A surreal banquet for the senses.
Words by Ida Asadi & illustration by Ida Asadi
According to Mother, the four of us were born from a glass of Mother’s breast milk that she had once left out for too long in the sun and had curdled. Curdled right up into four babies.
Mother milks, and has done right since puberty: her breasts flow unrelentingly with maternity. Us four came from the mammary rather than the ovary.
Virginal milk. Mother and Father had not yet laid together that day the milk curdled into four strong children. So Mother was claimed to have virginal milk and celebrated as the new Mary.
If there lays any truth in this claim, I do not know. All I know is that I saw something in the pantry that changed my mind of the Mother Mary rumours.
I was seven years old and thirsty for a glass of water. I crept down to the kitchen to see the door of the pantry ajar. Inside was the cook; in his undershirts and pants, patterned all over in sweat, and mother, crouched over the table on all fours, nothing on but her black silk stockings. He was milking her like a heifer; her breasts swinging in mute parade.
Growing up, the cook was mother’s lover, I am sure of it. I think it was he, who collaborated with Mother, milked her and cooked us up.
Perhaps Mother is the new Virgin Mary, I cannot be sure. But I know for a fact that we four are no children of God.
Tonight I must repent for my sins. Mother wants us all to have dinner.
To sup, to feed, to devour. We are here, yet again, to partake in this process called eating. To gormandize, carouse, fare, devour.
I am Dieter. I make wine like a bee makes honey. I breathe wine and eat wine; I piss out rivulets of red. Cut me open and I bleed Chateau Margaux.
Tonight I am the first to enter the dining room which is still with the absence of guests. The table is set in all its glory. The white linen stands clean and crisp; ready for the stains of our outpourings.
The dining room is just as I remember; the chandelier that drops above the absent heads holds a brilliance, each diamond sending a ray of light towards the cutlery. The cutlery is made from some form of bone. Like ivory, but not quite ivory; the bones are more brittle, less creamy; they seem smaller, and slightly darker. They are so delicate that every time I dine here I wonder if my knife will take a particularly large piece of meat. But every time my doubts are quelled; the knife slices through the steak like butter and the tongs of the fork hold the brawn as would a weightlifter.
Mother dreams of perfection and here not even the salad fork can be an inch askew.
After some time, Father enters and greets me. He asks about my work and my health and then, after these formalities are concluded, he makes no more attempts at conversation. Eventually Mother walks in and I am to stand and greet her. Her dress is beige, clinging to her frame.
She asks about work and I tell her everything she wants to hear. When she nods her head her bosom shakes as if in disagreement. I know she does not believe what I say; I have been drinking as much wine as I have been making, and tonight is the punishment for that; to dine with my family, I am to repent. My soul, like this eerie place, is to be wiped clean and thoroughly organised.
While we talk the other three guests arrive one by one: Thomas, Hanna and Kristin. Ah my brother and sisters! They approach me as one might a distant uncle.
Thomas takes my hand to shake and I take it back, his hand, like a skeletal glove, smooth in mine. More delicate than a sparrows neck. Although he inquires into my well-being, his wandering eyes suggest a lack of care. Thomas has always had the ability to look straight through you, with no bitterness or strength, simply a lack of focus or attention.
He holds my hand all the while I speak and I wonder if he was not my brother whether I would like him at all. When I finish speaking he drops my hand and nods solemnly. He looks at me in a strange way, with pity in his eyes as if I am that poor animal roasting in the oven downstairs; as if it is me that has been covered in herbs and salts and tied up with string.
Kristin comes to greet me after she hands mother a bunch of white roses. Beautiful Kristin, glowing like a little pearl. Whatever dark juices lurk behind those eyes I can never tell; her mask is a clever one of grace.
Where have you been hiding Dieter, she sneers.
Making wine I say.
Our table is very large, and I take the place next to my Father.
We all seat ourselves at the table and I am paired next to Hanna, who gives me a stiff hello and nothing else. Today her dress is made from thin brown leather that she wears tightly bound against her, as if a support for her thin frame and nippleless breasts.
Opposite me sits Kristin, next to her Thomas, and Mother and Father sit at opposite ends of the narrow rectangle. White roses the colour of milk stand on the table between us.
