Published in Spelk Fiction, April 2019
The white overcoat smells of fresh laundry – later it will stink of flesh and oil.
The supervisor hands me a plastic cap and an elastic band. ‘That’s got to go inside.’ She points to the mess of my hair. ‘All of it.’
The gloves she gives me resemble the ones my doctor wears for internal examinations.
Next come the rubber boots, cold now – later sticky with heat.
The place is enormous, a metal shed crammed with monstrous machinery and rows of women, everyone dressed in white suits, as if preparing a trip to the moon.
The meat comes out of the freezers in slabs like frozen suitcases. Clouds of steam billow into the air. The freezer rooms are larger than my kitchen. I think horror films. How easy it would be to die in there.
The men unload the slabs and sling them into the machine. The cutters come down. It’s an execution and a birthing.
A dozen pink fingers drop out from under the blade. They stick to each other like Siamese twins, all fat and sinew. We separate out the fingers with our gloved hands as they move along the belt and sink into the custard-coloured batter. Then, coated and clothed, they move forward again before falling into a vat of boiling fat. Finally they are packed and frozen before being sent to the gas ovens and a million chewing jaws.
I study the way the women push their thumbs across the wire rack, separating the blocks of frozen meat. Roll, roll, roll.
Most of the women are middle-aged or older but there’s a sprinkling of fresh-faced ones, daughters perhaps. This is the sort of place where generations of women will work, women who no longer dream or maybe they do, when they’re gone from this place, scrubbed clean of the smell and the battering noise.
All week I dream of falling feathers. Not the soft feathers of goose down. These feathers have sharp quills. They are death and suffocation.