I Want My Baby Back
By KELLY MORITZ
When he saw Charlene's cherry Chap Stick pout lean in and plant a sloppy, celebratory kiss on Brent Johnson's sauce-stained lips, he knew it was over. Spread out on the plate in front of him like massacred limbs were ten, eleven wet barbecue ribs, ravaged, partially torn, defeated. Here, in this canvas tent, men of sizable gut and ego had gathered at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in the steamy heat for the Golden Nugget's annual amateur rib-eating contest and a $100 first place prize, redeemable as a Golden Nugget gift card.
Ken had a creased plastic bib tied around his neck, redundant in the face of his already-filthy tee and cut-offs; pounding pork at the fair hadn't been in the cards, but glimpsing the lineup of competitors on the way to the 4-H cattle exhibition had resulted in a swift change of plans. The ten days prior since Charlene left him had been a lonely level of hell swimming in beer, microwave burritos and late night soft-core, punctuated by a disastrous, rebound-sex-seeking night on the town that saw him covered in vomit in his pickup parked outside the corner bar. Laundry had been out of the picture, and it was starting to show as he took his assigned seat.
Charlene's breasts were bobbing energetically in her halter as she wrapped her arms around Brent Johnson, Montgomery County's new rib-eating champion and her new man of ten days, publicly at least. Sweat trickled down from the crown of her teased brow to the crease where blue liner made the signature cat's eye of his mysterious, elusive Cleopatra of the prairie. Champion Brent reached around her tiny waist, grabbing a handful of ass on his way up, and Ken felt his throat hitch and fill with BBQ sauce. Helpless, he grabbed another lifeless hunk of meat and ripped in.
Watching Charlene gather up her panties, her leopard-print push up bra, all those denim skirts and leggings and his favorite terry cloth romper she would make eggs in on Sundays, was the saddest thing Ken had seen since she had gotten in the family way, then gotten out of it. She said she had growing to do, and that it had to be alone. He didn't ask where she was going, or beg her to stay. When he didn't see her car parked in her ma's driveway, though, he knew it wasn't about growing alone.
"Dude, it's over." His buddy Dale leaned over with a nudge to the ribs. "Forget the ribs, man. It's done." Ken's fingers were drenched, sweet spicy sauce lodged in the creases of his nails and knuckles like dried blood, clutching a spear of bone, sinew and gristle; eyes unfocused, wet lips meeting meat, teeth tearing flesh. Three pounds of slow roasted baby back tugged and stretched his tortured belly to aching new dimensions as he bit, chewed, swallowed, and stared. Charlene hollered and clapped like an overgrown cheerleader as Brent bent to receive his medal and Golden Nugget gift card, beaming and heaving her chest with pride and newfound lust.
Bite after mechanical bite he was taking out of her, first that pert butt, then smooth calf, a nibble off her shoulder, the one with the winged dove tattoo. As long as he had ribs on his plate he'd eat, even after the tent was cleared and soiled tablecloths and napkins were trashed. As long as he could stuff that smoked and grilled meat down his gullet, the pain in his stomach would drown his broken heart, and he could keep her, inside.