artwork for Daphne Buter's short story

Shame on You, Bitch!
Daphne Buter

“I like your leather shoes,” my husband said recently. On his feet were canvas sneakers.

I took my shoes off and hid them in a corner of the closet.

“More than 40,000 elephants were slaughtered in Africa this year, because of their tusks,” my husband says this morning. “Poachers murder the big elephants and then they sell the baby elephants to the circus or to a zoo.”

“Ough, people are so horrible.”

We are eating black beans with onions, cumin, and rice for breakfast because my husband became vegan a few weeks ago.

My husband sips his almond milk. He coughs and blinks a few times as if the taste of almonds bites him. “Yeah, they make chopsticks from the ivory, you know? And other worthless stuff, like figurines and marbles. The animals are killed in Gabon in the northwestern Congo, and in southeastern Cameroon, but also in Tanzania and Mozambique.” He stirs his fork through the beans.

“I feel ashamed to be a human being,” I say. “The only beasts in this world are people. We are parasites, you and I, just like every other human being. Don’t you think? I wish all people would vaporize into thin air.” I sigh. “Well, maybe this will happen soon. All we need is just one more power-horny lunatic. One that will not be able to control his narcissism and sooner or later he will press the shiny red nuclear-war button.”

“Did you say ‘he’? A woman can do bad things as well.” He puts his fork in a bean and pricks it down. Then he eats it, slowly chewing, like a camel.

“Sure, but you have to admit that idiots are mostly men, right? I believe like 91 percent of the murders in this world are committed by men. And wars? I think all wars are started by men. So, about those poor animals … I wouldn’t be surprised if those elephants in Tanzania and Gameroon are also killed by men.” I eat a few black beans, too. They taste greasy. Like dead animals.

“But that isn’t my fault,” my husband replies, angrily. “I didn’t hurt any elephants, did I? It isn’t my choice that Tanzania’s elephant population has been reduced by 60 percent in the last five years. Why do you always make things so personal? You make me feel like I should be ashamed of stuff other people do, and I don’t like that. I am a vegan, remember? I fight against animal cruelty for many good reasons. I am a vegan because I decided I only want to eat cruelty-free food.” He takes the glass of almond milk and gulps it down his throat.

“Really? Well, I want to kill someone, right now. I mean, you started this. You made me angry with those facts. People are assholes and we should be ashamed of ourselves, not just those people, but all people. Including you, Mister No Cream Thank You. Look at the goddamn daily news on TV and you see what I am talking about. Are you Mister Free of Guilt or something? Just because you drink your goddamn coffee without cow’s milk?”

My husband farts. He does that all the time since he became a vegan.

“You are a pig,” I say.

“I’ve eaten too many black beans lately. You shouldn’t put so many onions and garlic in the bone stew and you could consider cooking something different for a change besides beans, beans, beans, and beans again.”

I look at him in amazement. I have to tame the temptation to poke him in the eye with my fork. “All I was saying before you tried to distract me from the facts by farting is that there is elephant blood on your hands, too. Why? Because you are a human being as well. That’s why you are just as responsible for the death of all the elephants as the people of Tanzania. The people there are addicted to money because we made them that way. We shouldn’t have shown them smartphones and stuff. Now they want smartphones and sneakers and even real clothes. You should be ashamed of yourself for not even realizing that I am right.”

“So now it is all my fault?” my husband shouts. He raises his index finger in front of my nose and continues: “Often these people just kill complete families. All elephants die. Dead, deceased, chopped off faces and trunks. They do this! Not me!” He spreads his arms and spits the remains of almond milk in anger while he’s talking. I can feel it drizzling my cheeks. “Like they did in 2012 in Bouba Njida National Park in Cameroon,” he adds. “Boom, boom, boom chop, chop, chop … and in 2013 poachers poisoned a waterpool in Zimbabwe with cyanide, killing 350 elephants. Got it? They did that. Not me!” Under the table he stamps his canvas sneaker. He takes a quick bite of beans. He swallows and burps. “Now tell me, woman, what the fuck did I have to do with that massacre?” He starts stabbing the table with his fork. The fork stands up in the table. “I think I hate you,” he says. “You make me stab something. Me, a vegan and a pacifist. You bring out the worst in me.” He taps his chest with his fingertips. He’s gasping for air. “Say it, or I may break your neck. Do you really believe I am resposible for all the shit in this world?”

