She shunted along the pork cube down past her position on the inspection trough. Nothing was green, nothing was crawling. Nothing ever was, so the cubes greased their own way down, past the shunting women and into packaging.
Her name was Margaret and she worked as the last shunting woman in the quality inspection line, which meant that all the green or crawling things had already been alerted on and redirected well before any product ever reached her at the Final Approval station. So she passed on the slippery meat, silently, cube by cube with the flat end of a metal prod. Nobody talked much at the plant, and Margaret didn't even say hellos. Proximity had never struck her as a very good reason for closeness. Still, nobody disliked her. She came to work, didn't hold up the line, bore a familiarity that was pleasant although prone to fading.
Pork shunting was Margaret's job and thus a large part of her identity. Her home life consisted of a sloping and darkening set of untidy rooms, a small collection of known communicants, a boyfriend who went in and out of phase. She persisted in a schedule of shuntings and homeward retreats. Years massed on and around her person just slowly enough that no one was ever alarmed.
The Magic That Happened
One day, Margaret realized that her fingers could regenerate. This was during one of her boyfriend's more visible periods. He was at foldable card table, waiting. Margaret was chopping stewables. She took off her whole index finger with one sure, clean motion.
The things to notice first were the pain and the spreading of blood across her cutting board. Her boyfriend was good to her then. He did the right things in the right order. He found her gauze and medical tape, wrapped the stub and finger separately, and then ushered her to his car. During the drive to the hospital, Margaret's boyfriend spoke mainly about the excellent prognosis for finger reattachments. He was very confident. He'd seen a special about it on one of the educational tv channels.
In the passenger seat was where she learned that her fingers regenerated. By the time they'd pulled into the hospital parking lot, Margaret had a whole new finger. She flexed it, swirled it in the air. It was perfect and without pain. Her boyfriend turned his car around and headed back to her house. The whole drive he was shaking his head. Margaret took her old severed finger and threw it out the window to a stray dog. It made them both a little happier.
Next there were weeks of keen experimentation and the improvisation of new routines. Margaret learned the secrets of self butchery. She calculated the exact speed of her regenerations, how best to staunch her bleeding, the proper dosage of local anesthetics. Tips of fingers and whole digits mounted in her kitchen compost. The garbage swelled with bloodied gauze.
At the pork plant, Margaret began to shave herself into the shunting trough. She'd think to bloody up the meat a bit or sometimes bury a shard of nail and bone. They say that people taste just like pigs, maybe a little sweeter. After Margaret, the pork cubes slid into automated packaging. No one would ever notice. Margaret took off a series of knuckles, left them like buttons against the meat.
She was bolder in the bathroom and wrote blood messages across the stalls. She planted thumbs upright in public gardens. Other than that, her life was mostly the same as before. She still didn't say very much, still prodded the safest end of the meat line. It wasn't like anything was actually better.
Another Thing Margaret Would Do, and Something She Couldn't
Margaret also had a domestic use for her fingers. With her sharpest blade ready on the bed stand, Margaret and her boyfriend would undress and get into position. She would work a finger up inside of him as far as it would go, cut it off at the base and keep pushing. She'd get it to lodge inside for a few minutes, then it would bleed out and deflate and her boyfriend would shit bones.
While she gauzed up her gaps and applied her anesthetic, he'd scrub those little phalanges clean and stack them in the shoe box he kept under the bed. On days when Margaret was gone, he'd plug himself up with the bones and then sit through the afternoon game shows that played on the living room tv.
The last afternoon, she came home to her boyfriend. He was on the faux-leather reclining chair, bone-stuffed and totally still. Margaret laid him out, stomach down, ready. She buried herself in ten fingers deep and they waited for regrowth. This was a new and braver try than ever. Margaret took off her whole arm at the shoulder and bled and bled. It wasn't going to come back.
Her boyfriend picked himself up and tried to do right. What he did was he gauzed her shut and buckled her into the passenger's seat of his car. But Margaret just lost too much blood.
Her boyfriend pulled to a stop on the side of the road. His rectum was a mausoleum.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/segalpork.html]
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