Anna and Vince the Butcher
The first time Vince spoke to Anna he said she had a face like a boiled ham. It was in the fifth grade and he had her pinned against the chainlink fence in the schoolyard in front of the whole class. He would punch her face until it split and bled and she'd wipe away the blood with her ponytails. She was called Bloody Anna Hair until almost the end of junior high school when he moved away.
- - -
It is on the front line of her memory. Anna has tracked Vince to this small gray town where he cheerfully slices meat for his customers. He is a butcher in his white and maroon stained kitchen apron getting ready for the start of a new day. She watches him through the front window of his store from the parking lot. He yawns.
The sun is only halfway across the sky now. The meat is being delivered. It smells like a massacre. The town's militant vegetarian group has started picketing early. They carry framed photographs of beautiful deer grazing, they shove cow pictures into the faces of the meat deliverers. Vince stand in his shop, his face pressed against the window staring at the angry people in front. Anna stands to the side where he can't see her. As the sun starts to rise she becomes braver. She puts on her black tinted sunglasses and marches with the picketers right in front of Vince's face.
Peace, she cries. Peace.
Anna takes a break. She eats stake-out food, a doughnut and a bologna sandwich cut in half with a pocket knife. She drinks coffee from a thermos. She is alone now in front of the store. She watches Vince shaking hands with his customers, slicing lunch meat, helping old ladies out of the door.
The bell cheerily dings when Anna enters Vince's store. She keeps her sunglasses on, she holds her head down.
Hello there, Vince says. What can I do for you?
Anna shakes her head.
The spiced ham is on special today, Vince says.
No, she says. I don't eat ham.
You're not one of the crazy veggies are you, Vince asks.
No, no, Anna says, taking off her sunglasses so he can see her.
That's better, says Vince. Now I won't worry so much that you are going to bomb my store.
The steaks in the glass counter sit patiently side by side with the rabbit heads who stare up at her with their pale glazed eyes.
Two Delmonico steaks, Anna says.
I'll slice them up thick and good for you, Vince says.
Anna smokes a cigarette behind the store near where the green bins of garbage are kept even though she quit years ago. She is quiet now, focused. The two steaks stink in the afternoon heat. She lets the cigarette burn down to her fingers and when she takes the last drag she seers her lip. She can see Vince through the back screen door, his curly black hair disheveled and knotty, his head nodding and shaking as he uses the shiny metal slicing machine.
- - -
When Vince would push her against the fence at school his curls would fall over his eyes. She'd wonder if he could see through his hair. She'd try to look in his eyes, but she always just wound up staring at his twisted smile and hearing the guffaws of his friends.
After six months of Vince's beatings, when Anna couldn't come home and hide it anymore, her father took off from work to see her teacher. He didn't call and make an appointment -- he just showed up. He walked into her social studies class after a test and slammed the door behind him. The class was expressionless, thier hands clasped, their elbows on their desks.
Who's punching my kid, her father asked. Huh? Who's punching my kid?
Anna kept her head down.
I'm sorry, Mr. Prince, her teacher said. If there is a problem you need to make an appointment with the school, you can't just walk into my classroom.
My daughter won't tell me who's doing this so I'm going to find out for myself, he said.
Who's punching my fucking kid, he said. Who is it?
Okay, Mr. Prince. That'll be enough, her teacher said, her hands on her hips.
You know, god dammit. One of these fucking kids is turning my god damned daughter's face into jelly and I want to know who it is.
Her father stormed out the room.
Anna Prince, Anna's teacher said. Perhaps you would like to go down to the office?
Anna had nodded, gathered her books and left the classroom. Vince sat in the back of the room, silent, one curl hanging languidly over his left eye.
He smiled at her as the door closed.
- - -
Vince turns around and catches her staring at him. He half-smiles and waves uncertainly and goes back to slicing. He wipes his hands on his kitchen apron and peers at her through the dirty back window. Anna doesn't smile.
Anna takes a short walk. She eats another sandwich cut in fours and through her binoculars she sees Vince taking out the garbage, sweeping the floor.
Once Anna made up her mind it didn't take her long to find Vince. The telephone operator and kind relatives informed her that Vincent True now lived a hundred miles away from her in the same town he had moved to in junior high school. We're old friends, she told his aunt and his mostly deaf grandmother. Old friends from school.
- - -
A year after Anna's father expoded into the classroom she heard that Vince was moving away. Something was different that day. Anna had walked to school the long way so she could avoid him -- but Vince was nowhere to be found. He'd usually be waiting for her to say she was ugly and push her head into the brick walls and taunt her about her mother running off with another man. During attendance her teacher called out Vince's name. He's gone, one of his friends said. Moved away. Gone.
Anna kept her head down. She was quiet, focused. The world seemed lighter, new and fresh.
- - -
The hot sun is finally disappearing. Anna throws the rotting package of Delmonico steaks into the garbage. She places the binoculars in her lap and clasps her hands neatly on them.
Anna watches Vince clean the windows and close the store. She crushes another cigarette under her foot and scrapes the tobacco dust into the ground. She cuts another sandwich and eats it methodically. Vince pulls the gate down and drives away.
- - -
Anna told Vince's aunt how important it was that she located him. It's been twenty-two years since I have seen him, Anna said. His aunt gave her the store address. He's such a good boy, his mostly deaf grandmother said. he's always at work. You'll find him there. Thanks for being so helpful, Anna told them.
Anna sleeps. In her dream she is rotting, slowly melting into the pavement of the parking lot and then it becomes the fifth grade classroom and the asphalt buckles and becomes the chainlink fence, then the brick wall of the school. It becomes the locker that her head is smashed against and she can feel her eyes boring into gray metal that clings and clangs as her head bounces against it. The class is watching, interested and Vince is really off and running now - he has her head in his hands, her ponytails wrapped around his fingers. His black curls cover his eyes and she cannot see his face.
- - -
Noise forces Anna's eyes open. The picketers are back, they are setting up for the new day. They wear sweatshirts with racoon heads ironed on the front and they laugh and grind fresh carrot juice. They don't see Anna in the back of the parking lot. She cuts her last sandwich in pieces and eats each one.
Before the meat delivery and while the picketers are taking a break, Vince pulls into the lot in his pick-up truck. Anna lights a new cigarette. She leans back against the back screen door waiting for Vince to open the store. She can see his profile, his silhouette in the semi-dark -- he opens the register, he picks up the broom.
Anna walks around and in through the front door.
Why are you following me, Vince says to her looking at her full front in the bluish streaky darkness. His pupils open, a black splash across his eyes, he hold the broom in front of his chest.
Anna moves quickly. The pocket knife loose and steady in her hand she pushes the blade along Vince's throat in a precise, no-nonsense cut.
Outside she gathers her coffee thermos and her empty sandwich bags.
The picketers eat breakfast.
About the author:
Naomi Leimsider is a graduate of the MFA program in fiction at Brooklyn College and a co-founder of the now defunct reading series, Lambs to the Slaughter. She retains her sunny attitude towards life despite spending seventeen hours in jail for riding her bicycle on the sidewalk in Astoria, Queens. She enjoys baseball, cookies made from soy protein, and not being in jail. This is her third published story.