Black Petals Issue #107, Spring, 2024

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Editor's Page
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(After) Life is What You Make It: Fiction by Richard Brown
Gauche Cuisine: Fiction by Gordon L. Stewart
Here's to Forgetfulness: Fiction by Roger Johns
Insights Into the Trajectory of Human Cetacean Communication: Fiction by Andre Bertolino
Mal Ojo: Fiction by M. N. Wiggins
No Dark: Fiction by Bill Dougherty
Overtime: Fiction by Dennison Sleeper
A Cut Above the Rest: Fiction by Roy Dorman
Resemblance: Fiction by James McIntire
Sign of the Times: Fiction by Liam A. Spinage
The Attic Party: Fiction by Michael Fowler
The Renovators: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Balance: Flash Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Bawk Dark: Flash Fiction by Michael C. Jessen
The Incident With the Mismatched Man: Flash Fiction by Charles C. Cole
Radio Tower: Flash Fiction by Blair Orr
Take Me With You: Flash Fiction by Steven French
Slippery: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Where Dead Babies Come From: Poem by Nolcha Fox
302 Asylum Avenue: Poem by Joseph Danoski
Another Story: Poem by Joseph Danoski
Home Repairs: Poem by Joseph Danoski
A Creepy Leap Year: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Funeral Memorial: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
BatGrl: Poem by Casey Renee Kiser
Twin Flame: Poem by Casey Renee Kiser
Shadow Play: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Dark Ride: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Leviathans of the Void: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Sunbursts: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Into the Eyes: Poem by Anthony Bernstein
Airtime: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Gloria: Poem by Peter Mladinic
The Sorcerer: Poem by C. Walker
Frozen Eve: Poem by C. Walker

Gordon L. Stewart: Gauche Cuisine

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Art by Cindy Rosmus © 2024

Gauche Cuisine

By

Gordon L. Stewart

 

Fremont and I sat at different ends of the lifeboat staring at each other, me with fear filling my eyes, and him with hunger.

This was the kind of lifeboat cruise ships no longer used, the kind that appeared in that old Hitchcock movie with where Walter Slezak was a Nazi intent on commandeering the little lifeboat, and one of the survivors on board was Tallulah Bankhead, and there were others, and a newspaper showed an advertisement with before and after pictures of a weight-loss program where Hitchcock was the before picture. Remember that? They still show the movie on old-movie stations. We had some supplies on board, like water, and we had some things like a compass and other this-and-thats, but some fools thought life would be better served if we had no oars! Somehow, I know this will be a long trip.

My solitary surviving sailing companion was George Fremont. We had served on the freighter that had its belly ripped open by some object in the water and left us here after the remainder of the crew departed. We think they did not know George and I were on the other side of the ship trying to get around without oars.

When ashore and between voyages, George reminded me of my useless bother, a person more of habits than careful and organized thought. For example, if my brother rose late, like Eleven O’Clock, he would have Breakfast. Then he would clean his dishes and have Lunch, one after the other, then eat dinner at the usual hour. If I had four-ounce burgers on rolls, he would have two four-ounce burgers on each of two rolls. If six-ounce burgers appealed to me, he would have two six-ounce burgers on each of two rolls. I will not contemplate eight-ounce burgers, but that was my brother’s way of living. He deserved more than the next person always, and so was Fremont, but his meals went beyond anything purchased at Micky-Dee’s.

Before this voyage, I came across George Fremont at one of these new restaurants outside Madison Square Garden, the kind of eatery that sells hard-to-find foods, like the private parts of bulls that became steers. There he sat before a plate of peculiar-looking steak, a thick, boneless slice devoid of any unevenness as though more manufactured in some factory than products of natural husbandry. Nevertheless, his steak knife  sliced off pieces, dipped them in the juices of a condiment cup placed beside an over-sized potato split open and heaped with sour cream. To wash the meat and taters down was a tall flagon of beer black as my wife’s mother’s heart.

“Like what you see?” Freemont asked while pointing to the loaded plate. “The rare stuff is artificial beef, the new stuff whose production will eliminate the environmental warming created by the wastes of millions of cattle produced every year.”

