A broth of dirty dishwater, from cooking cubes of beef, the pot liquor drenching bulbs of garlic. There aren’t enough vampires in the world to justify bulbs this big going in the stewpot. There’s a ghostly smell wafting up, lingering essences of what has come before, blotches on the walls from food that has boiled over and become sticky, and from a pot that once actually exploded, left too long on a burner. This pot is navy blue with specks. It reminds me of seeing stars when someone tried to knock my haughtiness out of me, knocked me to kingdom come.
It was the only sky-watching I ever did with my mother.
She liked to slap me because I was high class, and she was a maid. She made a point of liking nothing I liked, including books, which she did not allow, only the Bible (which she could not read, but it was the only “real” book). She called me Bitch, like a curse she had been rehearsing for years, disliking how my father had created a name for me, disliking her own color. So many jars of bleaching creams made her face leathery instead of lightening it.
Onion and fennel and leeks go into the speckled pot, like freckles of the other non-black races my father gave to me. It’s put to a slow boil on the burner, with fresh mint, crushed in her fist.
Mama says to stir in some Aleppo pepper, as red as a harlot, she says. Well, Mama, a harlot can dance better this way, and I can dance all night with Mr. Bob, the man that I love. Everything about us is hot, and this is how we do it. I shake my thang, a small canister of secret flavors, siracha and the white bells of a faux lily of the valley. They looked like church bells to her, and I would get religion, whether or not it killed me, always silky, rolled smooth with a rolling pin. I add some delicate canola oil, but Mama wants lard; nothing but the lardy, lardy will do.
The cubes of beef are cooking, and I want pink to show, but she doesn’t. She wants shoe leather, super well-done. Burnt every time, as she felt about herself, that life itself had burned her, therefore also me. She’s upset that I like the meat pink, as pink as Mr. Bob’s cheeks that I love to kiss, and she’s upset that Mr. Bob isn’t black. She maintains that it is her job to choose someone for me, and that is where I draw the line.
Kissing the food makes it taste so much better, so we do that. Pamper it into the pot, with slices of mango arranged as artfully as possible on top, a curl of infinity as our love is going to last. Miniature marshmallows top things off like clouds of ecstasy. And brown sugar. No more brown than my face.
Thylias Moss is Professor Emerita of English Language and Literature and of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. She can be found at https://thyliasmoss-writer.com and https://shawsheenmemorialbroomsociety.blog.
1 c. canola oil
1 lb. beef, preferably tongue, cut into cubes
4 c. water
10 cloves garlic
2 sticks (8 oz.) butter
1 c. onion, chopped
1 c. leeks, chopped
1 c. fennel, chopped
sriracha to taste
Aleppo pepper, to taste
handful of crushed mint
sliced mango, to taste
miniature marshmallows to taste
brown sugar to taste
Heat oil in a large pot.
Add beef and simmer until cooked but still pink.
Add garlic and butter, stirring to get some shimmy in the pot.
Add onion, leeks, fennel, sriracha, and Aleppo pepper to taste.
Be sure to lick the stirring spoon for it will be dancing.
Arrange mango, marshmallows, and brown sugar on top.
Preheat oven to 350 F. and bake for 30 minutes.