The Last Barbecue

Kevin had thought about the ideal location for weeks before settling on this spot. It wasn’t far from his favourite camping spot, where he and the boys would set up for long weekends of fishing and rabbit hunting. Now he was here and it was really happening, all those memories were making him dry in the mouth. He was getting choked up. He wasn’t going to cry, though. Kevin was a man with a job to do. One last job.

He pulled out fifty cents from his pocket, pressed the starter button, and laid his barbecuing tools out on the bench next to the hot plate. While he waited for it to heat up, he opened the esky. He grabbed a beer out from beside the carcass, skinned and shining under the cling wrap. He paused and looked at it, then he ran a finger down the length of its spine. The flesh squished at his touch, just like any other meat.

Suddenly angered, he slammed the lid of the esky and went back to drinking his beer and prepping for the cook up. It might not be the right thing to do, but he was here now. He was locked in.

Skinning it had taken longer than he’d expected. There were so many little toes to get around. He knew he could have just cut them off, but if he was going to go out this way, he was committed to enjoying every morsel of flesh he could suck off those bones.

When he was satisfied that the tiny corpse was seared to his liking, he picked it up with the barbecue tongs and threw it onto his dinner plate. It nearly filled the whole thing. Perfect.

For almost a year now, he hadn’t been able eat a single mouthful of sausage, a sliver of steak, even a taste of chicken breast without breaking into hives, at best. At worst, he would go into full blown anaphylactic shock. The doctors had puzzled over it for months; meat wasn’t something you just became allergic to overnight, if at all. Kevin was a medical curiosity, poked and prodded by dickheads with stethoscopes who couldn’t tell him when he’d be able to sit down to a lamb kebab again. Finally, after analysing test after test and realising that there had been a spike in related cases on Sydney’s North Shore, they asked Kevin if he’d ever been bitten by a tick.

“Yeah,” Kevin had replied. “A couple of times. But I flicked it off and it was all good.” He’d laughed. “Don’t tell me that little bastard’s the reason for all this!”

But it was. Kevin had been struck down by mammalian meat allergy, and he would never be able to eat the flesh of another creature again.

All those beautiful Sunday roasts, Saturday night barbecues and late night Maccas runs had been ripped from his grasp, all because one little bloodsucker bit one little marsupial that couldn’t digest animal products, and then bit him, passing on one tiny protein from that furry bastard into his circulatory system, where it multiplied and took over his body, until he was allergic to that one thing integral to every red blooded bloke’s identity (after beer): meat.

Apparently there’d been a massive increase in the number of bandicoots in the area around Kevin’s place, and with it had come an explosion in the local tick population. Their favourite food? Bandicoot blood, although Kevin was apparently a close second.

After six months of nothing but rabbit food, Kevin had almost lost it. He decided he needed to eat flesh again, even if it killed him, which it probably would. He desperately longed to have something that could bleed between his teeth, something you could order on a range from blue to well done. He wanted to devour a victim of factory farming, from paddock to pan to plate.

The worst bit was watching his wife Sharon chow down on anything she wanted. You could do that when you were pregnant. While she was downing a steak and chips, Kev was stuck sucking on a kale smoothie or some other hippy bullshit. Now the baby was here, the smell of breastmilk was constantly wafting through the house, reminding Kevin of veal and lamb and all the other baby animals that were even more delicious than their parents. It was driving him mad.

He knew he had to get his revenge, even if it killed him.

Kevin took one long, final look at his last meal. He could smell the meat juices hanging in the air, making his stomach queasy while making his mouth water. He pulled out the pictures of his mum, Sharon and baby Eddie one last time, kissed each in turn, then put it down on top of the esky.

He tore into his kill. It was such a relief to taste non-plant based proteins again. Plus, it was fucking delicious.

Once he was done with his grisly feast, Kevin lay down and waited for his immune system to betray him. He thought about what the cops would think when they found his body, probably frothing at the mouth, tiny bones strewn around him, an enamel plate smeared with tomato sauce by his side. He wondered if they’d be disgusted by his crime, or if they would find his tastes understandable once they understood his circumstances. Maybe they had always wanted to do it themselves, but never had the guts to do it. Maybe they’d find it ironic that Kevin didn’t have the guts for it either.

But at least they’d know he had gone down fighting. He hadn’t gone quiet into that good night. He’d seen the cause of his own problem and taken vengeance in his own proud way.

At least they’d know he’d taken one of the bastards down with him.

Fucking bandicoots.

Downstream

The rains had come
Upstream
The twins expected thunder
But the river always
Refuses expectations
Instead
The air was still
Save the warbling of the magpies.
Cicadas, light and scorching heat,
Like the rains would never come.

Then we saw it
Slinking slowly
Like the story of the snake
The First of Us have been telling
For thousands of years.

The kids chased its head down the creek bank
As it slithered down the waterway
And I beamed in wonder
At this long withheld blessing.

I saw the twinkle of dew in Mum’s eye.

I took her hand,
And tried to forget all the days
The water had been too late for.

I whispered to her,
Maybe he had to go
Because he knew they wouldn’t listen
Unless he asked in person.

