by Áine Tierney
Ger is a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day – he only shines intermittently. And as I looked out the window of our shared house in Salthill, I could see the rain clouds gathering.
Ger always struck me as an aged Little Lord Fauntleroy, but on a day when he was feeling peevish. He is precise and neat; one of those people that always look like they are just after showering. Though twenty-three, one gets a sense that he was born into middle age.
We get on well, really we do; but then, there isn’t enough to like about me to arouse dislike. I’m no threat to anyone’s sense of himself or herself. Doing everything right is the wrong way to go about getting people to like you – this normally safeguards me a certain level of popularity. But I can annoy. Especially Ger.
‘I can’t find my mushrooms.’
‘Where are they?' I ask, with the type of intelligence a person uses when asking someone where they are when they are lost.
‘I think I’ve left um up in my room?’
‘Have you taken to hiding stuff in your room now, Ger?’
He tries to ignore my dig, but can’t help furrowing his brow and down turning the side of his mouth. He is fastidious about his stuff and keeps his kitchen utensils apart from those in common usage. Afraid, I think, of what I’d get up to with his kitchen devil knife behind his back.
‘I’ll be back forth with.’
And he was.
‘There’s no mushrooms in your room either?’
‘No,’ is the grumpy response.
‘There are plenty of mushrooms in my press, growing on the bread I bought last week and haven’t yet got round to throwing out.’ He didn’t laugh. Food is a serious matter.
Ger was cooking steak for his dinner, and I drank vegetable soup out of a carton as I watched, from our kitchen table.
‘Must tenderise this meat now. Yes, oh yes.’ He was beginning to get excited. The lost mushrooms were forgotten. The clouds were clearing - for him anyway.
‘Oh no,’ I put my hands over my eyes, waiting for the bang.
Bang. Bang. He slapped the meat against the counter with the base of the frying pan.
‘Like it hasn’t been through enough,’ I call through my fingers.
‘Don’t leave the other side out.’
He turned the steak and started to beat it once more.
He is heavy like his frying pan, lacking lightness; but it endears him to me. There is weight even in his voice. He takes everything seriously, his work, himself, other people, and in this moment, steak.
‘Life can be cruel can’t it?’
‘It can indeed.’ I look into my soup bowl, hungry as Oliver.
‘The pan is very hot, so there’ll be a mad sizzle off it. Be warned. I’ll cook it eight minutes each side.’
His face is a dagger of concentration as he puts the steak in the pan.
There is silence, bar the steak sizzling, for the next few minutes. Ger stands over the frying pan watching his dinner cook, occasionally flattening it against the pan with a fish slice. I know better than to interrupt his concentration.
‘You wouldn’t like that steak now.’ It’s not a question, but a statement he wants affirmed; I’m feeling generous.
‘No,’ I lie.
‘Women don’t like steak generally.’ He stands back from the pan, admiring the piece of meat.
‘I suppose, I don’t know, do you think?’ I say, whilst sipping my Super Valu soup.
‘Mmm. My ma would eat steak, a little one. I haven’t ever heard of a woman eating steak apart from that.’
The steak is on a plate, sitting on a throne of mashed potatoes. Slivers of onions prostrate before their king like faithful servants.
‘We’d cook steak at home and eat it. But not like that.’
‘Not like that,’ he mimicked, laughing at the disgust in my voice, aroused by the red rawness on his plate.
‘I’d prefer it if it weren’t so rare.’
‘You’d never see a young woman eating it anyway, that’s for sure.’
Not around here anyway, I thought. ‘A lot of my friends don’t eat much of any meat either; it takes too much time to prepare. And if I do cook meat it’s normally chicken.’
‘Chicken’s alright,’ he mumbles magnanimously through a mouthful of steak.
I look at his plate. ‘I’d find that very big. That’s an awful lot of meat.’ There is no hope in my voice; even I’m not that foolish.
