Eat Your Heart OutAugust 28, 2018
Charlie was up to his eyeballs in debt as he pored over the ledgers for the umpteenth time. Ever since the new pizza joint opened down the street, his customers began slowly fading away. He couldn’t understand it. He had stopped in there weeks ago, ordered a slice; his product was far superior. Or was it?
His nagging wife broke his train of thought. “You should have sold the place when you had the chance. That man offered you a generous price. Maybe you can still get something from him if you just call him.”
“We’ve been through this, Alice. I’m not selling. My grandfather had nothing and built this place from the ground up, my father ran it after he passed. This pizzeria has been in my family for generations. I’m not giving it up.”
“You’re a stupid man, Charlie. A stupid, worthless, little man. And this is not the life you promised me.”
He was used to this abuse; learned to ignore it. Another glass of cheap, white wine and she would be snoring to high heaven and he wouldn’t have to hear any more. At least not tonight. He wasn’t expecting the lamp that crashed into the back of his head. Disoriented, he stood up, stumbled, felt the flow of blood trickle down his neck. He was seeing double as he approached his wife.
“Charlie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
He grabbed the kitchen knife without realizing what he was doing and before he knew it, he was stabbing his wife repeatedly in the abdomen.
“How’s this for the life I promised you, Alice? Do you like it now? I never wanted a fat sow for a wife. You never helped out. You never wanted to be a part of the family business. All you do is take and take. Well, take this. And this. And this.”
Spent and dizzy, Charlie collapsed and lost consciousness beside his dead wife.
He awoke from a dream, one in which he had murdered his wife and went on to live out a life of peace and happiness, except it wasn’t a dream, as the corpse to his left clearly indicated, and what kind of happiness was to be found incarcerated behind bars for the remainder of his days?
He did what any normal man in such extraordinary circumstances would do; he panicked and then he prayed. “Father, what have I done? It happened so fast. I didn’t mean to kill my wife. What am I to do?”
The voice that Charlie heard was clear and unmistakable: “Do what you do best, my son. Make pizza.”
It was almost midnight, but there was much to do. Charlie dragged his wife from their loft apartment down to the pizzeria, where he had already covered the modest kitchen floor with plastic tarp. He plugged in the meat grinder and also set up a giant saucepan for the preparation of the marinara sauce. He knew he wouldn’t be able to lift Alice’s body onto the counter; he would just have to chop off a piece at a time. And that’s exactly what he did, working tirelessly for many hours, stopping only to retch in the bucket at his side. When the job was complete, only her heart remained, which he placed in a wooden jewelry box and took upstairs. He placed the box on the bedside table, and lacking the energy to shower and clean up, fell into the bed, covered in blood and gore belonging to his late wife.
Charlie awoke refreshed and felt even more so after a hot shower. The first thing he did was to craft a giant sign:
NEW RECIPE INSPIRED BY MY WIFE
THE FIRST SLICE IS ON THE HOUSE
After making the dough, he fired up Delores, his pride and joy, a wood-fired pizza oven he had built himself using kiln shelves and pizza stone. “Get yourself good and hot, girl.”
He unlocked the front door and placed his sign out front, went inside, stood behind the counter and waited. An hour passed with nary a customer. Fear and panic set in. The thought of not being able to unload his wife, pieces of Alice in the freezer to live with for the remainder of his days was unbearable. And then the bell at the door jingled as a potential customer ventured in. It was Pete, who used to come in regularly, at least three times a week, but Charlie had not seen him for quite some time, the turncoat having flocked to the new place.
“What do you say, Pete?”
“Long time no see. I gotta give away free pizza to get you to stop in?”
Pete looked down at his shoes sheepishly. “I’m just giving you a hard time, Pete. Have a seat. You want the usual?”
Charlie went into the kitchen to get to work. He had labeled containers with Alice’s various body parts and elected to start by unloading several digits off her left hand. Of course, he had ground up all of her the night before, since he only wanted to go through that particular ordeal once. Pete was partial to a meat lovers pizza, so in addition to Alice fingers and cheese, he also got some pepperoni, sausage and ham. Ten minutes later, Charlie pulled the pie out of the oven, dropped it onto a tray and sliced it up into eight pieces. He set this on the counter where Pete could see and smell what had been made, dropped a slice on a plate and delivered it to the table where his sole customer sat.
Charlie took a step back, but was rooted there with a lump in his throat. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he had held his breath. His fear melted away when he saw the look on Pete’s face after the first bite. The diner had closed his eyes and was shaking his head as he chewed, the universal sign for indulging in something delicious.
“Damn, Charlie. I don’t remember your pizza being this good. It’s the best I’ve ever had to be honest. Can I get another slice?
“For $2, you sure can. Or perhaps you’d like the rest of the pie for an even $10?”
“Absolutely, just bring that tray over, along with a Pepsi please.”
Eleven hours later, thoroughly exhausted, Charlie locked the front door to the pizzeria. He cleaned up the front of the house and before heading to the back for much more cleaning, he opened the register on the counter. For the first time in as long as he could remember, it was filled with cash. After Pete, there was a steady flow of clientele and he had managed to unload not just Alice’s left hand, but also her right and a whole left leg. And much to his delight, they loved the way his wife tasted.
After cleaning the kitchen, he retired upstairs. Before collapsing into his bed, he patted the jewelry box. “You’re a big hit, Alice.”
“And you’re still a stupid, worthless, little man.”
“I know, love. I know. Good night.”
Charlie turned off the light.
