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I feast my eyes on what I'll be eating tonight: a whole, roasted bird. L'ortolan the host declares. It's a delicacy. Caught in the forest--a cathedral of green--by a net spread up in the canopy. Captured alive, the songbird is taken home, put into a cage and blinded--a needle to the soft eyes. You force-feed it oats and millet and figs to fatten and flavor the fowl. Heavy with meat, it's drowned in Armagnac that both murders and marinates it. Plucked of feathers, the bird is roasted in a hot oven, then brought to the table.
Before we begin, we place a cloth over our head, he instructs.
Why? I want to know.
To hide our face, our cruelty, from God.
I obey, feeling a little foolish. Completely in the dark, he guides my hands up to my meal and my heart flutters at his touch. At his warmth. At his breath.
He describes what I'll be tasting, three things to be exact. First, the sweetness of flesh and fat. This is God. Next, the bitterness of organs: heart, gizzard, liver, lungs. This is the suffering of Jesus Christ. Lastly, there will be a saltiness. You'll taste blood. It'll mingle with the sweetness and bitterness of the dish. This is the Holy Ghost, the mystery of the Trinity--three in one. He tells me to eat. To enjoy.
Bones and all? I ask.
Yes, and all at once.
I believe ortolan buntings are endangered, but I hold the bird in my mouth, its blackened beak resting on my lips. I take a deep breath. Bite. Chew on brittle bones that cut my gums; blood starts to pool in my mouth, and I can taste it. Sweetness, bitterness, saltiness--the Holy Trinity. All at once. It's so delicious, so divine, that I howl hallelujahs:
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
The host asks, How does it taste?
I blush, beaming a blood red smile. A hot ribbon of red unspools from the corner of my mouth and drips down my chin. Heavenly, I sing.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, March 29th, 2018
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