Excerpt from Varroa, a novel
Anton came into the pub as Lo was taking the empties out back. She backed her way through the door and saw him beaming at the meat workers. Outside she set the bottles down and took a moment to enjoy the – slightly – fresher air. She leaned against her sturdy, reliable walls and listened to the shrill laughter that continued to emanate from the circus. She sniffed in the harbour’s odour and realised her heart was beating fast. Ever since Harold’s death she’d had a terrible feeling, a lingering solemnity and fear she wasn’t entirely sure what about. Probably just general doom, she thought, and things like Johnson lifting her from the ground didn’t help.
The laughter resounded again. An elephant probably swallowed a peanut. The circus had no doubt hoodwinked half the fucking town. ‘Least I’m honest about my poison.’
Back inside, the meat workers were getting Anton drunk, even paying for his drinks. He was telling them how their job was sacred, how they were the backbone of the country. ‘Show us how’s it done,’ one of them said. ‘Yeah what’s the best way to do the chop?’ And Anton who was sweating and slurring, grinned and stood up. ‘Straight back,’ someone yelled. He corrected his posture. ‘Obviously,’ Anton said, ‘as you are all well aware, it’s from throat to pussy, throat to cock. It matters not which way the blade travels as long as it’s on that line,’ and Anton began to sway around the room, making the movement with an imaginary knife until one of the workers called for Lo to give him a knife.
‘Fuck off,’ she said, but the workers pleaded and she figured it would cause more harm not to. She handed Anton a butter knife and he pushed his finger against the tip and ran his other fingers along the edge and slowly pulled his hand away, making it look as if he was stretching the knife. He looked around at everyone, caught their eyes one at a time to ensure they had seen what he had done, that they knew the butter knife has become a butcher’s blade. Everyone nodded.
He whirled the knife around and, remembering his audience, he puffed his chest out. ‘I don’t need to tell you things are bad,’ Anton said, cutting downwards. ‘The bee keeper’s dead. The chip shop’s disappeared into the harbour. And now the meat works is in danger. We’re down the river without a paddle. And I’m not gonna accept it,’ he said shaking his fist under one wide, squat worker. ‘We gotta fight.’ He waved the knife back and forth at the height of the workers’ necks. ‘We’re the last connection between man and nature. Without us all those vaginas in the city would die. Without us all that prime meat mooing in the fields would go to waste. Without us there’d be no country, no town, no nothing.’ He whirled around and around, stabbing and chopping and slicing and the meat workers roared for him to carry on, ‘cut more,’ ‘faster, faster,’ they said, until Anton was puffing and bowling into one table and then the next, parrying invisible cattle, killing sheep.
‘Don’t you all see,’ he said, suddenly stopping, puffing, ‘this floor is covered in blood, and that’s how it should be. We can’t live without it. What we do in the works is what needs to be done.’
Most roared in agreement.
‘That’s enough,’ Lo said, and Anton brandished the knife towards her.
‘You don’t get to tell me what’s enough.’
‘She said that was enough,’ Jimmy said from behind him.
Anton turned and stabbed Jimmy without a second thought. Jimmy gasped in pain, the blunt knife rebounded off his stomach.
‘That’s gonna bloody bruise,’ Jimmy said. He grabbed Anton by the collar and ripped the butter knife from his hand.
‘Go on home,’ he said and threw Anton out the door.
The meat workers applauded Jimmy. ‘Bravo, captain, bravo.’
Lo, rolling her eyes, returned behind the bar, and turned on the televisions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Pasley is a journalist and writer from Auckland. Varroa is the manuscript he produced for his MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2018, a novel about the downward spiral of a fictional town in coastal Northland. It features a dead bee keeper, a travelling circus, a struggling meatworks and a rotting, possibly prophetic whale.