In the week to follow, Charlie couldn’t keep up with the flow of business; people were lined out the door and the small pizzeria was flooded to capacity throughout the days. He no longer had to give away Alice pie to drum up business; in fact, he had raised his prices and people were still paying. He became far more conservative with doling out his wife’s flesh, milking this cash cow. He chuckled inwardly when he thought of his wife as a cash cow. But then a new panic started to set in; what happens when Alice was gone, literally gone of course? Would he have the nerve to kill again?
He couldn’t sleep at night, his mind on overdrive, contemplating what to do. And it didn’t help that Alice never shut up, yapping away throughout the night from her little box. She was a God fearing woman and had resorted to preaching from the Bible, assaulting him with proverbs and verses. Perhaps the guilt he felt deep down inside was driving him insane.
Another thought crept into his skull; what if it was only Alice’s flesh that the people craved? Perhaps not any human flesh would do. He would have to test that theory before he resorted to taking another life.
Charlie sat in the passenger seat of his old station wagon with the engine running. It was well past midnight and there wasn’t a soul in sight. On his lap lay a cutting board and the sharpest knife he could find. He took the cap off the cheap bottle of vodka and drank heavily then depressed the cigarette lighter on the dashboard, wrapped the little finger on his left hand tightly with a cloth, just below the knuckle and placed his hand on the board. As soon as the lighter popped and before he lost his nerve, he hacked down with the knife and severed the finger, the vodka soaked rag in his mouth muffling his scream. He fumbled with the lighter, pressing the hot ember coils down on the stump, which brought renewed screams that went unnoticed. He chugged at the bottle of liquor one last time before passing out.
Charlie awoke at dawn, bandaged his hand as best he could and ground up his severed finger. Pete would be his first customer and his pie of choice was ready to go into the oven with a piece of Charlie mixed in. It seemed fitting that Pete would once again be the judge; his reaction indicating the path that Charlie would take next. As he waited patiently, Charlie made himself a promise. If it turns out that his own flesh wasn’t up to par, he would close up shop after Alice was depleted. He would sell the pizzeria and move some place tropical.
As Pete sauntered in, Charlie quickly covered his four-fingered hand with an oven mitt. “Hungry, Pete?”
“You know it.”
“Have a seat. It’ll just be ten minutes. I’ve got the pie ready to go.”
Charlie placed the pie on the table and lingered.
“You gonna watch me eat, Charlie?”
“No, of course not. I modified Alice’s recipe slightly. Just want to make sure it’s up to snuff.”
“You shouldn’t mess with perfection, mate,” said Pete as he took a bite, chewed and swallowed. He didn’t close his eyes or shake his head approvingly. Charlie was disappointed. So that’s it, he thought, it’s only Alice they love.
“It’s different. But here’s my dilemma, Charlie. I can’t decide which version of the recipe I like best. They’re both equally delicious. Maybe you can call this one Alice 2.0 and serve them both up.”
Charlie smiled. “Maybe.”
Another profitable day, a till full of cash, and Charlie retired to bed.
“Who are you going to murder next?”
“Well, love, I was thinking maybe the homeless man who rummages through our trash.”
“You’ll probably want him to bathe first.”
“That’s a good point, Alice.”
“You’re a stupid, worthless, little man.”
He turned off the light and was asleep almost instantly.
That was the last of her; Alice was gone, except for the yapping heart upstairs that wouldn’t shut up. Her insults had become more frequent, creative and increasingly annoying.
Charlie was about to set his plan in motion. He would invite the homeless man in, offer him a shower and a hot meal. After his last supper, Charlie would strangle him from behind. He told himself that he would be doing the man a favor; there was no quality in the life he led after all.
As he went to lock the front door, it opened and Father Guinness stepped in. “Hello, Charlie.”
“Evening, Father. I was just about to close up.”
“I’ve heard wonderful things about your pizza. Can’t I convince you to stay open for just a little longer and spare a slice?”
There was nothing left of Alice to serve up. And then he had an idea. “Sure, Father. Have a seat. I’ll whip up something special for you.”
He bounded up the stairs, two at a time, grabbed the jewelry box and returned to the kitchen.
“Please, Charlie. Don’t do this.”
“I can’t imagine one more day of you blabbing away, Alice. I will be rid of you once and for all.”
His wife screamed as the heart went through the meat grinder and then silence. It was done. She was gone and he began preparing one last Alice pie.
Charlie placed the pizza before the priest along with a glass of water. “Enjoy, Father. It’s on the house.” He wasn’t about to turn a man of God into a cannibal and force him to pay for it.
“Thank you, Charlie. That’s very generous.”
He returned to the kitchen, stood by the window that looked out into the alley and waited for the homeless man to show up. He did not realize that Father Guinness had entered the kitchen; was startled when he realized that the priest stood behind him.
“I didn’t mean to startle you. Just wanted to extend my compliments to the chef.”
“I’m glad you liked it.”
“Truly superb. I also wanted to ask about Alice. I haven’t seen her at service in quite some time.”
“She’s been ill, Father. I think it’s the flu. She’s been resting.”
The priest smiled, baring a mouth full of yellow teeth. “You’re a terrible liar, Charlie. Always have been. It’s a special kind of sin to lie to a priest.”
Charlie was dumbstruck. He started to speak.
“Shut the fuck up,” the priest commanded. “I think I’ll serve up your testicles first.”
“You’re a stupid, worthless, little man.”
Charlie was in shock and barely felt the knife enter his flesh.by