“Human Tenderloin” by Craig Wallwork
The dinner guests have arrived, and only the finest cuts of meat will do. Unfortunately, there’s only one company that sells the highest quality product at the lowest risk, and the pickings are growing slimmer. But you know what they say; it’s always best to know where your food comes from — or who it comes from.
About the Author
Craig Wallwork is the author of the novels, The Sound of Loneliness and To Die Upon a Kiss, as well as the short story collections, Quintessence of Dust and Gory Hole. He lives in West Yorkshire, England.
The story begins with a phone conversation between a receptionist and a customer who has ordered Southern-fried forearms, but is upset that the one being cooked is an amputee. She can offer a midget instead (all the limbs but smaller portions), but he has dinner guests and that would make him look bad. He’s ordered a clergyman but will take anyone that’s a member of the church. Unfortunately, that demand is high as “people with a tendency to follow Christ need less tenderizing.” He settles for the midget. Now he is preparing what he has, a step-by-step recipe complete with testicle appetizers and a frozen penis that will be used for the coq au vin. Remaining body parts (brain, rump, kidneys, etc.) will be stored in the freezer.
The dinner theme is Tarts and Vicars. They will only eat men of the cloth for tenderness and to avoid disease, but the guests will dress provocatively. Guests include Reginald Hockley, a well-traveled man who uses the dead for parts. Lady Betwixt who became a purveyor of the flesh when she “found her husband’s dick in the housekeeper.” Graham Hartley, a surgeon who knows the best cuts of meat. And M., a woman who wears all black and smells of urine. She is a cannibal for population control, and the one who hooked them up with the company that sells human meat with less risk of imprisonment.
The first dish is a missionary that ran into some trouble in Peru. Betwixt hopes it isn’t infection — while holidaying in Greece she hired two men to “acquire” a young female. They got drunk and stole a corpse from a hospital who turned out to have had trichinosis, a parasite that made Betwixt violently ill upon eating her. Conversation ensues and it is clear they are knowledgeable connoisseurs of human flesh, the various textures and tastes of people with different backgrounds and beliefs (i.e. the feminists are tough and bitter).
An idea of the irony of conversation topics: “”I heard on the grapevine a German composer is facing a double life sentence because his hired killer made a deal with the police to avoid going to prison. Some people have no morals.”
“I’m sure it won’t be long before we are forced to eat cattle,” says Hartley.
“Perish the thought!” replies Hockley.”
They take turns hosting dinners, each tending their unique talents. When it’s M’s turn, they’re to gather at an old abattoir in a village outside the city, and to bring choice cuts for her to cook. Hockley finds it rude that guests would provide the food, but our narrator believes M has fallen on hard times and calls the company to see what might be left as pickings are slim lately. He arrives at M’s dinner late, everyone’s cars parked outside. The only light outside the slaughterhouse is the moon, and he goes inside to find the rest of them. He finds Hockley skinned in the steel drum, he’s not shaken as he’s desensitized. Lady Betwixt hangs upside down from a thick silver hook, her throat cut, and he warms his hand in the pool of blood. In the cutting room, pieces of Dr. Hartley are found in the large container, impressive work. And he remembers what M had said at a party — that the type of people you eat will transfer their traits into you. He realizes why M had been getting such a generous discount from the company they bought their human meat from, and as the shadow of a cleaver hovers above him, he wonders what trait of his M will take.
Wallwork lets us know from the first sentence that nothing is off-limits in this piercing social satire wrapped up in blood and guts, literally. The narrator is on the phone complaining about about having received an amputee when the recipe for this evening is “Southern-Fried Forearms.” He goes on by stressing that he is appalled by the service, especially since he has been a a loyal customer for 20+ years! It’s the kind of conversation you would expect to hear when someone calls Whole Foods or Nordstrom’s. After receiving a report about “supply and demand,” which is skyrocketing, btw, he has the temerity to ask for “a gesture of goodwill,” since it’s not their policy to provide refunds.
Yes, the story details with a high-powered precision of the extremes guests must go to in order to partake and enjoy cannibalism, but it’s the entitlement, hypocrisy, and obsessive nature of those involved, that keeps the story going. Wallwork seems to capture just the right rhythm and tone to make this story work, forcing the reader to deal with discomfort of the subject matter and hysterical cultural commentary that one might find from Fran Lebowitz, The coute de gras, as it were, is they have become so desensitized and obsessed with their quest for only the highest quality of “food,” it ends up being their undoing. The narrator’s commentary on the final scene that includes his own death, is so droll, even as he faces death, he wonders what the person who consumes him will take away from their experience. The horror and laughter is up to the reader.