By Jennifer Kwan
Inside a tiny house on Oak Street, Edmund Atkins is preparing his Monday evening delicacy. Edmund had grown fond of his tiny house with its few windows, few pieces of furniture and few keepsakes. He felt little need to entertain — or leave his home for that matter — content with his evenings alone, cooking and dancing to the Leningrad Cowboy’s country version of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances Opus No. 45.
His neighbours thought he was weird. He was that scary old man next door whose kitchen light was on all night, who when bumping into you on the streets would always stare at the ground while making small talk.
What do I care what they think, Edmund always asked himself. I have the Cowboys and cooking.
He walks towards the fridge, opens the door and reaches for the plastic, vacuum-sealed bag holding the thick, cold meat. He had been eating head cheese for as long as he could remember. Head cheese on bread, head cheese baked with sauerkraut and plump, red kidney beans — he liked the best — head cheese by itself or with a few saltines, head cheese fried with onions, head cheese cut up and tossed in a salad.
When Edmund was a child, his Nana only made head cheese on special occasions such as Christmas, and she would make it with both pig’s head and beef tongue. It would always have carrots, onions, leeks — including the leaves — peppercorns and cloves. You could taste the juniper berries because Nana always made her head cheese with more than five or six, sometimes even seven, eight, nine or ten. Edmund always watched as his Nana cooked. Then he’d sit in a corner and quietly savour each gelatinous, chewy bit, smirking at all the other kids who ran circles around each other for fun.
Fools, he thought of them.
Before placing the meat on the kitchen table, Edmund wipes it down so hard it begins to shake. Travelling four steps to the kitchen sink, he turns on the tap and begins to rub his hands slowly under the water, staring at it slide over his fingers before it disappears into the drain. He looks up at his reflection in the small rectangular-shaped window and is reminded of his Nana’s face, the wrinkles that cut deep and long across her forehead and down each side of her fat, craggy face, the way the skin under her chin hung low and thin.
“Nana says that pigs’ feet is what makes it taste real good,” he says aloud. Mine tastes much better, he sings to his reflection.
Edmund opens the cupboard door and shuffles a few cans around until he finds the kidney beans. He pauses for a moment and makes a few clicking sounds with his mouth.
Then he’d sit in a corner and quietly savour each gelatinous, chewy bit.
Tonight, I feel like sauerkraut, he thinks to himself, dishing the stringy cabbage out into a smaller saucer. The sound of the can opener fills the air and Edmund dumps the remaining ingredients into the small saucer, turning the knob on the gas stove two inches clockwise. A hissing sound is followed by a short blast of blue fire. Two inches to the right ahs always been the perfect temperature to cook his favourite dish.
Walking over to one of the three bay windows at the front end of the house, he pulls the drapes back and looks out onto the street. Not many people on the streets yet. It’s still early. Only 9:30 p.m.
He opens the front door and almost trips over his shoes. The gigantic mound of shoes had grown over the years. Black shoes, brown shoes, shoes with no toes and boots in all different colours and sizes.
No costumes yet. His was the best place to watch as drunken fools hooked arms with other drunken fools wearing more foolish outfits than the first fool. Edmund liked to watch as they passed by. For a while he watched them, thinking of his Nana who made his favourite meal on special occasions when he was a boy, the stink of his own head cheese filling the air. Soon these costumed fools would start trickling by in greater numbers. Edmund went back into the kitchen and spooned his meal from the steaming saucer.
Oak Street began to fill with people. It was always busy on Halloween. Edmund sat on his porch, quietly savouring the warm, gelatinous chewy bits, staring at the legs of those passing by as they crisscrossed the concrete. The clacking sound of their shoes was loud and familiar.
A man who lived nearby gave him a dirty look, never quite understanding why Edmund always stared at his feet.
But Edmund didn’t see it. He was busy planning next week’s meal.