I live in the Butcher’s Block since I work at the Area 12 Work Center. We’re the ones who grind up meat and turn it into hamburger patties. I’ve got a friend who works in Area 23. They call the housing over there “Paper Chase.” I think Butcher’s Block is funnier. They make and print the paper wrappers that go around my hamburgers. One week they print the wrappers for restaurants and the next week they print the ones that say, “Government Approved Meat Product.” Doesn’t matter which label’s on it, it’s all the same meat from the same place and from exactly the same stuff.
I don’t know for sure when they started segregating workers, but I think it was about the same time they made all the changes to the prisons. You know, three strikes and you’re out…for good. In the meantime if you got caught you got branded. So unless you were really nasty, they stopped putting people in jail unless they got branded with three strikes. And if they got three brands, they went to prison forever: no get out of jail free card, no parole, no cable tv, and no visitors. I never thought too much about it before now, since I never planned on having any strikes.
Anyway, you know how things sometimes get screwed up? Someone sends the wrong part to the factory or your meat ration gets debited twice…again. Well, that’s what happened; something got screwed up.
Meat comes into the Work Center in great big chunks that you can’t really identify because they’re just a mangled mess. My job is to toss it into the grinders, bones and all. That’s where we add the stuff that you don’t want to know about.
Two weeks ago, I picked up my assigned cart of meat for processing, just like I do every day. Instead of some oddly shaped chunk, I found something else buried at the bottom of the pile…I don’t even want to put it on paper. Let’s just say that it used to be female and it had three strikes branded across its chest: one mark for illegal breeding, one for petty theft, and one for loitering.
Loitering! What a joke. That just means she got caught sleeping somewhere outside of a government sanctioned housing block. The only way that happens is if she doesn’t have a job, making her homeless. Oh wait, I almost forgot…we don’t have homeless people because it’s illegal to be homeless.
Remember about ten years ago when they cleaned up the streets and got rid of all of the street folk? We all thought they got sent to some kind of public housing or shipped off to Outer Mongolia or something like that. No. Apparently they found a much more creative solution. You know, that’s about the same time as the prisons were mostly shut down.
It was also the same time as the meat ration was increased. If anybody ever made the connection, they must have gotten “shipped off” with the homeless.
Well, good Lord, I didn’t know what to do. I don’t have any skills other than heaving big chunks of meat into a grinder. If I got fired or lost my job I’d lose my Butcher Block housing in a couple weeks. I’d be the next illegal homeless person. So I did what I had to do, I passed her right on into the grinder, but not before I got some proof. Just don’t ask me how…you don’t want to know.
The problem is I’m too stupid to curb my curiosity. I asked the wrong person the wrong question. I asked the floor supervisor where the beef farms were located.
He looked at me funny and told me it didn’t matter. Asked me why I wanted to know in the first place.
I hadn’t really thought that far ahead so I said I just wondered what a real farm looked like. I said it might be interesting to go out and visit one, if it wasn’t too far to walk from the District on a free day.
He gave me that scary look that says, “I can see right through you.” Then he changed the subject really quickly. He asked if I’d found any problems with the meat coming in recently.
Guess I answered too fast when I raced to reassure him that I hadn’t seen anything I shouldn’t have seen. I think someone’s been watching me ever since, but I could just be paranoid.
Remember that friend who lives in the Paper Chase and makes wrappers? He said he once changed the wrappers for a day to read, “Government Disapproved Meat Product.” He never got caught, or maybe people just don’t read any more. Well, he said he could get this letter printed on the inside of all of the wrappers next Thursday. Hopefully it won’t come to that. Hopefully I can get the information out before I end up being the hamburger this note was wrapped around.
But if you’re reading this…
© Laura Mock
Laura Mock is a graduate of Hollins University, with a degree in English and Theater with concentration in Creative Writing. She is preparing her first novel The Bond — Oathtakers for publication.