his needs were costing him his friends, his respectability, his wife. But, opening his eyes that morning to the dripping "thing" that he had used, and cheerfully, to replace "his tender lamb chop" Margaret could not but alert Bindle that he was following a course of action that society would find inexplicable and disgusting, especially from a banker.
Washing dried meat blood from his plump, naked body in the shower, Bindle, remorseful, determined what he must do.
"I must go to church," Bindle said to himself. "I must pray to God to release me from this sickening desire. Then, with the aid of the All Powerful, I must promise to abstain from meat. And, after church, to celebrate my new resolve, my new lease on life, I'll go for some shish-kebob, no! I mean some...some...something without meat in it."
In the pious atmosphere of the church, Bindle felt spurts of new resolve refueling the empty tanks of his will. As he stood, knelt, prayed and sang before the Altar of Forgiveness and as he listened to the dull sermon, Bindle felt sure he could change his life. Images formed in his mind, pleasant images of a return to respectability and success, of a meatless life. Oh, the pleasant tingle of new resolve before it is tried by grim reality! In that church, in that atmosphere of calm, reassuring sobriety, Bindle meditated on the incredible sacrifice of Our Lord. The two sacrifices, his and Our Savior's, were not without their similarities, the banker realized in a sudden mood of revelation. Just as Our Lord had, Bindle too would have to "give up his flesh," though not to save mankind, but to save what was more important to Bindle: himself.
"Well," whispered Bindle as the Anglican priest raised aloft the host, "I am only a man."
* * *
On the morning of the following day, Veal, using a rod made of bone, cast a long hooked line with a bit of poppy seed bagel as bait into the red sky sea below his sailing meatloaf-shaped skiff of a cloud.
"How is our Bindle doing?" he called across a short stretch of atmosphere to his wife who monitored the banker in his office as she sipped at her café-au-lait.
"Poorly, my dearest," the Queen of Dairy Products replied. "He's dripping sweat and... let me adjust the telescope...yes, he's broken out in hives."
"Oh-ho," chortled the Meat God, "meat withdrawal. How long has it been since the banker last touched meat?"
Veal reeled in an empty line, then recast.
Milk consulted her wristwatch.
"Twenty-four hours. One full day."
"A full day without meat!" exclaimed the tyrannous Sovereign of the Steers while around him a panorama of red and white clouds wheeled through the grey-blue sky. "I almost begin to pity the poor man."
"Pity?" inquired Veal's knowing helpmate, her intonation colored by incredulity and irony, as she watched her husband reel in a struggling sparrow on his line.
The god unhooked the bird, cracked its neck and tossed it into a bucket full of fowl.
The gods passed a moment in silence.
Then Goddess Milk shouted, "I think you'd better take a look, my dearest. Something is about to happen."
Bindle's hands were tight balls of bone and flesh which he watched grow red, then white on his desk. He saw perspiration bead on them as they shook slightly.
His fists were twin metaphors for his body. He sweated in his armpits, on his back and in his groin although his office was cool. His heart thumped against the taut walls of his chest. Bindle worried he might be having a heart attack. He could barely breathe.
His fists were also metaphors for his head, which felt like it would burst from the succession of images exploding in it. The overwhelming sensations of escalating hunger and despair seemed to turn his very brain matter first red with meat-lust, then white with cerebral heat.
Bindle the banker could stand it no more. Every fiber of his resolve was straining like the muscle tissue in the limbs of a man being drawn and quartered. He ripped open the drawer of his desk, his meat stash. But there was no meat there. It was Monday, the first day of his new resolve, and he had brought no meat to work with him that morning.
He wiped his brow.
If he could be calm for just one moment then he could get though this ordeal, he told himself.
He could not even take a deep breath.
He saw his finger jab out and buzz the intercom for Wanda.
"Yes, Mr. Bindle?"
He said nothing.
He noted the worried tone in Wanda's voice.
A moment more and Wanda heard something, something like Bindle's voice saying her name weakly. It sounded more like "Waa-daa."
"Mr. Bindle?" she repeated emphatically.
She rose up from her desk with the overpowering fear that her boss was ill.
"All those Italian sausages are killing him," she said to herself.
But, before she could reach Bindle's door, the man, disheveled, emerged.
Halting, the banker focused his gaze on Wanda.
"Oh, Wanda, it's you," he said. "I must go out for a while."
Wanda saw her superior's eyes lower until they seemed to fix directly on her breasts. She saw a troubled look cross his tense face.
On his forehead, a vein throbbed. A strange look came into his eyes, then seemingly was pushed back.
"Mr. Bindle, are you alright?"
"Yes. Yes...I must go out for a while."
