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Eat you Up

Shannon Fay is a Clarion West graduate and writer living in Mi'kma'ki/Nova Scotia. Her first novel, Innate Magic, will be released later this year from 47North. She can be found online at @shannonlfay or on Patreon at patron.com/shannonfay.

Bree's knife sliced through the chicken cordon bleu as smoothly as if it were dipping into water. As she cut a piece, she speared chicken, swiss cheese, and ham all onto her fork,, making sure her first bite had a little bit of everything. She paused, letting her camtracts get a good, long look at the morsel--had to give the customers a chance to eat with their eyes.
The breading on the chicken was a nice snap-crackle-crunch compared to the softness of the meat and cheese. When she moaned at the pleasing saltiness it was only partly for show. Bree chewed slowly, carefully, partly to savor this, her first ever taste of this dish, and partly to avoid dislodging the taste-ceptors attached on top and under her tongue. She'd swallowed one once accidently, the day they did the lobster shoot. They were expensive little things, but Raoul had been super nice about it, making her feel worse--she hated to feel like she owed Raoul anything.
She pushed the thought away--the neural netting was recording her emotions and she didn't need this 'sper tinged with feelings of guilty complicity. The walls around her made it look like she was in the small, private room of a stereotypical French restaurant--there was a lit candelabra on the table and freakin' fleur-de-lis on the navy-blue wallpaper. The walls were actually plywood on wheels. If Bree were to look straight up she'd see the steel beams that made up the warehouse ceiling.
About twenty minutes later Bree let her knife and fork clatter onto an empty plate. There was another ten seconds of silence, letting the various recorders register Bree's pleasure and satisfaction. Then the room lost its form as Raoul's crew rolled the walls away. Bree went from sitting in a small space to sitting in the middle of a warehouse shooting stage.
"I liked what you did there," Raoul said as he walked up to her. "That little spike of guilt amidst the pleasure? The customers will--excuse the pun--eat that up."
Bree went to take out the taste-ceptors and Raoul's hand twitched, as if he was going to make a move to help her. Wisely he did not, but Bree couldn't help but imagine him reaching into her mouth and stroking the back of her throat.
"Why chicken cordon bleu?" she asked once her mouth was her own again. "I'd have thought veal would be the more gourmet option."
Raoul shrugged. "Chicken cordon bleu hits that nice sweet spot of being a high-ticket item while still having notes of home cooking. Besides, the selling point isn't really the dish itself. These rich bastards have been eating cordon bleu their whole lives: chicken, veal, whatever. What they're chasing is the high of tasting it for the first time." He drew up a chair and sat down, the light from the still lit candles reflecting in his eyes. "That's why you're so great at this, Bree. An amazing palette but you've never eaten any of this stuff."
Bree stood. She didn't want to get drawn into an extended chat with Raoul. "Hey, do you think I could get paid right now? I'm going over to my Grammy's place and I need to pick up some stuff for her."
Raoul's eyes softened. "How is the old girl? I remember when she used to beat our asses for playing too loudly on the landing of the bloc--"
"She's great. So, the money?"
Raoul pressed some buttons in the cochlear-comp installed behind his left ear, his eyes flickering as they scanned a screen only he could see. "Done. Say hi to her, 'kay?"
"Sure thing."
As Bree rode the monorail from the dockyards to the market she wondered about the people who'd purchase the experience--aka the 'sper--she'd just recorded. Some rich old white person, maybe someone with a tracheostomy, a common late-in-life 'rona aftereffect that prevented them from eating their favorite food. They'd use a neural net to live through the meal Bree had just consumed. They'd taste everything Bree had just tasted, feel an echo of her same emotions. Would they flinch when they saw Bree's light brown hands in their field of vision?
At the market Bree got the watermelon her Grammy had requested, and a case of low-alcohol beer. She lugged her cargo up the four floors to her great-grandmother's apartment.
"Ah, there you are! You're late!" Grammy said. Grammy was in her nineties but could be mistaken for someone decades younger. Grammy was the child of a Korean war bride and a Black American G.I. Despite there being several generations between them, everyone agreed that Bree took after Grammy.
"Can we have some of the watermelon now?" Bree asked. Grammy looked as though she was going to say no, but gave a huff of agreement. As the only great-grandchild, Bree had learned early in life that there was a lot she could get away with.
They sliced up the watermelon and sprinkled some sea salt onto the pieces. They sat on Grammy's balcony, the scent of simmering collard greens wafting out of the kitchen and over the city.
"What were you up to today, child?" Grammy asked.
"I was doing some work with Raoul."
"Oh, that boy? That little hellion always liked you. What's he up to these days?"
"He's a pornographer," Bree said blithely. Grammy nearly choked on a watermelon seed.
"He's a what?!"
"Sorry, Gram, that was a joke." Raoul didn't do sex 'spers, but the work he did do felt similar enough to Bree. "He makes 'spers. You know, recordings of people's experiences so others can--"
"I know what 'spers are, child. I may have been born in the 1950s but I didn't stay there," Grammy said primly. "You should invite Raoul round for dinner next time."
After their early dessert Grammy put Bree to work making cornmeal-crusted tempeh. Bree hummed as she used a brush to paint the honey-mustard mixture onto the tempeh pieces, creating the melody while her grandmother bustled around the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards to create the baseline. Soon Bree's parents arrived. Her father had brought uncooked bean fritters, a recipe from his native Nigeria. Bree fired both fritters and tempeh in some canola oil on the stove. Bree's parents had been vegan since before Bree was born. She'd never told them about the work she did with Raoul, knowing that they'd be aghast to learn that their daughter was--for money!--eating what they considered evil manifested: foie gras, drunken shrimp, turduckens.
The family of four sat down to eat. There was a moment of reflective silence--it should have been five. Monica: Grammy's daughter and Bree's grandmother, dead five years now. Dead from a series of increasingly expensive strokes. Perhaps every family, when they sat down to eat, did so knowing that someone was missing.
"Oh, yeah, Bree. That little spike of sorrow amidst the joy? That's good stuff."
Bree drank some juice to rinse Raoul's voice out of her head.
The crunch on the tempeh was good, Bree thought proudly. Better than the one on the cordon bleu, and Raoul employed top chefs. Grammy's greens were perfect as always, and the bean fritters nice and soft and starchy and flavorful. Talk moved even faster than the food, and it was halfway through the meal before Bree remembered the beer. Even though it was cheap, weak stuff, her family still cheered when she brought it out.
She watched as her parents and Grammy talked and laughed. She'd never bring Raoul here. He'd taste the food, feel the love of her family, and immediately want to commodify it. He'd want Bree to wear taste-ceptors and a neural net and camtracts so he could make a 'sper of the evening. He'd sell it to rich, lonely folks who could get the nicest homes, the best healthcare, but not a home-cooked meal with a family that loved them.
And Bree, well, Bree knew she wasn't strong enough to turn down the cash. As much as the work left a bad taste in her mouth, having a small fortune socked away let her sleep at night. Next time there was a family emergency, some disaster that demanded a mountain of money, she'd be able to help. There'd be no more empty seats at the family dinner table. Not on Bree's watch.
"Child, why are you staring off into space like that?" Grammy asked. "Let's clear this table and bring out the watermelon. Unless, maybe you've already had enough for today...?"
"No, Gram," Bree said, smiling as she got out of her chair. "I'll have some more."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 23rd, 2021

Author Comments

I've always wanted to write a food-based story. When I wrote "Eat You Up" I was reading a lot of cookbooks by Bryant Terry and his food was a big inspiration for the meal the characters eat together.

- Shannon Fay
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