Flesh and Blood by Magen Cubed

Hannes was a butcher with tiger stripes on his arms, kept under his cuffs and sleeves in quiet reflection, scored out healed over and scored again. He enjoyed the practice for the same reason he butchered animals, for the blood. Blood was the end result of his blade slicing through flesh and raw animal alike.

Into the sides of cows and pigs on hooks in the yawning freezer of his father’s rickety butcher shop. It ran truer and redder than most all things, only to turn brown on the wet concrete beneath him and become lost as pink in the whiteness of his smock. Blood always changed, but only in ways that he recognized.

His father made use of this fondness, putting Hannes to work in his shop when his son had grown tall enough to wield a knife on his own. He never bothered to ask about the tiger stripes, simply accepting the help once his bones began to creak and his hands shook too much to handle a blade. The palsy, he would say around his pipe and a wet cough, it can make a man useless. But Hannes, he was big and strong, and good for something, at least.

Hannes lived alone in a crooked red tenement beneath five other floors of noisy, dirty people. His unit had only a kitchen, a bathroom and a tiny bedroom, his covers always made up with straight corners as his mother had taught him as a boy. Life without others was the only one Hannes understood. In this way, walking to his father's shop in the morning, and again home at night, he was contented.


He first drew blood at the age of six: a fat bird had fallen from a tree outside his father’s house, knocked from its branch by another boy’s rock. The boy was bigger, stouter, with bruised knuckles and kneecaps. Hannes hadn’t stopped him, realizing he hadn’t been bothered enough to try. It was this peculiar nature that endeared to him few others, but his mother, with her thin hands clasped in prayer at his bedside and asking God to watch over them as they slept.

“Be tempted not by the flesh,” Hannes' mother would tell him in bed, kissing his hair and brushing his cheek, his father retiring to the living room after dinner to read his paper and smoke his pipe. “Flesh is the language of the Devil.”

The bird lay dying of its injuries, the bones of its wing protruded in odd angles from between the white feathers, now tipped red like his mother’s trimmed painted nails. Curious, Hannes took one of his mother’s knives from the kitchen drawer; he chewed his bottom lip, brow wrinkled before working his knife awkwardly across the bird’s neck, down its throat and into the breast, all thumbs and bent elbows. Its heart fluttered under his blade, beating and sucking before slowing into silence. It bled out exquisitely, as he would later recall, seeping out like the creeping of spider legs, body wracked by fine tremors as Hannes watched it twitch and finally die.

From then on Hannes loved blood above all else. By thirteen he bought his first blade, a switchblade inside painted bone casing. He practiced with it, carving dead animals found roadside while walking home from school, curiosity opening their putrid veins to release the fluids within. By sixteen he had given himself his first set of tiger’s stripes, bleeding freely across his bed sheets and smiling at the mess it made. At night his mother prayed for Hannes, rosaries clutched between fretful fingers. His father always smoked and read silently in the next room, and made no mention of dead animals or bloodied sheets. The house remained silent for two more years until Hannes left home.


Adelle began to give the butcher her custom just before the leaves turned color for the fall, for bacon on Monday mornings, and fresh beef on Friday afternoons. Her hair was like cardinal feathers, eyes the same blue color as the scarf riding on her neck. Hannes hadn’t noticed her for some time, staying in the freezer at the back of the stop while his father tended to the customers at the front. Whenever she saw Hannes she smiled, mouth shaded by lipstick to match her hair; he found it difficult to smile back but he did so anyway. It was polite. His mother had taught him well enough to manage that.

