A Short Story by Simon Downham-Knight
“Alright, boys. This is it. Over the hill.”
John Lennon – Bring on the Lucie (Freda People)
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was eight years old and a vegan since I was fifteen. I fucking hate meat: the smell of it, the taste of it, the feel of it, the texture of it. It absolutely disgusts me. I’ve hated it since my dad took me into the filthy butchers. One of them stinking old style places with blood and sawdust on the floor. He crouched down beside me and whispered into my ear, while pointing to all the different carcasses and gross cuts of meat and telling me exactly what they were.
“That’s a piggy,” he said. “That’s a sheep and that’s a cow.” He turned me round, pointed at the dead rabbits, ducks, geese and pheasants hanging up in the window and wheezed a sweet Special Brew and tobacco breath into my ear as he told me what they were. It was like all that suffering, and cruelty gave him pleasure. Anyway, it wasn’t long after that that I saw Watership Down on the telly one Easter. I was expecting a nice film about talking bunnies going on a wild adventure, but what I got was a distressing hour and a half of death and cruelty that freaked the shit out of my young mind. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the fact that it was so blunt and didn’t talk down to kids, but it was fucking brutal, man. Like a massive slap in the face for my eight-year-old mind. I didn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. In the dark I would see them weird, terrified, blood rabbit tadpoles floating around the room trying to get out of the warrens that were being filled in. It was during this period that Dad served up a stew for Sunday dinner. We were over halfway through when he said:
“Do you know what kind of stew this is, Luce?”
“No.” I said but as soon as I said it, I did and stopped chewing.
“Bright eyes,” he sang in a warbly voice. “Burning like fire…”
“No!” I said, knowing what was coming.
“It’s rabbit stew.” He said with a smirk and then spooned a load of the brown slop into his horrible, leering fucking face. I dropped my spoon and rushed up to the toilet to purge myself of the cunt’s filthy stew. I leaned over the bowl of the toilet and pushed my fingers deep down into my windpipe and wiggled them around. Nothing came up at first, so I pushed them down further and further again, wriggling, until I felt that familiar gurgle of puke rising up and mingling with my fingers. I watched as his rabbit stew poured out of my mouth and into the bowl with satisfaction. It looked almost exactly the same as it did when I ate that shit. That was the last time any meat passed my lips, either going in, or coming out. I hate it when he tries to trick me into accepting shit into my body. It’s not the first time he’s tried to do that.
All that having been said, I’m older now; my priorities are different. I can let bygones be bygones. It’s all water under the bridge, innit? For his 50th birthday dinner, I’m willing to prepare and cook him his favourite food and to make it taste as incredible as possible. I marinated a shoulder of pork for twelve hours, in my special marinade. I then covered it in a dry rub of sugar, salt and spices, and then I slow-cooked it for eight hours, over hot apple wood charcoal, out in my yard. Normally, I would be thinking about keeping the stink of death out of the house but as I worked on that piece of pig I felt that I was beyond my usual hatred of dead flesh. The end justifies the means, as they say and a girl should enjoy her work. It was late October and as I stood, out in the yard, thinking that tomorrow was my twenty first birthday and my friend, Chris was going to make me a special dinner, I watched over that meat sizzling and spitting over the hot coals and I looked over the fence at the ash tree in the next garden with its yellow leaves beginning to fall. I noticed the fog creeping up behind it and the dark slowly closing in at six o’clock. I thought that October is almost supernatural, and this strange feeling of dead stillness came over me as I realised how much I adored the Autumn.
My barbecue sauce is vegan. I love it and use a version of it, with oil, to baste cauliflower, aubergines, mushrooms and whatever else when I barbecue for myself. A lot of people seem to hate the smell and taste of garlic, but I think it’s fucking incredible. There’s no such thing as too much garlic as far as I’m concerned. Well, maybe in one case there is such a thing as too much: I felt like I was getting a nasty cold a little while ago and my friend, Chris, suggested that the best thing to do to knock out any lurgy, immediately, was to take a clove of raw garlic, smear a bit of sunflower oil over it and stick it up my arse.
“Are you fucking kidding?” I said.
“Nah, not at all.” He said but I could see he was smiling, the big prick. “I’ve done it loads of times, myself. If you catch the virus early enough, it knocks it right out. You wake up the following day feeling right as rain.”