For the next hour Bindle walked around the city struggling against his desire, and so concerned was he with this inner struggle that he hardly noticed the other pedestrians he bumped into or the cars he walked obliviously before.
Then gradually a change in surroundings alerted the robotic walker that he was in a place of trees and grass and a cool wind where the mood was relaxation. Justice Park, named for that most ideal of virtues, stretched out before him. Birds sang. Insects made inquiries of each boisterous, blossoming flower. Each flower was bright with easy living. In short, Bindle realized for a moment that it was a gloriously beautiful day, until again his lust resumed control. But Bindle knew why his subconscious mind had sent him to the park. For the banker, as for all mankind, the park in the urban environment is a last sign of the wilder human nature that predates cities, of man's first freedom before he became civilized. For Bindle, as for all mankind, there is something consoling in the thought that our ancestors lived without the strictures of civilization, that our ethics, morals, regulations and rules are at bottom arbitrary.
Yet Bindle also knew that it was in this park where there were no restaurants, no quick, meat-dispensing fast-food joints, that he must make his do-or-die stand against his overwhelming lust.
Bindle stumbled on, his mind having formed itself into the perfect cerebral image of an Italian sausage.
Why is it so often that when we are at our worst we see those whom we least want to see? Is it because what we loathe, we attract in our secret lusts for self-inflicted pain and self-destruction?
As the banker moved along, he slowly became aware that the short, thick man ahead of him on the path was someone he did not wish to see at that particular moment.
The man held a little girl by the hand. They walked toward Bindle.
The girl, blonde, about ten, had a bulky plastic camera hanging from a strap around her neck, the banker noticed. A toy camera.
Decorum compelled it.
Trying as hard as he could to dissemble his discomfiture, Bindle said, "Hello, Mr. McInerny."
McInerny's head moved with a neck spasm.
"Grandpa and I are taking snapshots," the girl said, looking up at Bindle whose obvious unease escaped her notice, but not that of the cement‑hard meat packer.
Looking at the girl, Bindle imagined black, wet collie snouts trying to push their way out of her flat chest. Effortfully he drove the thought from his mind and said, "That's...splendid, little girl." Turning to McInerny, he added, "Well, I must be on my way."
The meat packer watched the banker as he hurried off. He watched Bindle move along the path until, abruptly, he veered off it, stepping into the woodland that ran along one side of the path. Within a moment, the banker was lost from view.
Bindle propelled himself through the woods at a great pace. He pushed through brambles and over bushes, his mind consumed by the primordial beat: "Eat eat eat; meat meat meat."
Birds flew from him; squirrels and other parkland creatures fled from him. He threw off his suit jacket, his tie, his starched white shirt as he moved forward. He was hot. Sweat flowed from every pore.
He dashed into a swamp, sinking to his calves in muck and greenish water. He paused.
"Where is there any meat around here?" he cried.
Even the insects were momentarily silent.
He bit his forearm and tore away a chunk of skin, leaving a white gash flowing red. His tongue felt the tickling of his arm hairs.
"Ouch," the banker cried, spitting the piece of himself into the swamp. "That simply will not do."
With great attention Bindle watched blood run from the gash down over his hand to drip into the olive green swamp. He saw that a halo of blood surrounded the bit of white flesh in the water. He saw the flesh sinking and then being carried along underwater by the movement of a current that meandered through the entropic swamp.
Like a white crab, the piece of skin danced along the bottom of the swamp and the banker, mosquitoes biting him, followed its progress with his eyes until it reached the edge of the swamp and continued along its way, carried by a stream that flowed off, turning and turning, serpentine, through a field of high, gently waving grass. Desire had made his vision acute. On the stream's shore Bindle saw a shape that attracted his attention. He waded towards it.
On the shore was a dead German shepherd which, from the profusion of maggots crawling at its belly when Bindle turned it over with his wet tasseled loafer, looked as if it had been dead for some time. An arrow was lodged in its side. Someone had shot it. Someone who had it in for dogs.
The odor of rotten meat rose from it.
The banker's nostrils widened.
He said one word. "Meat."
He dropped to his knees.
He put his hands on the ground to either side of the deceased dog and, opening his mouth, he brought his face down into the animal's soft flank.
Bindle's perfect teeth ripped at the bloated flesh. Putrid gas whistled from the tear. His tongue lapped up the sun-warmed blood. He buried his nose in the hole he had ripped in the big mammal's side.
To the practiced eye of a veterinary pathologist it would have been obvious that the dog had been dead for some time. Well past the stiffness of rigor mortis, the animal's body was loose and flexible; and through the process of hemolysis--a thinning of the blood following the initial clotting that takes place immediately after death--the hound's blood was thin and dark red, almost black.
