Gator Butchering For Beginners
It’s easy enough to slip the skin. Wedge your knife below the bumpy ridge of spine to separate cartilage from fat; loosen tendon from pink, sticky meat. Flay everything open. Pry free the heart. It takes some nerve. What I mean is, it’ll hurt, but you can get at what you crave if you want it badly enough.
Start with the head.
The initial incision should be sharp, precise. Don’t hesitate. This will be the toughest part. Do you know how hard it is to end a thing? They’ll say: Wait. They’ll say: I still love you. Remember making out in your car after work? How we named the dog three times before anything stuck? That weekend at the beach we fed birds and one landed on your bare shoulder, then sang for us? That’s a gator mating call; a bellow, rippling vibrations meant to stun prey. Heft the knife and feel for an artery. Nothing’s worse than something left half dead, bleeding-howling, so go for the throat. It’ll help if you drink enough beforehand to razor-sharpen your words. Slip someone else’s name into bed between the two of you. Thrust the dagger called apathy and slice without hesitation. After: hack free the skull. Keep it at your bedside, a gentle reminder not to call at 2am.
Next: the belly.
Bodies aren’t meant to be opened from the middle. Gutting’s ugly work, airing what’s decayed in secret. Gators contort to ingest. They do the Death Roll, a dance of twisted necks, diving to drown their partner before swallowing whole. Cut open a belly and a history spills out: past food lodged in coiled intestines, innards stuffed with a romantic dinner, remnants of a long-ago night you wedged your mouth against something slick and drew out all the pleasure for yourself. Dig into the bowels of the fridge and uncover the last pizza you bought together. Final jar of pickles, solitary spear floating lonely. Deodorant left behind in the medicine cabinet, fuzzy lick of memory on the tip of your tongue from suckling a breast and mistakenly catching the edge of an armpit. Once clean, the meat here is tender, but it’ll always carry the sickly-sweet aftertaste of rot.
Harvest the worthwhile scrape: the tail.
Everyone knows that to outrun a gator you sprint zigzag, but to catch one you have to sneak up from behind. Kneel on its back like a supplicant; brace yourself against its hind end. Ask anyone: all good meat resides in the rump. That beefy, thrashing muscle designed to sweep you off your feet. Below its rubbery hide is the flesh you’ve been craving. Do you wanna get a drink, you ask, cutting carefully to the chase. Forget middle names, Christmas gifts, the flavor of icing on that first birthday cake you shared. Blot out the memory of an unshaved ankle rubbing against your calf under body-warmed sheets. There’s only the sweet, tangy bite of what you’ve been missing. Something savory you haven’t had in years. Let your teeth strike bone, jaws tender with need, salivating. Swallow the meat whole and then drive home alone. Dive beneath sheets that smell only of you. Wallow there, a solitary beast.
Now for your trophy. Drape the skin wetly across your shoulders. Zipper the cape snug beneath your chin; pull over the rubbery hood. Feel for the sudden ridge of snout, glance claws off the sharp jut of new teeth. Acknowledge that everything you eat was once part of something bigger. Know that whatever you consume stays lodged inside your flesh as muscle memory.
About the Author
Kristen Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer. She won the 2017 Coil Book Award for her debut short fiction collection, Felt in the Jaw, and was awarded Ninth Letter’s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction. She’s a columnist for Literary Hub and her work has either appeared or is upcoming at North American Review, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Guernica, Bennington Review, Electric Literature, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, will be published by Tin House Books in Summer 2019. You can find her on twitter here: @Kristen_Arnett
“Gator Butchering for Beginners” is published here by permission of the author, Kristen Arnett. Copyright © Kristen Arnett 2018. All rights reserved.