‘That’s what I like about it,’ he smiled.
‘I don’t think I eat very healthily. If you are relying on the odd cup of Complan for iron and vitamins you aren’t doing too good. If I do eat meat, it’s a ham sandwich, or sausage, or chicken.’
There was no response to my health concerns. He obviously didn’t care if I died of anaemia.
I changed tack. ‘I don’t even like the smell of meat cooking.’ If I could persuade him, maybe I could persuade myself.
‘You don’t like meat when it’s cooking.’ There was disbelief in his voice.
‘No,’ I replied firmly, ‘ I don’t like the smell of meat cooking.’
‘Do you not? Jesus. I got a great buzz out of cooking that steak.’
‘Did you?’ My voice is drier than my empty bowl.
‘Not knowing exactly how it would turn out, how pink it would be in the middle, going with your own intuition. Having the potatoes cooked at the same time, having everything right,’ He continues to eat in silence for a few moments. ‘Did you not like the smell of that steak, did you not?’
‘I didn’t notice too much.’
‘That’s a powerful steak.’ He shook his head from side to side as he spoke, as if over awed by the import of his words, and what they signified.
‘I’d say you like meat, do you Ger?’
‘I love it.’ Romeo couldn’t have been so ardent and Ger isn’t the most expressive of men; the word ‘love’ isn’t one he’d bandy about.
‘That steak, garlic butter over it, ahh, how could you not want that?’
How indeed? But I didn’t answer.
‘I think it’s a red meat thing. What is it about red meat that is so off-putting?’ He waved a piece of steak, attached to the end of his fork, about in the air as he posed the question.
‘The colour of blood.’
‘Is that it?’ Certainly it isn’t off-putting to him. He shovelled another piece into his mouth and nodded his head, ‘Wow.’ He paused for a few moments, gave his salivary and gastric juices time to work. ‘Well, I assumed that, but I couldn’t think of the reason behind it, it doesn’t make sense, its still flesh whatever colour it is.’
‘But it’s more obviously flesh.’
‘Yea, but surely people can see past that.’
‘But sure, people are always codding themselves.’ I knew I was. I looked at his half empty plate.
‘There is something powerful, primal almost about red meat. Harking back to sacrifices and stuff.’
‘Are you tempted to go after someone with a knife to sacrifice them?’ I laughed hysterically, maybe that’s why he is so careful of his set of knives, I thought. He wasn’t impressed with my detour from the subject; I could tell because he stopped eating. The man had been on a roll. I steered back onto course, or as near to the course as I could find, ‘The fatted calf,’ I threw out.
‘No. Yea. Whatever,’ he muses a moment. ‘Fish generally don’t get sacrificed.’
‘Not really. No.’ We must have come to a cross roads without me noticing.
‘They might have a sacred monkfish, or halibut.’ He laughed. But then, his jokes are funny.
‘Yea, but when Jesus was going in for the old feeding the masses it was fish he used, not a cow. The multiplying of the cow did not happen.’
‘Galilean colony was a fish based one. It was natural; there wouldn’t have been cows for miles around.’
‘Hmm. Mmm.’ what’s a girl to say to that?
‘The divine creatures are red-meated ones.’
‘The golden bull.’ A bad example, but he didn’t notice.
‘Yea, and male too. Is that a female thing as well? Is there…….Is there a psychic almost thread here, that can be traced back between these patriarchal systems. Like many religions of the west being male and the sacred dimension to red meat.’
‘If you go back deep into the subconscious can there be some relationship between very archaic values and symbols and…’
‘Women not liking red meat…’
‘Hmm. And contemporary men having no problem with it.’
‘You relish it anyway, Ger, especially with garlic butter on top, and if only there had been mushrooms it would have been perfect.’
His plate was empty. One man-size steak taken care of, and as I watched him licking each of his fingers, leaving each white and shiny like a polished T-bone, I was left in no doubt about his masculinity.