“Well, what if I ate the garlic with some honey?” I said. “That would basically do the same thing, wouldn’t it?”
“I dunno, Luce.” He said. “My step dad suggested it to me, and I tried it and it seemed to work.”
“The same stepdad who got you to suck him off?” I said and he flushed crimson red and looked down.
“The very same.” He said and I felt guilty for pushing him like that.
“Maybe it works. Maybe! But I don’t stick nothing up my arse, OK, Chris? Nothing!”
Anyway, I took the system for cooking the garlic from my favourite film, Goodfellas. In that, Pauly had a wonderful system for doing the garlic. He used a razor and he sliced it so thin that it liquified in the pan with just a little oil. As I watch the razor work its way down the garlic, I imagine it slicing through all the layers of my skin and down into the fat that I see splitting open and my skin tingled with pleasure at the thought of it, but lucky for me, I ain’t like that any more. The first time I tried this method, the oil was too hot, and it just sizzled and burned in the pan. The secret is to get the thinness of the garlic just right and the temperature of the oil just right. If you do that, Henry Hill is correct, the garlic liquifies in the pan. Next, you add the onions and fry them in the oil until they’re nice and brown, almost caramelised. Then you add chilli, to taste – I fucking love that feeling of chilli burn in my mouth and I always add loads of fresh chillies (whatever is available at the time in the shop: Scotch Bonnets have my favourite flavour to them, but you can’t always find them), and make my barbecue sauce really fucking spicy. Lucky for me that my dad loves my barbecue sauce as spicy as hell and he has lashings of it on his food. I’m hoping that it will mask some of the more bitter elements of the marinade. Fry the chillies in with the onions for a bit, then add some brown sugar, two cans of tomatoes, some smoked paprika, some tomato puree, some malt vinegar, salt and pepper and then simmer it all for about half an hour. Once it’s all cooked together nicely, whizz it all up in the blender and you’re good to go.
The meat had been cooking on the barbecue for six hours and was coming on a treat, if you could call it that. As it was cooking away, I’d been injecting more of the marinade into the flesh for extra moisture and flavour. He was due over in two hours, so I moved on to the vegetables and the sides. I’d already given him his present: a beautiful plant with zig zagging leaves and purple flowers on it.
“What’s this?” He said, with his nose screwed up.
“It’s an aconite,” I said. “I really like the shape of the flowers. I thought it might brighten up your place a bit.” He held it at arm’s length and looked at the purple buds and flowers and creased up his porcine nose. Then he waved his head from side to side and shrugged.
“Put it by the window of your flat,” I said. “It likes the sunlight.”
“Why have you got me this?” He said, suspiciously.
“A peace offering,” I said. “You’re only fifty once and after all, you’re my dad and we need to be civil…” I took a deep breath and swallowed. “…for Haley’s sake.”
“Haley’s sake.” He said, narrowing his eyes. “You know I can’t trust you to see Haley.” I felt the blood rise up into my head, but I kept my cool. Don’t blow it, Lucy, don’t blow it! I took a slow deep breath and exhaled.
“That’s fine, dad. I simply wanted to invite you over to mine, so I can cook you some dinner for your fiftieth.” I said.
“None of that vegan muck.” He said.
“No,” I said. “As it’s your birthday, I’m willing to cook you your favourite. A slow cooked shoulder of pork.” The prick looked almost touched.
“You’d cook me a shoulder of pork?” He said, with a look of genuine surprise.
“Sure,” I said, “I want to make amends. A new start. Maybe at some point in the near future, I could look forward to seeing my sister, Haley.”
“After what you and your so-called friend, Chris, tried to pull off last Summer, I don’t think so, somehow, Luce.” He said. “Present or no present. Dinner or no dinner.” I took a deep breath and fixed him with the calmest stare I could muster.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t expect you to let me take her out, unsupervised.” I said and slowly inhaled through my nostrils. “How about you repay the favour, at some point, and let me come over to dinner and see her in your place?”
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see.”
