'Pint of “wifebeater” please, George.’
The barman raised his eyebrows, pulled the Stella.
Tom shrugged. Not what he normally drank at all. He sighed, tore open the package he held. Out tumbled the brochure. Brash letters bounced from the cover – Butchery Skills Course. Nothing to still his qualms there. How could he have asked Dave to make the arrangements? In his head he heard Dave yammering on.
‘It’ll be champion, marra. We can smash around with they great big choppers. Wallow in blood. All legit like.’ Dave had waved his arms about, hopped around Tom. ‘C’mon, ye dafty. It’ll be a laugh.’
Tom winced, cringed even more at the images in the glossy pamphlet. The stag on the cover; mournful cows; snuffling pigs; lambs springing about. He planted his elbows on the bar, fists propping up his chin, waved his glass towards the barman.
‘Another when you’re ready, George.’
George wandered over, grinning. ‘What’s that, then?’
‘Something Dave threw at me. Not really interested though, am I?’
George laughed. ‘He’s all gab, that one.’ He pointed at Tom’s leaflet. ‘Stag’s mesmerising though, isn’t he?’
Tom looked down again. The stag certainly was a magnificent show of macho virility. He lifted the pint George put in front of him and read on. Bacon curing; sausage making; poultry processing. Sharpened knives; cutting rooms. Hands-on experience. He could feel slimy membrane, slippery muscle. Hear grinding bone. The warming lager no longer seemed attractive. The pamphlet shut with a slap. He was a trainee accountant, for chrissakes. What was Dave trying to get him into?
He stepped out of the door.
Back home Tom flung himself onto the settee, still thinking of what he’d read. The photo of his fiancée smiled at him from the table top. Misgivings still close to the surface he zoned out.
The stag is there. Not in grandeur but in a world of butchery. His coat oozes. Scythed meat hangs. Antlers scrape the floor. Smashed masculinity. Rows of swinging carcasses sway. Dislocated. Discoloured. Dead. Swathed in muslin folds like brides in matrimonial veils. A cloying stench slithers from under foot. Tom stumbles forward, staggers on in terror.
Until a shrill sound splinters the silence.
Lucy’s image slowly reappears. Tom grabs the vibrating mobile, swipes the screen. Dave.
‘Hey, Tommy lad. How’s things?’ Normal, amicable tones. Very reassuring.
‘Don’t know really.’ Tom sighed. ‘Not at all sure I can go through with this.’
‘What ye on about, ye daft git? ‘Tis all arranged,’ Dave spluttered.
Tom lowered the cell, stared at it. Slowly raised it again.
‘Sorry, Dave. You’ll have to cancel it.’
Silence. Then a fast-talking Dave again. ‘Ye are joking, Tom? Ye can’t … The wedding’s only a couple of weeks away. Ye canna do it to the lass.’
Tom laughed out loud. ‘No, Dave. Not the wedding, mate. The stag do! I really don’t think a butchery course is quite the thing. Why don’t we just go down the curry and a pint route instead.