Remember the episode of Golden Girls when Blanche met Rose at the grocery store? I met my new roommate Jillian the same way. I come from a long line of culinary curators. My family spends most of our time in kitchens. And when we’re not running butcher shops or veggie stands in open-air markets or teaching classes on 3-ingredient cooking at community centers, we find community in gathering around some hefty beast figuring out the best way to bake, broil or roast it. My old roommate never understood my fascination with new kitchen gadgets, knives, and cooking techniques. And she despised my intense, obsessive cleaning regimen. So when her lease was up, we agreed her time had ended–more on my end than hers–and I set off to find my culinary partner in crime.
The craigslist ads were not going well. I had been interviewing for nearly six months before I met Jillian. Oh, I’d gotten a couple of delightfully delicious dates out of a couple of applicants but most of them just really made my stomach turn. I was well and truly desperate when I posted an ad at my local big name grocery store. I don’t often shop there; I’m an organic meat and veggie girl, but like I said I was desperate.
So I pinned my ad to the board, it’s message quick and easy:
WANTED: Roommate for two bedroom flat. Must be clean, and quiet. Must respect the sanctity of the kitchen. Call 612-625-1111 for more information.
As I was walked away, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Jillian. She stood a bit to the side of the board; periodically pushing her glasses above the slight ridge on her nose. Upon first glance she was a bit dowdy; ankle length yellow skirt, navy blue cardigan, and plain white collared blouse. But I noticed a small hoop nose ring and the faint etching of a tattoo peeking from behind her braids.
“Hi,” I said, holding out my hand, “I’m Miranda Bordeau.”
For a moment she looked at my outstretched hand; a hint of what I’ve come to know as disgust, creeping from behind her eyes. She looked me up and down, from my freshly cut Caesar to my polished Doc Martens, finally lingering on the leopard pendant just inside my shirt, nestled in my cleavage. I smiled as she stuffed her hands into the hidden pockets in her skirt.
“I don’t do handshakes. Germs.”
“Ah, I see. Do you shop here often?”
“No, not really, I’m more of a Farmer’s market girl. But, it’s getting cold, and this is on my way.”
“Wonderful,” I said clapping my hands together.
“How so,” she said, backing up slightly, her sepia skin flushing.
Straight on, Jillian is striking. Behind the dark-rimmed glasses are nearly golden eyes; like a tiger. There’ve been times since she’s moved in that I’ve been a bit nervous around her. Those yellow eyes occasionally tracking my movements, making me feel more prey than predator. Her face itself is a little cat-like; high cheekbones and a sweet, lush mouth that has a slight pout.
“Well, I have a room for rent. I wonder if you’d be interested.”
I handed her the notice. She avoided touching me as she took the ad between her index finger and thumb. Germs. When she looked up from reading the note, she gave me a smile that was simultaneously starved and sensual.
“This sounds perfect. Let’s talk rent.”
Jillian arrived on my steps a week later with one travel suitcase and a gray recyclable bag filled with vegetables and a large roast that she insisted she cook for me as a thank you present.
She poured me a glass of expensive red–Château Pontet-Canet–and set to work. Her knife work was spectacular. She even knew how to hold a knife properly with her thumb, and index finger gripping the top of the blade as she eased through the veggies, keeping the surfaces of my quartz countertops clean.
“Where are you from,” I asked in between sips.
“Here and there,” she answered as she julienned celery and eased it into my heavy copper roasting pan.
“Last place then.”
“Isolation. Good hunting.”
“Crossbow mostly. Now and then a rifle if the prey was cunning.”
“How long were you there?”
“About six months.”
“What brought you to Minneapolis? Certainly not our winter weather. Although, we are often colder than Alaska,” I said. I poured myself another glass.
“It’s the best part of a place. The winter. It makes hunting challenging.”
“You don’t quite look like a hunter.”
“Yes, that helps,” She unwrapped the roast from its bloody paper packaging.