On occasion, when she came in to order her beef or bacon, Hannes’ father was back of the shop or taking the daily deposit to the bank, and on those occasions Hannes tended to Adelle. Their hands might then brush at the counter, her long red-tipped fingers; and his, thick and callused. Sometimes his sleeve might have caught on the counter, ridden up, and Adelle might have seen the rough outlines of his scars. She might have lowered her eyes, and titled her head in a sweet-sorry sort of way, but Hannes tried not to think of that, tried not to think of her at all, eating dinner alone in his cave. After dinner on these occasions, Hannes lit a clove cigarette from a dirty beaten pack he kept in his side-table. He drew a hot bath for himself and smoked as he bathed. Naked, he admired his tiger’s stripes, bands of cuts that had been repeatedly opened and healed over as to permanently scar the lengths of his forearms. He drew his favorite knife, a short fat blade kept in the soap dish on the edge of the tub, retracing each stripe, each mark anew, bleeding first red into the water then pink before disappearing. It was blood that he understood, above all else.



Coming out of the store one afternoon, Hannes stopped when he heard his name. One hand stuffed reflexively into his coat pockets, the other holding his brown-bagged lunch, he turned to see her standing on the sidewalk with a fabric grocery bag looped round her wrist. Sunlight made strange silver of her eyelashes, finding the soft freckles at the bridge of her nose. She smiled and walked quickly to meet Hannes’ stride. He stiffened.

“I saw you leaving the shop,” she said. “I was just coming from the farmer’s market up the road.”

“Oh.” He was on his way to the coffee shop down the street for his daily cup to take with him for lunch at the park. There were metal benches there, where old people fed birds; it was calming to watch fat gray pigeons swallow up bread heels, the green of their heads shimmering gently in the sun. When Hannes said nothing else, she laughed.

“I’m sorry, you must think I’m some crazy person. I’m Adelle,” she offered. “I’m one of your father’s customers.”

He already knew that. He had seen some of the checks in the register, overhead his father talking to customers sometimes, men and women that he called by name when he wanted to make a big sale. Hannes said nothing of that.

“I’m Hannes,” was his response, tight like a jerk.

She smiled again. “I have to go. I’m on my break.” He swallowed. “Goodbye.”

Hannes walked away without looking back. If he closed his eyes he could see her standing there on the sidewalk. Instead he drank his coffee and ate his bagged sandwich, and tried not to close his eyes.


Hannes didn’t think of Adelle until he was alone in the back of the shop with the deliveries on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the driver from the packing plant dropped the newest shipments. Cutting slabs of ribs and flanks while his father tended to the counter, he often allowed himself to daydream. It took him beyond the concrete of the city to a rolling meadow with fruitful plants and brush, where his mother wept under a great green tree. She wept there often, a huddle of old limbs under her long-sleeved dress with tired pearl-buttons. His father was never there. Hannes was grateful for that much.

He sometimes saw Adelle there, in the flesh of dead cattle and pig, the thought of her creeping up on him with frightening regularity. Like a knife in his mind’s eye, her face was in the veins marbling red meat, her hair in the blood that dripped from his knife onto the floor. She was at once dead and alive in him, made of flesh and fevered dreams, both in the butcher shop and the garden where he hid when no one was looking.

Some days he heard the door-chime ring from the front of the shop, heard his father say Hello with his fake smiling voice, gently gruff from decades of smoking, saved only for customers and saying Hellos and Farewells to fellow parishioners at Sunday service. Adelle asked for her regular bacon or beef, smiles in her voice, and likely in her eyes, Hannes thought. On these days he put down his knife and found himself drawn away from the freezer and meat-hooks to the doorway, pressed out of sight and listening to her feet shuffling on the floor outside. His pulse jumped treacherously, palms sweating, hot under his clothes.

Since Adelle first forced herself into his life, each day that Hannes worked with flesh he thought of her. Each night he returned home to think of her face, his birds watching from their perches. Old fat pigeons and cardinals with feathers like blood and Adelle’s hair, marbles for eyes.

