The taste explodes in my mouth with the fury of a thousand suns. Delicious. Layers of flavor that I had never even contemplated come to life, dancing across my tongue. Onions and garlic, a dash of pepper, the sting of malt vinegar, the soothing sweetness of brown sugar. Beneath it all, soaking into every bite, the taste of the meat, thick, juicy. Red with the blood that saturates it.
The experience is nothing short of orgasmic. Were I still capable, I might have needed to change my clothes. It’s simply the finest meal I’ve ever had. That’s important to me; after all, it’s also the last meal I’ll ever have. It should be suitably exquisite.
I’ve also taken pains to ensure the setting is just right. I took the bulbs out of all the lamps in my living room. Moved all the furniture to the corners. They lie, still and silent under shrouds of crushed red velvet, fellow corpses to keep me company on my final voyage. Crushed orchid and rose petals are strewn across the hardwood floor – freshly mopped and waxed – creating a trail from the front door, to the mahogany dinner table, and beyond to the bedroom. Everything is lit with tall wax tapers, giving off ribbons of cherry-scented smoke that swirls around me and grants the entire tableau a dreamlike quality.
My only regret is that Lenore isn’t here to see it. It would have been our fifth anniversary. I still remember how she looked when she stumbled into my life; her hair a spastic frizz that shone like a halo, the heel of one red pump snapped off, her dress soaked and smeared with mud. She had lurched through the door of my favorite cafe, fallen into one of the faux leather booths, ordered a coffee, and began crying into it.
I couldn’t help but go to her, ask her what was wrong. After her initial shock – surely no one would have dared intrude on her private misery, she must have been thinking – she had spilled everything. The drunken boyfriend, forgetting their romantic Valentine’s dinner. The shouting, the departure without stopping to fetch her wallet, the walk through rain-drenched streets until she felt she could go no further. Ordering a coffee that she had no money to pay for.
Gentleman that I am, I of course offered to pay for her coffee. A meal followed that. Then more.
We were happy. Four years we had. Until my diagnosis. Until they told me I had only a handful of months. It was my fault, I know that. I raged against the unfairness of it, against the horror of my own mortality. First I was angry at the doctors, for bringing me such terrible news. Then I was angry at myself, at my own traitorous, weak flesh for allowing such indignities to be forced upon it. Finally, I grew angry with her, for she had given me all that my life was lacking, given me a reason to want to live, reflected all the joy and happiness that might have been… And now it was being yanked away.
It would have been our fifth anniversary. If she hadn’t finally grown tired of my anger, tired of my accusations, tired of my useless tears.
That last fight very nearly spoiled my appetite for what was coming. I had known, even then, you see. That it would be our last anniversary, that I had to make it very special. I knew that I wasn’t going to put myself in some hospital ward, to be looked after by nurses and doctors who would feign sympathy, then breathe sighs of relief once they were out of earshot. I was going to leave this world on my own, at the time and place of my choosing.
Realizing I had forgotten one element of my perfect romantic dinner for one, I reached for the remote that sat on my kitchen counter. With the press of a button, Pete Steele began singing to me from beyond the grave, informing me that he would love me to death, his deep baritone shuddering through my weakened flesh and vibrating the bones beneath in delicious agony. It was loud enough that the neighbors to either side could probably hear, though I wasn’t worried. Even if they dared attempt to summon the police, there would be no one here to be arrested or cited.
No one living, anyway.
Of course, I had been planning this before that final, apocalyptic fight. I hadn’t decided whether or not I would be dining alone, however. Part of me wanted to, to ensure that I had nothing but privacy, that I left the world as I deserved to; alone and on my terms. Part felt that
Lenore deserved the truth, the option to be there with me at the end, the chance to come with me if she wanted it.
After all, a life without me wouldn’t have been much of one, now would it? Left alone again, with nothing to show for it but five years of time and effort wasted on someone who would ultimately only leave a gaping hole in her life. No one to braid her hair, or make her coffee – just the way she wanted it, four sugar cubes and a teaspoon of chocolate syrup – or organize her closet or pay her bills or do any of the hundred other things that sane, normal people are expected to do every single day without complaint but that somehow completely mystified her.
It was when she called me childish – me! The one who made sure that she never had anything to worry about, anything to trouble her pretty little empty head! – that rational thought – and I was thinking rationally, mind you; trying to make her hate me so much that she could live without me may not seem like the best avenue, but it was carefully calculated, I tell you – departed. Some of the medication they had placed me on affected my temper, you see, and that last accusation served as the final straw. If she wanted childish, I would show her childish.
The way a child will break a toy that has displeased him, whether out of petulant rage or simply the peevish desire to ensure that if he cannot have it, no one will. Childish? Certainly. Satisfying? Oh, yes.
I grabbed for one of the candelabras sitting on the dining room table. As I mentioned, I had already been planning this. It was heavy, lethally smooth in my hand, no trace of stickiness from the gold lacquer I had applied to it that morning, no remaining wetness from the thin coat of nail polish I had carefully painted upon it. It would clean up nicely, and with the slick surface and the kid-skin gloves I wore at all times – to hide the pockmarks and sores my condition has afflicted me with – there would be nothing to show that my beautiful source of illumination had also served to darken another’s light.