Her grip became a vice
But there was no sound
Despite the streams staining her cheeks.

So that’s how we stayed,
Hand clasped in hand,
As the kids pointed and laughed and raced
The rainbow serpent around the riverbend,
Downstream.

 

*****

This poem won first place in the Open Own Composition section at the 2019 Dubbo Eisteddfod. You can find the adjudicator’s notes on my Instagram.

Flanders Fireworks

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My dear Edith,

Your last letter has been pressed to my chest for the last month, and I apologise for not replying sooner. The rain has been unrelenting, and I did not want to spend ink and paper on a letter that would likely be destroyed by the wet. Please know that the delay in my response does not mean my love for you has in any way diminished. On the contrary, it grows each day, as does my longing for your touch and your company. You are the heaven I carry to get me through this hell.

One of the photographers from the War Office visited recently to take pictures of how we’re all getting on. He was here two weeks; he got lice after the first, and took ill with a fever by the second. It must be nice to be able to head back home because you’re itching and have a warm head.

Before he left, he showed us some of his photographs from his last visit to Ypres. Some of them showed just how ghastly it is here, but some were strangely beautiful. We spend our days and nights living under the constant shellfire, so it’s hard to see any kind of bright side to it, but one of this fellow’s pictures of the night sky over the trenches was remarkable. He had let the exposure of the film run longer than usual, so you could see the trajectories of all the artillery fire overhead. Upon seeing it, I was struck with immense awe, the paths of flying gunpowder, metal and death somehow breathtaking. (The irony that they also take away the breath of those they hit was not lost on me.) The sky was lit up like Guy Fawkes Day, lights streaking along high above the horizon. I feel grisly thinking about it, but it was so beautiful, perhaps more so because it was trapped on film and not aimed at our positions.

But none of those fireworks could ever shine as bright as the torch I hold for you, my dear Edie, and no photograph will fill the ache in my soul that comes from being robbed of your darling smile and wit. (Please send me one all the same – I would love to show the lads what a prize and joy I have waiting for me back home. They will be terribly jealous, and I will be terribly proud.)

I love you forever, my darling. Give Mother a kiss for me, and thank her for the socks.

With all my heart, and all my kisses, I miss you and love you dearly.

Forever yours,

Bert

 

*****

This post was inspired by the photo at the top of the page, highlighted by a post on r/WritingPrompts. Click on it for a link to the Flickr page for the original recolouring.

Please note: this story was written on the fly as an exercise, so I can’t guarantee that any of the historical elements are factual.

Don’t Tell Him About Vincent Castiglia

I could have picked any of a number of actually confronting images, but I want my blog to be relatively SFW.

It’s such a rich colour, full of iron and platelets and life. We need it in our veins, in our hearts and brains, or it’s game over. When you think of all the symbolism, it makes sense to use it in my work. Portraits are, after all, a portrayal of life, committing something fleeting to something permanent. By using this as my paint, I infuse the canvas with life itself.

Mix it with water and you can get all kinds of lovely shades. I add aspirin to keep it from congealing on my brush, or to make a putty that I smear on with a small trowel when I want to add texture. It’s not dead like monochrome, but it leaves room for imagination in a way that full colour cannot. You get to decide whether his hair is brown or black. Are his eyes blue or green? As long as all the shapes and strokes are right, you can tell who it is or what they are thinking. You don’t need all those other details. They’re already in the paint.

He is going to make a fine subject. His long, black hair flops over his face so you can’t see his eyes. He laughs with friends in a way that makes me think of kestrels – he doesn’t screech like they do, it’s more that the sharp decline in pitch as he pulls out of the hoot reminds me of the sharp drop they make before they capture their prey. I wonder how I will integrate that sound into my painting. It seems so intrinsic to his personality that I feel a need to incorporate it somehow. Perhaps I will perch a bird of prey on his shoulder, wrapped in his dark locks.

I watch him as he leaves the bar. He stumbles on the step, despite the fact that he spends enough time here to know full well that it’s there, and it’s always been there. I can tell that he’s had quite a lot to drink. That should make painting him easier. Alcohol thins the blood remarkably well. I may not even have to knock him out.

But I do, just in case. I am so thankful that I live in a ground floor apartment, and so close to such a wonderful bar, full of beautiful people, coming and going at all hours of the night. It makes it so much easier to bring home supplies and subjects. The fact that it all comes in the one package helps too, I guess.

I work quickly, and he is drained by morning. But by god, the final product is incredible. When I was studying, my teachers told me that my style was unoriginal and lacked life; my technique was stale and my work would need something to stand out from the crowd. I guess I found it, huh.

Eventually the canvas starts to smell, so I have to throw them all away. Again, there is symmetry in this. I could seal them and keep that stale smell in, but instead I discard them like others have discarded me. The same way they discarded my talent and my originality.

Fuelled by the glee I take in proving them wrong, I have become hooked on this new, exciting artistic endeavour. I could have a harem on my walls, every colour, creed and gender represented, all with a limited lifespan, as they were when my supplies were flowing through them. They are short-lived, but they shine bright, and only for me.

 

*****

This post was inspired by a prompt from youshouldwrite.com.