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The Cow's Tongue

By Isabella Hale

The men’s voices were loud, laughing as they greeted my dad. His Army buddies were here for their monthly haircuts and dice-playing session.

They were talking about the huge cow’s tongue that my father had brought home for dinner from the meat department of the commissary. My dad was still wearing his butcher’s apron splattered with blood. He had roasted the giant cow’s tongue and its smell wafted everywhere.

“Ezabell, come out here and help me serve the cow tongue,” he shouted to the bedrooms.

“Ok, in a minute,” I shouted back.

The party in the living room grew louder and I could hear the men, laughing and shouting, shaking and opening beer cans, and spraying the beer onto the ceiling in the dining area.

I had been hiding in my bedroom; my mother was already in her bedroom, high on tranquilizers. I could hear Beethoven’s Ninth playing through the thin apartment bedroom walls. My little brother and sister were in our bedroom, that is, my bedroom that I shared with my sister, reading comics; hiding from Dad and the rowdy crowd of Army soldiers.

As I heard scraping and moving of furniture, I peeked out from my bedroom and ran down the hall to see that the soldiers were setting up my dad’s barber chair so that he could cut their hair. Dad had changed from his butcher’s apron to a white T-shirt and Army khakis. He had been a barber before he enlisted in the Army and was now a meat-cutter and butcher at Cameron Station, Virginia.

The party grew yet louder and I could hear the clinking of shot glasses and roars from the men as they shot dice waiting for their turn to get their haircut. Cheers and boos erupted as dice were tossed and money exchanged hands.

“Ezabell”, Dad shouted again, “come into the kitchen and help out.”

I knew there was no getting out of it now. Shyly, I went into the kitchen and got a big butcher knife and stood staring at the huge cow’s tongue before me on the counter. It was as big as roast beef, dark red, and covered with taste buds, just like human taste buds.

“Ugh,” I said, mostly to myself. Dad had sliced about three quarters of it into thick slices and the meat looked very dark and dense, sort of striped inside.

As I stood alone in the kitchen getting ready to cut the slices into smaller pieces, one of the younger soldiers came into the kitchen. He had dark hair and was smaller built. He was way younger than my dad and very drunk.

“Here, let me help you cut that big cow’s tongue up,” he said, reaching for the knife and at the same time put his hand on my ass.

I held the knife tightly up to his face.

“Get out of here now because if I yell or tell my Dad you touched me you are a dead duck.” I said.

He calmly, drunkenly gazed at me, a sight to behold: a skinny, black-haired, runt-of-a-girl, gripping the butcher knife and holding it quite close to his face. He slowly backed out of the kitchen back into the din of the soldiers, who could still be heard playing dice, getting haircuts, drinking, and shouting drunkenly.

As I stood in the kitchen, shaking like a leaf, forcing my hand to slowly loosen its grip on the butcher knife, I heard the young soldier tell my father, who was busily barbering one of the men’s hair, that he could not wait for his haircut—that he had to leave right away since he was had promised his mother that he would be home for dinner tonight, for a change. Silently, I put the knife down and peeked around the corner, where I watched him leave through the front door, the only door.

My dad and the other soldiers were oblivious to me as I scampered back into the safety of my bedroom. I pulled the covers over my head and ears while the party in the living room raged on.

Just before I feel asleep I heard Beethoven’s Ninth symphony crescendo through the thin bedroom walls.

 

Isabella Hale currently is working on a short-story collection and a medical
thriller set in Washington, DC. She is working on a photographic history of
Alexandria, Virginia, and is a published poet as well. She is a graduate of
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and currently resides in
Alexandria near the Potomac River.

Photo "Self-Portrait II" courtesy of Sarah Eitel, Frankfurt, Germany.

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