The ladies’ dining club

Issue 3/1994 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

From the novel Luonnollinen ravinto (‘A natural diet’, WSOY, 1994). Interview by Tuva Korsström

My dear, wise and ever-faithful secretary, colleague, friend and right hand, you who, without counting the hours, have been my helpmeet in many awkward situations, and not only in work matters but in others, all sorts of matters that belong to my private life and particularly those, you have remembered things that I have found hard to remember, like the birthday of my wife or some important colleague, and at Christmas you have always remembered me with some small gift, always different and always carefully chosen, of which I hardly need say how much it has warmed my heart, when I haven’t been able to do better than a single miserable hyacinth. And you have always reminded me of engagements I haven’t been able to keep track of: dentists, barbers, garages, less important and more important receptions, lunches and dinners, but what is most important, and why l am most grateful to you, is that in your generosity and open-mindedness – your eternal femininity – you have understood that a person in my position may sometimes find himself in situations whose consequences he cannot always control, and that he begins to be bothered by all sorts of people, although they should understand from the smallest hint that their company is not required, and you have sensitively but firmly turned them away, sometimes telling a little lie, and you have never, ever taken a moral stand or judged my actions, but have averted your eyes, having made the decision to accept that your boss is anything but perfect. For that reason I wish to express my gratitude to you; but not, however, unreservedly. Our seamless collaboration, my ever-lovable secretary, has meant that something belonging to me has begun to belong to you, that you have become part of me just as I have become part of my wife, even before she touches me with her fork. So I have no doubt that you, too, could appear at the dinner that is soon to be arranged. Bon appetit!

As you see, I am not myself; I am sick. I was and was not; I was two, the first and the second.

Down to business. You have of course heard of the Organisation, I have been given to understand that its membership has grown considerably in recent years, and that there is hardly a woman in this city who has not heard of it. How did I hear of the Organisation? Allow me to tell you.

The waitress brought a tea-tray and took up her place, standing by the wall, though she wasn’t watching us directly, she kept an eye on us. A. poured some tea and began to speak

‘The Organisation was founded five years ago by a handful of women on a kind of whim – or not, at any rate, for any particular reason, and if there was any such, it certainly wasn’t important. Perhaps the women wanted only to eat, to enjoy good food or fill their stomachs – perhaps they merely had unusually large appetites?

‘Isn’t it strange,’ A. said, looking at me with her big blue eyes, ‘that, in a country where there is so much food available, there are so many who go hungry? In all social groups, without regard for age or sex.’ She thought for a moment. ‘Perhaps they wanted to try out new dishes and, having tasted almost all of them, someone suggested that the next time they could eat a man. No one, apparently, had anything against it, everyone thought it was a good and worthwhile suggestion. But it wouldn’t be possible the next time, because getting the meat ready for cooking would no doubt be difficult and time-consuming. They also needed expert help, and they found it with surprising ease. The head waiter of one of the restaurants in the centre of town was fired with enthusiasm and promised that, if the meat in question were to be eaten regularly, if it were, in fact, to become a tradition, it could take place in her restaurant, which had excellent facilities: a spacious, ultra-modem kitchen with excellent equipment -large steel tables, machines, crockery, a selection of knives, a cold store, a freezer; but, best of all, they would have a trustworthy and experienced chef who, before becoming a cook, had spent years as a meat-cutter, had cut meat in a slaughterhouse. Because of the delicate nature of the matter, the dinner was not spoken of, and the activities that related to the preparation of the meal were kept secret.

‘But word spread like wildfire, you cannot credit, right honourable sir, how many women were to be found in this city, this country, who wished, in one way or another, to participate, not necessarily in the eating, but by donating something: bread, wine… and, of course, the most important thing of all: meat!

‘In such a way did an innocent idea, perhaps spoken partly in jest, give rise to an underground, ever-growing movement governed by complete solidarity and trust. Outsiders know nothing of it.

‘The movement spread to other, smaller restaurants, most of them on the edges of the city on the periphery – like this one here. Here only certain organs are eaten: tongues, brains, hearts and testicles. Perhaps you will not believe it as you look around you, but this is one of the best by reputation, shall we say a real gourmet restaurant. I myself have not tasted the food on those occasions, because I am a vegetarian.’

She took a sip from her tea-cup and gestured to mine. ‘You’re tea’s getting cold. Do drink up, it will do you good.’ I sat motionless, and when she asked me once more to drink, I drank. I had sensed something; I realised that from now on I would have to proceed with caution.

‘Not everyone who wants to can dine immediately, your wife, for example, had to wait two years. I believe that, up to now, she has participated in at least four dinners.’ She looked at me mischievously. ‘Your wife is, should we say, a real glutton!’

Since I was, all too clearly, dealing with a mad person, and knew that protests and arguments were of no use, I went along with it gamely, meeting smile with smile, and asked why on earth my darling wife had had to wait for so long.

My interest aroused A.’s enthusiasm, and she said something like this.

‘Many people like to eat, for some people it’s even a passion, but if you want to eat, it’s best to relate to the food itself with as little passion as possible. The intention is a good one, to protect the eater. Let us consider, for example, roast mutton. If you knew the sheep in question, if you had a relationship with it and some particular feelings towards it – remember, you can love even a sheep, just as well as you can hate or envy it, be jealous of it because the sheep perhaps doesn’t love you, but some other sheep, as is natural and right – there it was, roast, in front of you, you would undoubtedly tuck in in a different way than if it was a sheep you didn’t know. Perhaps you wouldn’t eat it for itself, but for example in revenge, because you were angry with it and bore it a grudge. Would you eat it if you loved it. Perhaps – but then you would have to think about something else. You would hardly cut slices of it and chew its meat thinking, now I’m eating my sheep, which I loved so much, and with whom I would have liked to spend the rest of my life. No, in order to tolerate that conflict you would have to forget that you had ever known that particular sheep, that you had liked that sheep and even given it your heart and loved it above all.

‘You see, the right attitude is of the first importance. It is the way to avoid unfortunate repercussions, which can be accompanied by lack of restraint and unhealthy, enslaving passion, which make the eater unreliable and untrustworthy. She may suddenly repent and suffer severe guilt and self-loathing and, worst of all, she may want to atone for and confess her deed, which she now calls a crime. It is clear without saying that this would badly affect the activities of the Organisation, in fact it would threaten its existence, and for this reason it must be prevented. For this reason, members are not allowed to dine immediately; first they must prepare themselves, practise, for dining that is, right honourable sir, much more than dining. The Organisation must be sure of its diners, and the diner must be sure of what she is popping into her mouth, in other words that what she is eating is no more than a piece of roast meat, a steak or a meat-ball.

‘Membership is granted when the candidate attaches no importance to eating, or indeed to life, either. Eating is just eating, and living living. To put it simply, eating, like life, has no purpose. In practice, it means that you can eat anything, since what you eat has no meaning.

‘Do you know what I mean?’

Her cheeks were glowing and she was breathless. Her eyes sparkled as she gazed at me, sincerely and in earnest.

I nodded at her, and tried to look as convinced as I could. Of course I understood, naturally.

My answer did not satisfy her. ‘Well, I don’t understand it. I’ve tried and tried,’ she said, and tapped her pretty head. Then her anxious expression broke into a winning smile.

‘More tea? Shall I pour a cup for you, too? There you are.’

Translated by Hildi Hawkins

Annika Idström’s work has appeared in German, Swedish and Norwegian translations. Her Veljeni Sebastian was published as My Brother Sebastian in a translation by Joan Tate (London: Forest Books, 1991)


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