Cleave by Olga Dermott-Bond

Before anything else, the mottled smell of blood and sawdust from across the street.

I used to watch him work, offered to do the early shift even in winter, setting out vegetable crates, winding open the canopy like a sad circus tent, just so I could gaze all morning.

His cleaver was hung up behind the counter, a bladed bible he reached for again and again, the slam of its weight against sinew, bone, to create a window display – cathedral roof of spare ribs, soft prayer of liver and kidneys, hearts slumped in tiny white plastic bags. Animal valentine.

The first time I went inside, his apron was stained with terracotta fingerprints and a line like a darkening horizon beneath his waist. The momentary rush of cold from freezers beyond gleaming cabinets, carcasses swaying like ruined grand pianos, just out of sight.

After we kissed I knew it was trouble. Love like a bitten lip.  He sensed my desire, blood-risen and scarlet, sneaked me in those Wednesday afternoons when the shops shut early, the bell jangling silly. The arch of my back when he pressed me against the till. The hunger of it all.

He never looked at me after, so when Thursdays came garlic bulbs scolded me, their varicose bodies bulging with indignation at my stupidity as I tied them silent to ropes with lemons. I displaced so many afternoons arranging strange forests of celeriac, shushing bodies of baby mushrooms who dozed perfectly in their baskets.

Come closing time, I would wait for him to call, then sleep alone. I dreamt he had cleaved me beautifully apart, arranged me naked in the glass counter, beside butterflied joints and marbled steak, with sprigs of parsley, bay leaves and thyme in my hair.

Olga has had poetry and flash fiction published in a wide range of magazines and has won the BBC Proms, Welshpool, and Shelley 200 poetry competitions. Her two poetry pamphlets are ‘apple, fallen’ (Against the Grain Press) and ‘A Sky full of strange specimens’ (Nine Pens Press). Originally from Northern Ireland, she lives in Warwickshire where she works as a secondary school teacher. Olga is currently guest editor for the Irish journal Dodging the Rain and is completing her first full collection.

A human heart

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

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