For weeks Adelle came and went. Hannes saw her in the shop and outside on the street, through dusty shop windows and crooked old blinds. Whenever she spotted him coming out of the shop, or on his break at the cafĂ©, she stopped, smiled and said Hello. How are you? How was your weekend? He could only ever say Hello. I’m fine. It was fine. Everything was always fine, as his father shuffled along and coughed behind the counter. They didn’t speak of her, at work or after Sunday service or, at his mother’s his and Sunday dinner, like they never spoke of anything. At the dinner table they held hands to pray for forgiveness and strength. As always Hannes went home to sleep alone, and in time he began to dream.

Hannes rarely dreamt of but loose, fluid narratives that he forgot upon waking. When he did dream fully, he remembered it because he dreamt of Adelle. In the garden behind his eyes, blood on her white Sunday dress, smeared from her breasts to pool wetly between her knees. She stood beneath two trees, tall like old buildings and ripe with pink fruit. Sometimes his mother was there, crouched beneath a nearby tree, weeping with her rosaries and her reedy prayers. Others she was not, and he found he didn’t care.

Adelle waited for him to venture closer, a halved piece of fruit held out in each hand; cleaved in two and made of meat. The flesh of the fruit had been peeled back to expose the veined tissue beneath. “We are all made of flesh,” she would say, “this flesh is yours. My body is yours.” In the morning Hannes rose to wash his face at the sink, poured cold water from the cup of his palms and no longer recognized the face that met him.


Adelle worked in a flower shop across town with blue birds painted on the doors and windows. They were blue like her eyes with no eyes of their own, just silhouettes against the glass, leading Hannes inside. He stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and stood rod-straight, shoulders squared, afraid of being seen. He had showered off of himself that morning the smell of blood, fearful it had worked its way into his pores, to rub off onto his clothes, that someone might notice it.

The whole shop smelled like living things, fresh, green, and breathing. It was like a garden growing between the lemon chiffon walls, threatening to burst from the windows and doors to fill the street outside. Hannes felt trapped and made fists of his hands in his pockets. He hoped no one would notice that, either.

Behind the counter, Adelle smiled at him. “Can I help you with a?”

“No.” Hannes looked away. Her hair was pulled up to reveal the white line of her neck, the veins thin and blue underneath.

Hannes walked out of the shop without looking back. He drew his bath at home, smoked his clove cigarette in the cooling water, rolling his thumb over his favorite blade; drawing it over the tiger stripes, he bled out with Adelle’s hair in ribbons that spilled from his elbows and down. It crept to the floor and around his wrist and fingers, coiling around them and hiding under his nails to sully him. She had already made her way into the flesh, the sinew, to murmur stupid things where he couldn’t reach to scratch. The bones in her chest and shoulders spread out from the pool of hair on the floor, emerging to swallow the bathtub in the sick pop-snap of lengthening vertebrae and the arms that circled him. A neck sprouted from the trap of bone and skin, supple and crowned by a round head with no face, the features smooth and obscured by the wreath of hair that connected his wounds to the floor. Her hair was a living thing that stretched itself across the tile to the door and the room breathed deep, the walls shuddering around him like ribs shrinking and expanding.

Adelle wth her soft flesh and hair wished to tempt him, which his mother had warned him against, Hannes knew that now; he couldn’t allow it.


There were nights that Hannes left the shop after closing and didn’t go home; he waited for his father to get into his beaten old car. It was a shoddy green sedan with dents in the doors, his father shrugging inside it with a grunt before turning it over and driving away. Bundled under his coat Hannes would travel from bus stop to bus stop, making his way to the flower shop. If he was fortunate he got there just as Adelle closed up for the day, jostling her shop key in the door and checking it twice. It never felt like good fortune at the time. Instead it was an itch he was compelled to scratch, a cut in the meat of his cheek that he couldn’t resist tonguing at. Wanting at once to touch and to push away, tear apart, dissect, dismantle. The pleasure was in the itch, as black and deformed as the feeling.