I soaked and rolled some whole Portobello mushrooms and some big cubes of turnip, parsnip, broccoli, cauliflower and butternut squash in olive oil, honey, cumin, smoked paprika, sea salt and pepper. I made some simple potato wedges with salt and pepper and garlic. The secret to delicious roast vegetables is to cook them on a lower heat until they’re soft and then take them out of the oven, whack it up nice and hot and then chuck ‘em back in to get them nice and crispy and golden. I’ve already made a delicious vegan slaw that’s going to knock him out.
As I slung the vegetables into the oven to crisp up and I turned on the kettle for a nice cup of soothing tea, Bring on the Lucie by John Lennon came on the radio. Even though he was dead long before I was born and the spelling is different, I always like to think that this song is somehow about me. My dad always said I was the devil made flesh and that my name is short for Lucifer. This always felt like a cruel joke on his part, but as I’ve got older, this works for me. I always wondered if the Lucie he’s referring to in the song is actually Lucifer. As I’m thinking this, I hear John Lennon sing:
“We understand your paranoia
But we don’t want to play your game
You think you’re cool and know what you are doing
666 is your name
So while you’re jerking off each other
You better bear this thought in mind
Your time is up you better know it
But maybe you don’t read the signs”
This left me feeling buoyed about this evening’s proceedings. I can handle Nigel. I can handle my dad. Dinner will be ready to serve when he rings on the doorbell. I had a final look at the pork cooking in the yard. It was close to being done and, if I do say so myself, it looked beautiful. I stepped back into the kitchen and opened the oven and saw the veggies and potato wedges sizzling and spitting in the heat. I gave ‘em a little jostle, shake and spin and sniffed in their beautiful veggie goodness and put them back inside. Smiling to myself I purveyed the pot of my barbecue sauce and the salad and the vegan mayo on the side. I brought the meat in from the yard and left it on the side to rest. I smiled as I surveyed the kitchen. And I could see my work here was done and I could see that it was good.
I walked through to the dining room, where I had the table set beautifully, for two, with a white tablecloth and three red candles in the middle. I sat down, with me baccy, weed and papers and twisted meself up a nice big fat spliff to mellow me the fuck out. I lit the end and took a big toke and took it deep into my lungs. As I held it in, I thought about my mum. First of all, I thought of her all healthy and beautiful, with hair in her flowery dress and smiling at me as she pushed me on the swings. Then, I thought of her looking terrified and powerless as my dad had me in the corner, raining blows down on my head and body. As I exhaled the smoke, I thought about her emaciated, pale and bald and telling me that she was sorry that she wasn’t going to be able to protect me anymore. As sad as this thought was, it still made me laugh bitterly. Some job she did of protecting me, anyway, bless her. I got halfway through me spliff and it had done its job. I felt that familiar feeling of euphoria working its way through my body and I left the other half sitting in the ashtray. As I exhaled, the door knocked and I felt that euphoria being replaced with a cold spot of anxiety that started right in my core and radiated out from there through my entire body all the way to the extremities.
Let’s go to work.
I opened the front door to the dishevelled figure of my dear father standing there in his crumpled clothes and his customary grin. Chris told me once that he read that Oscar Wilde said that at fifty, every man has the face he deserves and looking at him, I realised he definitely got what he had coming.
“Hi Dad. Happy Birthday!” I said, as he leaned in and kissed my cheek. Steady, Lucy.
“Hello, Luce.” He said, looking behind me at the kitchen and inhaling deeply through his nostrils. “Smells proper lovely in here.”
“That’s good,” I smiled. “I’ve been cooking all day.” I look him square in the eyes. “Where’s Haley?” I said and he looked down. Don’t blow it, Lucy.
“She’s at your aunt’s,” He said and looked back up at me. I smiled as sweetly as I could and said:
“My aunt’s?” He meant his girlfriend, Suzy, who isn’t my aunt. She testified against me in the court case. Said I was a troublemaker. She weren’t wrong there, but that don’t excuse him for what he done to me, the filthy bastard. I could feel the atmosphere turning frosty, so I smiled at him and said, “Come on through and let me get you a drink.” I turned and led him into the dining room to his seat. He looked impressed and took in his surroundings with an approving nod. “Would you like a beer?” I said. “I’ve got your favourite, Kestrel Super.” He looks even more impressed.
“I thought you said you never wanted to see me with a drink in my hand again.” He said.