The maid comes by and fills the family’s water goblets with water. She leaves and comes back again, filling the wine glasses with red wine: my wine, the wine that I have made myself. When the maid reaches Hanna, the insolent girl places her hand over her glass as if to say: no wine for me. The maid nods politely and exits the room.
You’re not drinking my wine, Hanna? I ask.
Hanna cannot allow herself to be stained red: the colour of blood and the colour of love. She thinks that if she were to take a sip, the slippery liquid would run straight down her throat, through her intestines, into her womb and out of her vagina. She, like our late Queen Victoria, has a horrendous fear of the menstrual, the growth and birth of anything inside of her. Her period never came; she willed it away so fervently. I know this from Kristin.
I smirk, thinking of all those poor hounds she kills and the red-stained carpets of grass she leaves behind her. Of course, the crimson of death does not disgust her; here she has complete control.
Raising the glass of wine I take an inhale, rich and toxic, and gulp. Ah, that sweet bitterness! It evades my throat like that familiar whore who enters your bed; knows your body and knows your ways. Returning to her is a comfortable informality which never ceases to excite me.
What most people don’t know is that making wine is a strenuous and complicated process that requires much skill. If you want to make wine that is putrid and defunct, then the method to go for is the one of the barrels and the squashing and the months and months of waiting for something to happen. But if your wish is to drink delicious, transcendental wine, then you must take an alternate path.
You start by eating grapes as slowly as a cow eats grass; with deliberation and purpose. I will sometimes chew a single grape seventy times before I allow myself to swallow a drop of the extract. Sometimes, before eating one of those little red balls, I let it slide around my mouth and dance around my molars as if it is a missing tooth. I make it go as far down my throat as I can without swallowing it and then squash it with the back of my tongue. The squashed grape sends a shiver down my emasculated spine, as if I have crushed my balls in an instant.
By eating the grapes slowly, you allow them to be properly deconstructed and thus ferment in the lining of the stomach. There they can sit for seven hours. Very importantly, you must not eat or drink anything else during this time. After the seven hours are done, you regurgitate the hot, vapid liquid in fragmented bursts into sterile bottles; carefully vomiting in bursts so as not to waste. The wine is then bottled up and sold for several thousand across Europe.
You can imagine that this leaves me as a very rich man, and with piles of money mounting by my bed, I can do nothing more than buy wine and drink and drink and drink.
I have the stomach of a horse. How much wine a horse can drink, I do not know. But I do know this.
One evening a gentleman came to my vineyard and asked to see my certificate in health. Having taken no measures to receive a certificate of health, but being extremely confident in my produce, I challenged the man to see fifty men drink my wine without becoming ill. If one was to feel unwell, I was to hand over a fine and my vineyard. He accepted and so I went and round up fifty men.
That day having been a holiday of sorts in Italy, in which the people of the town celebrated their beautiful Virgin Mary, I could only find seven or so men to take part. The health inspector grew impatient and told me that he had business elsewhere that day, and so I put myself forward. That day I drank seventy-eight gallons of wine and not a drop less. I was merrier than ever and went to join the celebrations of the beautiful Mother Mary, just a tad heady and a clean tick of approval from the astonished health inspector.
Caviar is served. I take a careful bite. Each egg finds a nest between my teeth and then slips away again and I imagine them swimming down my throat like sperms. Ah, so eggs do swim: they cannot simply sit like royal queens on their thrones!
My grapes are like my eggs, they sit in my stomach and grow and then turn to wine. It bores me to hear women with a bump complain and whine about the difficulties of child bearing, for I do it everyday at work, and have never once complained.
The Consomme Olga arrives; a soup clouded like urine. I imagine it to be what Father’s urine would look like; a deep yellow-brown. He drinks the consomme with one sweeping scoop of his spoon. I dribble the warm urine soup on my tongue. Odourless food.
Thomas does not touch the liquid in front of him. Instead, forward gazing, he speaks on and on in a croon; uttering nonsense to the family. Thomas has read about a religion based on self control. Mother does not understand but she bobs her head up and down. Father slaps him on the back and tells him to speak up boy! and I am sure I heard one of his thin fish spines crack.
