TIE Story of the Month: ‘Hoagie’, by Jack McKenna

Dad, you carve eggplants with the sickly kitchen knife, then place the slices onto the sandwich you’ll be feeding me. It’s a hoagie, and when it’s done it’ll be filled with meat, very manly, and topped with a garden of vegetables all cut with the diseased knife. The knife is an old heirloom, brought to America all the way from Germany, and I guess the knife is so old that it’s now grown cancerous. There are tumors jutting out of the blade, leaking the pus. I’m not just if the secretions are from the cancer itself or an infection caused by it. But either way, that is the knife you use to prepare my meal.

The hoagie does not need an oil and vinegar dressing on top, the knife you’re using is providing that liquid with its pus. A thick yellow pus that we both know is infected, even though the Cartoon Network shows have told me my whole life that infected things should look green.

Your hands shake as you cut each vegetable. Your knuckles are thick, knotted tree root knuckles growing over scarred hands. The skin on the fingertips are calloused from years of missed knife strokes during woodworking. You love woodworking, a trait picked up from Grandpa, but you’re terrible at it. Your carved elephant statue stands unfinished in the top shelf of office cabinet. You did manage to finish the birdhouse though, however uneven and misshapen and un-house-like it is. Of course you use the diseased kitchen knife for woodworking too. Those poor blue jay hatchlings probably have to grow up inside pus-drenched nests.

You cough, not bothering to cover your mouth because it doesn’t matter; the sandwich will get me sick either way. You take a shot of whisky. You’re dressed in your favorite AC Moore’s sweater, the plain green one. Bought for three dollars because it was supposed to be drawn on with glitter glue as a craft for children, and yet somehow you still managed to find a sweater too big for your shoulders. It’s clear even to me that you can’t dress for shit. You also can’t cut vegetables either. Your slices are uneven and you cut too much, so now you have to throw out half a pepper.

You pull out the meat tray. Every meat imaginable sits there ready to be served. Cow meat, chicken meat, goat meat, pheasant meat, crocodile meat, kangaroo meat, Red-and-black Grosbeak Cardinal meat, Carolina Anole meat, human breast meat (female), human breast meat (male), humpback whale meat, iguana meat, horse meat; every animal on the Arc died for this meal, and it all came individually packaged and each meat was made of 65% soy substitute, of course. You unwrap the meats unceremoniously and throw them onto the sandwich, but you’ve saved the best for last. You pull out a genuine pig sausage, made from a genuine pig raised on a genuine Amish farmstead. It’s a big sausage. A nine incher. Girth. This you cut slowly, religiously, and you top off the hoagie’s meat pile with the sausage one slice at a time. The fresh pig blood turns the pus pink. When you finish slicing you take another shot of whisky.

You plate the sandwich and place it on the tray table in front of me, so that I can keep watching the television. The television is an action cartoon, with men and laser shooting robots fighting. Men with big muscles, unlike yours. You tell me that if I want muscles like that someday I need to eat lots of vegetables and meat. You say I’ll crave hoagies someday, like Grandpa did. I look at the sandwich on the tray, not touching it. The bread is soggy. I take the top slice off to look at the inside, and wish that I hadn’t. Ripples in the pre-sliced cheese has gathered the pus into pools. It smells like car tires.

I turn back, looking away from the cartoons and the sandwich to look at you. You are in the kitchen, holding the knife in a gentle hug, careful not to cut yourself, but letting the pus leak onto your stomach as you rotate in a small, shuffling circle. You’ve done this ritual every time you put the knife away for as long as I can remember. You’ve always pretended this post-culinary dance is something your father taught you, but I know you find this meditative. This calms your firing nerves, even though you pretend to not need the calming. Will you give me those nerves Dad? That anxiety? That history of depressive episodes and risk for alcoholism?

When you finish, you sit with me on the couch. You put your arm around me. I shift so that I’m not leaning against your pus covered stomach. I can smell the whisky on your breath. You point to the sandwich, encouraging me to try it. I reassemble the hoagie. I take a bite, and manage to bite directly into a pool of pus, which gushes into my mouth and tastes bitter and soapy. I swallow. I pretend to like sandwich as I choke it down, hoping to impress you. You ask me about the cartoon I’m watching, and I tell you about it. You see, the men are inside the fighting robots. You nod. The names and the backstories of the characters seem to confuse you. But you smile though and we keep watching. The channel goes to commercial.

 


Jack McKenna is a New School student expecting to graduate with his MFA in Creative Writing in May 2017. Previously he completed his undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh in 2014, majoring in English Writing and Music Composition. He has read his work frequently at The Salon Series, The KGB Bar, and at student readings. The recent shift to weirdness in his writing is largely the fault of the excellent advice of his thesis advisor, Shelley Jackson. This is his first publication.

featured image via Gerrity’s.

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