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Never come between a person and their food.

In the Gutter, it might get you roasted.

Egg by Rachel Cassidy

It smells so good and rich and fine.

The line is moving so slow and Egg is crawling out of his skin. He’s clutching his tray real tight and his arms are kind of sore.

Egg was six, once, and maybe his eyes were a little too close together. Didn’t mean he couldn’t see what was up.

Didn’t mean he couldn’t see them pushing the gristly tough bits to the side, giving the nice juicy pieces to those cow-faced Johnson kids and Gunderson kids and Walton kids, and dropping that gristle and fat on Egg’s tray and looking away.

Maybe there’ll be gravy too and maybe they’ll give him some. It’ll be different today, it has to be.

The line shuffles another inch and Egg’s drooling so hard his jaw hurts.

When Egg was nine, once, when the mean one with the chin hairs gave him just a bone on his tray. She had hateful eyes.

He was so hungry, he cracked it with his teeth and sucked on the insides. By the end of the day, he was just about asleep at his desk.

He could hardly pick up one foot after the other, walking home past the feedlot where his pop worked all hours fattening up the cattle.

It’ll be so nice, so nice and falling apart tender, and with the grease that runs down to wipe on the bread and fills a person right up.  There has to be enough today. There has to be.

If he stands on his toes, he can peer over shoulders and see the steam rising off the trays under the lamps. He’s rocking a little bit but not so much the ladies will notice and turn away.

There is no one behind him in the line.

The kids are filling up the tables, laughing and tearing and chewing with sharp white teeth, and shouting and roughhousing with friends. Their trays overflow with meaty scraps and crumpled napkins.

Egg was twelve, once, but that was last week and now he’s older.

He can nearly taste it, the way it will shred between his teeth. The way it will lay heavy on his tongue, how the salt and the spice and the rich dark flavors will linger after he swallows real slow and takes his time with every single bite.

There’s maybe a dozen kids left in the line: the other ones who eat last, but not as last as Egg.

He’s doing math and counting the pieces left under the lamps and humming a little bit, quiet and high. He taps the count on his fingers with every piece and every mouth. With every one that goes on a tray, Egg hums and taps and his breathing gets a little more ragged.

There’s so few left, like always, taunting him with their juicy savory deliciousness but maybe, just maybe today…

Egg is more than twelve now and yesterday he protested, made a mewling noise when the gristle flopped careless onto his tray, and the mean one, the one with the chin hairs, hissed at him. Then, he needed to be quiet and hid in the dark for a while. Then, she walked in the closet and he moaned and she was fumbling for the light switch. Then, there was something heavy and long in his hand and it fell and fell and her hateful face was all crunching wet and red. He couldn’t hardly hold the mallet, slick with blood, but it kept falling. And then, her mean eyes didn’t see him no more. He threw away the mallet with its face of pointy pyramids gummed with shreds of flesh. Egg sank to his knees and he shook all over.

There it is, bathing in the glow of the heat lamp, roasted crisp and brown on the edges, rosy and warm in the center, its glorious meaty aroma wafting. One last piece. No bones, no gristle, no fat. Just one perfect serving.

When Egg stopped shaking, he came out, and he saw the shining metal fridges full of silvery trays filled with the next day’s roasts resting in marinades, waiting for the ladies to come in the morning and light the gas burners, like they do with their lighters and their little tins of butane to fill them. They’ll smoke their cigarettes and slow-cook the meats. Come lunch time, Egg will be last in line like always.

Tomorrow there will be an extra roast in there.

One perfect serving and Egg watches it settle onto his tray and the juices spread, soaking into the bread, and he’s giddy with the smell. He cuts a piece, small and delicate, and lifts it to his mouth.

It is delicious. 

Rachel Cassidy is a technology writer who was raised on the back of a horse out in the sticks by the Rocky Mountains. She writes small dark things in the woods on Salt Spring Island, BC, and in Mexico. This is her first publication.