Originally published in Artifice
Welcome to Contrapasso, an elegant steakhouse where, just as for every sin there is an appropriate consequence, for every appetite, there is an appropriate dish.
Shrimp Cocktail $11.95
When Mara was a girl, she knew it was a special occasion when her father, a man of appetites, didn’t even bother with the menu. He just pounded his heavy hand on the table and grinned at the waiter, said, “Shrimp cocktail for all of us.” He watched his family sucking the meat free from the tail, wouldn’t start eating his until his wife and four kids had finished every last shrimp in that glass chalice. He didn’t care if they were hungry or not. They were to eat.
Oysters Rockefeller $15.95
Mara was so named because it had been a difficult pregnancy. Her mother would often tell her, as a child, “Giving birth to you was a hard hard thing but carrying you was even harder.” Her mother never got comfortable with the ways her body changed, and her husband, the man of appetites, grew increasingly insatiable. He was on her all the time with his thick, hairy hands, and his hot breath and his loose tongue. Mara’s mother went into labor with her husband inside her. It took ten days for her parents to come up with the right name, but her mother, a devout Christian who often took to her Bible, thought of Naomi who grew so bitter that she asked to be called Mara because, as it was written in the Book of Ruth, the Almighty had dealt with her bitterly. Her father looked at the pale, squirming thing in his arms and agreed. “It’s a fine name for the girl,” he said.
Beef Carpaccio $23.95
She stopped eating as a game. To push herself. To get raw. To see how far she could go. She wanted to know things. To see if she could disappear. She starved until she felt light and bright and euphoric. Until everything smelled sweet. Then she gorged. She ate until her weakened stomach stretched taut, gave way to ache, until she imagined the foods digesting through her body, weeping through her blood into her pancreas, liver, lungs.
Fat of the calf $18.95
To satisfy gluttony—salty, gelatinous, slick between teeth bloody meat seared cold, fibrous. Best eaten with stained fingers, flesh torn apart, mouth open and angry.
Filth with Human Oils $7.95
To satisfy sloth—To be sucked into the mouth until the rancid taste of it constricts and you are left, eyes bloodshot, tearing, hands grabbing at your own throat, desperate. To revel in dirt, in grime, in squalor, until filth becomes second skin stretched over limbs, veiling eyes, consuming everything.
Caesar Salad $9.95
When her first husband proposed to her, it was a classic scene. They were at a restaurant they couldn’t afford. After the salads were served, and they had removed the anchovies, setting them carefully on the bread plates, her first husband got down on one knee. Mara told him she needed to think about it. In the awkward pause following the unrequited proposal, the waiter shifted uncomfortably, his arm aching beneath the increasing weight of the ring he bore on a silver platter.
Wedge Salad $9.95
Her first husband nodded to the waiter who cleared his throat, removed the lid from his platter and presented the ring, two carats, princess cut. She smiled, held her hand to the base of her throat. The waiter slipped away, relieved to be free of the spectacle. She reached for her soon-to-be husband’s hand, held it tight, ran her thumb along his knuckles. She looked into his eyes, told him she had a confession to make, that she was in a difficult position. She was a lousy house-keeper, she said. Just couldn’t be bothered with domesticity. Her place was a sty, that’s why they always spent the night at his place. He laughed. The tightness in his chest disappeared. I can live with a slob, he said.
Grass-Fed Boneless Angus Ribeye $47.95
Even though the first marriage didn’t last, she had a good life but sometimes, she liked to pretend she did not. She liked to listen to the serpent, to reclaim Adam’s rib. She took whatever cash she had in her purse and she drove. She drove until she had to roll down her car window and turn the radio all the way up. She drove until the only thing keeping her going was the shot of adrenaline she felt each time she realized she was falling asleep. Only then did she pull into the parking lot of the next highway motel so long as it had a neon vacancy sign and wasn’t part of a chain. She handed the clerk her money, carefully smoothing out each bill before sliding it across the counter to the clerk. Then she took the key or the little plastic card and she went to her room.
Porterhouse for Two $62.95
She liked the ice buckets and the bad furniture and the thinning bedspreads with unidentifiable stains. She liked the old telephones, the ones that never let you stray too far away from your conversation. Sometimes, she dialed 9 and then the number. She called her ex-husband and ignored the sound of his new baby crying in the background. She told him she missed him. He never said anything but he never hung up first. He listened and tried to ignore the throb in that place in his heart where she still resided. It was money that tore them apart. There were other things she failed to confess before they exchanged their solemn vows. She liked to spend, to buy things she did not need. Their closets were soon filled with clothes they would never wear, still bearing the tags and extra buttons in their tiny plastic bags. She bought things for a nursery—onesies and blankets, sheets and safe toys, outfitting the room with everything but the one thing she could not buy.
