Burn the Witch
(from 30 Stories in 30 Songs)
He sat eating what he thought was the best chicken noodle soup he’d ever had. It was chock full of carrots, translucent slivers of onions, noodles, and hearty chunks of chicken.
“This is exquisite,” he told the waitress when she came to refill his water glass. “And this is a small bowl?! Unbelievable, this is a meal.” It really was the best soup he’d ever had, he wrote in his journal.
What he couldn’t work out is just what kind of regional spin on this dish he was having. He was accustomed to having some lime with his chicken soup in tropical climes, but it was the chicken that was unusual. It was darker than usual, even for dark meat, and a bit tougher, but quite tasty because it had been marinated so well and it had become one with the other ingredients; it seemed as if the chicken had spent the perfect amount of time stewing in the soup. It was fantastic, this “sopa de pollo grimalkina.”
“¿Señorita, por favor,” he intoned in his best studied Spanish, “que tipo de pollo es este?”
The young waitress stood mute, staring at him as if he’d said something offensive.
She ran into the kitchen. After a some time there were some raised voices, and a pleasant looking man came out to speak with him. He repositioned his pants, pulling them up by his belt over his rounded stomach. He wiped the sweat from his bald pate and ran the hands through the hair on the sides of his head.
“Señor, is everything all right with your lunch?”
“Yes, yes. The soup is outstanding, but I think the young lady misunderstood. I merely want to know what type of chicken this is. Is it a rooster? Is it a feral island species? What is it?”
“Well, señor, thank you. But this is a family recipe, a secret recipe that we just can’t share. The cook, my wife, would not allow me back into the conjugal bed if she knew I told you. It is her special recipe.”
“I see, so her family’s name must have been Grimalkina, yes?”
“Ah… um… yes, of course. I will tell her you enjoy it very much. I will have my daughter bring you a mojito, on the house, as you say.”
“Well, thank you.”
The man returned to the kitchen, and within a minute the young woman returned with the drink. Quite strong, he thought. Having the strongest mojito ever, he wrote in his journal. This will get me shit-faced in this heat.
Upon finishing his lunch he asked to speak to the man again, and thanked him for the drink anew, and added, “compliments to the chef, tell your wife she made the best soup I have ever tasted.”
As he left, he stopped a few steps away from the restaurant in the street. This was a “paladar” after all, he reviewed to himself; this is their home. I bet if I looked around out back I can find the coop and see the chickens, maybe a picture with my phone…
He crept up the side of the house, walking gingerly around the boxes and buckets. The thick pink and red hibiscus shrubs provided cover from a direct sight-line from the kitchen. At the back of the yard he found no coop or chicken cages. There was an odd corrugated metal garbage can that seemed ancient below a mango tree. Some odd tufts spread around the base of the tree. As he came nearer he shuddered, his stomach seemed to need to float out of his body through his chest.
He felt dizzy as he stood among these tufts and realized it was fur. Fur in different colors. He felt repulsed as he took the sticky garbage lid from the can. He began to retch and eventually began to vomit into the can. He vomited on what was clearly half a dozen carcasses. Dogs? No, Cats.
Am I swooning? he thought. As he fell he saw the three of them coming out of the back of the house. The man had a cleaver, his daughter had a carving knife, and the other woman, an imposing block of a human being, had a tenderizing mallet and a large pot in hands. The last thing he heard was the tinny strains of Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” coming from some distance. He could not reconcile this, not here, not now.
They’re witches, he thought. He reached for his phone, but swatted at the air instead. He stared at the solitary stratocumulus tacked to the sky. He felt a searing sensation reticulating sharply out from his chest, as the three heads blotted out the sky.
“This is why writing workshops can be a little dangerous, it should be said; even the teachers or leaders of such workshops can be a little dangerous; this is why most of your learning should be on your own. Other people are often very sure that their opinions and their judgments are correct.”
— Lydia Davis, Essays