by Marilee Robin Burton

ButcherI trekked to Glendale to retrieve a copy of Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips, an intense and dark writer. The book was a collection of stories I’d been wanting to read and had even ordered from Amazon but was too anxious to await the money-saving secondhand copy I’d purchased, which, sent by media mail, could take weeks to arrive. Glendale is not my local library haunt, though I do hold a Glendale-Pasadena card. Los Angeles is my normal library locale; Van Nuys, the city of bail bondsmen, my branch. But when I must, I do like going to Glendale, such as when they carry a book I’m interested in that is not available at the LAPL.

The Glendale Central Library is large, open, clean, and has an abundance of space, windows, and, of course, books. It carries a calming atmosphere and is always inviting, in spite of the extra drive time to get there, which makes it not part of my ordinary routine.

This time I found myself, more than usual, attracted to the “New Books” display and, immediately after entering, knelt down on the rug in front of the “New Non-Fiction Books” shelf to better browse the recent offerings. The library was quiet and I felt meditative, alone, yet surrounded by book lovers in a well-lit, airy space, perusing fresh titles. An older man, gray-haired, lean and wiry, sporting a brightly colored, short-sleeved plaid shirt, approached me, walking with a slight limp, a cane in one hand, a book in the other, as I sat, knees folded under me, studying the names on the book spines lined up before me. “Did I just see you here last week right there in this spot in that same position?” he asked.

“No. It wasn’t me,” I said, smiling at another library lover before returning to ponder the new non-fiction titles that called out to me. Atheism for Dummies; Big Fun Sexy Sex; The Nightmare Dictionary; Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them; Stain Rescue: A-Z of Removing Smudges, Spots, and Spills; Tax Cheating: Illegal, But is it Immoral?; Salty Snacks; Buddhist Boot Camp; and Black Rhinos of Nambia.

I slipped The Nightmare Dictionary (with its subtitle: Falling Elevators, Lost Teeth, Slithering Snakes, and Everything Else that Keeps You Up at Night) out of place and took it to a nearby table to read about my worst nightmare, the one I’ve had repeatedly over the years since childhood: teeth crumbling into pieces and falling out of my mouth and onto the floor. The author of the book reported, “A nightmare about losing teeth might be a literal warning about your dental condition. But if you’ve had a check-up, then you should consider that the bad dream might tell you something more about yourself.” Hmmm… Further reading revealed that a deeper meaning might reflect on loss-of-control issues, yet with little more insight than that, I returned the book to its place and continued to browse.

I found no lack of additional intriguing titles, but the two I ended up checking out, along with Black Tickets, were Lawns Begone and Butchery and Sausage Making for Dummies. The reason for the former, simple: I live in California. But regarding the latter, my choice was not so much that it was a subject I had ever been interested in or considered but rather the opposite. The subject was one I had so never given even the slightest thought, so devoid was it of any rumination by me, ever, that I found myself surprised to even find a book on the topic, a topic that might actually delight and fascinate others so much that they would come to the library to check out a book on the subject for a quick and easy how-to weekend read. And it was that in itself that intrigued me enough to want to see what it was that those enamored by the subject might learn and discover. So, I checked it out.

Once home, I learned that the most important thing for a butcher to remember is “Don’t get hurt,” including six steps to help one stay safe while butchering. I discovered that though butchery can be dangerous, a butcher shouldn’t let fear rule him (or her). “A skittish butcher is a lousy butcher.” I also learned it is important not to let your knives get dull and many other tips, along with the top ten mistakes to avoid while butchering, many of which could be mistakes that writers ought equally to avoid, such as keeping a messy workspace; not watching your posture; rushing through the process; being careless or distracted; being fearful, and of course, letting your knives get dull.

When my partner, Michael, noticed what I was reading, he asked, “Do I need to be worried? I’m not going to suddenly disappear and end up as sausage, am I?” (Oh, and did I mention I also learned about many different kinds of sausages, including Smoky Chicken Jalapeño Sausage, Rabbit and Sage Sausage with Maple Syrup, and Lamb with Rosemary and Black Olives Sausage, as well as ten sausage-making secrets?)

I looked up at Michael sitting across from me at the dining room table where we were both reading. In the book The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, a novel I’d been reading at the same time, I’d just recently, on page 291, come across the following conversation between two of the main characters, Daniel Sempere and Fermin Romero de Torres:

“Listen, if you think this is nonsense, I’ll shut up.”

“On the contrary. Fools talk, cowards are silent, wise men listen.”

“Who said that? Seneca?”

“No. Braulio Recolons, who runs a pork butcher’s on Calle Avignon and has a great talent for both making sausages and composing witty aphorisms.”

I put down Butchery and Sausage Making for Dummies and smiled at Michael. “No,” I told him. “You’re perfectly safe.”

But then… I hadn’t yet started to read Black Tickets, a book filled with tales of loneliness, obsession, alienation, betrayal, and, murder.

Category: Nonfiction, Short Story