Filet Mignon $51.95
They saw specialists. There were accusations. They tried treatments, all of which failed. They tried adoption but she had a past and they had no future. And then it was just the two of them in their big house straining at the seams with all the things she bought and all the things they would never have. One day she came home. All of it was gone.
Lucre, Filthy Market Price
To satisfy avarice—A generous portion served with the feel and smell, the hard cold press of coin, so much coin that it weighs you down, bends the spine until it curves, cripples and is then broken.
Grilled Nieman Ranch Pork Chops $36.95
Her friends started to worry about the toll of things. Between the starving and the subjugation, she was more wrathful wraith than woman. When they confronted her, over lunch in a public place, for safety, she lashed out at them. She reminded them of the worst parts of themselves. She called them pigs, told them to go somewhere and rut. After they left, shaking their heads, their lips pursed, she ate the food on their plates, used her fingers, filled her mouth until her jaws ached. As she drove home, she suddenly pulled over, leaned out of her car, kept her eyes wide open as she purged herself, heaved until she felt light and free.
Revenge, Served Cold Market Price
To satisfy wrath—Bled free, skin sloughed from muscle sloughed from blood sloughed from bone.
MEAT AND SEAFOOD
Stuffed Chicken Breast $32.95
When she finally understood that her husband, a coward if she had ever known one, wasn’t coming back, that there was nothing she could do to get him back, she became angry. She didn’t work through her anger. Instead, she enjoyed it. She went to the seedy part of town, had the words Never Again tattooed along her spine in calligraphic script. As she lay on the vinyl table, her breasts trapped in a painful configuration, she told the tattooist to press harder, to make it really hurt. She wanted the ink and everything with it to run deep. Her request was obliged.
Live Maine Lobster Market Price
Once, as a child, she watched her father cook lobsters in the backyard. It was the Fourth of July. He threw them into the boiling water alive. The sea creatures screamed, and they frantically moved their tails until they fell limp and later were eaten. Now, in the wake of her divorce, she envied the lobster and the privilege of such pain. She went online and learned about people who enjoyed torturing others. She sought them out, subjected herself to the lash of a stranger’s whip, and the bondage of a stranger’s rope, and the cut of a stranger’s blade, until her body became exquisitely sensate. She allowed herself to be chained, her limbs stretched until her bones threatened to break from their sockets. She learned to endure. She learned to forget. She eventually forgot she had ever been someone’s wife. Then she remembered again.
SIDES AND ACCOMPANIMENTS
Sautéed Spinach $6.95
Sometimes, she followed her first husband’s new wife. He didn’t wait long to remarry. Within a year he had replaced her with a woman who could do many of the things she could not. The new wife was a small thing. She was pale. She had thin ankles and a narrow waist. A woman like that, a woman who wasn’t strong, she couldn’t be trusted, Mara thought. The new wife liked to go to the park. She went with her fancy stroller and her fancy diaper bag and her red-cheeked little boy who she bounced on her hip as she talked to the other new wives. When the baby boy cried, the new wife often ignored him. In these moments, as Mara stood on the edge of things, watching the life that would have been hers, her heart felt like it would fold in on itself. She watched no matter how much it hurt. She had learned to endure. She was strong now.
Hash Browns $6.95
Before long, the police showed up at her door. They wrinkled their noses as she stood in her doorway, trying to conceal the consuming filth behind her. There was a restraining order, they said. She had to stay away or there would be trouble. She stepped onto her front porch, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. “Don’t you understand?” she asked. “They’ve taken what’s mine.”
Onion Crisps $6.95
She took the piece of paper, folded twice, that the officers handed to her. She had it framed, carried it everywhere she went. She walked up to total strangers, held it out to them proudly. She said, “Look how much my husband loves me.”
Trio of Mushrooms $6.95
She was walking downtown, clutching her picture frame when she caught a glimpse of herself in the window glass. Her long hair lay against her scalp, slick, matted, fungal. Her body was skeletal. She smiled. She had never looked more beautiful. But Mara also understood that it was a beauty only she could appreciate. Three women walked by her, arms entwined. They laughed and smiled and shared secrets. Mara understood what she needed to do. She returned home, threw everything out but her bed, a towel, one set of sheets, the picture frame. She went to the grocery store, bought food. She took a shower, washed her hair, combed out all the tangles. She would belong. She started following the new wife and her first husband again. She was smarter this time. She watched them enjoy all they had taken and all the things she could not have. She burned hot and bright.
Bitterroot Sauce $4.95
To satisfy envy—To aid with digestion and degustation, to bring out flavors.
