Sunday, May 2, 2010

Last Request

kimono walk, originally uploaded by Jenn Platt.
This week's story has to do with a bad dress and a promise.

Nothing at all to do with kimonos. Though I think my character would get more looks on the street than the girls in the picture.
When Bill died he weighed one hundred and eighty-one pounds and twelve ounces. Take away about twenty percent for bones and ten pounds for skin and there was one hundred and thirty-four pounds of meat. Give or take the weight of the blood. And certain organ meats.

He hadn’t made me promise to eat intestines or anything like that.

One hundred and thirty-four pounds is two thousand one hundred and forty-four ounces. For my age and height and weight, the recommended daily amount of protein is six ounces. Which meant that, even if I ate Bill every day, it would still take almost a year to get through it all.

I gave myself a few days off for variety, making it exactly a year. Bill was always a stickler for holidays and anniversaries, and I knew he’d like that.

Eating Bill had become commonplace in the course of a year. As commonplace as something like that could be. After it was dressed and stored, a cut of meat in the freezer was just a cut of meat, just something I dutifully cooked at night to get my protein and keep my promise. But for the last night I did my best to make an occasion out of it and commune with Bill the way I knew he’d intended.

I set the table with my best linens and the china my grandmother left me. I lit candles and put on the Gershwin CD Bill had given me for Christmas the year he started working for the university. I even dressed for the occasion; in the red and orange dress that Bill had asked me to wear to his wedding. It did nothing for my coloring and it clashed blindingly with the green walls in the dining room, but I knew he would have appreciated it.

More than all of the outward preparation, I made it a meal to remember with taste as well. I saved the best cut, what could have been equated to filet mignon, for the last meal. I made an amazing rosemary sauce for it and grilled the filet to a perfect rare. I made polenta too, with more pepper than I usually liked to contrast with the rosemary. It was a work of art and would hopefully go perfectly with the 1970 Latour A Pomerol that I’d saved for the occasion.

“To you, Bill,” I said once I’d seated myself at the table, raising my glass to the picture of him, Foley and myself standing over a three point stag on the one and only time they’d convinced me to go hunting. I swirled the wine briefly and watched the legs before taking a sip. It was a little sweet, with a roasted character, and the aromas of leather and redcurrant. I set my glass aside and cut into the filet. It was as perfect as I could have hoped for. Gray-brown outside, pink and warm inside. The taste was stronger than beef but not as strong as something like bear or elk. I had become accustomed to the texture and I had been very careful to trim the fat closely. I had used mostly bear guidelines for dressing and cutting the meat but found that it was fattier than bear and generally cooked better using beef guidelines.

I did my best to think about Bill while I ate. But like most grand gestures it didn’t hold. I was taking my time eating, cleansing my palate with salad and returning to the meat and polenta, savoring the wine, my mind wandering. I thought about keeping the lease on the freezer I’d been using to store more game. With my own freezer space I could stock meat instead of ordering a few meals at a time. “But then you’d be stuck with what you had,” I reminded myself. That was part of the charm of ordering small quantities. It was impossible to know if I’d be in the mood for black bear, boor, or quail from one day to the next. And after the last year I would definitely want variety.

I looked down at my plate, brought back to Bill. There were only a few bites left. I poured myself another glass of wine and sat back in my seat, sipping the wine, looking at my plate. It still didn’t feel quite real, quite like goodbye. Bill had been declared dead after he’d disappeared climbing. There had been a storm and they’d found his GPS unit and that was it. He left his house to his son along with the life insurance. The rest of his money had gone to the school to buy equipment for the anthropology labs. I had received his camera and his secret. I was the only one that knew he had committed suicide, and before there was all the speculation about his medical records, I was probably the only one that knew about the brain tumor. When that news came out the speculation among the detectives and the minor media involved turned to aneurysm or seizure that had rendered him unable to call for help or escape the storm. No one seemed terribly concerned that they couldn’t find his body. In the mountains other less and better known hikers had been lost without a trace before.

I glanced at the picture again and let out a long breath. I picked up my fork and my knife and started cutting. A few more bites and it would be over.

The sound of the front door lock rattling made me drop my knife in bone deep panic. Rachael wasn’t supposed to come by for another two days. I looked toward the hall and then at Bill’s picture which seemed to be laughing and then at my plate. The meat was too pale to be steak or venison, too dark to be pork or chicken, what in the hell would I tell her it was?

“Mary, where are you babe?” Rachel called from the foyer, her voice echoing down the hall.

My heart was beating too fast. I speared the meat with my fork and shoved it into my mouth. I barely got my lips closed, chewing furiously. Near the corner of my mouth my lip split with the effort to keep the meat in, I could taste blood with the rosemary and the texture of Bill. I covered my mouth with a napkin as I heard her creak the floorboards down the hall, walking in her socks. There was a breathless moment, when I could hear her coming and was chewing for all I was worth, that I was sure that I’d never be able to finish and I’d be caught. An instant later I swallowed hard and though it stuck a split second in my throat, the whole chunk went down in a painful line to my stomach.

“Oh, you already did dinner?”

With my napkin still over my mouth I turned. Rachael was in the doorway, long and blonde, leaning against the doorframe with two plastic bags dangling from her right hand.

