Bewildering Stories

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Beef Stew and Self-Loathing

by David Holub

I hadn’t eaten in hours and the hunger was becoming ridiculous.

I surveyed the dimly lit closet and produced a dusty can of beef stew then rummaged through a junk drawer to find the lone can opener.

Delicately placed, the manual can opener’s circular jaws clenched the can’s rim. I squeezed the two handles and felt the seal break. But at that exact moment, I felt a buzz of pain radiate directly underneath a scar I had on my right thigh.

The scar was the result of a haunted house we had put on in our basement as kids. In his preparation to play the hatchet-wielding teen butcherer, my brother took method acting too far. I have two memories from the incident: Hearing an evil cackle before a flying hatchet nicked my leg and the guy slated to play the crazed hobo eating a turkey leg in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

And now, with each twist of the can opener’s handle, pain would flare from that scar. I would stop turning and the pain would stop.

Over the years I felt the occasional twinge in the vicinity of the scar, but never such outright discomfort. And discomfort corresponding to the turning of a can opener, nonetheless.

The pain was so menacing it felt like the wound was yawning and rubbing against my coarse dungarees. Yet I couldn’t stop opening the can. With every twist of the can opener I checked for blood, not sure if I wanted to see it or not. At least blood would make sense of this.

The beef stew was nearly open when the can opener suddenly wouldn’t budge. I noticed a dent at the top of the can. It probably had taken a dive off the top shelf, I deduced. Thanks to some stock boy’s senselessness. What did he care, with all of his $5.85 an hour? Non unionizing slouch.

Maybe it was some bumbling, slipper-wearing shopper or an overpaid smart guy in a hurry or that blind man or somebody who doesn’t speak English or a teen vandal looking for the approval of one of his ne’er-do much slags.

And here I was with a dented can of stew, one which I paid full-price for. With much of what I had left in my hunger-stricken body, I muscled through the remainder of the lid. Getting over the tin ridge caused by the dent, I heard a pop from the can and endured what felt like an unclean tent stake being buried into my leg. I cursed The President and his staff.

What appeared to be blood crept through my dungarees. But the more it oozed, the more it looked brown than red. My arm quivered as I reached for the gaping wound. I patted the liquid with my index finger then touched my tongue. It couldn’t be.

As I dropped my pants I felt a host of solids falling to the floor. And there it was. Carrots, peas, potatoes and beef — all in a savory tomato based broth — seeping out of the wound on my leg.

I had a mess on my hands and nearly just let the dog in to take care of it. But something told me to keep the stew. I retrieved a dirty spatula from the dishwasher, wiped it with a paper towel and scooped as much of the stew into a sandwich bag as I could.

I laid it on the counter and eyed it suspiciously as I ate a plate of rice. Would I eat the stew? I went back and forth. I made a list of pros and cons. I flipped coins. I played paper, rock, scissors, beating myself in a best-of-seven series. A decision wasn’t easy, but one was made.

I emptied the stew onto a fresh saucer. I cleaned another fork, not to taint the stew’s taste. Staring at the stew before me, I swallowed deeply. My lips tumbled over each other nervously.

Then I pinpointed my anxiety.

I didn’t know if I wanted the stew to taste good or not.

Copyright © 2004 by David Holub

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