“It’s your birthday. I want you to have a good time. The best.” I went out into the kitchen, opened the fridge and grabbed one of the four cans I had in there. I placed it gently in front of him and booped my finger on the top of it with relish and a grin. He popped it open with a smile, picked it up and drank it down deep and long. So deep and long that he, in fact, drained that black and gold canister until it was empty. He thumped the empty bastard down onto the table and without being asked I went to the fridge and got him another one. “Hungry?” I said as he popped open his second can and drank deeply from it.
“Starving!” He said, as he glugged more of his booze and thumped it down on the table.
“Let me serve you, your dinner, father.” I went back out into the kitchen and picked up the two trays of vegetables and brought them in and placed them in front of him. He looked at them with an amused grin.
“I thought you said it wasn’t going to be vegan muck.” He said with his customary sneer.
“Oh, don’t worry, father.” I said with a smile. “I’m saving the best till last.” I walked out into the kitchen and grabbed the wedges, the salad and the slaw and brought them out to him. I turned, kicked my leg back and flicked up my skirt and smiled back at him. Like Hattie Jacques, my mum always said, but I never really knew who she was talking about. I picked up the plate with the shoulder of pork on it, and brought it out into the dining room and put it on the table in front of the old man. “Here it is: your favourite: barbecued shoulder of pork. A long time in the making and eight hours on the barbecue.” He drained his can and slammed it on the table. I smiled as I picked up his empty and walked back into the kitchen to get him his third one. He looked at the meat on the table, put his face close up to it, smiled and then breathed in as deeply as he could.
“Incredible!” He said with a look on his face that said ecstasy.
“I know.” I said. “It is my masterpiece. My pièce de resistance. He took a scoop of the wedges and then a scoop of the veggies and a big serving of the vegan slaw before he took my favourite knife and sliced down into the meat and pulled himself out a massive slice and put it on his plate and then he did it again and again and again, ending up with four big slices of the crumbling juicy meat on his plate. “Some of my special barbecue sauce?” I said and offered him the bowl with it in.
“Hot, is it?” He said with a grin.
“Hotter than Malebolga.” I said, grinning back at his confused little face.
“Huh?” He said,
“The eighth circle of Hell.” I said. “The evil ditches. The hottest part.” He scooped some up onto his pinkie finger and brought it up into his mouth and smiled as the flavours permeated his tongue. His smile disappeared as the heat hit him full in the face and he exhaled and wafted his hand over his mouth.
“Wow! Delicious,” he said and spooned loads of the sauce over his meat and vegetables. “You’ve really outdone yourself this time, Lucy.” I smiled as I scooped up some of the turnip, parsnip, broccoli, cauliflower and butternut squash from the tray and put it onto my plate. Then, I scooped up some wedges; some of my vegan slaw and also put them on my plate.
“Would you like to say grace?” I said with a smile and we both burst out laughing. As he picked up his fork and stabbed it into the juicy meat, dipped it into the sauce and brought it up into his gaping maw, my stomach lurched over. He chewed, swallowed and then pondered a while.
“That…” He paused for effect, “is the most delicious thing I ever tasted in my life.” He said with a smile, then his smile faded slightly and he smacked his lips and looked over to his left. “Something of a bitter after taste though.”
“That’s the cumin, Dad.” I said. “Part of the dry rub for the pork.” He nodded but looked a bit perplexed.
“Not cumin,” he said. “Something unfamiliar. It’s lovely though, Lucy. Delicious.” He drained his can of Kestrel Super and slammed it down next to the other empty. He then pushed another forkful of the succulent meat into his mouth, closed his eyes, chewed and swallowed. “Mmmmmm!” As he swallowed and then forked another chunk of dead pig into his face and chewed, I could feel all my anxiety drop away from my body.
“More booze, father?” I said with a grin and he nodded as he chewed. Normally, his third or fourth can of the strong stuff was, what I always used to call, his sinister canister. The one that would make him go all funny. By funny, I don’t mean funny, ha-ha, I mean, funny peculiar, funny violent, funny horny. Know what I mean? Right now, though, he’s completely bewitched by the food I have prepared for him and he chews, swallows, forks a load more in, chews and swallows.
