Intermediary Fingers and Licked Flesh

The three tablecloths included in this piece each had one of the following excerpts of text embroidered on it twice. On one side of the tablecloth, the text was embroidered in English. On the opposite side of the tablecloth, the text was embroidered in Standard English Braille.


She began slicing and chewing,  conveying the food to her grateful stomach.

Once on a streetcar she had seen a mother bite a small child because it had bitten her. She gnawed thoughtfully through a tough piece, and swallowed.

He was almost finished. She watched the capable hands holding the knife and fork, slicing precisely with an exact adjustment of pressures. How skillfully he did it: no tearing, no ragged edges. And yet it was a violent action, cutting; and violence in connection with Peter seemed incongruous to her.

Watching him operate on the steak like that, carving a straight slice and then dividing it into neat cubes, made her think of the diagram of the planned cow at the front of one of her cookbooks: the cow with lines on it and labels to show you from which part of the cow all the different cuts were taken. What they were eating now was from some part of the back, she thought: cut on the dotted line. She could see rows of butchers somewhere in a large room, a butcher school, sitting at tables, clothed in spotless white, each with a pair of kindergarten scissors, cutting out steak and ribs and roasts from the stacks of brown-paper cow-shapes before them. The cow in the book, she recalled, was drawn with eyes and horns and an udder. It stood there quite naturally, not at all disturbed by the peculiar markings painted on its hide.

She looked down at her own half-eaten steak and suddenly saw it as a hunk of muscle. Blood red. Part of a real cow that once moved and ate and was killed, knocked on the head as it stood in a queue like someone waiting for a streetcar. Of course everyone knew that. But most of the time you never thought about it. In the supermarket they had it all pre-packaged in cellophane, with name labels and price labels stuck on it, and it was just like buying a jar of peanut butter or a can of beans, and even when you went into a butcher shop they wrapped it up so efficiently and quickly that it was made clean, official. But now it was suddenly there in front of her with no intervening paper, it was flesh and blood, rare, and she had been devouring it. Gorging herself on it.


- Margaret Atwood, Edible Woman 


“You are hungry?” I asked the hero, who was again the sexual object of Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr. “Get it off of me,” he said. “Please!” I called to her, and when she did not respond I punched her in the face. She moved to her side of the back seat, because now she understanded what it means to be stupid with the wrong person, and commenced to cry. Did I feel awful? “Yes, I’m hungry.” “Good, our driver --“ “You can call him your grandfather. It doesn’t bother me.” “He is not your brother.” “Bother, I said. Bother.” “What does it mean to bother me?” “To upset.” “What does it mean to upset?” “To distress.” “I understand to distress.” “So you can call him your grandfather, is what I’m saying.”

“We will eat,” I told him. “One thing though, I am a... how to say this...” “What? You are very hungry, yes?” “I’m a vegetarian.” “I do not under-stand.” “I don’t eat meat.” “Why not?” “I just don’t.” “How can you not eat meat?” "I just don’t.” “He does not eat meat,” I told Grandfather. “Yes he does,” he informed me. “Yes you do,” I likewise informed the hero. “No. I don’t.” “Why not?” I inquired him again. “I just don’t.” “Pork?” “No.” “Meat?” “No meat.” “Steak?” “Nope." “Chickens?” “No.” “Do you eat veal?” “Oh. God. Absolutely no veal.” “What about sausage?” “No sausage.” I told Grandfather this, and he presented me a very bothered look. “What is wrong with him?” he asked. “What is wrong with you?” I asked him. “It’s just the way I am,” he said. “You are a schmuck,” I informed the hero. “You’re not using the word correctly,” he said. “Yes I am,” I said.

“What do you mean he does not eat meat? What is wrong with him?” she asked. “It is merely the way he is,” I told her. “Sausage?” “No sausage.” “Maybe you could eat some meat,” I suggested to the hero, “because they do not have anything that is not meat.” “Don’t they have potatoes or something?” he asked. “Do you have potatoes?” I asked the waitress. “Or something?” The waitress returned and said, “We can make concessions to give him two potatoes, but they are served with a piece of meat on the plate. The chef says that this cannot be negotiated. He will have to eat it.” 

When the food arrived, the hero asked for me to remove the meat off of his plate. “I’d prefer not to touch it,” he said. 


- Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated


No one wanted to cook that night. We all got in the car and went out to the commercial strip in the no man’s land beyond the town boundary. The never-ending neon. I pulled in at a place that specialized in chicken parts and brownies. We decided to eat in the car. The car was sufficient for our needs. We wanted to eat, not look around at other people. We wanted to fill our stomachs and get it over with. We didn’t need light and space. We certainly didn’t need to face each other across a table as we ate, building a subtle and complex cross-network of signals and codes. We were content to eat facing in the same direction, looking only inches past our hands. There was a kind of rigor in this. Denise brought the food out to the car and distributed paper napkins. We settled in to eat. We ate fully dressed, in hats and heavy coats, without speaking, ripping into chicken parts with our hands and teeth. There was a mood of intense concentration, minds converging on a simple compelling idea. I was surprised to find I was enormously hungry. I chewed and ate, looking only inches past my hands. This is how hungry shrinks the world. This is the edge of the observable universe of food.

Steffie tore off the crisp skin of a breast and gave it to Heinrich. She never ate the skin. Babette sucked a bone. Heinrich traded wings with Denise, a large for a small. He thought small wings were tastier. People gave Babette their bones to clean and suck. We sent Denise to get more food, waiting for her in silence. Then we started in again, half stunned by the dimensions of our pleasure.

There was another pause. Then we set to eating again. We traded unwanted parts in silence, stuck our hands in cartons of rippled fries. Wilder liked the soft white fries and people picked these out and gave them to him. Denise distributed ketchup in little watery pouches. The interior of the car smelled of grease and licked flesh. We traded parts and gnawed.

In the fast food parking lot we ate our brownies. Crumbs stuck to the heels of our hands. We inhaled the crumbs, we licked the fingers. As we got close to finishing, the physical extent of our awareness began to expand. Food’s borders yielded to the wider world. We looked past our hands.


- Don DeLillo, White Noise