The Symmetry of Things

By Matthew Allan Garcia

Symmetry was key.
       John made jerky every other month, for two weeks straight. He sliced each sliver of meat in rectangular strips, the thickness to a uniform five millimeters, cooking each batch for eight hours. Thickness meant everything. Too thick and it would be soft in the middle. Too thin, and the result would be a charred hunk of flesh and a kitchen smelling of smoke, burnt thyme, and cinnamon. He sealed them in 6 1/2 in x 5 in sandwich bags, packing them in four stacks of six strips. He took them with him hiking.
       Every morning John stopped to get a cup of tea on his way to work. Chai latte with soy, no whip. He managed a corporate escalations team, ten employees in total, and monitored their phone calls with clients, scheduled their breaks and lunches. Reprimanded them, when necessary. From noon to one he took his lunch.
       Two times a week, John coached little league softball. A group of fifteen girls. All were eight through nine-years-old. Jana, a short stubby blonde girl who liked to boss the others around, was his favorite. She’d stand at the lip of the dugout and stare down the pitcher of the opposing team, her pearly blue eyes concentrating, her hands balled into fists. She did not like losing to weaker teams. She abhorred curve balls.
       When they won, John gave them jerky.
       “These are the best part of winning,” Luna, a tall brown-eyed girl who never played consistently, said. John would have preferred not giving her any of his jerky. But he did, because he had given the others some.
       On Sundays, John’s neighbor, Maritza, came over. John cooked dinner, and they watched movies from Netflix. Maritza liked romantic comedies, but John always ended up picking. Historical dramas, or mysteries, were his favorites. Maritza didn’t come to eat dinner or watch movies. Before the movie previews were over, Maritza would have unbuttoned his jeans. She would reach in, and grin, “So what’s for dessert?”
       Every month John took a hike, either through the Sturtevant Falls loop in the San Gabriel Mountains, or up to the peak of Mount Baden-Powell. The trails calmed him, and in the presence of the giant sequoias and the minty scent of pine needles he’d wonder if he would ever be able to give up the life. He wouldn’t be young forever, after all. His bones groaned, and he grew more winded with each passing year on his hikes. Backpacking was out of the question.
       By the second month he became irritable and sometimes, at work, he yelled at staff who didn’t follow the script word for word. At the coffee shop an inexperienced newbie would add whip to his chai latte. Maritza would be sick on Sunday, and squash their plans. He grew angry, and a want bloomed in the pit of his stomach.
John made jerky every other month, for two weeks straight. The kitchen smelled of pork fat and spiced meats. Brown sugar sizzled as the fat rendered from his cuts and fell to the dehydrator pan in large droplets. In the oven he roasted bones dipped in his special marinade: green onions, garlic, thyme, a dash of cinnamon and a splash of soy sauce. For his dog, Stan. Stan panted by the stove, his mouth open in a toothy grin, tasting the smells as sure as a plant’s leaves soak up the sun.
       John pulled a long bone from the oven rack and walk out into the garage, Stan following and leaving a trail of saliva behind. He tossed the bone and Stan snapped it up mid-air.
       In his freezer, John tossed aside a bag of frozen vegetables to uncover a grocery bag, a strip of masking tape marking its contents. He removed the head from it and tossed the bag aside. Stan licked the icy, bloodstained bag when he was done with his bone.
       Out the garage door leading to the backyard, the desert sun glared down on him. John walked to the back of his half acre lot to his compost pit. Not-so-congealed blood ticked out one small droplet at a time, and marked a crimson trail to the four by four foot hole dug into the ground.
       He stared down into the hole and tossed in the head. The weight caused it to sink deep into the pit, so that only the nose and mouth were visible. The lips, crowded by egg shells, were swollen and purple, with lips pulled away from the teeth in a soundless snarl. Maggots like pale, dead writhing fingers, contorted and squirmed. The toes of a foot, skin peeled and half consumed, pointed up toward the sky, glittered aqua blue painted toe nails glistening in the afternoon sun. And for a moment, before he retreated back to the coolness of his home, John stared up toward the sky, watching as the clouds moved across the field of blue. A hawk flew overhead, and John felt an appreciation for the creature, a kindred spirit. He inhaled deeply and took in the sour smells of decomposition. A choir of rotting.
       It would reek for a few days, a week perhaps. But eventually the maggots would have at it. John would grind the bones and use in the vegetable garden, his tomatoes ripening into plump crimson fists. The dehydrator, the last bit of evidence, sold on an auction site.
       The next morning John would purchase a new one. A fresh one.
       A fresh start.
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