Mother takes a large swig of wine and beckons for more. The red has begun to stain everyone’s lips, with the exception of little Hanna; white and crisp, never quavering from her piousness.
Hanna, I say, it does offend me to see you rejecting the offer of my wine. You know, people have travel from various countries to visit my vineyard. And they are never disappointed.
Dieter, I told you, I am drinking champagne. Doesn’t that satisfy your hunger for insobriety?
Not really. I take it as a personal affront.
When Kristin was young she brushed her hair with fish spines. She washed in the salted water of the sea. She dived for oysters and every one she found contained a perfect pearl. She would give them away as gifts, often to Mother.
Baroque, she explained, when I asked her once, I am looking for the misshapen pearl.
Kristin’s beauty lies in her imperfection; like a misshapen pearl she resonates loudly in our memory, a completed incomplete, and we are always left wanting more, curious for more and more; stumbling into her pool of complexities.
The maid carries in the next course: Poached Salmon with Moussalin Sauce and cucumbers.
The salmon is still steaming lightly when it arrives and the pink of the fish reflects upwards; the heat flushing everyone’s cheeks until they look not unlike the dead fish themselves. I am reminded of the ouroboros, eating itself whilst simultaneously giving birth to itself.
My family starts, and cuts the fish against the layers of flesh that are inherent in the fish and consume. Fish on fish.
Now we are past the point of eggs and stock and we have entered into the land of flesh; with blood under our nails we are like animals.
I begin to eat and it is delicious. The cook is excelling himself tonight.
Eating seine, letting the flesh dissolve in your mouth and allowing it to take control of your body is momentary. The fish is gone and the sauce is a thick white stain on my plate. I look up to Kristin.
I see something dripping out of her mouth and onto her plate, something whitish in colour. I ignore it and turn away, but beneath my revulsion I can feel the stirring of a twinge of arousal.
Looking back at Kristin the white liquid had gone from her mouth and she is dabbing a napkin at her lips. Inevitably my curiosity is aroused and underneath the table I can feel something on the way to becoming an erection pulsing by my thigh.
Father talks with his mouth full and Mother says Oh do be quiet, but he continues on, faster, bits of fish flesh flopping out of his mouth as if the poor creature is trying to escape that monumental jaw. He gestures also, excited now. The source of dead life has given him a rise; I can see it starting.
He is colossal. Even while he eats I can see him growing broader; muscle piling atop muscle; shoulders gaining an inch, neck growing a fist in size. The fish takes almost no time to digest; simply processing itself into pure fleshy fibre as osmosis.
Like a grandiose Louis XVI his appetite stretches to at least five chickens a day, one lamb and the belly of one cow. Lashings of gravy and barrels of potatoes are side orders and for breakfast he eats twenty six eggs. When we were children, he would pour himself a pint full of milk and empty it down his throat with a sharp swig. Then another and another would follow, and us four were left feeling as if we were the ones being poured down that throat, that any second he might mistake us for little pints of milk, standing out in the sun, and tip us back with no hesitation.
The maid prepares the sixth dish of the evening. The meat.
Fathers ears prick like a dog; his pupils dilate and his muscles flex, and I wonder if under his pants his penis is standing upright to attention too. This morning he had killed her; shot her with his gun. He said she ran fast and this will mean we will run fast too if we eat her, but about this I am not sure.
The maid struggles over with a large silver platter which she places in the centre of the table. Father lifts off the lid. A little deer lies there, stomach open and legs askew. The head is still attached, tongue lolling, nostrils wide, and she is surrounded with roasted potatoes and asparagus stalks; decorated like a grotesque Christmas tree. I imagine that to be my coffin; my lifeless body atop a silver platter, drenched in red wine sauce. What a glorious way to go.
Father starts to carve the baby deer slowly because he says he wants to make no mistakes. I help with the slicing of the thighs. She, that is, the animal, is placed on a silver serving platter so that any blood or juice does not leak onto the table.
I think that the sycophantic venison has started to play with our sensations. The leg, the chest, the breast, the feet. The lolloping tongue. The testes. We want them all and there is little space in between thoughts but meat. This hairless fawn, served like a woman’s freshly shaved pink leg arouses everyone.
