Wayne F. Burke

6 Lean Pork Chops

He knew his wife was cheating on him. Knew it. Knew it knew it knew it. Knew it like he knew the time of day (2:23 PM). Knew it like he knew his name: Raymond P. Peck, “Raymond” not “Ray.” Don’t call me Ray; it is Raymond to you. Pal.

Concerning his name, Raymond P. Peck had straightened out plenty of wise-asses down at the plant where he worked, and elsewhere. Told them to their faces: “Raymond” not “Ray.” Don’t like it? Then “Mister Peck” would do. For you. Punk.

He knew that because of the straightening the punks did not like him. Knew it like he knew his wife was stepping out. Knew it like he knew the punks at the plant called him “Peckerhead” and “Pecker.” He’d heard them use the names, the other machine operators, the ones whose lockers were in the first aisle, opposite his. The guys in his aisle did not use the names—not within his hearing. They would not dare, he knew, to use the names to his face. They knew, and he knew they knew, he kept a gun in his locker (Smith & Wesson .38 cal.), double locked by two stainless steel combination locks. They knew he’d use it, too. He knew they knew. Knew they knew they knew. Knew it for a fact. Knew it like he knew his daughter’s age. Eighteen. Sally Peck, a cute little package. As prettily packaged as his holstered revolver. So pretty, people gawked at her. Where did Sally get her looks, Raymond often wondered. The wife was no beauty, never had been, and though Sally has his brains—she was at the State University—she did not resemble him (some people thought so, but he knew different; he knew better). The mystery of Sally’s beauty led Raymond to occasionally ponder uncomfortable-type thoughts, thoughts that ate at his brain like his ulcer at his stomach.

He pitched his cigarette butt out the pickup truck window. The smoldering butt bounced once in the dirt and came to rest beside a pile-up of previously discarded butts. The butts made a little graveyard of tiny toppled gravestones. The dashboard clock read 2:33 PM. He knew he’d have to drive like a bat out of hell to make it to work on time. Knew he could do it. Knew it like he knew that sooner or later he’d catch the guy who was putting the boots to Irma. (Or guys—he would not put it past her to have more than one.)

A brown, box-shaped UPS truck rolled to a stop in front of the Knowlton residence, 13 Prospect Street. Raymond stared at the driver. Was the driver making it with Irma, Raymond wondered. Was Buck Knowlton? Raymond watched the driver walk to the Knowlton’s front door. A tall prick with a swagger to his walk, a slight strut like a wary rooster. Watching for the fox, Raymond thought.

The driver returned to the truck. Raymond ground his back teeth; the grinding like the sound a glacier makes moving forward. The truck lurched ahead, growling like a beast. As it approached 15 Prospect Street, home of Mr. & Mrs. Raymond P. Peck, the driver turned his head toward the facade of the squat, gray ranch-style house. The driver’s lingering glance was like a kiss bestowed upon the lips of Irma Peck. The duration of the glance, coupled with an obvious hint of possessive scrutiny the glance contained, confirmed all Raymond’s thoughts about the driver. No doubt Irma was signaling from the house, and that was why, on this occasion, the driver did not stop, go into the house, and put it to her. (She guessed, or knew, that Raymond was watching.) A curtain pulled or left open. A shade up or down. A light on or off. Easy. Easy and workable. Simple but expedient.

Raymond stared at the driver as the truck bucked past, heading north. The driver did not look at Raymond, parked alongside a billboard (which read: SLICK’S WORRY FREE CONDOMS. Buy ‘em by the box!)

Raymond trailed the truck up onto the plateau of Upper Prospect Street. Stopping beneath the overhanging branches of a roadside oak, Raymond slumped, eye-level with the steering wheel. The driver plodded across a lawn, moving through bright late afternoon sunshine, arms cradling a stack of packages. A sturdily-built youth, curly-haired with blunt features. The kind of guy, Raymond thought, women would go for. The macho-type. Plus the uniform thing. An image of the driver stuffing his membrum virile into Irma flashed through Raymond’s mind like an excised cut of a porno film. A gust of wind ripped through the oak, and tree branches creaked like rusty hinges of a swinging door. The uniformed whore-master jumped into the brown truck. The wind hissed through the leaves.

“Shut the fuck up,”Raymond said.

He slammed his truck into gear and swung the vehicle across the road in a screaming U-ey. 3:10 PM. He drove onto the exit ramp to I-69. To be late for work was unthinkable; he had not been late in twenty-two years on the job. He drove a hundred miles an hour, passing every prick and cunt on the road. He was a bat out of hell.

Ten minutes into the second shift at Combustible Techtonics Inc., Ball Bearing Manufacturer, the plant foreman joked to an operator that Raymond must be dead, or else in the nut house. The operator guessed nut house.

Raymond punched in thirteen minutes late. He ran from the time clock as if from a fire. His brown low-cut Hush Puppy’s slapped the cement floor of the long gray corridor. Like a halfback running downfield, he navigated through a maze of machinery. Sweat rings the size of softballs stained his button-down, short sleeve shirt at the arm pits. His scrawny chest heaved. He moved down his aisle in a controlled frenzy, putting his machines into motion. Sixteen machines, eight each side of the aisle, each shaped like an outboard motor, only motor’s upsidedown and capped by a spinning bicycle tire-sized wheel.

