Cannibalism, another word that could cause him major problems. He remembers when they announced the existence of GGB. The mass hysteria, the suicides, the fear. After GGB, animals could no longer be eaten because they’d been infected by a virus that was fatal to humans. That was the official line. The words carry the weight necessary to mould us, to suppress all questioning, he thinks.
Barefoot, he walks through the house. After GGB, the world changed definitively. They tried vaccines, antidotes, but the virus resisted and mutated. He remembers articles that spoke of the revenge of the vegans, others about acts of violence against animals, doctors on television explaining what to do about the lack of protein, journalists confirming that there wasn’t yet a cure for the animal virus. He sighs and lights another cigarette.
He’s alone. His wife has gone to live with her mother. It’s not that he still misses her, but there’s an emptiness in the house that keeps him awake, that troubles him. He takes a book off the shelf. No longer tired, he turns on the light to read, then turns it off. He touches the scar on his hand. The incident happened a long time ago and it doesn’t hurt any more. It was a pig. He was very young, just starting out, and hadn’t known that the meat needed to be respected, until the meat bit him and almost took his hand off. The foreman and the others couldn’t stop laughing. You’ve been baptized, they said. His father didn’t say anything. After that bite, they stopped seeing him as the boss’s son and he became one of the team. But neither the team nor the Cypress Processing Plant exist, he thinks.
He picks up his phone. There are three missed calls from his mother-in-law. None from his wife.
Unable to bear the heat, he decides to shower. He turns on the tap and sticks his head under the cold water. He wants to erase the distant images, the memories that persist. The piles of cats and dogs burned alive. A scratch meant death. The smell of burned meat lingered for weeks. He remembers the groups in yellow protective suits that scoured the neighbourhoods at night, killing and burning every animal that crossed their paths.
The cold water falls onto his back. He sits down on the floor of the shower and slowly shakes his head. But he can’t stop remembering. Groups of people had started killing others and eating them in secret. The press documented a case of two unemployed Bolivians who had been attacked, dismembered and barbecued by a group of neighbours. When he read the news, he shuddered. It was the first public scandal of its kind and instilled the idea in society that in the end, meat is meat, it doesn’t matter where it’s from.
He tilts his head up so the water falls onto his face. What he wants is for the drops to wipe his mind blank. But he knows the memories are there, they always will be. In some countries, immigrants began to disappear en masse. Immigrants, the marginalized, the poor. They were persecuted and eventually slaughtered. Legalization occurred when the governments gave in to pressure from a big-money industry that had come to a halt. They adapted the processing plants and regulations. Not long after, they began to breed people as animals to supply the massive demand for meat.
Agustina Bazterrica, Tender is the Flesh, tł. Sarah Moses, 2020