I know a woman who ate her old childhood friend. She wouldn’t put it that way. She would explain the friend came to her in a dream and asked her to do so. It’s a story she tells often, because she believes it helps explain why she is the way she is now. I wouldn’t be able to tell: I am one of the acquaintances she acquired afterward.
When it happened, she had reached an age where she went for dinner with her friends one Friday in three: her favorite pastime. She dressed up. She ordered lasagna, risotto, chicken, Caesar salad, pan-fried fish if she felt adventurous.
One day she said: Steak.
Her friends stopped their chatter and looked at her in awe, and so did her favorite waiter, whom she had known since she was twenty. She would have looked at herself in awe too, if she could. She never had steak. Steaks were something she associated with her father. She always thought of that funny spark in his eyes (desire, she would now call it) when they all went out for dinner on his birthday and he ordered steak. Her, her mum and sister contented themselves with chicken and potatoes.
The steak came in. At two inches thick, like a glorious, austere plateau, it glowed among the rest of the food - full of color, capricious, fragmentary. When she cut, she discovered the inside was pink and insolent: auspicious. She toiled. She didn’t register what the conversation at table was about, even though she had no reason to believe it was any less entertaining than usual. Jaws and tongue and cheeks and hands and shoulders: all were fully engaged, and before long her sparkly top clung on to her skin, particularly under her arms and breasts and around her navel.
After twenty minutes, she was exhausted. From her plate, two thirds of the steak laughed at her - two inches thick, pink and insolent on the inside.
“Would you like a doggy bag?”
The waiter’s eyes sparkled - a joke, no doubt, but she said yes to the doggy bag, no to the drinks after dinner, and walked all the way to her flat. The doggy bag oscillated under her arm and made her do oscillate too, like a cypress persistently and unjustly harassed by a breeze.
At home, she shoved it in the fridge and dragged herself towards her bedroom.
On her bed, she raised her sweat-covered sparkly top so that the fresh covers alleviated her skin (which they did, but alas, not enough for her liking) and undid the zipper of her jeans at the third attempt, her flesh spilling joyously on the mattress.
She couldn’t remember ever feeling more exhausted.
She had a dream: that she and her sister went to visit their cousins. They all walked, as they always used to do, to the meadow where cows grazed two hundred yards away from the estate. The oldest cow - spiky hair yellowing, pink nostrils whitening, an insolence in her eyes reminiscent of better times - they called Mothermoo. Every time they went for more than a couple of weeks without visiting the cousins, the woman (then a girl) wondered whether she would ever see Mothermoo again. A few times she stayed awake all night as she imagined what would happen to Mothermoo after she died.
Sold for cheap to the surviving butcher’s in the estate, then ground into mincemeat. That distressed her deeply.
In her dream, she stayed behind and Mothermoo talked to her.
“Finish what you’ve started,” she mooed.
“But how can I, Mothermoo? How can I eat you?,” the girl asked. In her mind there was no doubt that the steak came from Mothermoo’s glorious back.
“Do it and I’ll stay with you forever. I promise.”
When she woke up in the early hours of the afternoon, she avoided thinking about the dream. Instead, she went to the supermarket and bought flowers for her vases. She had three - one in the hall, one in the dining room, one in the living room, which was Waterford crystal, a present from her parents - and they all got a new bouquet on Saturdays, all different from each other. She studied the lilies, roses, carnations, gypsophila, dandelions and tulips on offer, took a selection home, chopped, wrapped, modelled and this took a good hour or two off her Saturdays, which she liked.
One Saturday, she had a friend over at her flat and did all of her arranging in front of her. The friend, who sat on the couch all the way through, commented on how rigid her shoulders looked, how absorbed her expression as she carried the flowers from one room to another - like someone who has been put in charge of something vital: a soldier, a member of a religious order. The next Saturday, she looked at her reflection in the mirror in the hall as she walked past. Her shoulders looked dense. She didn’t look like a soldier or a member of a religious order, but someone more prosaic: a prison guard.
This time she didn’t look at the mirror. She laid out the bouquets on the dining room’s table and morosely cut off the stems in a diagonal line. A dandelion and five leaves flew away and came to fall on her black leather boots - the boots she so cherished when she first bought them, now resenting the passage of time.
They have blossomed, she thought.
She decided she owed it to Mothermoo to fulfill her wish.
Mothermoo’s wish wasn’t one that could be fulfilled quick and easy. It took her five days. She would leave work early, sit in her kitchen - lights low, television and radio off -, and slowly toil through what was left of the steak. It shrank until it became a lonely summit, but the inside was pinker.
She then lied in bed in the dark as Mothermoo toiled her own way through her. Perhaps excessive - but it was a matter of respect and also of feeling, she told herself as she felt the meat’s juices join her bloodstream, Mothermoo’s yellowing hair regaining in return the white from the days when the old cow grazed the meadows as a calf. At work the next day she felt slow, her usually vivacious speech graceless. All for a childhood friend, she told herself.
At the sixth day, she woke up and carried on with her life as normal. But she knew it wasn’t: she couldn’t quite pinpoint what, but it felt as if a new era had begun, and it was pregnant with promise.
Originally from Galicia in Spain and a resident of Glasgow in Scotland, Eva Ferry's fiction and non-fiction work has been published or is forthcoming in Salome Lit, The Public Domain Review, The Corvus Review, The Cold Creek Review, Foliate Oak and Novelty Magazine, among others.