“The Butcher’s Vines”

One year I got a summer gig managing the vineyard of a family friend.  He had been a surgeon since the eighties but things had taken a turn and that summer found him in his third year of unemployment. Something had made him believe a small plot of vines out behind his house would be a good way to spend his free time, but eventually his interest in maintaining them waned.  That’s where I came in.  Ten bucks a visit, three times a week. Just until things were under control. Easy enough, I thought.

I knew the vineyard needed work, but I wasn’t prepared for the eyesore that greeted me the first time I drove up.  Weeds and grass stood waist deep between the rows.  The vines were a tangled overgrown mess, twisted in amongst themselves like curled bundles of gnarled, knotted fingers.  Packed clumps of brown grass – tattered dens where mice and other rodents had taken up residence – sat like scabs on the ground.  Birds nested freely throughout the vines and upon my intrusion a wave of irritated chattering swept through the plot.  From the look of it, things were regressing to a feral state.

“It’s hard work,” he complained.  This surprised me coming from someone who used to cut living bodies open as an occupation.

After a long day I headed to the house to collect my fee.  He met me on the deck with a bottle of cheap wine and two cloudy mason jars.  “A treat,” he said.

I used the small corkscrew on his pocketknife to pop the cork, then filled the jars to the rim.  We sat on a couple of rusty deck chairs watching the sun inch towards the horizon, and we drank in silence.  Midway through our second glass he fell asleep, his chin resting at an angle above a checkbook tucked comfortably in his breast pocket.  It rose and fell with his soft breathing.

I finished my wine, rinsed the jar in a spigot, and made my way down his unkempt footpath to my car, unpaid.  As I fished the keys from my pocket the last bit of sun dipped out of sight leaving behind a bloody smear on some lingering clouds, and I looked up at the dim figure of the surgeon sleeping on the porch and wondered how many people had been butchered on his operating table.

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Nick Thornburg

About Nick Thornburg

Nick is a graduate of the University of Iowa, with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Theatre Arts and Cinema & Comparative Literature. He currently resides in Southeast Iowa.