HARRIET MCKNIGHT #2: The Killing Floor

Artwork by Minna Leunig
Artwork by Minna Leunig

MY BOYFRIEND GOES to photograph an abattoir forty minutes drive from my mother’s house. The alarm goes at four in the morning and we wake nose to nose. Our breath mixes in clouds—my mother doesn’t like to leave the heating on while we sleep. I think about how our breath is mixing with the breath of everyone around us all the time. The whole planet is breathing in and out. When he goes, the dog takes his side of the bed. We lie spine to spine until the sun is up.

My mother opens the paper to a story on a girl. Or part of one. Her torso smooth and small in a field not that far away. It looks peaceful and fertile. Her pale skin nestled into soft grass. The trail is cold, they say. There are no leads to where the rest of her is located.

When my boyfriend comes back, his legs are brown and sticky. There is blood up his trousers. He walks around with gore puddled into his boots. We peel his socks from his skin and then throw them away.

‘Show me some photos,’ I say.

He doesn’t want to let me see. ‘I don’t want to do that to you,’ he says.

But he takes out his camera and we flick through the portraits he took of the men who worked there. He tells me they’ve all spent time inside. That one robbed his mate, that one crashed into someone drunk, that one lit his girlfriend on fire, that one sold drugs to school kids. His voice is even and steady. It’s his ease around violence that scares me.

‘Did you get what you wanted?’ I say.

‘I don’t know,’ he says, ‘what I wanted in the first place.’