The machines wailed, screeched like gravelly-voiced babies adding their complaints to the roar of the shop, pungent with the odor of oil and carbon and warmed to a mephitic toastiness.

Raymond plucked a clip-boarded stat-sheet from a steel guard rail; glanced at the stat-sheet like a man looking at a parking ticket, let go of the clip-board, punched a button on the rail. He waited for the bicycle tire-sized wheel to stop. He unclamped the top half of the wheel. Peering down at the two dozen silver ball bearings lying in the runnel of the bottom half of the hollowed wheel, he picked up two balls. The warm, slickly oiled bearings were like a pair of nuts. Like his, he thought; like any mans. He imagined the nuts in a sack of soft material. Weighted the sack in his hand. Heard the sack whap whap whap into Mrs. Irma Peck’s crotch.

He flung the bearings to the floor; the ball’s bounced off the concrete and into a pan of oil beneath the machine. The black glossy pool of oil stirred like the rippling skin of a waking panther.

Who was banging her? Beside the UPS guy and the grocer? (He knew all about the grocer.) The butcher? The baker? The mailman? Salesman? TV-repairman?

Out of the gnashing steel mayhemic uproar a voice came into Raymond’s head. The voice of either God or the Devil. Raymond turned and gazed into the unhappy face of the shop foreman.

The foreman’s mouth opened and closed in paroxysms of speech. Raymond studied the face, viewing each feature separately, merging the features into a single image. Like focusing a camera lens. The foreman’s words flew like twittering birds past Raymond’s head. He did not catch even one. He wondered if the foreman, Roger Gizzum, was screwing Irma. He wondered how many of the guys in the plant she was putting out for. Raymond watched the foreman backing away, becoming smaller, becoming a blur. The ball-grinding machines grunted like animals rutting. Uncontrolled orgiastic yelping. Ecstatic moans. Feverish crescendo of climactic cries. Screwing their brains out. Irma spreadeagled in the center of the fuck-fest, squirming, moaning… Snickering gargoyle faces peered from heads raised above machines. Leering faces with mocking grins watching Irma…

Raymond came-to in the locker room, alone, standing upright before his locker. How he had arrived there he did not know. He opened his locker, reached and took his gun from its holster, plugged the gun into the waistband of his polyester pants.

Seventeen minutes later he was home.

Fading sunshine dappled the drive, front lawn, and house. He stepped from the truck, swung the door shut. Birds fed noiselessly at the feeder outside the kitchen window. Insects hovered silently in the humid air. He could not hear the sound of his footsteps on the walkway as he approached the front door. He felt as if he were moving underwater. Felt as if the act of walking was foreign to him, something he was repeating by rote. Everything suddenly seemed unreal, as if he were inside of a waking dream. Was he real, he wondered, or part of the dream? He felt the weight of the gun tugging at his waistband. The gun was real.

Holding onto the butt of the gun, Raymond pushed open the front door and entered the house. The living room was dark as a cave. Light from a small window lit a path for Raymond through the room. A path like a trail through woods.

The hallway leading to the back bedroom was tunnel-like in its darkness. The bedroom door at the end of the hall was illuminated in white light. The light hurt Raymond’s eyes; he stared at the carpet as he walked. A doorway on his right, the door to Sally’s bedroom, was filled with shadow. The shadow stepped into the hall across Raymond’s path and disappeared into the gloom ahead.

Raymond stood in the bedroom door: “So! Where is he?”

Irma Peck frowned at the sock in her left hand. “Where is who?” she said, distractedly, drawing a threaded-needle through the sock.

“The guy you have been fucking!”

Irma swiveled her head; her frozen beauty-parlor hairdo shivered. Her dark-rimmed eyes, accentuating her look of frazzled fatigue, opened wide.

“DON’T DENY IT.”

Irma’s hands dropped into her lap; the lap was covered by a white apron worn over a flower-printed house-dress.

“I have proof!”Raymond barked. He dug into his pocket, reached and slapped a scrap of paper down on Irma’s sewing desk.

Irma read her handwriting from the scrap. “Please send six lean pork chops and one pound ground beef.”

“It is a note,” Irma offered, looking up. “To the grocer… For pork chops,” she pleaded, voice rising. “For ground beef!” she insisted.

“PORK CHOPS!” Raymond crowed. “And what else? IT IS CODE!” he screamed, spit flying from his lips. “Code between you and the grocer! You and the truck driver! You and Buck Knowlton! Yes, Buck Knowlton! And you! And Roger Gizzum, and you! And everybody, and YOU!”

“Oh Raymond,” Irma cried, blanching. “Raymond, you are crazy!”

Raymond stabbed a finger to his chest. “I’m CRAZY? You were the one thought you could get away with it!”

Raymond pulled the gun from his waistband.

Irma’s mouth opened wide. Wide as a plate. Wide as a manhole cover. Wide as a cave entrance. Wide as a canyon. Wide as the sky on a night black as ink.

She fell backwards, flopping like a rag-doll onto the carpeted floor.

The birds outside the bedroom window peeped like a frenzied bird-orchestra.

Raymond tucked his gun away. He knew his wife would never cheat on him again. Knew it like he knew the time of day. 4:19 PM. Time to get cleaned up and go back to work, he thought. Start the day over.

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