The banker's mind was blank with satisfaction. "What a feast," he said to himself, "and at such a bargain." He ate and ate and the eating was good.
"Shepherd's pie," he mumbled to himself, chortling.
Bindle heard the sounds of someone approaching, but that perception was at the back of his mind, so he paid it little heed. Though he heard the approaching voices, he would not be distracted from this act, this wantonly fulfilling act of feasting on the rotting dog, not even when he heard the voice of a little girl, emblematic of innocence, ask, "Grandpa, what is that man doing?"
Bindle heard her voice clearly, but it was as if it were a communication from another world, one with no bearing on his blood-red universe. Slurping more warm blood, he took another bite.
"Take a picture of that man, Jenny," he heard a gruff man's voice say.
He heard a click and whir.
Again he bit the dog.
Again he heard the man's voice say, "Take another picture of the man, Jenny, and be sure to get the doggie in the picture too like a good little girl."
"Okay, Grandpa," Bindle heard, "but what is that man doing to that doggie?"
"We'll see," the older voice responded. "But for now let's just take a picture. Then we'll go have ice cream."
"Okay...if you want me too...but something's wrong. Is the doggie sick."
Click and whir.
Slowly it began to dawn on the banker that the world that contained the voices and the click and whir of the camera was his world and that the world with the banker eating a dead German shepherd in the public park was not. Or at least it should not be.
Wet blood dripping from his nose, Bindle turned and rose from the rotting dog to a kneeling position, emblematic of supplication, for at that precise moment Bindle was freed from the puissant fetters--the links of sausage, so to speak--that had bound him irrevocably to meat. In one rush of understanding Bindle was freed from the appetite imposed on him by the vengeful Meat God, though he still remembered in perfect detail the deviant things he had done.
The banker saw McInerny and his granddaughter standing before him, he with a look of stony disgust, she with an expression of non-comprehension turning to horror.
Bindle said, "I can explain."
"Snap one more picture, Jenny," responded the out-of-business meat packer, who all his life had fought in a world where no holds were barred, where no quarter was asked for or given.
Though her little hands shook, she snapped another picture.
"McInerny! McInerny!" Bindle pleaded. "I can explain. Jesus, no, I can't explain what I've been doing. I've been a sick man, a very sick man. But...the loan! The loan! Come in and see me this afternoon. I'll give you what you want on the best terms. We can clear this up. It's a little matter, isn't it? McInerny!"
When the meat packer did not respond, Bindle looked at his granddaughter with a pitiful look as if that youngster could bestow mercy on him, but to the child, who already hovered on the edge of horror, the sad eyes in the bloody face and the sad curl of the bloody lips proved too much, so, screaming vociferously, she turned and ran along the shore of the swamp until she stopped some forty yards away and looked back from this safer distance at the two men.
"You scared my granddaughter," McInerny observed.
"Yes, I'm sorry. Now, about that loan!"
"Beg," said McInerny. "I want to hear you beg like I begged for you."
Bindle begged: the loan at any terms for the film.
The tough man--whose jowls from his recent exercise were pink as tender cuts of meat--looked on impassively as Bindle begged and, when the weeping suppliant had finished, replied, "I don't want your money any more, Bindle."
"What? But it means your business."
"I don't want it."
"In this past week and a half since you closed my plant I started to relax, to enjoy myself," McInerny replied. "I figure if the plant had stayed open and I had continued to work, then my days were numbered. Talk about tension. Hell, I've had two heart attacks already. It would have killed me. Now, I figure I can stretch out and enjoy my life, live a little before I cash in my chips..."
"So turning down your loan was a blessing in disguise!" Bindle asserted eagerly.
McInerny massaged his neck. The tic had abated over the past few days.
"Yeah, I guess it was."
"Then you'll give me back the film? I can't explain what I've been doing, what I've been going through, but obviously it's better that no one know," Bindle said, confidence creeping into his voice.
"Ordinarily I might not have a problem with that," McInerny said almost wistfully, "although if everyone decided to chow down on dead animals it would be hell for the meat business. But with you I have a big problem."
"Oh?" said the kneeling banker.
"Yeah, Bindle. I just don't like you. It would be--no, correction!--it will be a pleasure to destroy a jerk like you. You screwed me, Bindle. Now I'm going to make mince-meat out of you," McInerny smiled. Before he turned to go, he fixed his gaze on the gory hound. His parting words were: "Sorry to interrupt your meal."
"No. Wait!" Bindle called after the meat packer who ambled towards his granddaughter as if he did not have a care in the world.