I am nothing if not meticulous.
Her eyes widened after the first blow, the way a little girl’s will when she spies the favorite, must-have, all-my-friends-already-have-one doll in the present box. The first blow was a glancing strike, skirting along her hair – all that damned hair, teased up like some kind of harlot and soaked in enough hairspray to fossilize one of those Goliath spiders they have in South America. Somehow that look, wide eyed and innocent, her beauty spoiled by the immaturity of that expression and the thin runner of blood that began to trickle down from her scalp towards her eye socket, was even worse.
I swung again. One of the stems ruptured her eye, ceasing that inquisitive indigo stare. Another crushed the bridge of her nose, spoiling the thousands of dollars I had spent shaving it to perfection. This only angered me further. How dare she? How dare she cause me to damage that porcelain visage, so lovingly sculpted by the best doctors I could locate?
I swung again. And again. And again.
She slumped, skinning her knees, ruining their perfect smoothness and fabulously tinted spray-on tan. One heel caught in her skirt – $900 at Bloomingdales, “It was on sale!” she had shrieked into my ear – and tore a vaginal slit in the fabric, leaving frayed silk streamers behind, soaking up the blood and looking like a party favor that had gone horribly wrong.
I swung again. Again. Again. And once more.
She put one arm up, pleading. The fingers were shattered, bent in all directions. The nail job I had offered her for placation after our last altercation was beyond repair; three were broken off, the thumb was ragged and bent. Only the pinky remained to show for the hundreds of dollars given to some frail Korean woman who’d dared stare at me as though I was some kind of freak, giving accusatory glances at me each time she had to adjust her grip around the bandages Lenore had carefully wrapped around the burns on her palms and wrists before our visit.
She finally deigned to make a sound.
“Please,” she said, and I knew what I must do.
I had been right, after all. She couldn’t live without me. She had known I wouldn’t be able to come to this decision by myself, had known of my plans to drive her away, had known of my solitary dinner reservation and my ultimate fate. And, with love, she had driven me to the proper course like a steer in a chute, making sure that I wouldn’t leave her alone and bereft, making sure I’d have company when I came to whatever afterlife there may be.
I smiled down at her. Cupped one fractured cheek with my left hand, running the thumb through the viscous liquids that frothed from the crater that had been an eye only moments before.
“I love you,” I said. And swung a final time.
The cleanup had been simple enough. She threw away clothes all the time, and the neighbors had long ago learned not to be to inquisitive regarding the odd stains they sometimes evidenced. My Lenore had always been clumsy, prone to getting blood – or other, less savory – stains. And I, always understanding, was more than ready to replace such items. The gleaming black tiles of the kitchen floor had required a bit of scrubbing, but bleach was common in my home, and other than the heart palpitations, a little hard work wasn’t going to hurt me. There was only the matter of her body, the last bit of her left on this earth. I couldn’t leave it behind. Couldn’t simply abandon it to coroners and police and photographers and reporters, and the lies they would tell about her.
Even now, even as I prepared to leave for whatever came after, I was concerned about her reputation, you see.
And then I remembered something I had read, once. The old Pharaohs had done it, when their time was near. A way to ensure that the spirits of their servants and loved ones would be with them… and one that conveniently would remove the evidence and leave her reputation pristine. She would become a mystery, an idol to all those who sought better.
Never finding her, they would create tales of the places she had gone, the things she had done. They would write stories to her greatness to fill the void created by the absence of evidence.
You would be surprised the things you can locate on the internet, if you are fairly intelligent and know what to look for. Some might have been worried that FBI traces might be placed and those searching for recipes like the ones I found that afternoon, or concerned that visiting them would build up a body of information that the foul agents who would blaspheme and corrupt her name and fate could use to track her, preventing the rise of her legendary fade from view. But I am no stranger to hard work, and due diligence and had long ago made sure my internet explorations were safely hidden from the outside world. I had to. After all, the things that she searched for, while humorous and innocent, might have caused interference… I had to clean the machine daily after the things she had looked up. Women’s shelters, protection programs. Hmmph. For anyone who isn’t a writer or a reporter, those kinds of information could be dangerous. Put ideas in her head, or the heads of others, like the nail woman.
Couldn’t have that. So my computer was safe. I knew it.
They showed me just where to cut. What sort of pans I would need – I ran up nearly seventeen thousand at Pro Kitchen Supplies. Maxed out my last credit card – and would you believe that, she didn’t even have the dignity to have cashed her last alimony check, so it all came out of my pocket! – but again, what did it matter? They wouldn’t be able to send their collection hounds after me, even if they found me.
Seventeen hours of bustling about the kitchen, making sure the oven was just right, returning frequently to the bathroom to make sure the marinade was coming along properly, the careful attention I had to pay to bathing and shaving and plucking her. The pieces I had to throw away because the cut wasn’t quite right or the damage she had allowed to be inflicted on her had rendered the meat unusable. Cutting a bruise from a banana had always been a source of irritation for me; cutting dozens from my lovely Lenore was nearly enough to drive me to madness. But I managed.
Into the oven I placed the finest cuts, the most savory and delicious, and at last my dinner was prepared.
And, as I mentioned before… she was delicious. One almost couldn’t detect the hint of hemlock.