The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Twenty

from Pieces for Small Orchestra by Norman Lock
String Theory by Steven Schutzman
Three Short Shorts by Patrik Linhart
The Song of the Nightingale by Fernando Arrojo-Ramos
Seven Pieces of Meat by David Ray
The Noctis Equi by Deb R. Lewis
When Dada Wrote Koans by Theodore Wei Changsheng


irreal (re)views


Seven Pieces of Meat
by David Ray

on't get me wrong, it's not that I don't love my husband, but I'm so sick of seeing them come up the walk again, all stiff and formal in their blue dress uniforms that I'm tempted to get Jake's old pistol and start shooting before they make it to the front door.

It's not that I'm unpatriotic either, but I don't see the necessity of their coming around every time. It's all nonsense and play-acting, those dress blues they're so proud of and that silly salute and folded flag and all the nonsense to come at the ceremony and graveside and firing squad as if they're shooting invisible ducks in the sky.

I've even lost count of how many dynamic blue duos have been here. Has each visit—rude intrusion I call it— been for a finger? Have there been seven? After the first one I assumed they had collected about all of Jake that the roadside bomb had left, and they were pretty delicate and prissy about how they talked about it, as if they really were talking about a human being, the same kind as themselves.

Then they got a little more casual about referring to another "body part" found, and I kept visualizing fingers, maybe because I don't want to think of some of the other things. Maybe they're just hunks of meat that were Jake. Or God knows, what we used to make love with.

After we've had the little formal chat in my living room I offer coffee and pie and they turn it down like cops in movies, but when I assure them nobody will know, they sit down for a while at the table. Sometimes they forget to grimace, and seem to have forgotten why they're here, then they'll glance at each other and put on a grim face. That's usually when I give them the hug they've obviously been expecting—one for each of the poor boys, and they remind me that it's against regulations, and I smile and reassure them that I won't be reporting them for misbehavior.

They nurture fantasies, who doesn't? Here we are, all the fresh widows, and they get to be the first to break the news. Women will do anything when they're in shock. Maybe they'll never want another man to touch them. Maybe they're so desperate that if one of these smartasses—forgive me, Mr. President, but that's how I feel about them after seven or eight of their visits, one for each body part turned up—should double back after dark I swear I might let him him make love to me. If he asked politely, I should say. Like a gentleman, I should say. I'm not saying these guys aren't cute, but dammit, I never want to see another one.

They travel in pairs like nuns. Maybe that's so they'll not take advantage of the situation. They're perfect gentlemen. One of them actually mentioned the five hundred thousand dollars I'd be getting, and if Jake and I had had any children they'd be getting their piece of the federal pie too. and a monthly allowance of a thousand and free college educations. Maybe Jake and I should have at least one for that reason if for no other, the way some of the politicians accuse welfare mothers of breeding for cash.

It could be five hundred million, though, and I wouldn't trade one of Jake's fingers for it. But I still don't get the logic of all this. If I have to get a visit from the casualty notification team every time they discover another body part—a finger, I'll say, or a toe—shouldn't I get another half a million every time? It just doesn't make a lot of sense, but I never thought this war made any sense. If Jake were here maybe he could explain it to me.

I suppose he'd tell me that the war was worth throwing his life away, not caring enough for me and the baby we might have if he had come back, having done anything to escape the goddamn roadside bomb in Iraq. I wake up seeing him breathless, as if he ran all the way, even over the ocean. It's not such a hard thing to do, running on water when you really love someone enough.

Call it AWOL, desertion. Call him a coward, unmanly. Call him a war criminal or whatever they call people who won't be a part of it. We could have gone to Canada. I'd have gone anywhere with Jake. I still would. This could all turn out to be a big mistake. All those body parts could be for someone else, a guy with a different number. They make mistakes all the time. Maybe they're too embarrassed to admit this one, but when and if they do Jake will come back. And even if they don't, and he's in some horrible prisoner of war camp, he'll get back. If he has to claw his way back he'll make it. Damn the blue coated dynamic duos in their serge blues and their smartass ceremonies.

I think a lot of my fellow widows must be as mad as I me. Maybe they only get one visit from that pair with their cute folded flags, and maybe like me they'll permit a non-regulation hug. But they must have some mixed feelings about their men throwing their lives away for a crazy war. The newspapers quote the widows saying how proud they are that their husbands have made the ultimate sacrifice and all that nonsense, but I know damn well they can't feel that way, unless they just wanted the blood money, and it's hard to imagine even the worst bitch I ever knew in college who would trade a man for five hundred thousand dollars.

Actually, and I was reluctant to tell this, even in the privacy of this journal, where I can work out my feelings without having to justify them, one of the men did double back one night.

I answered a rap on the glass, not the doorbell, and there he was, not in the blue dress uniform, but looking like a clean-cut kid who was just out of high school. He shoved a dozen yellow roses at me so fast that I jumped back and sneezed.

"I didn't mean to scare you," he said.

"Not another body part?" I said. "Where's your pal? Why aren't you in uniform?"

"I thought you might need some company," he said. "I know it's not regulation, but I just kept thinking of you all alone here, and thought maybe there'd be no harm…"

"I don't," I said, "Really, I don't," but I could tell he was watching my face for my response, not my words. I can't even say how I felt toward him. I knew I could get him busted by making a phone call, but what satisfaction would that give? Maybe it would save his life by assuring he'd never get sent overseas to meet Jake's fate.

So sure, dear diary, I was outraged. But here he was, a man, and he wanted to make love to me. And he did ask politely, very.

Stranger things have happened. But even my patience has its limits. When I heard the same rap on the glass, or so it seemed, a few nights later, and opened the door, assuming it was Thomas, the name my seducer had given me, it was the Other One, the other side of the dynamic duo.

Like Thomas he was apologetic. But unlike Thomas, he would get nowhere. If there is anything more insulting than taking advantage of a woman's grief it's passing her on to another man afterwards.

Maybe they don't realize how they have become nothing but delivery boys for butchers, informing widows about the pieces of meat the war has made of their husbands, then treating the widows themselves as nothing but pieces of meat.

One more piece of meat, be it a head or a finger, a toe or a chunk out of Jake's heart, even mentioned in the doorway of this house and Jake's pistol will take care of the problem. There'll be two pieces of meat on my stairs, and a 911 call will get them picked up, because I'll have declared my doorstep an extension of the war zone. Mr. President, what the hell would you do about that? I can see the headlines now: WAR WIDOW DOWNS SURVIVOR NOTIFICATION TEAM ON DOORSTEP.

And Jake, if he's in heaven looking down, will just have to forgive me. I don't care if they find his other three fingers and all ten toes, I'm not going to open the door to any pair of blue-uniformed ghouls. And as for that decision they've asked me to make time after time, what to do with the newly discovered piece, cremation or a little bronze coffin and burial, they can damn well make it themselves, because I don't give a damn. Jake, I don't give a damn, I want you to hear that. And of all the men in the world I know you're the one who would understand.

David Ray is the author of sixteen volumes of poetry including his latest, The Death of Sardanapalus and Other Poems of the Iraq Wars (Howling Dog Press, 2004), and is the founding editor of New Letters magazine and New Letters On The Air. He is a two-time winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and has taught at a number of colleges in the U.S.A., including Cornell University, Reed College, the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His essay, "On Avoiding a Kafkaesque Fate," appeared in irreal (re)views in August, 2006.

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