…WHENEVER I WENT over to my friend Phillip’s house they’d always be watching TV. The Mum, Cassie California, only watched nature documentaries and along with Phillip’s four siblings, all boys I’d be sat on the sofa, legs kicking, as cheetahs hauled down impala’s, or Orca’s chomped into seals, always the same show. I’d wait impatiently for my Dad to come and pick me up, my ears drowning out the cycle of life and death straining to hear the familiar car horn outside.
As soon as I heard the horn I was gone, a lightning streak of short limbs and feral hair, eager to get away, leaving a trail like in those time lapse pictures of traffic, just a blur of light. Sometimes I’d remember to say goodbye.
Cassie looked after me while Dad worked a late shift. I loved playing with Lego and messing about in the yard, but as soon as dinner was ready I knew that was the end of the fun. We’d eat, then be stuck on the sofa or floor for the rest of the evening. I’d interrupt asking questions rarely receiving an answer as the California’s were engrossed in their holy time. “How come your last name is a state?” “If a shark bit my leg off would I survive?” “If I put a truckload of ice cubes into the ocean every day, would it help with global warming?”
I was at the California’s again. After riding around on one of Phillips’ BMX’s Cassie came to the back door and shouted, “Kiiiiids! Dinner!”
All six of us obediently ran up the patio steps and piled through the swing door, usually jamming as three or four tried to get through at once.
Instead of a neat row of plates, there was one dish sitting in the middle of the table with a cover on it, and covering half the linoleum, was a giant circular bean bag.
“Now kids, tonight we’re gonna’ try something a lil dif’rent…After you’ve washed your hands, I want you to all sit in the bean bag, ok!”
Hands clean, wiping the excess water on my shorts, I waited in the cramped beanbag ready for the next command, with five California brother breathing heavily, pushing and squirming, eyes fixed on Cassie. She lifted the lid off the dish revealing dozens of steaks.
“Now, who wants to go first?”
Me! ME! Me! ME!
I said nothing. Cassie looked at her brood and then me. “Remember boys! Nick is our guest. Guests always go…?”
“First!” they shouted in unison.
Cassie grabbed a steak and began to chew into it, ripping pieces off, and repeating, her jaws working overtime, up and down, until she couldn’t contain it all, and all I saw was chewed broken strands of meat.
She looked gleefully at me and after another minute her boys started clamouring for food, licking their chops at the smell and sight of freshly cooked steak.
She came over and somehow said, “Open up Nick!” I noticed at that point she had swallowed the steak.
Confused, I opened my mouth wide like I was at the dentist. Directly above me, Cassie began to wretch, making guttural sounds. I knew something wasn’t right but I was the guest. Then it hit home. A few weeks back we’d watched footage of eagles regurgimitating (or whatever the word was) food for their young…