I coughed slightly and lowered the napkin. “I didn’t think I’d see you until Monday,” I said over my heart which was still going so hard it was a wonder she didn’t hear it.

She shrugged, dropping the bags onto the cleared end of the table and folding neatly into the chair next to mine. She managed to sprawl and look tired but completely composed at the same time. “They ended the conference early when it looked like that storm would shut down the airport.” I could see her eyes going over everything, cataloguing the table, the good linen, the good china, the candles, the dress. Her eyes stopped on the bottle of wine. “Is that the Pomerol?”

Her tone was faintly accusing. “Not your Pomerol. I picked this up a few days ago. It’s a little sweeter,” I said evenly, handing her my glass.

Her eyebrows went up but she smiled slightly once she was assured that I hadn’t touched the wine she had stashed in my wine cellar. She swirled it and sniffed delicately through her wide nostrils. Everything else about her face was slight and thin, small brown eyes, defined cheekbones, thin lips, a pointed chin. Her nose was incongruous, something she was shy about. She joked that it was built for wine. She took a small sip and worked it over her tongue, her eyes closing. “Very nice, a little sweet for me,” she declared when she’d opened her eyes.

I nodded in agreement; I wouldn’t have picked this bottle for her.

Her eyebrow arched as she set the glass back on the table. “So,” she drawled, “the wine? That dress? If there wasn’t one place setting I’d say you were seducing some poor colorblind woman.”

I saw an easy explanation like a gift in my mind and let out a shaky breath of relief. “Bill really liked this dress for some reason.” I looked down at my plate. “He went missing a year ago today.”

Relief and guilt were warring for dominance when I felt Rachael next to my seat, turning me to face her, wrapping her arms around me. I breathed into her neck and held her around the shoulders.

“I’m sorry babe, I completely forgot. I wish you’d said something, I wouldn’t have gone away this weekend,” she rambled near my ear, rubbing soothing circles across my back.

I pulled away a little and shook my head. “It’s ok, I was fine.”

She tipped my head up with her fingers under my chin, surveying my eyes when I met hers. She rubbed her thumb over my bottom lip. “Your lip’s bleeding,” she said softly.

I touched the stinging spot with the tip of my tongue and tasted blood. My stomach already felt like a tight ball under my heart, the tang of the blood made it roll.

“I’ll kiss it better,” she said, leaning in and gently kissing the corner of my mouth. She lingered a little and pulled back with a slight smile that was somehow sly and concerned at the same time. “I’m going to put this stuff in the fridge and you’re going to change and then you and I are going to finish this wine in front of a fire in the living room. Sound good?”

I nodded and she stood, kissing my forehead before she straightened completely. I watched her scoop up the bags and make the turn into the kitchen. Once she was out of sight I felt like I could breathe again. I dropped my napkin onto my plate and let out a long sigh toward the ceiling, scrunching my eyes in disbelief over her timing.

My heartbeat was just beginning to slow when I heard the shriek behind me. I was on my feet bolting toward the kitchen before I’d even made out any words in the inhumanely high sound. I skidded to a halt just inside the doorway.

Rachel was standing next to the sink with the sawed end of a bone in her hand. The head of the femur, the greater and lesser trochanters clearly visible. Due to time constraints I hadn’t been able to get all of Bill away from the bones before I froze him. The last three cuts had been attached to that bone. Which I’d fully intended to get rid of it before she came home.

“What the hell is this?” she was demanding at a full shout. Rachael was a forensic anthropologist, she knew exactly what it was. She knew or she wouldn’t have started shrieking in the first place.

I stood in the doorway looking on stupidly, wincing at the volume. I said the first and only thing that came to mind, loudly over her shouting. “It was Bill’s idea!”

There was a pause of absolute silence in the kitchen. Then Rachael looked at the bone and threw it away from her, into the sink with a sharp clatter. “You ate Bill? You fucking ate Bill?” She ran out of the room with her hand clamped over her mouth.

“You don’t understand. It’s not what you think,” I called after her, stumbling down the hall in my heels, not sure of what she was thinking. I found myself locked out of the bathroom where I could hear the horrible wet sound of her retching into the toilet. I knocked hard on the door. “Rachael please let me in.”

The sound of retching increased and then she grated out, “Leave me the hell alone.”

There were tears pricking the backs of my eyes. I leaned against the door to keep from sliding to the floor. In a week Rachael was supposed to move in. I’d been putting it off, putting her off while I finished with Bill, not wanting to get cornered in awkward questions. “He asked me to. It was this whole communion thing, residing in his friend. He was completely obsessed with the idea. I didn’t really get it but I promised. Please open the door.”

Rachel’s voice came through the door, rough and exhausted. “You better turn yourself into the cops before I do, Mary.”

I hadn’t thought of the cops. Not since that first week when they were looking, asking everyone questions, before they found out about the tumor. Somehow the prospect of jail time didn’t seem as important as Rachael understanding what I’d done. “He was dying, he knew he was dying. This was his last request.”

When she didn’t answer I sank to the floor next to the door and wrapped my arms around my knees. If she did tell the police then it was likely that they’d indict me for his murder as well. There would be nothing to substantiate my claim that it had been suicide. All of the evidence of that had been eaten up.

“Eaten up?” I whispered to myself. I dropped my head onto my knees and made a hysterical sound between a laugh and a sob. Bill had killed himself and I had eaten all the proof.

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