“So,” said Murphy.
“So,” said Moore.
And together they heaved the five hundred kilogram corpse above head height and pierced it on the swinging butchers hook. Moore cleared his throat, and Murphy swung his head in a circular motion emitting a loud crack of bone on bone. They stepped either side of the second cadaver and crouched down. Lift with the legs, not the back: the sensible mantra of health and safety.
Skinned, gutted, relieved of its head and legs, and ready for boning, the weight was still considerable. And together Murphy and Moore slung another dead cow onto another steel hook.
“Good morning,” said Murphy. “Did I say that already?”
“No,” said Moore. “You didn’t. Good morning, Murphy.”
Moore stepped across the room to the sterile storage compartment and withdrew two large hand-held hooks, and two long upwardly curving butcher’s boning knives. He walked back to Murphy and the two hanging carcasses, and handed over a hook and a knife.
“Thank you,” said Murphy.
“You’re welcome,” said Moore.
The room in which they stood was morning fresh, and as clean as it gets in a working day. Spotless white tiles on floor and walls, and fixtures and fittings of shining stainless steel. Murphy and Moore wore white from top to toe, including their hair nets and elasticated shoe covers. They each drew in a small table and positioned them to the left of their cows.
Moore placed his hook and knife on the table, lowering them at a controlled rate so that the sound of them making contact with the surface was minimal. He arranged them millimetre by millimetre so they were centred on the tabletop and their handles were parallel.
Murphy put his hook down, the metal on metal emitting a ringing ting. He held the boning knife before his face and peered at the blade, inspecting it from hilt to tip. Murphy and Moore reached the same conclusion and, as Moore continued his incremental tabletop adjustments, Murphy took the initiative.
He walked back to the storage locker and retrieved two 20cm steel knife sharpeners, then returned to Moore, handing one over.
“Thank you,” said Moore.
“You’re welcome,” said Murphy.
They each approached their respective tables and examined their tools. Moore picked up his hook and began carefully scraping down and sharpening the tip, approaching from this angle and from that. Murphy took up his boning knife, enhancing its already considerable sharpness with long steady strokes of the bevelled file. They stood back to back, alone except for their tools.
“We have a good day ahead of us,” Moore said to his hook.
“We sure do,” replied the hook. “I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.”
“There, how does that feel?” Murphy asked of his knife.
“Excellent,” replied the knife. “You really know how to wake me up in the morning. I feel sharp as a new pin.”
“Murphy,” said Moore. “How was your weekend?”
Murphy didn’t answer immediately. Holding onto the handle of his knife sharpener he placed the tip against the metal surface of his table. With motions of the wrist the tip glided back and forth against the steel emitting a scratching screeing that Murphy imitated vocally. He cleared his throat and tapped the sharpener three times.
“Fine,” he replied. “Yours?”
Moore didn’t answer immediately. He blew gently on the tip of his hook and placed it in the exact spot on the table it had previously been. Lowering his head close to the surface he peered with one eye at the blade of his boning knife. He considered the benefits of investing in a jeweller’s magnifying loupe. Once the thought had entered his head he was unsure as to why he hadn’t thought of it before. With close magnification, perhaps 30x would suffice, he would be able to exactly asses the suitability of his tools. The perfection of his blade would be beyond his ability to achieve merely with the naked eye, and the best possible without the impractical employment of an electron microscope.
“Yes,” he replied. “Fine.”
In silence they took up tools and began the day’s work; separating chuck from rib, brisket from shank, and loin from flank. They took care to ensure perfect cuts every time, with minimal damage to connective tissue, and smooth cleaving through flesh and bone. Whole beef enters their chamber and leaves as skilfully boned cuts to be shipped to butchers across the country. Moore and Murphy can each cleanly bone hundreds of cows a day.
The hook is held in the left hand, and is used to control and manipulate the position of the meat, while the knife is of course used to separate the various cuts according to the familiarly established beef chart.
“I had another argument with my wife yesterday,” said Murphy.
“Oh no, really?” enquired his knife.
“Yes,” replied Murphy. “If I’m being honest to myself I can’t really see us lasting much longer. Our youngest is going away to university next year, and once she’s gone I imagine we’ll separate.”
“You feel like you’re just staying together for the kids, and once they’ve all left home there’ll be nothing left to keep you together,” summarised the knife.
“Exactly,” said Murphy. “We don’t talk much anymore, I don’t think she feels much love for me, and I hate to say it, but I don’t know if I love her anymore.”
“Well, your daughter is staying at home for another year,” began the knife. “And a year is a long time. Don’t think I’m just offering platitudes, but who knows what could happen between now and then. Think about it; do you want to save your marriage?”
“Of course I do,” said Murphy.
“Why?” demanded the knife.
“We’ve between together so long,” said Murphy. “I don’t know how I would cope without her.”
“Is that it?” asked the knife. “You don’t want to lose her because you’re worried about washing your own clothes and watching TV alone?”
“No of course not,” protested Murphy. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Then what?” the knife said resolutely.
“I mean I,” stammered Murphy. “I mean I still love her.”
“Then tell her,” insisted the knife. “When was the last time you told her you love her?”
“I can’t remember.”
Every word spoken filled the hard tiled chamber with repetitions of itself as it bounced from wall to floor to ceiling. As Murphy’s last word echoed and then died, silence returned to the room. The gentle and professional slicing of meat caused sounds barely audible to all but the most attentive listener. And so Murphy and Moore continued as the morning progressed.
“Yesterday was the nine month anniversary,” said Moore. “I haven’t had a drink for two hundred and seventy-five days exactly.”
“That’s fantastic,” congratulated his boning hook.
“Thank you,” beamed Moore. “I am feeling rather proud of myself.”
“So, how did you celebrate this momentous occasion?” chimed the hook. “Not with a drink I hope?”
“I wish,” chuckled Moore. “I made a flask of tea and went trekking in the fells.”
“Alone?” inquired the hook.
“No, I went with the fell walking society,” Moore said. “You should join us some time.”
“Maybe,” said the hook. “I’m not sure if it’s my sort of thing really.”
“Nonsense,” insisted Moore. “It’s invigorating. You should bring your wife. It might help you find some common ground and perhaps reconcile your differences.”
“I’ll consider it,” said the hook.
The conversation was interrupted by the siren indicating the abattoir’s lunch break. In silence Murphy and Moore downed tools - Moore with practised precision and Murphy quickly and casually - and moved into the next room. They removed their hair nets, shoe covers and aprons and scrubbed their hands with soap and water. During their dinner hour they sat together and ate.
“So,” said Murphy, halfway through a plate of chips.
“So,” said Moore later, over an empty plate.
And together they returned to their work places, donning their hygienic hair nets and aprons, picking up their tools and preparing for the afternoon’s toil.
“Murphy,” said Moore. “How was your lunch?”
“Fine,” said Murphy. “Yours?”
“Yes,” said Moore. “Fine.”