Jason Teal

Meat Debt

There were three cows grazing in the field next to an airport. Marjorie stopped the RV, the engine idled beside the pasture, and a logging truck, followed by a mid-sized sedan, rolled past slowly, unsure if Marjorie was broken down or just grabbing pictures. None of the garish flank of bumper stickers—snarky messages advocating peace, where to put your cell phone, honor roll—applied to her anymore. She wore these labels dispassionately, shrugging off certain memories once Simon’s kidnapper sent a toe, then a finger, then an ear.

The logging truck was late for its delivery, but the dad driving the mid-sized sedan decided not to pull over, suspecting hitchhikers for murders, parked RVs for drug-crazed hippies or inbred monsters cooking meth (he only started watching new TV a few weeks ago).

At the intersection, tailgating the logging truck, the dad hits the brakes when the truck brakes suddenly. The family veers off the road and into a ditch. Did I say three cows? One of them was laying down, shot in the field because it was sick. The other two were eating it.


Almost Human

We were called specimens. We learned human sign language in captivity, hid meanings in code. We built tools for torture.

Marjorie left our brother, stoned dead, in the desert. Brutal sun cooked her RV like prime rib. We said adrenaline carried Marjorie from state to state: Slinking out of the cab, Marjorie felt abandoned by animal bodies.

We were ghosts, scratching our bottoms. We said cash only, “One night. Smoking or nonsmoking?”

We said in exit interviews, “We were never unhappy at our jobs.” Chimpanzees laughed at our own jokes.

We said in historic times, “Mating rituals last ten to fifteen seconds.”

The A/C bleated its miserable song. What happened to animals in close quarters. In the room. We were called specimens.

We said in orbit, “We can’t grasp changes in altitude without snacks or reward.” Chimpanzees died in orbit.

There were instructions with our brother: Give him constant care. Almost human. His animal body wrapped inside a blue tarp and buried in the desert. His frame did not eclipse four feet, but he fought all the way to the ground.

Chimpanzees weren’t strange because we knew sign language, not at first. We smiled at Marjorie, bared teeth. We said we saw this erased in a second.

We said we saw this erased in a second, “Marjorie erased this shining beaming thing, and we knew grief.”

We were hunted for bush meat. In our habitat loss. Chimpanzees get eaten. We were called specimens.

We said in hard times, “We’re gonna be sick.” Bugs in the RV. We ate the bugs. We were dead.

We live sixty years. In captivity. In the wild, forty. There were receding spaces. We lived there. Our animal bodies. 

The animal body confused Marjorie. Petite. In the room. The A/C resets, rattles.

We said Marjorie couldn’t sleep. Through the night. Wrapped in blankets like a tarp. We levitated her.

We said Marjorie struggled. We said in the darkness, “We hoot, grunt, and scream.”

We said in sports, “We have opposable thumbs. We go first.” We were gone.



Dumped by Marjorie

I offered Marjorie pearls. She didn’t want pearls. I bought a lobster caviar frittata in New York, gold leaf-wrapped sushi in Manila. She picked around her food. She asked me to drive her to Portland. Then she lost her train ticket. I chartered a flight. She didn’t like waking up early to check in. She slept through her alarm. I told the pilot to keep the plane taxied. I called Marjorie a cab. The union was on strike. She didn’t trust my drivers or my classic cars. I put her in an Uber. She said she missed economy seating, meeting people. I paid friends to fly across the country. She didn’t board, nervous about airport security. I tried, curtly, to describe my real estate holding company in Seattle. I would set her up in a trendy condo. She snorted, wheezing on the phone. She didn’t like my wealth, she said. She described me as a very dead corpse, prone to decay. I was on my deathbed and Marjorie and I fell into this fight. One of us kept leaving, blaming, hating, cursing the other. I didn’t hear from her for two years. I was still living. She changed shifts, her nephew needed someone at home. I hired a private eye to investigate. His tail turned up nothing of importance. She found out I hired the detective. She said, The rich are at a special disadvantage. Because of the nature of wealth, she said, you will die sooner. Marjorie said, You are spoiled into weakness, your lungs sticky with bile. I said, That cancer’s from smoking, not greed. She said, I hope you die wicked slow. After, she started wearing the pearls. She moved to Boston. She goes by Jorie now. She said, No one can hear you cry out, my rasping scratching yips delivered into the skin of a pillow.


Jason Teal is a writer and editor living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction from Northern Michigan University and runs Heavy Feather Review. His work appears in Quarter After EightEleven ElevenKnee-JerkVestal ReviewSmokeLong QuarterlyLit.catFlulandCorium MagazineBig MuddyMatter PressHobart, and Fine Print, among other publications.