The Quinton Meat Van
The boy says, “It’s really dark here.”
I say, “That’s true.”
We’re at the bottom of the Kings Highway. Good houses in what used to be a good area.
“Kids break the streetlights,” I say beneath a broken streetlight.
It’s not late but already dark. As if somebody painted the sky with tar.
“See?” Through the tarry darkness we see the cover’s smashed. The bulb gone.
“Why do they do it?” the boy says.
They’d have stood where we are now. The streetlight will have painted them orange. One’d have an air rifle, the other an air pistol. They should have been home in bed, but they weren’t. The one with the pistol will have aimed at the streetlight and fired. The casing will have cracked but not shattered. So, the one with the rifle will have taken aim. Fired. This time the casing will have shattered. The bulb behind it, too. The broken parts raining down.
I think about telling the boy this. Instead, I give his hand a squeeze and say, “The important thing, is if you see the Quinton Meat Van, run away as fast as you can.”
We walk up the Kings Highway on frosted pavement. To our right a row of semis stretching to the top of the hill. All with their curtains closed.
When the boy says, “What’s the Quinton Meat Van?” I tell him what my childhood friend told me. It’s a white box-van with windows you can’t see into.
The boy says, “Does it deliver meat?”
We’re walking quickly. I say, “It doesn’t deliver, it collects,” and feel the boy’s hand wriggle from his wanting to know more.
I say, “It takes people who don’t run away when they see it.”
We’re halfway up the Kings Highway. Still no sign of anyone and the boy listening attentively. Desperate to know more.
I say, “Inside there are meat hooks on a rail attached to the roof.”
My childhood friend told me if you didn’t run, they hung you like a carcass. The hook ripping through your flesh. Digging into your bones. You screamed but no one heard you. Then the cutting started.
At the top of the Kings Highway, we turn left. Well-maintained semis on one side and on the other the backs of a row of shops with space for deliveries, overflowing steel bins, and a white box-van with windows you can’t see into.
The boy says, “Look.”
I say, “I’m looking,” and let go of his hand.
Not to do so would be unfair. Would be to give him no chance.
Seeing the fear on my face when he told of the cutting and screaming, my best friend laughed and said I was a fucking stupid cunt for not knowing none of it was true. The white-hot disappointment I felt at that moment with me to this fucking day. Buried deep. A fire that keeps burning.
We’re three feet from the van and the boy doesn’t run so I lift him as if he’s a sack of spuds. Throw him into the back of the van and climb in after him.
The boy scrambles away. Cowers in the far corner.
I watch his eyes adjust to the darkness. Fix on the waiting hooks.
Intent on protecting him from white-hot disappointment, I take off my coat and reach for an apron.
His voice little, the boy says, “Dad…”
Moving towards him I whisper, “I’m sorry…”
Main Image by Tima Miroshnichenko