Arsehole Jam (Caitlin Farrugia)

Posted on December 8, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

(edited by Michelle McLaren)

‘Sometimes raspberry jam tastes like arsehole.’ Margaret crumples her facial features into the middle of her head and places the condiment knife down on the picnic rug. It stains the eggshell white cloth with a sticky smear of burgundy.

‘Did you spend a lot of time licking arsehole when you were young, dear?’

Rosalia’s accent is still thick years after migrating to Australia. Margaret stretches her mustard-chequered legs as far as her arthritic knees will straighten and fastens her navy scarf around her thin long pigeon neck, craning to look at the peppered grey sky above. She had spent a lot of time with arseholes actually. One in particular still lived at the forefront of her mind.

1955

Lindsay was a stern man even in his twenties. One would think he was well into middle age with such a serious face. At the beach, he would don a full wool suit with a wide pleated leg and a tapered ankle. A tiny apricot triangle would jut from his breast pocket. He always deemed it asinine when their children laughed with his young bride by the shore.

Margaret was thankful to have not been that young bride, for she imagined the woman’s days to be filled with humid steam rising off pressed shirts and cut fingers from a defrosting freezer; with pork sausages and mash and canned peaches and cream; with missionary sex in the dark without coming, and lilac and pearl pillbox hats. On the occasional afternoon when the young bride would grace Foggart’s Meats with her blushing silky-faced children, Margaret would watch them with a hungry curiosity. Wearing wet white moustaches, the twins milk-giggled their way through the hanging, bloodied cow carcasses. Lindsay would offer his garish pocket square and his bride would hold it daintily over her strawberry shaped nose to keep out the fleshy perfume of death. As Lindsay talked at her with a deep echo, his wife nodded at all the correct intervals just as she had been trained, her skin white and crystal like a gleaming cut of quartz, her lips a shiny plum red.

Although the woman never spoke, Margaret had imagined her voice as soft as the batter of meringue. What a precious gem, a perfect portrait. All the time Margaret had known this tourist of the meat factory, she’d wanted to strip her bare and free her like a trapped rabbit — like the young rabbits that her grandfather used to catch and cage, age and eat. Her appearance may have been sculpted to exact perfection but the bride’s sunken eyes were a perpetual dullness, the colour of feathery grey mould or faded ash carpet in a dark room.

1949

Margaret hadn’t fallen into butchering animals and stripping their bones of tender meat in the same way an artist chases expression: quite the opposite. After the war, Foggart’s Meats had advertised for workers and Margaret was in need of finances to feed her disabled mother and younger brother.

When Lindsay first muscled open the tin door to the warehouse, Margaret had instantly felt it a tomb. It was a multisensory gallery of death at its finest. Lifeless cows and their babies were caught in a twisted tableau of mortification, their carcasses tethered to the ceiling by cold piercing chains. To Margaret it seemed there was a fine line between being a living creature and food; a human being or a dead body.

Lindsay quickly waltzed past the beef as though he believed in ghosts. He seemed to be attracted to living things and hung closely to his new employee. His hand lingered on the shoulder of the young abattoir worker to catch the rising heat from her dark olive skin. Between the skinned pigs and the murdered lamb his hand, glossy with sweat, brushed over her buttocks. Margaret gulped a tangy swab of saliva, inched away, and with trembling hands ironed out the creases in her sea-green slacks.

1961

The day Margaret was arrested she’d eaten untoasted bread for breakfast as usual and whacked on her heavy cotton coveralls. It had been a sticky February of melting lemon ice creams and sweaty upper lips. Street dogs were too hot to nip at children’s legs and older women hung over their balconies with makeshift newspaper fans. When Margaret’s mother had moved them from Malta she hadn’t prepared them for the blistering swelter that was Australia, and on the sickening boat ride over, the yellow sun seemed to have enlarged like a dilated pupil.

It had been a picturesque cycle to work that day. Teenage girls in blue denim miniskirts waved with long fingers at the ring of a bike bell. Women unaccompanied by boyfriends or husbands sat outside pub windows refreshing their tongues with ice cool drinks. The honey-coloured sky bathed the women in swells of glory. The glittery morning roused Margaret inside her lungs.

While outside hazy mirages of mist rose from the roads, inside, the warehouse was brisk and frigid. Wearing a new viridian-pigmented pocket square, Lindsay hovered over Margaret, blowing a circle of frost down her neck as she trimmed portly fragments of afterlife. Margaret pretended her boss’s body wasn’t resting against her back and maintained the thudding cuts from her knife. His thin body felt cold and bumpy like a plucked chicken. He unzipped his fly and ran his pink penis across her stout lower back. Still grasping at the bulk of meat and the knife, Margaret stepped to the side. A person who owns an abattoir surely wasn’t one to let stock slip beneath his fingers however, so Lindsay quickly strangled her middle, spinning her around. Margaret fidgeted under the miry lips of her hunter. As his mind transcended with prohibited pleasure she clenched her inflated fingers tighter around the cleaver and with a single unthinking thrust, hacked his pink clump clean off.

Margaret had become impartial to the music of torture but never before had it felt so satisfying. As Lindsay leaked crimson blood and fizzy drool, the butcher refused remorse. Rather, she thought of the bride’s stinging red abrasions from being humped by her husband’s dry skin. She pictured her legs healing to a milky white; the woman’s eyes clearing from the fog.

 

‘We just won’t buy that raspberry anymore. What about marmalade?’ Rosalia offers with a toothy smile of silver fillings. She is a beautiful portrait with her fairy floss pink lips in front of the dark green and gold ferns. Margaret nods, kissing her girlfriend delicately on her freckled puffy cheek. She smells of talcum powder and roses.

Misfortune had loomed over Margaret’s youth but these days were much sweeter. On this particular Tuesday afternoon Margaret threads her withered fingers through Rosalia’s own and together they discuss the vast varieties of flavoured jams.

 

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Caitlin Farrugia
is a writer, producer and teacher from Melbourne, Australia. Her pieces reflect ideas of human connection, feminism and child wellbeing. You can follow her at caitlinfarrugia.com or @ohuniverse.

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