by Jahla Seppanen
From Spring 2018
The girl from the meat counter died before I had the chance to kiss her. It was a Saturday, when our shifts overlapped for one hour in the afternoon. I began to miss her at twelve noon, with no idea as to the permanence of her tardiness. Twelve-ten. I imagined her alive, exploring a dozen exotic places. But yes, still alive, very much alive; the same flush through her cheeks as she got sweeping the leftover ham skin that snagged in the blade and kamikazed to the floor.
I saw her diving head-first into green lagoons covered with a thin film of slime. “Can I help you find anything? No? Great.” Wading through crystal Moroccan mirages, surrounded by sand hills and lonely palm trees. “Unfortunately, we don’t carry that brand. Try the Smith’s.” Chopping against the dark, aggressive current of polluted oceans. If she was away from the meat counter, she would be in water. Dissolving the lines of her skin, discarding her body to join a band of translucent jellyfish.
I’d never seen her outside the aisle of the deli counter, where her thighs rippled behind glaze-stained glass. That is, I’d never seen her outside the grocery store but once, when she accepted an invitation to my one-bedroom apartment for tequila and tarot cards, which she confessed one afternoon she believed in more than holy wine and God.
“Press your hands into the deck, hard, and ask it what you want to know,” she said. I squeezed the block of long cards. I won’t tell you what I wished for, but I’m sure you can guess. After drawing my three cards—Past, Present, Future—her lips flattened to a line before perking up again. “Good cards,” she said, flattening again, as though she had wanted to see pain in my future instead. Not for the sake of cruelty, but for solace.
While my cards were bright and full of prosperity, hers signaled forewarning and a poor history. In her Past was financial ruin—two peasants trudging through snow beyond the illuminated windows of a church. I cannot recall her Present card, but I could mix for you the light pink lace of her bra climbing out from the sides of the tank top. The same pink from the center of a honey maple ham. Her future was reversed. “That’s never good,” she said. I cleared my throat. “An omen for internal suffering, moodiness, volatility,” I read. “The upside-down king of cups sits in his throne with a stern face.” She grinned as I reluctantly read the paper pamphlet that came with the deck. “You may be struggling with self-deception or the deception of others,” I continued. “You need to take greater control and responsibility for your emotional state.” She tightened into herself. Cowering from the cards. But the sadness they told of made me want her desperately.
The last time I saw the girl from the meat counter was on a Saturday, when our shifts overlapped. She was cleaning the three meat slicers, lined up hard and silver, each waiting for their turn. Hands wrapped in blue plastic, the tail of her hair flapped out of a black hat, and even the rubber shoe slips looked like dainty deer hooves on her. She took her time, dipping a white rag into a bucket of sanitizer and cleaning with detail and deliberant service, pulling shaved pink chunks from between the guard and blade and running the stained wheel clean. When the silver shone, she was happy and moved on to the next pup. I wanted to disguise myself in the line of contorted equipment and feel her hands over my elbows and chin. To have her know and understand what each of my buttons did.
I was engaged—not to the girl at the meat counter but to a real woman, with an office job and a closet of smart heels, not too tall, but feminine enough. Office casual. I had loved her stern, adult quality until I met the girl at the meat counter, who worked only three mornings a week and came into the grocers like a gust of cold wind in the late summer. With the rest of her time, I’m not sure what she did. It wasn’t school. Maybe swimming. I fell in love with the way she sliced the prosciutto De Parma, black forest ham, oven roasted turkey falling to pieces, and messy horseradish roast beef. Pushing her body into the slicer. She smiled at everyone. Even the house-dads who ditched their wives and children in produce to play helpful and collect the weekly sandwich rations. I watched them as they watched her, observing her body as it pressed out of the white baggy coat, smeared in red stains and pink juices.
How did she die? You must be wondering. In the most violent of ways. No, not at the meat counter, but in a falling elevator. I’ve researched such terrible instances and scientists say that even once your body stops at the ground, your organs continue to fall. No, I tell myself, much too violent. I tell myself she died from not being kissed.