I just completed a “Seminar in Fiction” class for my Master’s degree. During the class, we were assigned to write several very short stories based on our choice of prompts. At one point during the class, my professor noted how my stories were “sweet” and “feel good” and wanted me to write something out of my comfort zone. This short story, “Meat Pie,” was my response.
“What’s the difference between a butcher and a doctor?” my boss asked me for the hundredth time.
Fighting off a sigh, I responded, “I don’t know, what?”
“A butcher can grind up his mistakes!”
I gave an obligated chuckle and went back to my work. It was my turn to grind the hamburger. My boss brought over another bin full of steaks that had been on display too long and were turning brown. I pushed the meat into the grinder’s hole. Using something that looked like a small baseball bat, I shoved the various pieces into the corkscrew innards of the machine. What came out the other end was hamburger.
Dad cranked the handle on the small meat grinder, driving more of the meat inside to be forced through little holes. He was making something he called “meat pie” which I thought was weird. Pies usually had fruit filling.
“Ah, son,” he said when he noticed me, “you don’t want to watch this. Go upstairs and play.”
I hadn’t thought of that moment in years. Why had I remembered it now? Probably just a random connection my mind made because of the similar events. Before getting the job in the meat department, my only experience with grinding was when my dad ground up meat at home. At the butcher shop, we used meat from cows, not pigs, which made me wonder why it wasn’t called beefburger instead.
The meat pie was served like a normal pie. It was a triangle shaped piece cut from the round baked pie. Instead of whipped cream, my dad covered it with brown gravy. I was hesitant to try it—he’d often made meals from his latest kills. I liked venison, but didn’t care for pheasant. The taste of the pie was different than what I expected, but it wasn’t bad.
My boss swore.
I looked up from the grinder. He was standing at one of the tables we used to hand cut steaks.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I just ruined this filet. Slip of the hand.”
He was getting older. His arms, especially his forearms, were thick. But his hands had a slight tremble to them. I’d noticed over the last couple of months he made more and more mistakes when cutting.
Swearing again, he brought the ruined cut of meat over to me and tossed it into the grinder. “Shame,” he said, “that was a beautiful piece.”
My responsibility before going to bed was to make sure all the doors were locked, the thermostat was turned down and there was food in the dog’s bowl. I went through the routine, but stopped when I went to fill Lucky’s bowl. It was still full.
“Lucky!” I called out. There was no response. Usually he came running when I called him. Come to think of it, I’d not seen him all day.
I checked the backyard, but he wasn’t there. I called out his name again, but instead of Lucky answering, my dad did. He told me to come downstairs.
“Yes, Dad?” I asked.
My father was sitting in his den, a room filled with pictures of him hunting. On one of the walls was the head of a deer he’d killed and had mounted. He was sharpening one of his skinning knives.
“Son,” he said without looking up, “I made a mistake when I backed up my truck today.”