The Meat Sweats

by Michael Czyzniejewski Read author interview December 16, 2013

It’s three a.m. and I’ve got the meat sweats real bad. I’ve been driving around since midnight because I can’t go home, and at this hour, there’s no place left. I’ve done fifteen laps around the city and am thinking of getting a room, a place to shower, rest, regroup before facing Evelyn. If she sees me like this, we’re through, but if I don’t get home soon, it won’t be hard to guess where I’ve been. Either way, I’m cooked, and that’s if the sweats don’t get me first. After all I’ve been through, nothing would surprise me.

Then a coyote starts jogging alongside my car and I’m surprised. I’ve seen this coyote before, standing beside the “Welcome to Belmont!” sign at the outskirts of town, staring me down as I passed. This coyote has just one eye and is the size of my riding mower. At fifteen mph, he keeps pace. I press down to twenty and he doesn’t lose a step, and not until I hit twenty-five do I lose him. Then I catch a bad break: train. I stop, the engine bearing down, and the coyote catches up. Fuck me if it doesn’t leap on top of my car. Its head dips down to my window and I hear his growl through the glass. I put my car in reverse and spin around, vaulting the coyote onto the hood. I drive, the coyote staring in at me, its legs splayed, trying hold on and burst through the windshield at the same time. I slam on my brakes and it lunges forward then slips off to the passenger side. Two miles down the road I see the tiny spider web in the windshield, one more thing I’ll have to explain.

The last time I had the meat sweats, Evelyn nursed me back. She didn’t preach when I was gorging myself on pork steaks, six slabs in fifteen minutes. She didn’t say a word while she held my hair back at the toilet, my temperature 103 and rising. As an ER crew pumped my stomach, she didn’t rub it in, just held an icepack to my brow. When I was released two days later, she announced she’d thrown out the bacon, three tubes of hamburger, the stack of sirloins in the freezer, a rotisserie chicken from Meijer, even the bacon bits from the cabinet. She said she’d be done with me if I ever put her through that again. I swore she was more important than meat, promised we’d grow old together. She believed me and I believed me, too.

At four a.m., cops pull me over. I’d been swerving, half from nodding off, half from the sweats. I know they won’t believe I’m not drunk, that I have the meat sweats and I’m trying to come down before going home. This officer, Sergeant Lucido, isn’t listening, and his partner, a big guy who looks like he’s known the sweats himself, stands idly by. Lucido thinks I’ve done a two-liter of blow and makes me walk the line on the side of the road. I stay straight, dizzy but in control, mosquitos buzzing my ear, fireflies dotting the bordering soy field. I wonder if that coyote’s still tracking me, wounded but starving, me giving off this scent. The cops let me go, but not before big Officer Joseph hands me a brochure he fetched from their cruiser. The brochure is titled The Meat Sweats and there’s a picture on the cover flap of a grieving widow at a coffin, two orphaned children, a boy and a girl, on each of her sides.

When Evelyn was just eighteen, I introduced her to things she only thought she knew. She’s from St. Louis, was a freshman at UMKC, and claimed that Chicagoans knew hot dogs and pizza, but pork ribs? Missourians had us there, their dry rubs and masterpieces and whatnot. I invited her to my apartment, where I kept a little hibachi on the balcony. As the coals fired orange, I dusted the raw pork with cayenne, then laid the meat on the grid, an inch above the heat. She didn’t intervene until I flipped the meat and used a paintbrush to douse the sizzling side with sauce, told me I was ruining it, grabbing my wrist. She insisted that ribs should be dry, that we’d do the sauce at the table. I petitioned she be patientthis was our second dateand she fidgeted but complied. I flipped and brushed two dozen times, layer after layer of sauce caramelizing to a crust. As soon as Evelyn bit down, I had her. At 105 pounds, she demanded seconds, thirds, fourths, until we were out of meat. From there, I dragged Evelyn down and I still owe her for that. She’s since found the power to walk away, two years now since her last sweats. I only wish I had her strength.

I pull into the driveway, sending the mailbox over my hood like a persistent coyote. Our bedroom light goes on and Evelyn in her robe greets me at the door. I’d stopped at Denny’s to wash, but instead ordered their barbecue burger, rare, with onion rings and a Cherry Coke. I ask Evelyn to come with me and she follows, flipping the coffee on along the way. Outside, I drag my hibachi, the Kingsford, the lighter fluid, and my tongs into the trash receptacle by the garage. I turn to tell Evelyn I’m done, that I relapsed but am D-O-N-E done, but she’s gone. I expect to find her inside packing, certainly crying, but instead, she’s rifling through the trash. Inside a grocery bag, inside a Styrofoam container, a dozen naked rib bones hide with some coleslaw and wads of used wet wipes. Evelyn drops the mess onto the floor and tells me she loves me. I do the same, pulling her against me, perspiration glistening her forehead, shining like gristle on the fifth flip.

About the Author:

Michael Czyzniejewski grew up in Chicago and now lives in Ohio, where he teaches at Bowling Green State University and serves as editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review. Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Review, and the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 and You Must Be This Tall to Ride. His debut collection, Elephants in Our Bedroom, was released by Dzanc Books in early 2009.

About the Artist:

Nancy Wartman is a freelance illustrator who has studied art at Northern Illinois University. She presently is an art teacher at an elementary school. Her specialty is watercolor but recently enjoys working with oil pastels.