Seven chops for my Mary, wrapped up in wax paper. She likes the thick ones. Worms in the last batch I prepped; grubs, big as stones, flicked them out with my thumb, tossed to the old dog out back. Mary in the meat locker years before. Mary, Mary, how does your garden grow? I ask and pull up her skirt, get a good look; it grows quite well, a wood for the world to roam. Our swollen lungs, ice in my mustache, sniffly hearts, drunk on port, lying face up next to piles of sweetbreads.
I get all my meat from the local slaughterhouse, Boyd’s. A big red “B” droops over the entrance. They say Stan Laurel was born next door. A lanky kid running loose in the dirt fields, tipping his imaginary bowler to the dandelions but no Hardy then. He was born in America; bred in the swamplands of the South, a fat boy raised for fame. Now an Armenian runs the house; he’s a squat man, all business. Concrete floors covered in blood and bone, bone and blood! A street seller’s call.
Beast is my main specialty. Beast being what we call beef cow. I pick my cows by hand, run my palms over their coarse haired backs then check their undersides. The local farm grows them, so to say. Feeds them clover, alfalfa and flax, horsetails and grain. I call up Boyd’s and I say: have them deliver the boys: Luddy, Bern and Captain Slick. No noses in the grass this Sunday and they deliver fresh carcasses to my door.
There is no bad cut of beef; it’s all in the prep. I quite like the jowl if it’s cooked right. Really tasty. Jowl for dinner with seven cousins and two aunts, parsnips and beets and Mrs. Singh brings Vindaloo and beer.
Professor comes in on Tuesdays: a big man, all beard and heavy wool hat–always orders sirloin. It’s our favorite here; the cut is delicate–three fingers thick. I eat a bit of it raw, to scare the young kids–I am a cannibal! I roar and they snicker but it’s like butter, so soft and sweet in the mouth. Good cuts today, I tell him, the knighted loin, one should say. The king knighted this cut just for you! No, no the word is Middle English, surloine, he throws out, his beard jumping with answers. Derived from the Old French word surlonge, meaning sur la longe. Just above the loin. I sigh.
A dozen tongues in the back, soaking in brine. We'll have them in a week or so. I’ll cook it up and sit in the garden, under the Alder, bring out my plastic TV table, slabs on my plate, or in sandwiches with sides of salty olives and a twig of rosemary, no wife or wine but my newspaper in my hand. Sliced thin in a puddle of mayo, my puddle of mayo, drifting within the sins of the world.
I bone a duck whole on Friday, pale, puckered flesh on a plate with no cage, no bones. It was a fiddly job, like taking a ship out of the bottle with tweezers. It’s for Mrs. Chun. She brings me wine for that–a good year–I’m told–before your children were born. No children, I tell her, oh but you will, a dozen or so by the next frost. And drink it with good company; it tastes better, she says. She’s old; long in the tooth, they say, her teeth like the donkey’s at the flower stand in town. Perfection, she whispers and lugs the cold bird home.
Kidneys are good in pie. I’m a fan of the little beasts but they're pure torture on the tongue. Urine in the mouth all day like a bunch of ravers held me down and pissed in my mouth, a knife to my throat. It’s a guilt pie, I say, swallow it down but the after taste is a party gone wrong; flat beer and cigarette butts and passed out girls abound. Lancashire hot pot, very tasty. Made with the scag end of the lamb. “a scrag of meat and a spud” the poet Lawson once said. My marriage ended that way, it rolled, wrestled about on tall waves then came grinding down, a dead halt. We sat dizzy in the dirt, in the scag end.
When the teenage girls roll in to grab pasties or mutton rolls, they chew loudly, gum and sweets, these girls with bold faces, these girls with rosy eyes, faces black and some pink, all full of posy and I warn them now, wager a finger at them: How can you have any pudding, if you don't eat yer meat?" They don’t get the reference, old fart, one of them says to the wall.
Anil, Mrs. Singh’s boy comes in today to buy mutton. Ma is making Saag Ghost, he says, my favorite and Dad’s too. You are making saggy ghosts? I say, the tired, the depleted, the frightened souls by the door? His thick lips pucker sweetly. Gosht, gosht, lamb with greens, hard to get here, at home, fields and fields. Thick with greens! The fields are going away here, the gold diggers digging and the tractors plowing wrong. Corn by the ton in America, their animals and people are made of corn, there’s no blood and veins left, corn in the blood, meat in the head.
For the blood pudding I use goat blood, congeals the best. Add chestnuts; throw in some barley. Sometimes I serve this on Saturdays with mead; a light honey wine from the Polish grocer. I pretend I’m a Viking or a Visigoth from the North, run amok in the shop with my samples and yodel in a forgotten language, I babble and bump, they love me, they love me. The Black pudding’s mostly for Mary’s husband. He’s thick in the head now, Taxi accident on the street. A shame.
Been working since I was eleven, smoking in the back with my pa, cutting slabs of this and that, this and that, and pattering about with the knives, all sorts and sizes, cold in the morning, steam from the radiators and the heavy stink from meat, sporting dead beasts on your back, bad for the frame but good for the brain. In the end I won’t be here. Will set up shop on the other side, how ‘bout Cumbria? The Isle of Man from my window, the Irish Sea on my floor.