An Acquired Taste
It was the hunger that hollowed her eyes. She suppressed the swelling of her appetite deliberately with the clasping of hands. As Clancy brushed the beast’s glossy coat, she bit the inside of her cheeks. As Clancy whispered, “Good girl, yes, you are,” into the floppy ears of his pet, Maxine pressed her nails into fat of her palm. With each pant the dog exhaled, Maxine stiffened her back, making sure to keep her face blank. She pressed her lips together as if fused by an invisible sealant, keeping her mouth from announcing the secret of its want. No, it was not immoral. If anything it was an acquired taste. As a child, Maxine was ordinary, agreeable, and sweet. Gentle, much like her father, a veterinarian by trade, she naturally took an interest in animals. By the age of eight, she made a habit of sitting on a stool placed beside her father’s desk as he bent over large books of charts mapping muscle, arteries, and bone. In addition to this fascination, they had the same sharp nose and brown-black eyes. They shared a strong distaste for sweets and an insatiable appetite for flesh. Although she had never seen her father devour the flesh of lesser mammals, Maxine could detect the difference in his face and shoulders after he quieted his pangs of hunger with the bloodied mouth of a calf born cold and the lifeless paw of a dead kitten with a cleft pallet, skinned and prepped for preservation in a jar. He never confessed his appetite to her. Despite this, she knew and she kept his secret with a reverent conviction that it was his love for animals, his love for life that led to the tearing of flesh and the sucking of marrow. Her keeping of his secret kindled curiosity, which begat an appetite of her own. On the eve of her twelfth birthday, Maxine devoured the paraquet her Aunt Mary sent her as a gift in giddy silence, her teeth sinking into its delicate spine.