They Got a Hell of a Burger

“What you think it is?”

Mickey was staring at the thing hanging out of the top of the grinder’s hopper.  The stainless steel was red around the rim, the gears of the machine still grinding, making a clicking sound as they tried to get through a particularly thick chunk of something – probably bone.

Legs, pale and muscled, stuck out from the top of the grinder, and wings – 4 of ’em – poked out from a well-muscled back.  Feathers decorated the room like someone had thrown confetti everywhere – some on the tile, some on the spice rack, and some still shooting out of the top of the hopper when the grinder caught a stray.  It was like a seagull had exploded.

Sunlight filtered in through a hole in the ceiling, and Mickey saw clouds floating by in the blue sky, unworried as ever.  He wiped his hands with his apron, and turned to Jerry.

“Fuckin’ angel is what I think that was.”

“Was?”

Mickey pointed to the meat-making end of the grinder, where a pink ground slowly extruded.

“Yuh. He’s ground chuck now.”

“I wonder if his name was Chuck.” Jerry grabbed a paddle and stepped up the little stool next to the grinder.  He shoved the paddle in and grunted, prying at the teeth of the machine.  The gears gave a wet burp and the body lurched forward, disappearing deeper into the grinder.

“What the fuck are you doin’?”  Mickey hollered.

Jerry shrugged and climbed off the stool, then hung up the paddle.  He wiped his hands.

“He ‘us stuck.”

The grinder continued to work, occasionally spitting out a feather or a fine mist of blood.  The body was almost gone already, ankles the only thing sticking out.  Mickey looked at the tub by the spout and saw it overflowed with a fine pink ground.

He looked up at the hole in the ceiling again, then back to the feet disappearing into the machine.  He wondered two things: how long you had to spend in Purgatory for grinding up one of God’s own, and what the hell he was going to do if the health inspector walked in right now.

He rushed to the front of the shop and grabbed the sign that read ‘Open’ on one side, and ‘Closed’ on the other, with the intention of flipping it over.  A shadow darkened the door, and Mickey’s heart sped up.  He dropped the sign and backed away from the door.  For a moment, his brain showed him things from his youth in church – angels with flaming swords and men turned to pillars of salt.  Then, the door opened and Arnold walked in.  Mickey’s heart returned to its regularly scheduled programming.

He worked up a smile.  “Hey Arnie.”

“Hey Mick.”

“How’s the restaurant?”  Mickey asked.  He was nervous, and reached for small talk as his shield.  He made his way behind the counter, wiping his hands on the thick cloth of his apron out of habit.

“Good,”  Arnie said.  He peeked in the glass case.  “Gimme a dozen of those t-bones, five strips, and…”  He frowned as he searched the case.  “Where’s the burger?”

Ah shit, thought Mickey.  He glanced toward the back room.

“One sec.”  He went through the curtain as fast as he could, and walked in on Jerry packaging the angel meat.

“You… what are you doing?”

Jerry shrugged.  “We gots meat, we pack the meat.”  He looked up, at Mickey’s frown.  “What?”

Mickey shook his head.  “We got any burger in the walk-in?”

Jerry shook his head.  “I was gonna grind it up this morning.  Then ol’ Gabriel fell in the grinder.”

“Shit.”

He thought about his next move.  Arnold was a good customer.  Couldn’t have him going somewhere else for his meat.  That might start a whole slew of shit that never ended.  He grabbed four packages from the pile Jerry had started and left the room.  He came into the salesroom smiling, holding the burger up like a trophy, and set it down on the counter.  He grabbed the other cuts Arnold had picked out, and slipped them all into a bag, then rang the man up.

Arnold took the meat and paid.

“There ya go, Arnie.  Have a good ‘un,”  Mickey said, the friendly smile stuck on his face like prosciutto to a slicer.

Arnold smiled in return and shot off a mock salute, then left the way he had come in.  When he’d left, Mickey let the smile slip from his face, breathed a sigh of relief, finally flipped the sign and locked the door.

***

That night, Mickey dreamt of flaming swords and burning bushes, of cities turned to ash, and burgers floating on a bed of lettuce and ketchup.  He woke up hungry, and padded to the fridge.  Inside, lit by the light of the single bulb, sat a package of meat, wrapped in white butcher paper.  He couldn’t say why he’d brought it home.  He thought maybe the French or the Germans had a word for it – they had words for everything.  What it came down to though, was simple curiosity.  Call of the taboo.

Mickey stood and looked at it, his stomach sending out low deep pangs.  There was always leftover pizza.  But no, a snatch of song came to him – two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese – and he knew what he was having.  He reached for the package – he could have sworn it glowed in the light from the soft 40 watt, lit from within like some sort of divine blessing.  He took it from the fridge with trembling hands.

