PICTURE A WINTER’S evening in a kitchen in Wellington, New Zealand. An Antarctic wind stalks the house, rattling windows in its quest for a way in. I’m sitting at the table while my meal goes cold. My brothers bolted theirs down an hour ago and escaped to their bedrooms. Mother says, ‘You’ll sit there until you’ve eaten every bit.’ A bare light bulb burns harshly yellow overhead and picks up a thick sheen on the sliced ox tongue and the boiled potatoes. Only the spinach, with its strong green colouring, withstood the luminous onslaught. I like spinach, especially when it’s tossed with salt. I ate that first and have stared disconsolately ever since at the rest. I have tried the potato: it’s as hard and unappetising as soap.
More particularly, though, I don’t want to eat the tongue. It’s a shocking thing to tell a child to eat, an obscene thing. I saw the tongue when my father brought it home, unwrapped it and set it on a plate. It was blue-grey then, and grossly pimpled. All innocently, ghoulishly curious, I watched Mother boil and peel it, thinking it was for my parents to eat, not us kids. I know there’s adult food and child food, even if nobody has said so.
Already a subscriber? Sign in here