The walls of the pit were too high for her to climb out unassisted
Her world is made on meat. The cattle in heat lowing her to sleep. Their disembodied steaks later sizzling: on the barbeque, the electric stove, the top of the fireplace in winter when snow has taken out the power lines for another week. The peel and drip of captured possums strung up in her neighbour’s garage where she waits for the school bus when it is raining. The lambs bleating, now: separated momentarily from their mothers in the pen, or lying on their backs spread-eagled belly-up in the roller chute – a tower of terror ride for them, between the B12 injection popped into the loose crumpled skin at the back of their necks and then the ear clipper holepunching fuzzy rubberish triangles out of them and then – for the ones with balls – the rubber rings. And then the tailing, a brief ordeal of huge hot scissors, followed by a spray of blowfly repellent and iodine.
They are the future of meat. Kicking up their hindhooves and waggling their stumps as if in oblivious joy once they’re released, the lambs hop back into the flock to greet their mothers. Today the girl is in charge of spritzing their docked behinds with the disinfectant and insect repellent mix while the lambs frolic away from their manhandlers, their gummy open mouths pink as bubblegum. When the men pen up more lambs in the drafting race, she crouches to count the tails in their stumped pile on the ground. The tails are wet with a mingled glister of piss, the orange disinfectant, and mud stomped up by all the spray it’s taken to dock two hundred and sixteen of them so far. She puts the tails in four-and-a-bit shit-smeared batches of fifty, then she puts them into an empty fertiliser sack. Where it is still clean, the wool on the tails is white and neatly curly as dried two-minute noodles.
Even the rocks where she lives look like meat, she thinks, hands in the dirt and the bloodless tails, everything getting under her fingernails. The rocks are raw-bacon pink marbled with tallow cream and threads of iron vein scarletting into capillaries that bring alive the rhyolite. Glossy yellow pits where the volcano’s slow-cooling quartz crystals pock the stone like open pores. It makes sense that the land and the bodies are made of the same meat because the animal bodies come from the land and they dissolve back into the dirt if you let them. Look: a sheep carcass melts home into its paddock.
She went inside the meat earth once herself. Fell into the Dead Hole where the accidental carcasses got put. A pit carved into layers of different coloured dirt and stone, where the scrabbling cupped claw of the digger had burrowed deep beneath the fine pelt of grass. Standing on the neat rectangular lip of the pasture’s laceration, she slipped – landed her gumboots ankle deep in a bursting purple corpse. Round as a river rock and nearly as bald over the bloat of its intestines, the ram was busy becoming dirt. There were rats inside the ram that ran out when she stood on it. Grey shapes darting into the outskirts of the hole, having nested their sanctuaried citadels in the crevices of farm rubbish too big to burn: rotted fence posts, frayed and tangled loops of electric fence wire, desiccated sheets of corrugated iron that had rusted it all red. The smell didn’t hit her until the wind changed. Sweet acrid rot like a gutpunch. She tried to breathe through only her mouth but then closed it again in case vomit got out or a fly got in. She knows that where there’s naked meat there are flies. And then, the maggots.
Hoisting up the fertiliser sack of wet tails, she stands beside the tailing iron as it reheats in its holster over the gas flame. The tailing iron is like a hair straightener but with blades which must be kept scorching to cauterise the wound as they cut. If the iron is hot enough and you take it at the right steady speed, the lambs do not bleed. Mostly they don’t even make noise during it; froggy eyes gazing at nothing from each side of their faces, half a bleat barely whirring at the back of a throat as the tailer’s blades click finally together and the loosed appendage drops to the dirt. This cruelty is still somehow more humane than letting them keep their tails and fall fly struck. The dags caked around their hindquarters inviting blowflies to lay eggs. She thinks about the first ewe she saw with fly strike, although of course she smelled the poor thing first, before seeing the animal’s whole back moving visibly because of the maggots; a squirmed multiplicity of writhings beneath the green-stained wool. Eating her alive. Even meat doesn’t deserve that treatment.
The tails are still warm in their sack, propped against the fence. The men banter over who’s going to take the brittle-boned appendages home and grill them on the barbie, although she didn’t see either man take any home yesterday so she suspects that’s a joke. Standing too close to the tailing iron as it heats, she notices her trousers are on fire. And also, then, her leg. It smells less like burnt wool than like the polyester furling back on itself but soon there’s singed hair and flesh smell – rich and salty – not quite the same as the lambs’ but now she knows for sure that she is made of meat. Her new raw skin pink as the stone from the dead volcano. She smells herself burning and before she thinks to drop to the damp grass and snuff the fire out, she gets kind of… hungry. She imagines herself a future consumed. This edible girl. Her fortune of maggots. On the horizon the foothills fold like heavy cloth. Unstrung curtains piled against the edge of the sky, which is a hard blue vertical surface unreal as the painted plywood backdrop for a pantomime.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Hawkes is an artist and perpetual student currently nesting in Wellington. She has just completed an MA portfolio of creative non-fiction writings for the IIML, titled SKIN HUNGER. She has had work published this year in Starling and Up Country.