GUILT ON A SPIT
By Kristin Sojourner
“Tell me why you wanted to see your family after all these years?”
John turned towards his wife Annie as she sped down the backwoods road toward Millford, her seemingly long forgotten Southern hometown. “Why now?”
“I decided it’s time for you to meet daddy,” she said flatly, her thin lips pursed. She didn’t want to have this conversation again.
“After five years of marriage, or whatever it’s been, it’s time.”
John stirred uncomfortably, “Annie, we’ve been over this, I’ve apologized a thousand times, I’ll make it up to you. It’s over. She’s over….”
“I know,” Annie said as she stared ahead. “I just need to come home. It’s time…”
John owed her that much and let the subject drop.
The miles wound around tree-lined country roads until they finally broke apart and there it was. Millford. The BBQ Capital of the World! The delicious smell of Millford’s world famous BBQ wafted across the two blocks of downtown.
John winced. He had a long-standing hatred of the South, Southerners. The few he’d met were backwards good ol’ boys, bigoted religious zealots with drawling accents. Hayseeds. Republicans. Annie’s family was Southern, all the way. How had she turned out so enlightened, liberal, smart… vegetarian? After his lusty affair with Babette the Boulder yoga teacher, Annie decided “it’s time.”
Time to go home. Here. Why?!
John glanced down the long line at Packer’s Park BBQ, stretched out the door and around the corner. He jerked, surprised, as Annie pulled into the funeral home driveway next door.
“We’re here!” Annie’s father, Jasper Jameson, director of Millford’s only funeral home, was a morbid welcome committee, appropriately dressed in black.
“Annie! I’m glad you made it!” He threw his arms around her as she squealed, “Daddy! It’s been too long.”
“What’s kept you away from us?” Jasper glared at John, all signs of welcome gone.
“Hi, Mr. Jameson, glad to finally meet you.” John held out his hand. After a tense moment, Jasper grasped it firmly, stared into his eyes. He knew. Her father knew.
“When’s everybody coming?” Annie asked. “It’s been forever!”
Jasper helped her with the bags. John trailed behind, gawking at the large Victorian funeral home. “You never told me you grew up in a funeral home. And how did you end up becoming a vegetarian when you lived next door to such a famous BBQ place? It smells fantastic!”
“Oh, it is!” Jasper smiled with odd enthusiasm. “In fact, the whole reunion is being catered by Packer’s Park. They are the best! Now, make yourself at home, John, while I walk Annie to her room. There’s refreshments in the reception room. Help yourself.”
As Jasper disappeared up the grand staircase, Annie turned toward John, looking down on him from above. She didn’t say a word, simply stared. John held his breath, smiling at her uneasily. Annie was so lovely, he knew why he fell in love with her, briefly remembered. But as with so much in his life, it hadn’t lasted.
She didn’t smile back. Hurt, anger, sorrow, more… Something else. … She turned and followed her father out of sight.
The chill of her stare left him reeling. He stumbled as he found his way to the bar at the end of the elegant reception room. The bottle of Tito’s called his name, this day was turning out to be too much for him. His marriage was too much for him. Why had he come here? Guilt? … Remorse?
Guilt, he thought definitively, as he poured himself a shot, downed it, poured another. He hated his marriage. He hated the South. But the BBQ did smell good. He pulled back the lace curtains, looked out the window at the line in front of Packer’s Park.
“I see you found it,” Jasper said.
“Found what? Oh, yes, Tito’s. My favorite. How did you know?”
“I know a lot of things.”
“What do you know?”
Jasper stared at him through narrow eyes in silence, then spoke. “I know the sound a pig makes, his squeal when he’s electrocuted.” He made a guttural shrill sound that sliced the room. John jumped. But he didn’t move. His feet were cemented to the floor. “What the…”
He tried to move again, but his knees dropped like stones to the floor as Jasper circled around him. “Yes,” Jasper crooned, closer to John’s ear, “the pigs squeal like screaming babies, jerk about, try to get away, but it’s all over soon. Then the butcher hangs them up by the hamstring and slices them down the middle, lets the blood run…”
John felt Jasper’s hot breath against his face. “That’s all very interesting, sir,” he fell on to his elbows, wincing. “What’s happening? I can’t…. move…” The room spun.
“The piggies never know what’s happening… Do they?” Jasper squealed, then issued a low, satanic laugh, shook his head. “Nope. They never do.”
As John fell fully to the floor, Jasper pulled up a dining room chair, sat.
“Let me tell you a story, son.”
“I’m sorry,” John wheezed. He couldn’t move, breathe. He stared up at the older, smiling man in black.
“Of course you are. Of course … Makes no matter now. Just listen… Once upon a time there was a thriving Southern mill town. The mills left and the people were hungry. So the funeral director, he found a way to feed them. All these bodies, going to waste… why not? But why stop there … Arrogant bastards driving through town, speeding, scoffing at us bum hicks, cheating on our daughters… Why not? I believe, in your neck of the woods, it’s called ‘recycling.’ Here, we call it BBQ.”
John’s eye widened, but he couldn’t speak, as if he’d been gagged.
“BBQ. Well, son,” Jasper whispered, close. “Guess who’s going to be the guest of honor at the family reunion tomorrow?”
The world went dark. Before he lost consciousness, he heard the lovely Annie whisper, “Now you know why I am a vegetarian.”