Hanna is getting hotter; her body grows wetter with the thought of that redness. Pious Hanna, she eats diligently; from necessity rather than want, but she can never resist the temptations of dead flesh, and this baby deer has been freshly butchered for our oral pleasures. A symphony of flesh. A symphony of fibre.
She begins to eat and, oh, with what venom she begins. I recoil at Hanna’s appetence. She fills her mouth like a whore fills her body; a cheap, disposable machine. Flesh, muscle, tendons; her cheeks blow out with the vacuous stuff.
Father has decapitated the beast now and I have the pleasure of the having the head.
The eyes of the fawn are no bigger than apricot pips.
A layer of fat rims the fawn’s nostril. I poke it with my fork and it slides off. I push it down onto my finger: my own personal engagement ring; given to me by a doe.
Before subjecting myself to the chewing, I suckle the meat, just a little. She tastes like wine. Or is it blood? Blood tastes like wine to me; just as Jesus offered his arteries up on a plate, so did I take and take and take, cutting the sinews with my teeth
I place the meat alongside the potatoes on my fork. Pink and yellow; the colours of candy.
All we have left are the stalks of asparagus, scattered on our plates like trees fallen in a forest. Hanna pecks at one underwhelmingly while Father forks the green stalks around. After the meat, this piece of green stick seems mundane; the blood is not yet dried from our nails and we are expected to devour cold greens.
The only person with much interest in them is Thomas, whose petite appetite and ominvourous attitude holds vegetables in great esteem. With not much else in his stomach, I see him slide one down his throat like a phallic rod. Another he slurps up like spaghetti.
I am stuffed like a goose. Every inch of my body swells with the weight of the food.
Here I pause. A wooden board arrives laden with bread, cheese, grapes, figs, crackers and more. Another arrives heavy with various fruits. Kristin takes a fig and splits it open; licking the seeds in their juices. She looks up to see my gaze and smiles, her teeth filled with the seeds of the fig.
Father has raised his face from his plate to stare at Kristin’s smile.
We have reached the Language of Fruits.
I watch as Kristin cuts the peach into segments. She does it with a knife and then her fingernails. Inside the flesh is white. She hands me a segment, wet and sticky and I slide it down my throat like a slug. The fur-lined skin rubs against the back of my throat as it goes down.
Kristin’s skin has begun to turn pearlescent. I can see the fruit sliding down her throat is silken and semen-like. What froths at her mouth like foam? Her skin a milky dew which shows no signs of veins, but gleans like the surface of cream. I wish to lick it like a cat.
Hanna gazes at me; as disinterested as Thomas, but with less of his absentness. Her gaze is more like that of a hawk. Hanna; eventually, it is inevitable that the hunter becomes the hunted. She is bound tightly like a Japanese bondage girl, ready to unravel.
Perplexed, I can see her Puritanism slipping into a coma. Her mouth slackens and she emits an effluence; a leakage of some sorts.
The first thing the Gods ate was Ice cream. After that, common food tasted like sawdust to them and they never went near it if they could help it. They had the ability to dine only on ice cream because in Mount Olympus it flowed in the rivers and streams. If you look closely, there on the Mount, you can see Venus lying in a pool of the stuff, taking it in from every orifice. Zeus is higher up, scooping up the snow-like substance with hands the size of baseball mitts.
Ice cream is served, and tonight we are each presented with a unique flavour. What artistry, the cook has outdone himself tonight!
Mine arrives as a ball of iced dark chocolate cream, swimming in wine. The brown sphere in the red liquid looks horrendously biological and I am at once revolted and excited. I look to Thomas who has received a small green ball coated in gold and topped with mint. Mother has a pure milked cream. Kristin has received iced almond milk with rose water and baby irises, bathed in champagne.
I bite into the flesh of the chocolate. A bitter sweet cacao. The ice cream is so sharp I gasp.
I sip at the wine syrup and then cannot help myself but lift the bowl and slurp at it, letting the wine fill my mouth. I gurgle it like a thirsty calf.
We all eat noisily. Normally this is anathema to me. But as I eat, I begin to forget what it was that I normally think.
A synesthesic experience evades the table as we eat and I begin to see my smell and hear my taste and that iced cream turns to crumble beneath my tongue and I am swimming through the thick air with my thoughts. I had a name but now I am not sure. I am nameless and I am a whale; heaving on our table suffering under the weight of the food.
