Onions, peeled, diced
Potatoes, peeled, quartered
Carrots, peeled, chopped
Parsnips, peeled chopped
Our mum’s new boyfriend moved into our kitchen not even two weeks after he first came round. He piled dirty dishes by our sink, drank whisky from our glasses, and stood by our stove making the stew we ate most every night for the next few months. It was a venison stew and he said it was his specialty. He said to mum that my sister’s and my bones were brittle, our skin too pale, our teeth and gums at risk. He said we needed real food, hearty food, but don’t worry, he said, I’ll feed them up and with a bit of luck their growth won’t be stunted. He made the stew in a big iron skillet my sister could barely lift when he told her to fetch it. He squeezed her upper arm with his thumb and first finger, spat, and said, no meat around these bones, no trace of muscle at all. Sometimes he’d have us peel and chop the carrots and potatoes while he braised the meat in fierce oil. Sometimes he’d add a small lick of red wine, other nights he’d empty a half bottle. Some nights he’d get impatient and uncover the skillet early and the meat would be tough and chewy and my sister would risk dropping it for the dogs. It was the peak of summer and we ate on the front porch, and when we woke in the morning the kitchen was abuzz with flies hovering around the chunks of stew crusted to the bench.
When he left we couldn’t get the smell out of the house. We scrubbed the skillet but we couldn’t remove all the little bits of black. Our mum propped open the kitchen windows with a stick from the garden, but we swore we could still smell the garlic frying, the Worcestershire sauce burning as it hit the hot pan. We found a family of rats in the box at the bottom of the cupboard, feeding off rotting parsnips. The stink of that stew was in every corner of the house until the cloud of Brylcreem from the next boyfriend made us forget what it smelt like at all.