She walked the four blocks to a little brown tenement with blue flowerboxes in the windows; he watched as she walked up the stoop to the front door and disappeared inside. She reappeared at a fourth floor window, turning on a lamp and skinning out of her coat. He watched this too as she undressed, moving into another room and another window, a naked silhouette against a yellow curtain. On the street outside, the sight made Hannes’ face heat, his gut tight, a twisting snaking feeling that left his palms sweating.

He turned away when Adelle put the lights out, a knot in his throat as he walked the two blocks to the bus stop in the dark; riding across town, he let himself be lulled by the jumpy measure of tires on chewed pavement, thinking of her silhouette in the window and the blood of her hair. The walls of the bus sighed around him, breathed out her breath in a bony stretch of skin and gooseflesh. But the bus driver didn’t notice. This will be over, he told himself. It will all be over soon.


Hannes had pocketed his favorite blade from the soap dish before he had even decided what to do. He kept it in his coat pocket, left it there during work, in the coat hanging on the rack by the front door, beside his father’s hat and scarf. Perhaps his father would check the pocket.

After the shop closed he didn’t wait for his father’s car to disappear around the block before he walked to the bus stop, catching the five-twenty cross-town. He didn’t get off at the flower shop, taking the bus instead to the little brown tenement building and waiting on the bench there beneath a metal hutch. Adelle was five minutes late; he had determined how long it normally took to walk from the florist to her apartment, the last night that he'd followed her home. She was wearing a long brown coat and her blue sweater wrapped tight around her neck.

Up the steps and at the door, she pulled it open to step inside; and, across the street, Hannes stood to follow behind. She led him up rickety stairs, keeping his breath shallow and his steps quiet as not to alarm her. Walking down a narrow hallway she put her keys in a door marked four-oh-five. He waited until her steps had retreated before he checked the unlocked handle. He went inside with a held breath.

The apartment was skeletal with old wooden furniture and potted plants in the corners. It smelled like perfume and what Hannes imagined his garden must have smelled like, bursting with pink fruit and flowers, it was soft and clean. He felt dirty for being there. Careful steps led him through the living room and down a skinny hall to the bedroom, where Adelle stood by the foot of the small bed, eyes wide and mouth making a funny little O. Her blouse was still in her hand and she was nearly naked but for a white bra and underwear, she looked unashamed.

“Are you going to kill me?” Her eyes flitted from his face, to the blade and back.

She was soft to look at, her body curved and freckled at her neck and on her shoulders. There were stripes cut into her thighs and arms in intricate patterns, diving sparrows and tall elegant cranes with outstretched wings that spread over the breadth of her. The birds traveled over her shoulders and across her chest, along the inside of her thighs, to disappear inside her panties and emerge at the crest of her hipbone in delicate strokes. They deformed the skin there, raised by years of careful craftsmanship and healing over in thick scars, one atop another to become a permanent fixture. The sight of it, the beauty of the work brought him up short like a slap. He dropped his knife.

“Are you going to kill me?” she repeated, quietly and without fear.

“No,” Hannes finally answered. His head swam. “I shouldn’t have come here. I was confused.”

“Confused about what?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry,” he said. “I won’t bother you anymore.”

“Don’t.” She bunched her shoulders and took a step forward.

“Don’t what?”

She held out a hand, her cold fingers finding his. He could feel her arms shaking. Her fingertips skimmed up his wrist and under his sleeve to find his stripes, tracing the outlines. He wanted to pull away, but after a moment relaxed.

“You can stay here, for a little while.”

“I can’t.”

“But I want you to,” she said, softly like a secret. “If that’s okay.”

Hannes said nothing else, and nodding, did as she asked. Adelle drew his hands, palm up, into hers. In time he would trace the long strokes across her chest with the fat edge of his knife, listening to the changing cadence of her breathing like wind between tree leaves. They would one day share blood in the stripes of tigers and diving swallows, but for now they stood in her bedroom, resigned to the intimacy of silence.

Magen Cubed likes black holes and dinosaurs. When she grows up she wants to be the tambourine player in a psychedelic revival band. More of her work can be found at eonism.net.