Artisanal Cheese Plate $21.95
Before she married, Mara dated a cheesemonger. He loved to talk about cheese and the making thereof, how the milk was separated into curds and whey, then given over to bacteria and allowed, essentially, to rot. When he came home each night, he smelled sharp, ripe, and she enjoyed the baseness of it. When they made love, it was indulgent and sloppy and the ripeness of him would overwhelm her. Eventually, his propensity to let things linger got to be too much for her, but after her first husband left, she thought of the cheesemonger often because she knows he would have stayed long past everything between them had rotted.
Irish Coffee $3.95
To satisfy pride—To erode thin membranes and enamels, to render that which goeth before the fall unrecognizable.
Dark Chocolate Ganache Cake $9.95
In her clean, bare home, Mara sat on the floor and waited. When her first husband showed up at the door, she was not surprised. She ushered him in, apologized that there was nowhere for him to sit, nothing she could offer in the way of food or drink save one of the bars of dark chocolate they had given as favors at their wedding. She handed him the bar wrapped first in silver, then with paper labeled with the names and the date of their nuptials. He took it, shifted uncomfortably, then handed it back to her. He said, “You have to stop following my wife, my child. You have to stop watching us late at night.” Tears welled in Mara’s eyes. She reached for her first husband, held his face between her small hands. She said, “If you come back to us, I’ll leave your other family alone.”
New York Cheesecake $9.95
They went to New York for their honeymoon. It was the first time for both of them. The city overwhelmed Mara and she loved how tiny she felt, and how the women there were like her—thin, hungry, their bone structures pronounced. She loved how people took care of themselves and how everywhere she looked, even the ugliest thing held beauty because it was part of the city. Everywhere they went, she and her first husband held hands, even when their hands got sweaty and their fingers stiffened. They smiled when they were told they made such a lovely couple and felt giddy inside because they blended in so well with all the beautiful people.
Harvey’s Bristol Cream
Fonseca - Bin #27 - Ruby
Quinta do Noval
After her first husband went back to his second wife and their baby, Mara went running. She tried to sweat her bitterness from her bones. She searched for safe harbor. She returned home to wait.
Remy Martin, X.O.
Remy Martin, V.S.O.P.
Her first husband went home to his second wife and their baby. They ate dinner, put the baby to bed. He sat on his front porch, rocking in the wooden swing, enjoying a fine cigar, one he got from his second father-in-law when the boy was born. He made love to his second wife, took his time. Later, he kissed his wife and the top of their baby boy’s head. He packed one bag, told his second wife he would always take care of her. He would visit when he could. He said he loved his boy more than his life. He said this was the only way.
The Macallan, 25yr old (Highland)
Glenmorangie, 12yr old, Madiera Wood Finish
Glenfiddich, 12yr old
Mara unpacked her first husband’s bag when he came home. She refolded his t-shirts and boxers and socks, set them in an empty drawer neatly. She hung his slacks and dress shirts and ties in the closet. She placed his razor and toothbrush in the bathroom next to her toiletries. She kissed the palms of his hands and said, “It will be like you never left, only this time we’ll grow old together.”
Knob Creek, 9yr old, 100 Proof
Maker’s Mark, 80 Proof
Wild Turkey, 8yr old, 101 Proof
To satisfy lust—Her husband goes to work and comes home and eats the food Mara puts in front of him. Sometimes, on long walks late at night, he goes to the house where his second wife and his baby boy live and wait for something to change. They stand by the window, the second wife holding the boy on her hip. They smile and wave. They are patient and trusting and open. He is comforted in the knowledge his name will live on. Mara’s first husband who is also her second husband who is another woman’s first husband drinks three fingers of bourbon straight before coming to bed each night. He fucks his first now third wife but he doesn’t kiss her, not sweetly like he used to. He touches her but he doesn’t love her. He uses her and he hates her and he hurts her and she lets him. He says, “This is what you fucking wanted.” He slaps her face and sometimes he spits in her mouth and bites her cheek. She watches her first and second husband sleep, how he startles awake, and his muscles are always tense, his brow furrowed. She does not know this man. Mara still burns hot and bright for the things she has lost and cannot have.
|Roxane Gay's writing appears or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Blip Magazine (formerly The Mississippi Review online), Cream City Review, Annalemma, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and others. She is the co-editor of PANK, an assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, and can be found at http://www.roxanegay.com. Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011.|
Artifice is a nonprofit literary magazine, published twice annually, that aims, by content and context, to showcase creative work aware of its own artifice. We publish pastiches, mash-ups, remixes, formalist experiments gone awry, sly metafiction with a heart, and other sorts of text machines. We do not believe that formalism or experimentation need or ought to be heartless.
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