Near the Spanish-Portuguese border, there’s a roadside plant that grows wild and smells like fresh semen. It’s our first time away together. Ken wants to show me pine forests and mountain streams, young red wine in pottery jugs, veal grilled on an open fire. He can’t smell the semen-plant but likes that I can. He says, I guess all your senses are heightened right now.
In north London, my friend has left her husband and moved in with a new man. She doesn’t feel guilty. She tells me the two of them are at it like rabbits, day and night. The lover makes lemon and coriander chicken, a recipe from his Indian granny. Ken says it’s so good, it’s indecent. I’m thinking, orgasmic. We spend the night on their futon, proving it’s both.
In Kuwait, expatriates boil potato peelings in pressure cookers to make flash. It’s illegal to buy or consume alcohol, but supermarkets stock airlocks and siphon tubing, powdered yeast, and bumper bags of sugar. Flash is potent and disgusting but becomes almost palatable when mixed with orange juice or tonic. I smell it leaking from the pores of our neighbour and ask if she was out on the piss last night. She snaps, That’s my very expensive Givenchy perfume!
In France, there’s a backlog at the local abattoir. Iron-barred lorries queue along the road. One driver parks beside our camper-van stop. The stamping and screaming—it’s pigs—fills our ears, the stench—it’s pigshit and fear—envelops us for two hours. I say we should never eat bacon again. Ken says we should leave, there are other places. The lorry moves on.
Cracked, fragile, our group purges out lockdown angst in stories. Some can only write the truth, others pummel or pinch it until it’s bearable. They root through sense-memories and proffer lilac petals, flapjack mix, the postcoital armpits of a one-night stand. What I remember is school beef stew, its fatty gravy coating our throats, its thick odour blanketing the dining hall. Everyone said it was gross, but only I smelled stale sweat. I now understand that the senses can get their wires crossed, and mine have been playing tricks on me all along.
Confession: I’m no gourmet. I’ll eat almost anything and enjoy sausages and mash almost as much as the unforgettable, lovingly crafted curry recalled in Regional Delicacies. I “love” food in the canine or porcine sense—feel joy when it appears, devour it fast, then look hopefully around for more. As a cook I’m utilitarian, barely competent, which is why I don’t feel qualified to contribute a recipe here!
However, any writer (and reader) knows that food is not just food. So many brilliant books and stories tell us that food can equate to selfless devotion, sexual desire, compassion, holiness, spiritual connection, etc etc. Thus, in moments of self-doubt, I suspect I might be a better writer and a better person if I paid more attention to the subtleties and harmonies of what I eat and cook.
Then again, naked greed is a lot of fun too.
Patience Mackarness lives and writes in Brittany, France. Her work has been published by Lunch Ticket, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Potato Soup Journal, Lost Balloon, and elsewhere. Regional Delicacies was born in a SmokeLong Quarterly workshop. Find Patience online at patiencemackarness.wordpress.com.