The Price of Beef by Bill Tope

“You can’t put gravy on it,” said old Bessie, referring to the floral arrangement that the florist had just delivered.  “Oh, you say that every time you see a flower,” Katrina chided gently.  “Personally, I think they’re beautiful!”  Bessie huffed in reply.  “I got them on sale, for your birthday. Don’t you think they’ll make the living room look lovely?” Katrina enthused.  Bessie huffed again, said: the only use for flowers is Decoration Day an’ at a funeral,” then added, “An’ I ain’t dead yet!”

“What’s for supper tonight, Grandma?” asked Katrina, changing the subject.  In all her fifteen years, Katrina had never quite gotten used to her grandmother’s cantankerousness.  She found it best to steer clear of controversy; one never knew what the old lady might do.  There were stories, but Katrina disregarded most of them.  “We’re havin’ vegetable soup,” replied Bessie. “Meat’s so dang expensive I can’t see puttin’ down the money for it; ‘specially the beef!”  Katrina nodded her understanding.  “You know, Grandma, if you bought your beef at the Meat Locker you could save a lot of money.  You’ve got that big old freezer there, practically empty except for your frozen berries and peaches.”  Bessie nodded, not yet convinced.

“It’s getting cold in here, Grandma,” remarked Katrina, rubbing her arms.  “We’s outta coal,” muttered Bessie.  “That dang Porter shoulda’ brought some before now.” The aforementioned Porter was the bank’s property caretaker and it was his job to do such work for the residents for whom the bank held their mortgages. “I’ll go get some, Grandma,” offered Katrina, reaching for a nearby coal scuttle.  “No, you ain’t,” said Bessie sharply.  “That there’s Porter’s job; let him get it.”  “But where is he?” asked her granddaughter, gazing woefully at the old coal furnace in the corner of the kitchen, now sitting cold and silent.  

“He’s out gamblin’ most likely,” Bessie said scornfully.  She sniffed.  “When I get ‘hold of him he won’t feel like lollygaggin’ around no more!” she promised.  At length, Katria went off to meet with some of her friends and Bessie continued to perform her daily tasks.  Sometime later, there was a knock on the kitchen door and Bessie went to see who it was, though she had a pretty good idea already.  It was Porter, of course.  And he was stinking drunk.  “Well, it’s about time!” snapped Bessie.  “Bessie, my Love,” he said drunkenly.  “What you been doin’ without me?”  He swayed on his feet. “I been freezin’ my backside off, is what!” she retorted angrily.  

“Why are you here drunk?” she demanded.  ‘I jus’ ha’ a few drinks,” he protested, slurring his words.  He grew suddenly quiet and then gushed, “Gimme a little kiss, Bessie,” and all at once he was all over the old lady, his hands everywhere, groping, squeezing, invading her personal space.  Bessie spluttered, “Awk!” and reaching behind her to a counter she turned up a prodigious meat cleaver. She waved it menacingly at Porter; he backed hastily away.  “There, there, my Love,” he said soothingly.  “I ain’t really intersted in you,” he assured her. “Well, you coulda’ fooled me!” retorted the old woman, pushing her clothes back in place.  “But I tell you who really lights my fire,” continued the middle-aged man giddily.  “That’s Katrina!  She young but she shore is some ‘bit ‘a woman.  I’ll learn her the ropes, I will!” he promised.  He set his arm on the counter facing Bessie and grinned lecherously, grotesquely.  “When she be home, old woman?  She regarded the man cooly, narrowed her eyes at him.  She said, “She be a’home for supper.” Leaning on his arm, he grinned.  “I’ll be here,” he said.  “Ain’t nothin’ keep me offa’ Katrina!”

Three Hours Later

Katrina came bustling through the kitchen door, sniffing the air; the aroma was magnificent, she thought.  “Grandma, I’m home.  What smells so good?”  “Soup,” replied Bessie, emerging from the bathroom and wiping a large meat cleaver on her apron.  “The vegetable soup?”  “No, I put a little meat in it.”  “But Grandma, meat’s so expensive, you said so yourself this morning.  Where did you buy it?”  

“It come from Porter,” she answered.  I took your advice,” she added. “I bought the beef in bulk. with Porter’s help.”  She gestured to the immense deep freeze in the corner.  “Check for yourself.  Katrina walked to the freezer, lifted the door, beheld bundle after bundle of fresh meat, wrapped in white butcher’s paper.  Katrina’s eyes opened wide.  “How much meat did you get?” Katrina asked.  Bessie gazed at the ceiling, considered for a moment, then replied, “I guess ’round a hunert’ ‘an eighty pounds, plus plenty of soup bones.” “With Porter’s help, huh?” remarked her granddaughter. “Well,” she chuckled, “I guess he has his uses after all,” Bessie tapped the spotless meat cleaver against her thigh, saying, “Yes, Porter had his uses after all.”

Bill Tope’s work has appeared in “Chantarelle’s Notebook,” “Down in the Dirt Magazine,” “Children, Churches and Daddies,” and “The Avocet.”

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