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May 23, 2024

All Beef

Emily Myles

Once a week I get an all beef corn dog from Edith in the striped polo shirt. It is obscene that her name is Edith since she is nineteen, and blonde, and always chewing gum. One afternoon she tells me that her name prohibited her from getting a job elsewhere in The Mall, since “Edith” is not the kind of ascetic Daddy Sunglass wanted to give off. When I tried to explain the difference between ascetic and aesthetic to Edith her eyes unfocused and the room began to collapse in the vacuum of her attention. I changed the subject with haste, her attention the lacquered floor across which I dance. Since Edith is nineteen she doesn’t believe in all beef dogs or turkey burgers or any animal product, except for desiccated beef liver tablets. A woman on the internet told  Edith she needed them, that the tablets' vitamins and minerals might return us to the kind of person who's never been to The Mall. Edith talks about hunter gatherers a lot for someone who requires supportive footwear. The first time she tells me about them I make a face that she disagrees with.  What’s so bad about my pills when you’re eating hot dogs made from assholes and eyelids? She demands. I try to explain that it’s more the word desiccated. I try to explain that at least eyelids taste like salt, and beef. I try to explain that liver only ever tastes like itself. Her mood doesn’t relent until I buy a month's supply of the pills using the discount code EDITH25. It only gives me ten percent off but makes Daddy Beef Pill happy.


The all beef dog squirts hot grease when I bite it and for the rest of the day I taste metal. A flap of skin peels and dangles off the roof of my mouth. I tongue my new addition all the way back to work. I am pretending it is something obscene and starting with E. Something else obscene is that Edith has to wear a tall striped hat. She hates it. The brim shades her eyes and I search for them in the shadows of it. It’s obscene to have to look for the person right in front of you.

What happens if you take it off? I asked eagerly one day. She crossed her arms across her chest and shook her head. I won’t get into the shirt because it’s not obscene—it’s just a shirt. Underneath it, a body.

I know, of course, that Edith is afraid Daddy All Beef will be angry with her if she takes the hat off. It is the same way I am afraid Daddy Bear will be angry with me if I leave my apron off even though I think the apron washes me out. There’s some sort of color I’m supposed to have and when I put on the apron it drips out the bottom of me until I am only half myself and half apron. Underneath it, a body.  A woman on the internet told me it’s because I'm a deep winter and the apron is for true summers. I love the women on the internet. They’re always telling me things about myself I wouldn’t otherwise know, always another season to aspire to.


Edith tells me things too. In the parking lot she tells me that psychically, you can get anything if you focus hard enough. I say wow in a way she doesn’t like but I am really willing to believe it. Psychically, I am fiddling with my skin flap and hoping Edith feels it. Psychically, I am licking the shadows from underneath Edith’s eyes. Psychically, I’m a summer and taste like it too. Edith has taken off her hat since Daddy All Beef allows her head a thirty minute break. When they want to, our Daddy’s can be very benevolent. For my birthday I get a bear and only have to pay how old I am although that is now actually more than the bear originally cost and when I asked Daddy Bear for leniency he wept. But how will the bear feel, if we do not pay his worth? I had to apologize to the bear. I had to apologize to Daddy. I asked Edith if she wanted a bear and she told me she could never sleep with something containing so many forever chemicals. I asked the women on the internet if they thought I had forever chemicals inside me and they gnashed their teeth and wept and said of course of course of course. I had to apologize to the women on the internet.


Daddy Bear and Daddy All Beef operate on opposite corners of The Mall and so at the end of thirty minutes I bid Edith goodbye and watch her walk down the fluorescent walkway. Waiting for her are lemons to clatter. Waiting for her are hot dogs to dip in sweet batter. Waiting for her are the daddies and their daughters, some of whom will be clutching bears I have just stuffed. I am in the business of daughters, while Edith is squarely in the business of daddies. When the daddies watch Edith make lemonade they think they are seeing something obscene because she has a body. In fact, it is the violence. In fact it is the peel of a lemon separating from the meat underneath her paddle, all the segments a little universe. In fact, I am sometimes imagining I am a lemon when I am supposed to be stuffing bears. Daddy Bear can tell because the bears come back to me with flaccid limbs and wilting heads and I have to do it again. Daddy Bear bids me to do it right, since it means slicing the threads that hold the bear together in order to restuff it. In The Mall, you have to be split open in order to be good enough. I slip the cool tube into the husk of an animal and inflate it with white, fluffy guts until it’s real enough to touch. I sit at the machine and pump the pedal and inside the machine there is a tempest of viscera. It swirls around itself until I stop pedaling and then it settles. The best thing about being stuffed is that you’re in someone else’s hands.


While I am stuffing there is a child waiting for their bear, and in their hands is a little sateen heart. The little heart is red. In a real bear the heart sits low, underneath the lungs. In a real bear, the heart is an imprecise target. In a real bear, my father is loading a shotgun and bracing it against his shoulder. In a real bear, he can’t shoot his way out.

The children hold the heart in their hands and I ask them to whisper love and kindness into the heart. Edith once let me put my tongue in her ear and I did the same thing. She tasted salty, and a little stale. Edith’s heart is an imprecise target. The children hold the hearts close to their mouths and whisper and the hearts come away damp and the children are little gods of death holding their hearts in the scales of their judgment and their daddy’s can’t shoot their way out of this one.


When the bears are sufficiently stuffed I take a thread and a needle and pull the wounds of their birth shut. Daddy Bear watches me from all the corners, shiny brown eyes mounted in each end of the store. I am thinking of Edith while I sew. It is obscene that she has shiny brown eyes too. They are always watering and a little crusty in the corners. When I think about licking them clean I taste the sea. Edith has never been to the sea but sometimes we meet up by the fountain in The Lobby. The Lobby is a big room with nothing in it but a fountain and an elegy for Daddy Pretzel. The air is a little bit salty and a little bit stale, just like a memory I can’t shoot my way out of. Daddy Pretzel watches us not hold hands and swallow our liver pills. I never got to stuff a cow, though I consume enough to become one. Daddy Bear is finicky about non ursine animals. He keeps the dogs and cats in low bins away from the children's eyes. Some of their skins are older than mine, which is getting harder to be, somewhere between nineteen and dead.


Edith relents about her birthday bear. I get an All Beef corn dog every day the week she turns twenty. My skin turns pink and elastic, cool to the touch. Do you think I’m becoming all beef? I ask Edith and she nods, slipping a liver pill into my cheek. It is obscene how metallic her fingers taste. Her skin is porous and underneath it I can see all her pulp. She only ever tastes like herself. When Edith comes she is still wearing her hat, the top of it scraping the doorway as she enters the store. Daddy Bear notices her immediately. Behind his door I can hear him licking his chops, strings of saliva caught in his terrible teeth. She picks a birthday bear the same sallow pink as a tongue and I place a red heart in her hands, wet and warm to the touch. Edith stands right by the stuffer and taps her toes until I sit at my station, and begin to pedal. Our toes match the others tapping—it’s obscene how much I want to lie down under her foot. 

Do you love it? I ask. Edith nods as the bear turns towards me. It has an appetite for all beef. It is obscene how eager I am to be eaten, to taste like myself.