Content Warning: Readers are advised that the following story contains mention of fictionalised violence and cannibalism.

 

Bearnaise. Red wine jus. Cognac sauce. Cognac sauce. Oh, the thought nearly brought her to her knees. She held it, so strong she could almost smell it, at the forefront of her mind as she paced down the darkened street of her grungy little city; blocking out the catcalls from passing cars filled with teenage tools, and the feeble mewls from the heroin addicts filed neatly down every alley. 

The restaurant wasn’t busy that night. She’d had the time to concentrate, to savour every stir and examine every slice and dice. Her stomach growled throughout her shift, itching to get home and serve up something potently perfect. She hadn’t had a decent meal in weeks. 

She adored the manipulation of cooking: the mutilation of an entity so nearly sentient, save for the fated twist of DNA at conception–so close to becoming anything less than a masterpiece. Her boots clicked cleanly against the sidewalk, the echo bouncing against the rows and rows of expensive apartments that now lined the roughest edge of town, per mayoral request. A way to clean up the area, he had said in an obligatory press conference two years ago. More like a way to rid the city of those bracing the edge of the poverty line–of people deemed unbecoming in a place so desperate for revival. The restaurant was one of the first to receive this transformation. Once a lonely laundromat, run down by rats the size of little dogs, and pungent fumes from excess dryer lint. Now, it was one of the most upscale establishments of fine dining that side of the city, serving meals triple the cost and a quarter the size of the family-owned Italian bistro just a few blocks down, in a neighbourhood yet to receive the promised upgrade. Her restaurant was a place of eloquence and artistry. Edible prose. 

 

If only her mother could see her now. The disapproving stare, the pursed lips. Wasted potential, she would say. Four years of an undergraduate medical degree down the toilet. Four years of labs and anatomy classes, all for her to gain the correct skills for slicing meat in a kitchen. She remembered standing in the lab her first year, cadavers lining sterile stainless steel, their chests flayed and ribs cracked wide. Maybe it was the friction, the pressure of the thin sharp blade against the toughened muscle of the human body that piqued her interest. Her mother would prepare the dinner table with willow crockery and stainless steel cutlery, accompanied by crisp white serviettes and a centrepiece of orchids from her garden. 

She died from a brain aneurysm a few years before. She never had to witness her daughter abandon her medical degree and find short-term work at any restaurants in the area that would hire her. She didn’t see her daughter get accepted into the finest culinary school in the state, nor see her succeed so stupendously that opening her own high end restaurant was no longer a far-off dream, but a beckoning reality. Her inheritance helped, of course. With virtually no mentorship or guidance, her restaurant was doomed to crumble. Alas, to her pleasure (but not to her surprise) it thrived. 

She could see her building. The yellowed lights of her downstairs neighbours illuminated the overgrown shrubbery out the front, a mosaic of rustling leaves and wicked brambles. They were fighting again, like always. Sometimes, she would press her ear up against their door, listening. Some of the things they argued about were simply absurd, but she liked listening to their droll conversations. Living alone, she felt isolated. The only thing keeping her company was often the clicking of the ceiling fan, or the occasional bird that would perch itself onto her windowsill to sing. Sometimes, though, she wished she owned a gun. Nothing big, by any means, but something big enough to knock that bird off her window for good. It only reminded her of life, and she preferred death. 

Her keys were cold in her hand when she climbed up the cemented steps to the warped door of her building. It groaned as she pushed it open with her shoulder, the foyer lit by a single yellowed and dying bulb in the centre of the ceiling, attached by a bare, long cord. When she climbed the stairs, she could reach out and swing it, sending sinister shadows to torment the browning wallpaper. 

Silence greeted her as she stepped inside her shoebox apartment. The only light came from the street, often reflecting on the television, but she hadn’t gotten around to purchasing curtains. Plus, she liked the idea of the people being able to see into her home. There was something thrilling about it, the possibility of getting caught. 

 

Before anything else, she headed straight for the bathroom. She took her lavender-scented bath salts and sprinkled it across the flat steaming water of the bathtub, watching it dissolve into a milky substance. Her tired muscles groaned in pleasure as she sank into the boiling water. She liked the feeling of her body after a steaming bath; soft and doughy, like her bones were sponge cake, her blood was ganache. 

The need to quench her hunger came in waves. Sudden, then meandering. Once out of the bath, she greased up her cast-iron skillet with salted olive oil, doubled over in pain. Still hunched, she tore through her refrigerator, clawing at the rows and rows of neat little zip lock bags stacked high on every shelf. Using the pads of her fingertips, she pulled out her selection for the evening; a thick cut of thigh. Female, if she remembered correctly. She ripped open the plastic bag and dried down the chunk of flesh with a paper towel, applying the seasonings before tossing it into the sizzling pan. 

The aroma was quick to take to the air. Her stomach growled. Soon, she whispered down to the entity trying to claw its way out of her intestines–ravenous for human flesh.

Hannah Quilty

Hannah Quilty

Hi there! I’m an English Literature student at UON, with a passion for creative writing. I started writing for OPUS to originally get feedback for my work, but now I just want to write as much as possible. I aim to have my work traditionally published, so maybe you’ll see some of my stuff out there in the world one day!

Hannah Quilty

Hi there! I’m an English Literature student at UON, with a passion for creative writing. I started writing for OPUS to originally get feedback for my work, but now I just want to write as much as possible. I aim to have my work traditionally published, so maybe you’ll see some of my stuff out there in the world one day!