I took a closer look at the food. This was the first of beef I’d ever seen.

“What did you think about that new laboratory-manufactured chicken flesh they came out with years ago?”

“I tried it, and I tried turkey they perfected a couple of years later. There is something missing in the flavors and texture. I guess I’m still addicted to the real thing.”

Fremont continued, “Do you know that, in secret labs, they’ve perfected artificial human flesh. They took a few cells from a disposed fetal tissue and developed it into human flesh.”

I shook my head. I also nearly vomited. “That’s disgusting.”

‘I knew some students who ran an underground lab that made the meat near Columbia University. They call it Lion Meat, because you have to be like a lion to consume any,” Fremont said, unaware that work of the demon-inspired delicacy had been labeled “Lyin’” Meat by several City churches and reactionary individuals, you know, televangelists and them.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” I said. “They fear not only eating that phony beef will show disrespect for life, but the acceptance of this previously prohibited food will erode the barrier prohibiting cannibalism.”

“Hmmpf,” George uttered disrespectfully. “Disrespect for life’ and ‘barriers prohibiting cannibalism. Hmmph. You repeat yourself with different words. Tell me this: is your diet restricted to salt and water?”

“Of course not. Nobody can live that way,” I answered.

“Then you eat fruits and vegetables?”

“Yes.”

“Well before you cut them from the vine, they were alive, and you kill them.”

George had me there.

“But you’re more worried about sentient creatures. Sentient, that’s quite a word for a high school dropout.”

From past contact, I knew his education had been cut short, but my concern now was this “sentient” thing.

Sentient means something with feeling, a consciousness, a soul, something like animals. Now take the smallest of creatures you might eat, fish roe or caviar; did you ever eat that? Well? Then you killed something in its beginning of life. Now, tell me, how can you point the finger of accusation at me when you show no respect for life yourself?”

Freemont put down his knife and fork. “Well, answer me, hypocrite!” In a few moments his face took an apologetic aspect and then George said, “I am sorry I spoiled your lunch. But tell me, where are you going now?”

“The freighter “Thomas Wright” is taking a load of wheat to the African East Coast. It sails Tomorrow. “

“Don’t tell me, “I’m already signed.”

I walked away for a table and did not wonder about what he said but how George said those words, like that word “sentient”, a word required a dictionary. I am willing to believe that many college graduates don’t know that word.  That was a peculiarity of Freemont; he could talk better than anybody short of a captain on the ships I’ve served on.

 

That freighter, Thomas Wright, seemed to have something sinister on board. An ignorant child or ill-educated adult would envision something drawn from a Bram Stoker novel where a short trip would go awry because some Satan-possessed creature on board that was making people disappear, and the naÔve person was probably me and my error was dismissing disappearances as everyday occurrences. My rationalizations said a disappearing crew member was somebody who fell overboard during the night or who was hiding in the holds to avoid hard labor, though this was a relatively small ship with a minimal crew. Others, however, were minimally educated and carried old traditions once commonly spoken on years before. They thought like me at first and dismissed the vanishings at first, but when the second happened, murmurs began, and the third brought suspicions and accusations that divided people one against the other. The radioman, who would normally call for help, vanished, then another vanishing caused the captain to reverse course and head for safe harbor, but the decimated crew lacked enough hands for the job. At that time, Fremont and I departed with this little poorly prepared lifeboat.

Fremont managed to take a package of food on board without unwrapping the contents, he occasionally reached into cut a piece of flesh with a sharp knife from his pocket. More than once I asked for some of the food, but he claimed the package only carries enough for one person, and that was himself and I should be thankful he roughly conveyed me into the lifeboat while the freighter sank.

I asked him why such force, and these are his exact words, “I need you to keep me alive.”

Those words, then, showed nothing sinister, but now every time my mind replays each syllable, they send a chill or worse up my spine. The words feel like the dry ice my palms once grabbed on a dare one hot summer afternoon during my childhood, for those words were not accidentally uttered, but a deliberate tipping of his hand on what his intentions were.