Dad mopped up the last of the barbecue sauce with the last chunk of pork on his second plate of food. He popped it into his mouth, chewed and washed it down with a big glug of Kestrel Super.
“You always were a good little cook, Lucy but you’ve really come on.” He said as he exhaled and slapped his hands on his swollen belly. “That was the nicest food I’ve ever had. Thank you.”
“It was my pleasure, dad.” I said. “I’m glad you enjoyed your last supper.”
“Last supper?” He said and I smiled as I noticed a bead of sweat trickling down his cheek. The satisfied look on his face switched to a look of confused discomfort.
“Are you OK, dad?” I said.
“I… I’m feeling a bit woozy.” He said.
“Woozy?” I said with a smirk.
“Yeah, woozy. My hands have gone all…” He stared at his open hand with a kind of stunned concentration. His face looked almost amused, like he was, sort of, stoned. “…numb.”
“Numb,” I repeated and smiled.
“Yeah, I’ve got this creepy feeling, like ants crawling all over my body.” He murmured. He grimaced and grabbed at his belly which gave off an audible gurgle. A total look of confusion hit his face as I heard him copiously shit himself, as he sat there frozen, and then heave twice.
“You wanna know why you feel so terrible?” I said, with a smile. “You just got murdered.” He looked confused but he continued to stare at the fingers of his numb hand. He grimaced in pain and brought his hand up to his chest. “You were right, dad. That bitter flavour you couldn’t quite put your finger on wasn’t cumin. It was aconitum napellus.” Dad looked pretty out of it and he was struggling to stay in the room.
“Why does that sound familiar?” He said, looking all dopey like his vision was swimming in and out of focus.
“Aconite is the plant that I bought you for your birthday.” I said with a smile. “You have it in your living room. It’s also known as wolfsbane, monkshood and, drumroll: the queen of poisons.”
“Poison?” My dad said, barely audible now. I could see him trying to stand up, but the cunt wasn’t going anywhere. I said the following words in the same soothing voice I might speak to a baby as it was going to sleep and I realised they perfectly mirrored the feeling of calm that radiated throughout my entire body, replacing the cold anxiety. “You’ve got what killed you in your flat, Nigel. They’ll think you poisoned yourself. I marinated the meat in a tincture I made myself from the roots of the wolfsbane. The most poisonous part. I’m going to get away with murder and you’re never gonna hurt anybody again.” My smile grew broader. “You’re done. You ain’t gonna to get your filthy hands on Haley like you did me.” That fucking horrible mouth of his, that felt so disgusting as it slobbered all over mine when I was just a little bit older than Haley is now, was smacking and wet as it wordlessly opened and closed. I stood up and put both my hands on the table. “How’s that heart condition of yours?” He said nothing. “Wolfsbane is a potent neurotoxin and cardiotoxin and you’ve just ingested enough to kill a football team, let alone a fifty-year-old alcoholic with a dicky ticker.” I could see he was in pain and I was trying not to gloat. “Don’t worry about Haley. I’m twenty-one now, Nigel. An adult. That makes me Haley’s next of kin. With you gone, she’ll come and live with me. I’ll look after her and keep her safe from the likes of you. You were always right, dad. Lucy clearly is short for Lucifer. A fallen angel come to wreak vengeance on you.” I was grinning from ear to ear as I watched a wave of intense pain wrack its way through his body, which then twitched and spasmed as he went into his final state of cardiac arrest. As the light faded from his eyes, I was suddenly struck by another John Lennon lyric; this one from Working Class Hero, one of Dad’s favourites, ironically enough. “But first you must learn how to smile as you kill.”
Looking at Nigel’s drooping, still body made me feel as happy as I had ever done. Not even the terrible smell that was emanating from the massive load in his pants could temper that. I picked up what was left of the shoulder of pork and walked it out to the food waste bin that was being taken away tomorrow morning.
I plugged that half a spliff into my mouth, sparked it up, toked and inhaled a big lungful of beautiful smoke.
“Happy Birthday, Dad.” I said as I exhaled.
Copyright 2021 – Simon Downham-Knight
Note: This story acts as a sequel of sorts to my previous story, Lucy’s Olfactory Nightmare. https://spiralstaircase.blog/2021/03/20/lucys-olfactory-nightmare/