Neither Madame, Nor Mademoiselleby Elise Galmard, translated from the French by Jenessa Abrams
He looks me right in the eye, with an air of bewilderment, like I’m dimwitted, or as if I’ve insulted his mother.
No meat? No, thank you. No meat? Are you sure? Not even just this once?
I smile because I’ve learned to be polite even when the biggest imbecile is standing right in front of me. You might say I have good manners, but really, I’d like to shove his slab of steak with pepper sauce up his ass.
No meat. I always find it strange that people are so surprised to learn that no—no I don’t want any of your slaughtered, decaying cadaver. I’m sure you’re a nice person, but I like to avoid that kind of violence in my everyday life.
I remain courteous, often, if not always, except when I’m required to explain my refusal—my blatant disregard for all the effort and sweat that went into preparing this rotting carcass on the table.
Too bad for him, I’m just getting started. He likes to tease me—likes to think he can make me into the circus freak of the evening. Like: hilarious, isn’t it? A delicate, sensitive girl who doesn’t eat poor little animals. Ah, who are we kidding, this is all ridiculous!
Moron, I tell him: I’m not a girl, I’m a woman, without wanting to fully derail the conversation, but I’m fed up with his condescension.
Tell me, Moron, do you know what word people who’ve been harassed or sexually assaulted use? Meat. Without exception, they all say they felt like a miserable piece of meat.
Ah, that’s it. What grand rhetoric! She’s a little fighter!
My blood begins to boil. I want to bite the hand that’s feeding me—the one that put this plate in front of me—which of course means, his wife’s hand and definitely not his—a man in the kitchen, just imagine it—what I’m saying is, I’d like to bite his wife who prepared this feast.
He’s a moron, a chicken breeder; he takes pride in his business. He mocks me because I stir up the shit he's made of before we sit down to eat. I’m not completely innocent either. But he’s an idealist, he dreams of world peace and harmony. So I ask him if he makes a good living carrying out the chicken genocide full time.
Of course not, my chickens are well-treated: they're free-range, they’re transported at night so they’ll be less afraid, because when they’re spending the night in a cage the size of an iPad, the faster they’re killed, the better. And in addition to all that, my slaughterhouse doesn’t smell of blood or death. These chickens are slaughtered in the best possible conditions!
No, it’s only because death isn’t right in front of you that it feels temporary.
I understand that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing, or rather, that he chooses not to. He isn’t thinking. It’s the same thing either way. The less you think, the less responsibility you take, the better you feel.
No meat? No, thank you. Really? He serves me my plate.
The King of the Morons.
Have you seen a mother calf torn away from her newborn? Have you seen her pain? The pain of the little one? Do you understand what’s behind the word meat? Behind the steak you’ve been impatiently waiting to eat for the last half hour? No, you don’t understand, the animal is missing from your conscience, all you see is a slab of steak, not the living being that drew breath, ate and existed just like you do. You say it’s only a cow. Well I say that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, I doubt many people would still be eating at McDonalds.
What hypocrisy we live with: it’s acceptable to eat a child from a certain species, but completely inconceivable to eat puppy stew.
And we wonder why there is so much violence in the world, so much war and hatred and evil. But it all starts on our plates, every day, at each meal. How can you claim to want world peace when you accept violence against beings you regard as beneath you? You are responsible for those lives, you are responsible for those deaths, and you are culpable when you forget them.
Go ahead, eat your meat. Go on, your food is getting cold. Eat, come on, enjoy yourself; you can’t live without this blood. You tell me it isn’t the same, but don’t you tell me you hope for a better world.
Calm down, they tell me, just stay calm. You’re getting aggressive. You’re being hostile. It’s as if I’ve taken out a knife and pressed it against their throats, as if I approached their bodies’ weak fibers and placed a BB gun up to their skulls.
ELISE GALMARD was born in Paris and raised between France and Canada. Galmard is a writer of prose, poetry and theater, as well as a translator in the Word for Word collaboration with Université Paris 8 and Columbia University in New York. Novel-writer by day and bartender by night, she is presently working on a Masters in Creative Writing at Université Paris 8.Jenessa Abrams
JENESSA ABRAMS is a Norman Mailer Fiction Fellow and has been awarded fellowships and grants from the Ucross Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center and Columbia University. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Tin House - The Open Bar, Washington Square, The Offing, The Rumpus, BOMB Magazine and elsewhere. She was named a finalist for Narrative Magazine's 30 Below Contest and Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Award. Her work was nominated for the 2017 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. She has an MFA in fiction and literary translation from Columbia University.