Excerpt from Pastoralia by George Saunders, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by George Saunders

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  • First Published:
    May 2000, 224 pages
    Jun 2001, 224 pages

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I never drag Janet around by the hair.

Too cliché.

Just then his wife poked in her head.

"Stinks in there," she said, and yanked her head out.

"That's the roasting goat," her husband said. "Everything wasn't all prettied up. When you ate meat, it was like you were eating actual meat, the flesh of a dead animal, an animal that maybe had been licking your hand just a few hours before."

"I would never do that," said the wife.

"You do it now, bozo!" said the man. "You just pay someone to do the dirty work. The slaughtering? The skinning?"

"I do not either," said the wife.

We couldn't see them, only hear them through the place where the heads poke in.

"Ever heard of a slaughterhouse?" the husband said. "Ha ha! Gotcha! What do you think goes on in there? Some guy you never met kills and flays a cow with what you might term big old cow eyes, so you can have your shoes and I can have my steak and my shoes!"

"That's different," she said. "Those animals were raised for slaughter. That's what they were made for. Plus I cook them in an oven, I don't squat there in my underwear with smelly smoke blowing all over me."

"Thank heaven for small favors," he said. "Joking! I'm joking. You squatting in your underwear is not such a bad mental picture, believe me."

"Plus where do they poop," she said.

"Ask them," said the husband. "Ask them where they poop, if you so choose. You paid your dime. That is certainly your prerogative."

"I don't believe I will," said the wife.

"Well, I'm not shy," he said.

Then there was no sound from the head-hole for quite some time. Possibly they were quietly discussing it.

"Okay, so where do you poop?" asked the husband, poking his head in.

"We have disposable bags that mount on a sort of rack," said Janet. "The septic doesn't come up this far."

"Ah," he said. "They poop in bags that mount on racks."

"Wonderful," said his wife. "I'm the richer for that information."

"But hold on," the husband said. "In the old times, like when the cave was real and all, where then did they go? I take it there were no disposal bags in those times, if I'm right."

"In those times they just went out in the woods," said Janet.

"Ah," he said. "That makes sense."

You see what I mean about Janet? When addressed directly we're supposed to cower shrieking in the corner but instead she answers twice in English?

I gave her a look.

"Oh, he's okay," she whispered. "He's no narc. I can tell."

In a minute in came a paper airplane: our Client Vignette Evaluation.

Under Overall Impression he'd written: A-okay! Very nice. Under Learning Value he'd written: We learned where they pooped. Both old days and now. I added it to our pile, then went into my Separate Area and put on my footies. I filled out my Daily Partner Performance Evaluation Form. Did I note any attitudinal difficulties? I did not. How did I rate my Partner overall? Very good. Were there any Situations which required Mediation?

There were not.

I faxed it in.

Reprinted from Pastoralia by George Saunders by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by George Saunders. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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