“You Must Give of Yourself,” by Barrett Bowlin

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Fiction by Barrett Bowlin excerpted from our Winter 2017 issue.

You’re a minute into a pair of bisteccas on the grill, chef, right at that point before the char starts to collect on the exteriors, with one eye on the coals and another on the chopping block you’ve set up next to the line, one hand on the tongs and another on the slicer, and now both eyes are on the petit filet to your right, to that wen of fat on the side that’s complementing just so the marbled red flesh. To your left, the porterhouses need to be turned, need to flip down now on their backsides if there’s any hope of keeping the “alla fiorentina” in the title of the nightly special, chef, and the dance of the olive oil and the lemon wedges and the cracked pepper on the plated Tuscan beans is keeping time in your head, but you’re somehow not watching where your right hand is going, and then you don’t even know you’re bleeding onto the food until you hear the spurt of blood hit the coals below the great hefts of beef.

In the length of that slow synapse, you remember there’s always that full breadth of a few seconds between the cut and the pain, that timer of injury between what your skin knows and, milliseconds later, what the brain will. This delay’s always fascinated you. It’s the act of watching a group of terrified translators arguing about the best way to warn the body of an attack, their message being sent off into the waves as late as they can possibly wait. And now here it is. That sound, that gush of thick red liquid onto the coals as it vaporizes, comes right before the sharpness, and now you’re raw and bloodier than the porterhouses.

But there’s no time, not with those poor bisteccas on the heat. The T-bones speak up at you as you wince from the knife’s edge, a pair of stuttering hunks of meat with an important message you know already in your heart: it’s t- t- time, man. It’s t- t- time to take us off the grill, chef, and it’s t- t- time to let us rest and soak up on the block. It’s now or never if you’re going to keep their pretty insides rare like the recipe calls for, and you’ve got the choice here between saving their souls or patching up a slice to the cleft of your left hand. Bisteccas alla fiorentina or Band-Aids, chef. You choose.

To continue reading “You Must Give of Yourself,” purchase MQR 56:1 for $7, or consider a one-year subscription for $25.

Image: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “View of three types of cow (dairy, beef, and dual purpose) developed at the experimental farm of the U.S.D.A. Prince Georges County. Beltsville, Maryland.” New York Public Library Digital Collections.


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