I hadn’t noticed the fullness of the roast; it was thick, the muscle ligatures and the delicate marbling of the fat were perfect. Jillian had trussed the roast with butcher’s twine so the meat swaddled against itself. I watched her nimble fingers insert pieces of raw garlic and herbs in the small pockets of the meat. I confess, my hands always feel slightly itchy whenever I’m around a good chunk of meat. So when she asked if I wanted to put the rub on the roast, I eagerly obliged.
She handed me a small aromatic pouch, then poured herself a glass of wine. I sniffed the bag and tried to piece out the scents. Pepper, thyme, and bay leaf immediately sprung to the forefront, but there was a scent underneath it, musky but sweet. Nothing I’d ever smelled before but something that made my mouth water.
“What is it,” I asked, in between sniffs in the bag.
“Intagaru root, it’s a family secret. It makes everything taste wonderful,” she replied.
I rubbed the body of the roast with the aromatics. I reminisced on the last woman I dated. Her thighs felt like this, thick and strong but malleable under the strength of my hands. She’d been a delight for a short time. Of course, my lifestyle ended our relationship. She’d been a tasty treat, that’s for sure.
Jillian’s hand on my back reminded me of the task at hand.
“This is good. You’ve handled this cut before.”
I stepped away from the roast and washed my hands allowing her to finish her preparations. She poured a half bottle of red in with the roast then into the oven it went.
The time slowed as she regaled me with hunting tales from forests to jungles; her family are foodies like mine. They spent much of their time searching for the rarest meat’s they could find. The intimate way she discussed food made me blush. She languished over the ligaments in a beast and the yearning in her voice when she described the differences between roasting and cooking over an open pit made my inner thighs sweat. There were moments when she laughed that she touched the tips of my fingers with hers.
“Hunting prey with a crossbow is exhilarating. They can smell you; you know. The hunted have heightened senses. They feel it, a sense of doom. The good ones you can chase so hard that they lose fear and gain fight. Fear makes the meat tough. Fight, well, fight, makes the meat incredibly…tender.”
She twisted and played with her braids as she talked, and the tattoo became more visible underneath her braids. The scalloped scales started at the “kitchen” at the nape of her neck and flowed in a spiral and disappeared into the collar of her Fine Young Cannibals t-shirt.
“Interesting tattoo. Where’d you get it?”
She smiled and poured more wine into our glasses. She twisted her back towards me and slipped her t-shirt above her shoulder blades. I could see the entire tattoo. The etching of a crocodile slunk down from under her braids and wrapped its body almost to her stomach. Absently I reached out to touch it but stopped short, when I noticed the accurately detailed heart in the croc’s toothy grin. As she breathed in and out, the organ seemed to pump creating the illusion that a pool of blood was spreading out along the croc’s feet.
I gasped when she grabbed my hand and placed it on the belly of the beast. The ink felt raised against her skin so I couldn’t tell whether the ridges I traced were her ribs or the scaly ridges of the creature.
“I got it after a particularly difficult hunt, my first.”
“Intense,” I said, pulling my hand back as she dropped her shirt.
“Predators, are always looking for the offal. They are the tastiest, you know. It’s where all the fluids gather. The tastiest bits some chefs say. Our animal cousins have known this for some time.”
My grandfather used to say this. “We got our cooking from before slavery,” he once said, “The offal, the innards, the parts left behind we cook and eat and make tasty.” He was a hunter. Even in lean times, my mother said he’d come home with pale-skinned piles of meat and bloody innards. She learned to roast, stew, bbq, and fry. She learned from him and passed it to me. I never go hungry.
We finished another bottle of red by the time dinner was ready. We were also well past tipsy. And when Jillian leaned in to pop a piece of meat into my mouth, she allowed me to linger on her fingertips, I realized she would be the best roommate I ever had.
As we lounged on the couch listening to Tito Puente–her favorite artist–her long legs stretched out across my lap, my new roommate and I both agreed roasted human flesh is the most sinewy and delicious.