May 15, 2014

The Dust Mote

It was a small dark cabin.  I'm not sure how long I had been there, nor how long that he had.  Without a doubt, he had been there far longer.  There was a refrigerator stuffed full of bulky dark paper packages, with grease stains forming on the creases.  It was musty, as if daytime was an event that never happened inside the cabin.

We use everything, he said, gesturing downward at a grease stained sack, where charred bones had once sat.  It takes hours, he said, to skin a chicken, to de-feather it, to remove all the innards, and organs.  But we do it.  Not a thing is wasted.  At the end, all that's left is the bones.

What do you do with the innards? I asked.   The workshop was small.  He was talking massive amounts of slaughter, that would have filled the entire back room.There was nothing back there but an old crate, some dust motes, hazing the light from the gas lamp, and a rough hewn hickory trough filled with blackened bones and a greasy burlap.

We sell them, he said.  As he turned toward me, the light from the gas lamp pooled deep in his black eyes.  It takes a long time, he said.  To truly use a chicken.  It's hard work.  There's no stopping til it's finished, each one stripped down to just bones.  Used up.

Sometimes, he said gazing off at the wall as if at a thing unseeable, a speck of dust gets caught in my eye.  It gets caught deep -- it becomes a part of myself.  And in it, I know the creature that the dust came from.  I know it by that mote of dust, it's how I find them again in the dark, to keep at my work.  By that dust, that piece of the hen in my eye.  I can't wipe it free  until it's over, til they're nothing but bones.   By then they're old friends, familiars.  I know their stories, where they're headed next.

The dark pools turned toward me.  I shivered.

That's where I saw you, he said.

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