“Calm down,” I reply. “I didn’t know you would get angry in the middle of a nice conversation. All I am trying to ask you is what you did do to save the elephants? What did you do to stop those people from poisoning waterpools? That’s a fair question. If you cannot even take that criticism then we will never be able to change the world …” I take his hand and hold it, just a little too tight, and I can tell he’s trying to get it loose from my grip because his hand feels rigid and cold. “Because, face it,” I add, “you did absolutely nothing to save those beautiful creatures! You just sat on your ass, scratching your hemorrhoids, refusing to eat eggs, and even refusing to drink a drop of cow’s milk in your coffee, and you were writing a goddamn book with the title Vegan Universe that will never be published.” I let go of his hand. “That’s all you did to save the elephants. Bravo!”

I clap my hands for him. Behind the window I see a vaporizing cloud, coincidentally in the shape of an elephant.

My husband taps his lips with his index finger. “I’ll think about all the nasty accusations you made to me,” he says. “But I have to warn you, I’ll mention facts like this in my book because they make me sick to my stomach. All the things you said about me make me sick to my stomach!” He laughs desperately but contemptuously. “Goddamn. Everyone who knows me well knows that I love elephants. I would never hurt one, and stuff made of ivory disgusts me.” His voice is unstable, as if he might start to cry. His lips are wavering.

“Yeah, that book of yours will make a difference to this world.”

My husband wipes sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. “From your mouth I take those words as a compliment.”

“You’re welcome. I really believe in your masterpiece. How many pages have you written so far?”

“Over 5,000 for the first draft.”

I can tell by the sound of his voice his mouth is dry and sticky.

“Five thousand pages? That is a hell of a lot of words. And how many trees will suffer if the work makes it into print and becomes a bestseller? About how many chapters are we talking?”

“This is just the first chapter. We are talking about chapter one.”

I nod for a while. I sigh a few times. “Coffee?” I ask.

“Yeah, black without sugar, but only if it is fair-trade coffee. I don’t want to drink the blood of underpaid people who cannot even afford Calvin Klein boxer shorts and Android smartphones.”

“Sure. There’s no need to remind me every time I ask if you want coffee that you only drink fair-trade brands. You know very well I would never buy abusive coffee brands.”

My husband is tapping his lips with his fingers again when I bring him coffee. “Talking about taking responsibility for the mess in this world,” he says, “I was thinking, what happened to that ivory picture frame you bought some time ago?”

The fork, inserted upright into the table top, is still between us. The emblem of our marriage. Fork penetrates table. Table has a mouth. Mouth eats fork.

I begin to blush. My face feels swollen like a bloodsucking tick. I take a sip of my coffee with cow’s milk and answer: “I buried it in the garden. I gave it a respectful funeral. I even tried to be some kind of a Christian and mumbled some goddamn prayers …”

“You buried ivory in our garden?”

I stare at my hands. I feel exhausted. “Yes. Where else? But why do you ask me this? You know I bought it by accident at the flea market. I didn’t know it was made of ivory. I thought that picture frame was made of cheap pig bones.”

My husband sweeps his plate of black beans off the table. It breaks into ringing shards on the floor. Ecstatic dancing porcelain. The black beans stink. They smell like an abattoir. The stench fills the room, our life, the earth full of extinct species, the babyblue zenith full of exploding nuclear bombs and dangling corpses, and it passes more than five million kilos of space debris.

I have to puke. I want to puke out humanity. I even wish I could believe in a god. My life would be so simple. A godly man who has put this whole thing together. A godly man in the sky who made 500 billion stars in a week of time. He distributed them over 100 billion galaxies. One of those 100 billion galaxies is our Milky Way, and it has about 100 billion stars. One of those 100 billion stars is a tiny star named the Sun. Around the Sun turn eight planets and one of these planets is called Earth, and the animals who live on Earth are slaughtered by beasts that call themselves human beings and they named the man who made them “God.” I picture him on a cloud in the sky. Nice blue dress, white peaky beard, and disappointment in his eyes because he could make trillions of stars, but no perfect people …

“What did you say?” my husband shouts. “You believed that picture frame was was made of pig bones? Oh my god, and that would have been OK for you? Those poor intelligent pigs are kept in narrow cages; they suffer, and they will never see daylight during their short lives; they are only there to get morbidly obese and to die. They are tortured, their babies are taken away from them, the male babies are castrated without painkilling or anesthesia. Farmers cut off their cute curly tails as soon the baby pigs are born because the animals have so little space during their stay in the bio-industry they’ll bite off their tails. They live in constant fear, surrounded by the smell of blood, shit, and death. And then they are gassed and slaughtered and the only reason they suffer so badly is because you like to stuff your face with barbecue pork chops! Shame on you, bitch!”

Daphne Buter’s Comments

This is not a page from my diary but a moment in time of fictional characters who only exist in(side) of me.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 48 | The Shame Issue | Spring/Summer 2016