Written by Nicole Mousicos
Art by Andrea Piacquadio
The air had been singing in silence since the plates had been turned over and the meat had been brought in; the twelve men around the table found themselves completely occupied, chewing and swallowing, humming their approvals and scooping remnants as if the meal would be their last. They all sat in suit and tie, hair combed for the occasion and faces freshly shaven, skin buttered in the saffron of the setting sun. They sat, indeed, five against five apart from the two men who took positions at the head of the table, themselves brandished in gold and silver, and they shimmered like coins. Their dining room had not been decorated, other than the dining table replaced because of the damage, which the host had cursed immensely.
Therefore, the dining room remained as true to itself as it had become. Wallpaper strewn and walls blasted through, leaving ashes of drywall and crumbling bricks about the floor. Red curtains torn like streams of blood, loose bullets and inactive grenades and old carcasses, birds and rabbits and men. Window glass littered and the beams of the roof hung loose, apart from a few that croaked with movement. The smell of smoke lingered in the air, along with metal and rotting flesh, and the meat—fresh, soaked in herbs and spices, wafted upward like an aftertaste. The men ate ravenously, despite. Littered the table with greasy skins and sticky bones, puckered their fingertips to their mouths and left handkerchiefs orange and scrunched on the table; laughing with their mouths open and scooping up more when their cheeks were already full. That had been, however, only the first two courses, the starters of soup crawling with prawns and then slices of chicken, beef, lamb, pork, duck and rabbit crushed between fresh bread or boiled potatoes and vegetables.
Plates were cleared, conversations fizzled. The third course was to come imminently. Everyone sat in silence, although many held excitement on their expressions and quick whispers were even more quickly hushed. The final course was introduced, and then, it was presented by the large cage that was lowered down to sit just above the table, dangling from one of the more secure beams. Inside, there lay a woman, naked, shivering and sputtering, her skin pale and wrinkled like prunes, toes and fingers vaguely blue. Her hair was thin and straw-like, such that you could see the paleness of her scalp, eyes red rimmed and lips flaky. She whimpered, quietly in pain, for at her shoulder blades were two deep crimson gashes, which, although had been cleaned up (the men wouldn’t have wanted to look at such a thing whilst they tried to eat) still shone with newness. At the sight of her, the men glanced at each other and gazed in wonderment, moving into applause as the two large wings – juicy and battered, were placed in the middle of the table.
They wasted no time in beginning to devour the meal. Forks and knives stabbed at the meat, dripping with its newness, and the men, so hungry were they, lapped it up like puppies. A few muttered and sung their approval, others clapped those at the head of the table on the back, for having secured such a new and rare sensation. As the woman wobbled, the cage rattled, but none of them ever looked completely upwards. Maybe they cast a small glance and quickly turned away, or nodded in approval at her trembling stance as they chewed and chewed. The foot of the cage was coated in blood. Eventually, her breaths became shallow, and one of the men made a joke that sent the rest of the table into hysterics. When she began to drip, however, through the bars, some of the men complained, their meat could not be stained with blood, they exclaimed. Their plates were replaced. The woman was moved, cleaned, and brought back out again. By the time she had been, the plates had been cleared and their spirits had returned. The scars on her back had started drying.
The head of the table rang promptly for the next course.