I notice with a startle that from my mouth a red liquid smelling of wine has been leaking out, pouring out steadily in currents. As I look up in surprise at Kristin I can see that from her lips something thick and white akin to pearls, no, perhaps closer to semen, empties out. From Mother’s mouth milk gushes out, her breasts flowing, her mouth dribbling with the stuff, all the while she drinks the milky substance on her plate, the tablecloth by her breasts getting steadily wetter.
I can see Father chewing, slowly, trying to avoid the conflict his family is facing, and yet; a dark red, a blood, a steady stream of blood forms, the blood of an animal, the sign of power, the sign of metamorphoses. Hanna spits out…
I am intrigued and disgusted by the group of invalids before me, unable to contain their own sense of self, and yet by my own protrusions I am proud. I am what I eat. I become in that moment a goblet of liquid wine, faster than Dionysus did create when his lover died, a young boy, and he crushed those vines beneath his feet, something spilled out more putrid than juice, more venomous.
We were wrapped tight: Kristin, Hanna, Thomas, Mother, Father, even me, and now we have begun to unravel and something spills out. The drip is regular and suddenly it gushes. We discharge externally.
To my left, Hana’s eyes roll back into her head and she looks swamped as a fish. Her vomit smells like meat and she pusses like a sore. Her stomach swells under her tight dress. I can see that the skin on her face is brittle with the beginning of what can only be feathers. They are prepubescent feathers; falling like hair on her cheeks, but they cause her skin to rise in bumps. With her nippleless breast she can transform between man and woman, mammal and bird. I think the hunter has become the hunted.
I am the ouroboros.
I grab at a chunk of bread and swallow; I think it tastes like Jesus’ body. His flesh becomes my sinews.
Ah! That was not bread but my own arm. I devour myself, eating my skin and licking off the blood. The blood tastes like wine. I eat the flesh slowly, nibbling each vein and chewing the arteries.
I spot my head on the table, hair bathed in gravy and neck decorated with swollen apricots like an amber necklace. Mother is already tucking in, grabbing an ear. She’s always liked the tougher meats. Fathers stabs at my cheek, his fork coming away with a hunk of succulent red brown flesh, a silver lining of juicy fat beneath the skin.
There, at Fathers end, is Mothers thigh, studded all over with garlic cloves and peppered in nutmeg spice. And there are Kristin’s breasts, simmering in olive oil. And here is Father’s shoulder, in front of my dish, standing like a boulder, swimming like a majestic swan in a pool of red wine sauce.
Kristin has turned paler and softer. The contours of her body become unclear. She is shining like the chandelier, wetter and brighter than the silver platter beneath her. I want to swallow her like an oyster, the way Thomas ate his asparagus; without hesitation, without chewing. There she is; ready to be swallowed. I reach across the table and take her hand. It melts under mine, soft as cream. She begins to vibrate. I hold on harder and something gives way under my hand. A piece of flesh the colour of milk. I put it to my lips; it tastes pink, like a fresh water fish.
I move over the table, lean over and suck the ice cream from her lips. I bite her lips and eat her mouth.
I swing her tongue around in my mouth like I did earlier when eating the fawn; a dead piece of meat.
I suck her clean until there is nothing left on her chair but a string of pearls.
When Venus was playing one day with Cupid, she scratched herself a little too hard on one of his bows and unravelled into the depths of what she thought she knew best; love.
Tonight I have scratched myself a little too hard on myself and spill out, cascading in leaps and bounds. My resistance gave in and I repented harder than ever before, I purged my soul, shat it all out.
I look over at Thomas, who has frozen stiff; a whisper of a statue left on his chair. I think his flesh dissolved away to reveal a collection of bones.
The cook comes out and we wearily give him our congratulations. He humbly thanks us. He seems not to notice the mess we have made; puddles of sick streaming through the silverware and blood decorating our clothes; a missing Kristin and a frozen Thomas. Mother has a bloody stump for a leg and Fathers body lollops un-gentlemanly with his missing shoulder. Me, I smile up from my head on the platter.
Before he leaves I see him wink at Mother. I reach for the wine, my arm like a ton of milk, and pour it down my neck.