Lady Augusta stands at her work station, the stained oak table her dearly beloved departed on, and squints at the stinking mess in front of her. Her apron is smeared viscous red and syrupy yellow and her huge breasts fight each other for space beneath it. Earwigs scuttle over slug trails and woodlice congregate in damp corners. Her fat, red fingers poke at ingredients, peel skin, dip into steaming bowls and needle at feathers and bones with a dexterity barely expected of such digits. Forgotten things fall from the table, butterfly wings, egg shells, tiny eyeballs, nail clippings, fish scales, the occasional snake skin that floats to the floor like a discarded stocking. In wooden cages birds cheep and squawk, pulling out their own feathers in disgust. Beside a small heap of brittle spider legs a cleaver gleams. The sound of a bell ringing draws Augusta’s attention to the door and as it sweeps open a man steps hesitantly inside, a felt hat in his hands wrung like a sopping handkerchief.
“Too early,” the woman bellows and the man visibly shrinks at the noise, if not the stench, emitted from that mouth. He backs up till he is standing against the wall and can back up no further.
“Wait.” She yells. And he does.
A scrunched up baby watches him from a hammock nailed to the wall. Its fingers clutch at something in the air, a moth that flutters to and fro. Its nose is caked in snot and its mouth is a purple pucker. A piglet runs past, over the man’s feet, curly tail bouncing. It is followed by a red-haired boy, arms outstretched, his feet barely able to keep up. The pair disappear beyond a thread-bare curtain.
With obstreperous fists Augusta plucks a petrified chicken from the confines of a wooden cage with much scrabbling and writhing and black and white shit daubed on her hands. But deftly she takes a wing in each and snaps them; lifts each yellow leg and breaks it like a twig.
The man against the wall twitches. The chicken lies still on the table, eyes open, its body rising and falling with every breath. Occasionally it lets out a throaty squawk until, with an almighty heft of the cleaver, the woman separates its head from its body. A stream of blood shoots out in an arc and fills half a glass with scarlet. She throws the scrawny chicken body over her left shoulder, perhaps for luck, and it lands on top of a pile of fowl corpses, all in varying degrees of decay, from the fresh and still-twitching at the top to the sopping putrefaction at the bottom. To the half-filled glass she adds a little of this and a little of that before stirring it with her finger and then sucking it clean.
One last ingredient. This is the part he finds the most revolting. She unfastens her apron, unbuttons the top of her dress and coaxes out one gigantic breast. It is veined like Stilton and the red nipple bulges with sores. As she squeezes it gently a good stream of yellowy milk fills the glass to the top and she hands it over to the man before forcing the tumescence back into her dress.
“Drink up,” she says almost maternally. And he does.
“Same time next week,” he says in a phlegmy whisper, before throwing his money down on the table and heading for the door.
Lady Augusta nods, lifts her skirt and tucks the notes into the crease where her stocking cuts into the flesh.