It was no use. Rising and turning, the banker noted the ripped flesh of the shepherd.
Still living white maggots wriggled in the steaming puke.
He retched again.
Bindle thought that this scene of ultra-embarrassment would mark the end of this strange and dismaying period, this mid-life crisis.
As days passed, he grew more confident of this.
* * *
Several weeks later, Bindle rides a crowded subway car on his way to work. Over the intervening weeks since the scene in the park, which seemed to Bindle to signify to the "closing episode in his going overboard for meat," the banker's life has returned to normal. Margaret has returned, although she now insists on making desserts when company comes to dinner. At work, Bindle is once more the humorless, smooth, unflappable lender, and even the look of icy unease has gradually melted from Wanda's eyes.
As for meat, Bindle is not lured by it any longer. He can take it or leave it, except for Italian sausages--lowly pedestrian fare--which now he loathes.
From side to side the train rocks. With one hand Bindle, standing, grasps a hanging handstrap. Under his other arm he clutches his briefcase. It contains important documents, which he scanned and rescanned the previous evening. Now with his grey-blue eyes he examines the other passengers in the packed car.
"It would be beneath me to associate with these people socially," Bindle notes to himself, almost shuddering at the thought of having cocktails or sitting down to sup with members of the lower classes. "Yet as a loan officer I must look at each of these individuals as potential profit for the bank and so, in that capacity, I respect them...to a point."
Yes, the banker's sense of profound self-satisfaction has returned. He is, once again, the be all and end all of his own existence.
But not for long.
"It looks like him, Myrtle," he hears an unrefined voice say.
"No, no, it can't be!" a second says.
"I think it is," the first reiterates.
"Disgusting if it is," the second partially agrees.
Intuition tells the banker that he is the subject under discussion. Glancing over his shoulder, he sees two short, plump, elderly women eyeing him with sensational intensity. Their heads, which consist of heavily made-up faces, garish earrings and obvious wigs, frame a small notice, about three-quarters the size of a bumper sticker, stuck to the train's wall.
Unease grips him.
At the left of the sticker is a black and white photograph of Bindle, his face buried in the dead German shepherd's side; at the right another photograph of the banker, droolly blood ringing his lips, kneeling by the dog in an attitude of supplication. Beneath the two photographs, red capital letters: "BEWARE BANKER ALGERNON BINDLE, VICE PRESIDENT AT LAISSEZ FAIRE SAVINGS AND LOAN. NO PET IS SAFE."
"Not me, though quite a resemblance." Bindle smiles uncomfortably at the two women. But he sees them look again at the photos, again at him. Surveying the car, Bindle sees the damned notices placed at regular intervals everywhere. Many in the car stare at him. The train screeches to a halt.
Though it is not Bindle's stop, he gets off anyway.
The station has its share of shameful stickers too, he sees.
Rushing through the tide of commuters on the platform, he hears a voice. A voice he has heard just a few weeks before.
"Like a dog?"
He passes quickly by the smoke-and-steam-enveloped hot dog cart, but he cannot keep from shooting a glance at the heat-flushed, beaming face of the dwarfish hot dog vendor. She is wearing ruby lipstick and she smiles with yellow teeth.
Momentarily as the escalator carries him upwards he feels like breaking down in tears or breaking out in a fit of violent anger, but both impulses are lost in a sense of complete remorse which envelops his mind as if in a dull red cloud.
On the street the sky over the city mimics the banker's mind.
Red clouds hang low. The street is bathed in gore-red light.
He knows he is ruined, that he will never deny another loan. Bindle feels a hot rain fall on him, a hot, yellow rain.
He stops and looks around, while at the same time a crowd of onlookers circles the banker, observing in awe, for the morning shower strangely falls only on the well-dressed executive. He sees people in the growing crowd extend their hands with palms upward, then shake their heads uncomprehendingly. They keep their distance too. The steaming yellow rain gives off a rank odor.
The banker inclines his gaze upwards. The foul rain beats against his face, his horn-rimmed glasses. Bindle sees, about thirty yards above him and riding a meatloaf-shaped cloud, a manlike creature who looks as if he is made of meat. The creature's crown of hot dogs shakes with his laughter.
The fat meat man holds a scepter of bone with his free hand, the loan officer observes, while next to the airborne figure stands a woman who, attired in a sky blue toga, has milk-white skin and sizable breasts.
Her dainty hand covers her laughing lips.
Although he is being urinated on by a grotesque god, the vice president for commercial lending, transfixed, cannot move. At the back of his mind, he hears the chattering of the enormous crowd. He alone sees the Meat God and his tender consort, Goddess Milk.
No one else can.