Welcome back to Stranger Than Flicktion, our Flickr-inspired column. We provide writers with five random food-related Flickr images and ask them to construct a fictional short story in under five days. In this edition, a hero's trip to a steakhouse goes awry.
Listen, Ellie, what I need you to understand is I wasn't lying when I said I wanted to get married and have five children and retire to a little cabin together. When I said that I meant it. But I was also terrified, and then the Company called to let me know they were sending me to Argentina. It was the biggest assignment I'd gotten yet, by far and away the most important job of my entire career, and if I did it well, I realized quickly, it would change the rest of my life.
So on one hand I was marrying you and having five children, and on the other hand I was in Buenos Aires, where I was becoming a hero. So I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time, and there were reels playing in my mind of me accomplishing my mission in a totally legendary fashion, airplanes flying overhead and banners streaming and confetti bursting and lions and tigers dancing in cages. And trumpet music and battles and whatnot.
So what I really need you to get is that when the Company took me out to dinner the week before I left for Argentina, that is the reality I was living in. The heroic one, with lions and tigers in cages and whatnot. So when the waiters brought out the meat on big platters, I basically heard trumpets blaring loud in the background.
Ellie, listen: there were lamb chops and steaks, and chimichurri and asparagus spears. It was the kind of feast Achilles ate before slaying Hector. The kind of feast Odysseus ate at Circe's table before making love, while his men rooted around in the pig pen. And Ellie, after we'd gorged ourselves on cuts of roasted meat dripping with fat like so many classical heroes, the waiters proceeded to bring out the lobster:
Are you understanding the nuances of what I'm describing? It was a whole surf 'n turf spread. It was the kind of dinner heroes eat on the deck of their ship, under the reeling constellations, listening to the songs of the sirens. And by then the whiskey was flowing, all of it on the Company, so you can imagine that the reality in which we were getting married and having five children and retiring to a cabin together was sort of fading a little. You might say it was temporarily fraying. What I was saying to myself was: it's OK, I'll weave it back together when I've come home from my assignment. Or Ellie will weave it together while we're apart, and when I come back I'll stab all her suitors to death and admire the fine weaving work she's accomplished. Then I'll take her and Telemachus out for a nice cozy dinner at a place with warm lighting and a name like "Good" or "Homely" or "Kitchen."
(In my mind, Ellie, and this should be proof that I was really serious when we had those conversations, in my mind you'd had our first son when I was in Buenos Aires and we named him Telemachus, which is my third favorite son's name, and naturally when I came back Telemachus wanted to kill me but I wouldn't let him and only parried his sad little humorous attempts while we ate roasted cauliflower at Kitchen.)
In short: I was out to a steak dinner on the Company and the whiskey was flowing and the reality I existed in at that moment was the one with lions and confetti and airplanes, and then Paul showed up, fresh off his own stint in B.A.
He ordered a round of sambuca, and he was showing us all racy pictures of the Argentinian women he'd slept with, and I thought, by God, this is the time for men to be men, so I ordered a flight of sangria, and after I'd finished that, I swear to God, Ellie, I don't remember anything else.
Now, as you said on the phone, and as I will freely admit, the fact that I don't remember doesn't mean that the "outlandishly hurtful behavior"—as you so pointedly put it—didn't actually happen, but doesn't it count for anything that what did actually happen doesn't even exist in the darkest recesses of my own brain? Because after that flight of sangria the next thing I recall was waking up naked in the restaurant's meat locker under the disapproving glare of two elderly waiters who handed me my underwear.
Looking around—at that point I'd sobered up, and I had a bad headache, and the trip to Buenos Aires already seemed less exciting, in fact it seemed like a nightmare, and furthermore I'd remembered how much I hated my job as an accountant—looking around, I had the distinct impression that each slab of meat on the shelf was a part of your body that I'd butchered and sold as a luxury cut in order to pay for a slightly frivolous trip. Then I felt pretty bad. In fact, I felt unbelievably awful. The reality of confetti and lions in cages blew away like spit in the wind, in the face of all those cuts of raw beef.
As soon as I was out on the street, I called you and told you I loved you. I said I couldn't wait to get married. I said we should name our first baby John. Then you comforted me about Buenos Aires, and reminded me how important it is to national economies for local businesses to have solid accounting. Soon I'd decided what happened the previous night had in fact been an unfortunate but necessary event, something required to prove to myself how very deeply I cared about you.
But then of course you found out, and now I'm in Buenos Aires, and we don't even talk. Every day it startles me. And nothing here ever seems real. It's a city made of sepulchers. It's winter in summer, every day there's a light drizzle, and the steak doesn't taste like American steak.
But then again: you can imagine that this is what Odysseus felt like. Nights, under the reeling constellations, gnawing the bones of yesterday's feast, his ears stuffed up with ear plugs to keep him from diving in after the sirens. I'm coming home. Soon I'll have my life back. And what I want to know, when I'm falling asleep under the South American stars, is Ellie, are you at home weaving? In your apartment, at your loom, are you pulling the threads back together? Because if you are, Ellie, I swear to God: I'm coming home with a very sharp knife.