At six in the morning, Gibbs got out of bed, brushed his teeth, stretched, and ate breakfast. Here is what he ate:
-One waffle with maple syrup, butter, and brown sugar,
-Three pieces of bacon,
-Cornflakes with almond milk in a sunny yellow bowl, and
-two vitamins, plus
-Dahlia Slate’s right big toe, sautéed with some Old Bay Seasoning, as well as
-a granola bar. From Rite Aid. He’d bought it three days prior. Peanut butter with raisins and yogurt chips. It was the last one of its flavor. Gibbs could either have picked peanut butter with raisins and yogurt chips or maple brown sugar with cashew and white chocolate. And he figured he should take the peanut butter, since he usually already has maple syrup on his waffle (see: No. 1 on list).
After he finished eating breakfast, he wiped his mouth with a napkin and read an article about a bamboo flooring company in Key West that had actually been secretly installing plastic laminate instead in elderly people’s homes. Floridian retirees might have collectively been cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. When Gibbs finished reading, he went huh, put on his work clothes, and left the house.
At the office, in the break room. Gibbs ate a bag of baked Lays and said hi to Mary.
Hey stranger, Mary said back. Did you hear about Dahlia Slate on the news The anonymous buyer?
Yes, I sure did, he said, mumbling through a mouthful of chips.
Whoever got her is very lucky. I’m sure she must be delicious.
Oh, absolutely, Gibbs said. Whoever got her is very lucky.
Goes without saying, Mary said.
Goes without saying.
Well, see you around, Mary said, and pivoted over to her cubicle. She had dimples on her elbows, Gibbs noticed. And he liked the way she said hey, stranger.
Dahlia Slate’s body had arrived at Gibbs’ doorstep pre-butchered.
When a customer first orders a CELEBRITY MEAT SLAB, they’re given a drop-down menu of butchery options. Some people choose to have their SLAB chopped all into even pieces. Others opt to separate each organ, each bone, each muscle. Some like it all in one piece. And then of course, there’s the most affordable option, sponsored by Vitamix.
Gibbs kept Dahlia in a giant Yeti cooler in the basement. Her body was organized like a kindergartener’s anatomy lesson: head, shoulders, knees and toes. A cartoon collage. A large blue Ziploc baggie held her guts. Her hair, tied in a matron’s bun, had bits of ice crystals in it. He could make a stink about that in the reviews, technically.
The left hand, tight and spidered with rigor mortis, was drizzled with resin and formaldehyde. This part wasn’t for eating. It was a souvenir, to be kept on a mantelpiece. There was a note woven between the fingers, in Dahlia’s own handwriting: To Gibbs. Thank you for your generous donation to my charity of choice, The Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Have a lovely holiday season. Xoxo, Dahlia Slate.
Gibbs read the note six times over. He focused on the way her Ls had little loops.
He wanted to eat her right elbow next. He wanted to put it in the oven at 350, maybe with sesame seeds and a honey glaze, a side of asparagus and couscous, a mug of lemonade, a glass of wine. He’d light wax candles and play some Otis Redding and read a book and marvel at the way the meat fell off of the bone, the way she just melted in his mouth just like a sugar cube. Maybe her elbow would taste like home. Like a block party in Westchester, like a Thursday evening in August when the Moretto family from next door would come over for wine and a bite, like mortadella after Sunday mass or spicy olives from the pantry or an accidental mouthful of community pool water. Maybe he’d eat this elbow and it would remind him of his family’s restaurant. Maybe he’d eat this elbow, and-
It would be nice to share it with someone.
Gibbs took some speed and called Mary up on the phone. I’m in love with you, he said. I’m in love with you and I just can’t hold it in anymore. I feel like I’m going to explode.
Gibbs? Are you drunk?
Not drunk, said Gibbs. In love. He listened very closely to the phone, trying to catch any slips of breath that might give her away.
What, Mary said after a while. Statement. Not a question. Her voice sounded like the scramble over a heat mirage.
Gibbs coughed quietly. He didn’t know what to say, so he just said: Uh.
I have to go, she said.
Wait. I’m sorry, said Gibbs. If I said something wrong. I didn’t mean it. Don’t go.
There was a click and Gibbs pressed his head to the kitchen counter. Jesus Christ, that was a shitshow, he said to himself. I didn’t think anyone could fuck things up so bad as I just did.
He thought of Mary at home right now, in her crummy little apartment on Sapling, ticking her sensible heels on her sensible shag floor, watching QVC and eating microwave cinnamon buns straight out of the box, or maybe almonds right out of the can. Maybe—and here was where Gibbs really got his feelings hurt—maybe she was with someone already. Maybe right after she hung up the phone, she pulled the covers up over their heads and they kissed everywhere. And maybe they even made jokes about Gibbs from work and his Post-It collection and that one time last October when he tripped on the recycling bin and didn’t quite fall all the way down but still looked totally ridiculous.
He dialed again. I have Dahlia Slate’s body, he said, before Mary could even say hello. I have her in a Yeti cooler in my basement.
Are you being serious?
One-hundred-percent, Gibbs said.
I’ve listened to her last album a hundred times. I went to her tour in middle school, Mary said. I can’t believe you have her.
Gibbs didn’t say so, but he knew all this already. He remembered it from last year’s work holiday party, when Mary had drunk too much wine and tottered on and on about Dahlia Slate to a group of unsuspecting coworkers. This is my SHIT, she’d announced, when the 2020 techno dance-pop hit “Heart of Gold” began straining out of the speakers, an EDM glob splattered with Slate’s pitched-up squirrely vocals.
And Gibbs had kept all of this in mind when Dahlia had been diagnosed with the illness. He’d thought about Mary when the star announced at a press conference that she’d be following in the footsteps of J-Lo and Mick Jagger and Harry Styles and would be submitting herself onto the CMS online inventory. He thought about Mary when the charity auction went live last week, when he’d placed a bid worth his entire savings, when he’d won, when he watched his family’s nest egg transform into a pop star’s edible body—forty years of the restaurant business flipped into pinky-white skin, a kind of transubstantiation.
It would be worth it, if Mary came over.
Come over and have some, he said. No. He begged.
Mary did come over. She sat at the kitchen table while Gibbs cooked the elbow and when it was ready they ate the entire arm in one night. But nothing about the taste reminded Gibbs of home. In fact, when he finished eating, his brain was so full of Dahlia Slate that he couldn’t remember anything at all. He tried to make conversation with Mary but the only thing he could think of was some flooring company in Texas that had secretly been installing fake wood floors in orphanages or something. How interesting, she’d said. Dully.
When they finished eating, Mary politely said thank you and went home. This wasn’t a date, she said before leaving. See you at work tomorrow.
When he was alone again, Gibbs opened his laptop and visited CELEBRITYMEATSLAB.ORG. He clicked on the little button that read TESTAMONIAL. Typed in his verification number.
Arrived on time. Decent packaging. Customer service was p good. Meat was kind of tough in some parts. There was ice in the hair, though, so there must’ve been temperature inconsistencies during shipment. But the worst part, he wrote in his online review, was that she just tasted like chicken.
He closed his laptop.
Via is in her sophomore year at UC Santa Barbara, where she studies writing and literature. She is the 2018 recipient of the Brancart Prize for Fiction. She lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Instagram @via.ble or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.