We had water from some reverse-osmosis bags that should give each of us a few sips, never enough to quench our thirsts, and the boat had been provided with some provisions of food concentrate and fishhooks. But the amounts were minimal for modern lifeboats, in the Titanic tradition, assumed help would come along in time to save everybody, but after our first night, that seemed doubtful.

Modern ships are supposed to maintain contact with shoreside radio, I thought, and the most modern would use GPS systems ready to make contact automatically, I thought. When no help arrived in a timely manner, I realized all that had failed.

“I am powerfully hungry,” Fremont said, as the sun rose higher over the blue-green water.

Again, his words reminded me of my brother.

“How can that be,” I asked, “You ate so much from that package yesterday?”

“And that satisfied my hunger then. Then I was not hungry. I am hungry now.”

Fremont remained quiet while we both continued to stare at one another, then he spoke again.

“That bag contained my kind of food. I need human flesh.”

I shouted, “Did you eat that garbage?’

“They, those Columbia students, offered some as a test, and, boy, I liked the flavor and texture down to the last swallow, like Ol’ Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘Good to the last drop’ yes sir, he was a Lion.’

I answered, “First of all, TR never said that, and if he did that’s coffee, not imitation human flesh. Can’t you see what has happened? That’s a bad as cannibalism. You have been desensitized to cannibalism.”

“NO. it isn’t. Cannibalism means killing people to eat them. This artificial meat was never alive it isn’t killed. There is no murder.”

Then I noticed another lifeboat coming close and what seemed a walking pace for a turtle in ∆sop’s fables. The craft seemed intent on lasting the day like these two lifeboats were in different positions on the same gyre, with mine on outer and slower track and this new lifeboat coming faster on an inner track. Fremont and I watched this new craft getting close until we could see inside and noticed motionless bodies piled across the keel, the lowest part of the lifeboat. The bodies had been alive but now were dead, and I could make out the face of one, the captain of the freighter Fremont and I escaped from, the Thomas Wright, and when still closer, a simple visual inspection showed the captain was missing his left rump. All the bodies were missing their left rump.

To my side a little sparkle of light caught my eye with a start. I turned then moved back to notice Fremont holding a sharp knife as though intending to insert the blade into my lower abdomen. Our lifeboat offered little space, however that sight made me jump back and draw my own knife.

Fremont said, “I was hungry and this, though a little tough, tastes like Lion Meat, and this has a thick layer of fat and fat tastes so sweet and buttery, in one way better than Lion Meat, which is very lean.

Fremont’s eyes glanced at the hole where the left rump belonged. “And I am gauche.”

We stood a moment with knives in hand each ready to dispatch the other. Then I looked to the lifeboat of the damned, “I see two pairs of oars on that boat. I’ll take one pair and leave you with the other. I’ll toss the dead off and leave you. Don’t follow.”

“I will follow like a dog hungry for a juicy ham bone. Do you remember the hams they produced years ago before everybody went lean, they had such thick layers of sweet fat. That I want. You can give it to me. You must. The radio is gone, and we have no beacon, not even a torch; one of us must live and you have ‘principles’ that prevent you from bringing an end to my life. Ha, that knife is worthless.”

“These oars are all I need, them and some backbone, sweat, and time enough to get away.”

I took a seat in this new lifeboat and with one oar pushed away.

“Wait, Fremont called out. “Leave me the other oars.”

“Leave me my life” I rowed a little, then stopped to call back. “If I’m rescued, I’ll send help, and I’ll tell them to bring a straitjacket and pistol.” I returned to rowing with Fremont yelling epithets at me like the filthiest of men could never repeat within the lowest of bars in the Bowery.

 

After some miles there came a speck in the clear blue sky that first resembled a fly alighting an old CRT on a Fifty’s television set. Slowly the speck grew larger, and the sound of the air breaking up followed. This was a rescue helicopter, one with a red band crossing diagonally. This was a coast guard chopper. In no time I was on board and told my story, and now, fully armed, we are returning to Fremont. I hope we are too late.

END

Gordon L. Stewart’s education was in Engineering through the State University of New York. Some time ago, he began writing on political matters and has had numerous items published in the editorial sections of various newspapers including Newsday. The latter also published a humorous piece. He has decided to try and break into fiction writing with this story for Black Petals.

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