He let the blade glide across the honing wand without looking. It was mostly for ceremony any way, so everyone in the room would know he was about to get to work, it was a way to put off the task. He knew that the knife would already either be sharp enough or it wouldn’t. It was a large knife, compared to his other tools. He hadn’t done this often but, enough to know that size would matter here.
He pressed the metal in on the bottom of the neck and slid it back slowly. The flesh split open easily as the blade sank in and came to rest on the bone. He always felt it would be faster to push on here, but it wasn’t the way. He withdrew his knife and set it on the steel table. Using both hands he rolled it over and ran his hand down the side of the glistening skin. Picking his knife back up he lined it up so the two cuts would me and began again. This time when he reached that same bone he put his other hand on the back of the blade for leverage and pushed hard once. There was a brief grinding noise as the knife wedged between the vertebrae, separating them. There was a crunch as it drove home severing the spine and passing through the other side.
He had once seen someone else, more skilled than he perform the rest without removing the head first. That wasn’t the way for him. The rest would be easier with it gone. Easier for him anyway. He moved his free hand along the inside of the body cavity. The viscera and organs had been removed by someone else, someone far removed from him. He had done the task handful of times as a child, under his father’s instructions. He supposed he could still manage it if he had too, but was grateful that the distasteful task didn’t fall on his shoulders these days. He pulled open the flap of skin and placed the point of his blade inside. He still remembered the wisdom imparted to him when he was first learning the task, “Find the backbone and stay there.”
He found the backbone.
As his knife slid along the top of the spine, farther into the flesh, he grabbed the lower half of the body in readiness. The tip of the knife began to protrude from the other side and he shifted his grip on the implement so that he could put his weight behind the next action. He inhaled and pushed forward, sawing the blade back and forth. Crick, tack, clack, click, the lesser bones were sheared off as the blade traveled along the spine. He lurched forward, and wrenched his wrist. as the knife came free at the top where the head should have been. He changed positions and cut down the lower half of the backbone. The side was off and he slid it down and out of the way, and rolled what was left of the carcass over.
Crick, tack, clack, click, the process repeated itself. Soon he held the gore covered spine in his hand, a momentary trophy for his efforts. He lay the knife down and shook the cramp out of his wrist, as he absentmindedly dropped the prize into the waiting bin. He wriggled his fingers unconsciously and then reached for the needle nose pliers. They were new, only having been used for about a week, and were still stiff and awkward to use. He rub his hand lightly along the newly exposed interior flesh, searching for tiny, sharp little bumps, as he found them he dug in with the pliers to grasp the remnants of bone, and extract them, one by one. It was tedious and he had to do this for each of the two halves of what now remained of the subject. He always meant to count them as he pulled each bone free, but somehow it never seemed to matter enough while he was at his duty.
He ran his blade along the sides of each of halves, trimming off undesirable product. Then, starting at the base, angling the knife down slightly, he cut the thick outer skin away from the softer pink flesh of interior. The skin came free easily in one piece, with barely any meat left dangling from it. He held it up and admired it’s scaled surface for a moment before dropping it into the waste to join the head and spine.
Laying the side flat he straightened the now cleaned flesh and began to carefully slice it into fillets, taking time to weigh each to check his precision. Once done he wrapped the portions in plastic for the service tonight. Twelve in all, not bad, and four still from the night before. He cleared the steel table off and washed it down. As he was drying it off he wondered how many that came tonight would acknowledge or, even know that their meal was once part of a whole thing.
He doubted most of them would care.