Angel meat smells like Heaven.  At least, that’s what Mickey thought as the meat sizzled and filled the kitchen with its aroma.  It browned up nice, pink running from it in thin rivulets.  He seasoned it, salt and pepper, flipped it, and pulled it from the fire.  Ketchup and mustard, mayo on the bottom bun, a slice of cheese, red onion, and a bed of lettuce.  His hands shook as he sat down, the angel burger patient on his plate.

The smell drove him to distraction.  Savory and meaty and wholesome.  He couldn’t resist, and when he took the first bite, he found the smell didn’t lie.  It was Heaven.

***

Arnold strolled in at nine am as usual, wearing an ear to ear grin.

“Gimme the usual steaks, Mick, and make it at least ten pounds of that burger!”

Mickey whistled.  “No shit?”  In the back of his mind, he knew he shouldn’t be surprised.  The meat was amazing.

Still smiling, Arnold nodded his head.  “They loved it.  Don’t know where you got that meat, but it’s like a miracle.  Heard ’em say ‘That Arnold’s, they got a hell of a burger’.”

That’s where you’re going, Mick, old pal, the little voice mocked from the back of his head.  Mickey shrugged off the thought.

“Damn fine words.  All right.  Ten pounds it is.”

He grabbed ten pounds of the meat from the case then packaged it all up in neat white paper. That seemed fitting. White vestments, white paper. Pure and good. His mouth started to water, and he wiped at his lips absently. He passed the package over to Arnold with a nod. The man left, still smiling, whistling as he walked out the door.  Mickey went to the back to check on things.  Jerry stood by, polishing the grinder and signing under his breath.

“The knee bone’s connected to the leg bone and the leg bone’s connected to the hamburger bun…”

Mickey shook his head and walked to the cooler.  He checked the tub holding the angel meat, and frowned.

“Jerry!”

“Yeah, boss?”

“Where’s all the meat from yesterday?”

“Ate it.”

“You- you uh – you fucking ate it?  Jerry, there’s like five pounds missing.”

“Yuh.  Was hungry.”

Mickey sighed and left the cooler.  “So, you mean to tell me you ate five pounds of meat last night? Your colon must look like a damn traffic jam.”

Jerry didn’t reply.  Mickey looked up, and didn’t see the man anywhere in the room.  A sound caught his attention and he turned, catching a glimpse of something in the grinder’s polished surface.  Another sound behind him, and he turned again, coming face to chest with the trespasser.

An angel, all of seven feet tall, held a flaming sword, eyes blazing in righteous fury.  It scowled down at Mickey, vast wings half-open in the room, making it look like a giant bird of prey.  Stern features – a patrician nose above thin lips and below hard eyes – locked him in place.

“YOU. MORTAL. YOUR TIME HAS COME.”

Mickey’s mind and heart raced.  He tried to think of a way out.  He opted for playing dumb, and hoped at the best, the angel would become annoyed and leave, and at the worst, would grant him a quick death. He wondered how he would smell impaled on a flaming sword. Probably not as delicious as angel burger.

“Can I help you?”  He asked.

“YOUR DAY IS NIGH.”

Sorry?”

“YOUR END IS NEAR.”

“Have I done something wrong?”

“THOU DID EAT MY BRETHREN, AND SOLD HIM FOR PROFIT.”

“Oh, that.  You know, he did fall in my grinder, so it’s not like I pushed him in.”

“STILL, THOU SHOULD NOT HAVE EATEN HIM.”

“Sorry?  Can I repent?”

“THE TIME FOR REPENTANCE IS PAST.”

The angel raised his sword, the flames crackling in the cool air.  Its light sent harsh orange shadows around the room.

“PREPARE TO MEET THY MAKER, MORTAL.”

Mickey cringed reflexively, his eyes shutting of their own accord.  There was a clang, and Mickey looked up in surprise to see the angel’s eyes rolled up into its head.  It sagged, and then swayed, then tipped to one side, over the lip of the grinder.  Its sword clattered to the ground, and extinguished with a whoosh.  Silence held sway for a moment, then the machine lurched to life, and the angel’s body was sucked into the teeth of the grinder.  A cloud of feathers burped across the room in the wake of the sudden, violent motion.  Jerry emerged from the cloud, waving a hand, a bent paddle in his other.

Mickey watched the machine grind the angel, and sighed.

“More meat, eh?”  Jerry said.

“More meat.”  Mickey said.  “Makes a hell of a burger.”

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