“When you say beef-steak you really mean beef-heart, so stop mincing words.’ The shamble leg man disliked nothing more than someone who changed one word for another word, an idea for an idea. He liked his world straight-up and simple, not addled and punched with confusion and error. (Author’s note: I will spare you the insufferableness of italics, for now at least). ‘There is no room for error, none.’ That morning, the one in query, the shamble leg man awoke with a fly in his eye. It, the fly, wove a bracket of eggs in the seam of his eye. The fly (the one in his eye) frittered in the seam of his eye. (Amendment to author’s note: I will use italics only when in brackets). No salve could soothe the itching in his eye; no ointment, balm or liniment. His eyes, the corners and the part that points inwards, were larval with roe. When the shamble leg man was a boy his mother stewed beef-heart in tripe with eel-tails and calf’s tongue. His mother slow cooked the beef-heart in a cast-iron skillet whisking the tripe into the heart, making it soft and chewy. The shamble keg man abhorred the smell, an acrid stink that filled he house with offal and boiled calf’s tongue. His mother insisted that he eat a plateful, bowering over him like a crazed alewife, hissing and biting at her lip until she drew blood, which only maddened her worse. ‘People would die for a bowl of beef-heart’ she’d say hissing. ‘Children cutting they’re arms off for a mere taste of stewed beef-heart’. He held his nose and swallowed, forcing the offal beef-heart down his throat and passed his taste buds, praying that it wouldn’t touch the side of his own tongue or get stuck in the craw of his throat. ‘Mama’ he’d whimper ‘I can’t take another bite.’ She’d press is fingers round the fork, twisting the beef-heart into the tines, and lever the fork to his mouth, his eyes watery with the stench and boil. ‘Mama I’m going to be sick’. ‘Enough’ she’d hiss ‘enough of your stupid tricks, now eat!’
Beef-heart chowder and consommé, gumbo, bisque and bouillabaisse, his mother made whatever she could from whatever she had, tripe, sweetbreads, liver (some so swollen and cirrhotic they couldn’t fit in the skillet) prairie-oysters (pintsize calf’s testicles whipped with heavy cream and fennel) outside round and flank-steak, ox-tail and wild mutton, kidneys and cock’s tongue, the gore and sluice from the slaughterhouse floor.
She either boiled or skillet-fried everything, adding whatever spices and condiments the recipe required. She rolled calf’s brains in farina and cornmeal and made a makeshift oven out of cardboard and tin-foil, then placed it over the searing meat like a Pope’s Miter. She plucked chickens and guinea fowl, partridge and wild turkeys, then poached the pale pinkish skin in a double-boiler until it turned gray and mottled.
(Byron Babcock didn’t come home) flank-steak, ox-tail and wild mutton, kidneys and cock’s tongue, the gore and sluice from the slaughterhouse floor, his eyes watery with the stench and boil. ‘Mama I’m going to be sick’. ‘Enough’ she’d hiss ‘enough of your stupid tricks, now eat!’ His wife stole his Pope’s Miter, then his left shoe then his right, and then pretended she hadn’t stolen anything at all (pintsize calf’s testicles whipped with heavy cream and fennel). The man in the hat dreamt he was dreaming, and in that dream dreamt he was awake. Food plays tricks on (pintsize calf’s testicles whipped with heavy cream and fennel) an empty stomach. Words become images of food and emptiness, a Pope’s Miter, chickens plucked featherless, guinea partridge poached to a gray offal mottle, ‘enough of your stupid tricks, now eat!’ The emptiness plays tricks on wild turkeys, gore-tipped shoes swish-swishing across the top of the slaughterhouse floor. Nothing is what it seems, ever. Ever is what it seems, nothing. The man in the hat dreamt he was dreaming, and in that dream dreamt he was awake (all that offal awful, sluice-gate bilge, all that awful offal swirling down the drainpipe maw).