A wide, toothy grin broadens Gozzo’s coarse face as Heinrich, short-legged and triumphant, slow-walks to the table with the trophy. Heinrich is Gozzo’s usual waiter. When Heinrich pauses, his tray held just that much too high to reveal its contents, a dribble oozes out of the corner of Gozzo’s mouth.
Gozzo keeps his eyes on the steaming soup bowl on the tray as if he fears it will not descend in front of him; that it may not arrive. If you were eating at the next table, or even one or two tables along, and happened also to be watching your fellow diner, rather than concentrating on the food in front of you, or talking pleasantly to your companion—and if it were your first time in the restaurant and thus your first opportunity to observe Gozzo—you might think he was poised to chase after the bowl, should it ever run away with the fork and the spoon.
When at last the dark content in its white porcelain bowl descends in front of him—Heinrich having protracted its trajectory as long as he could without cooling the contents—Gozzo stares into its shiny surface with all the tenderness of a man looking into the eyes of his long-awaited first child. And then, black eyes wide and shining, he looks up at his wife, Agate: he is eating goulash in a German restaurant; his mother was German.
Gozzo flares his nostrils as he lowers head towards the dark stew steaming below his smooth chin and bristling moustaches. He sniffs—no, snorts—the steam, bringing his nose close as if he were going to eat through it.
While Gozzo keeps his moustaches clean on the outer side of the bowl, the tip of his nose makes contact with the steaming gravy. Gozzo recoils, throwing back his head and looking at his wife again. He has a touch of dark liquid on the tip of his nose.
Agate indicates with her eyes.
Gozzo extends his long porous tongue and licks it off and then scrubs his nose-tip along his knuckles. He inspects them for another drop. No. He shakes his bulky head with its wild grizzled hair, sniffs, snorts and slobbers. ‘As good as my mother’s,’ he tells Agate, as if she didn’t know.
As if she didn’t know.
Once a week without fail, goulash in this restaurant.
Gozzo has it served in a soup bowl because he doesn’t want to miss a drop of gravy, because the curve of the bowl keeps it hot.
Surprisingly graceful for a large man with rough workman’s hands, he raises the spoon lightly, holds it close to his lips and makes eye contact with Agate again. He wants her to observe his delight, his thrill, his joy: he’s at the breast again.
Always looking into Agate’s eyes, he dips the tip of his tongue into the gravy on the spoon. Just the tip. Just the tip. And sucks the drop into his mouth. Just the tip again, and again, until the disintegrating meat alone lies on the spoon, and then, with a gasp of delight, and raising the corners of his mouth to keep his moustaches out of the way, he opens his large and cavernous mouth snake-wide and directs the spoon into it. It is a slow train entering a tunnel, a slow but steady one; his moustaches remain clean.
Gozzo closes his fleshy lips around the spoon and draws it out of his mouth against his top lip, leaving the spoon shiny clean. And now he chews. Gozzo’s jaw is the signifying feature of his face. A Neanderthal jaw which he closes with authority, and opens and closes and …
Gozzo has read that Gladstone recommended thirty-two mastications for each mouthful. He chomps away with his large, healthy teeth.
Agate is the audience to a concert of castanets.
It takes an hour for him to get through his goulash, as it always took him an hour to feed at the breast, as his mother told him.
Agate, meanwhile, suffers from anorexia.
Joy Manné is group leader and a well-published and much translated author in the personal development field. She has a PhD in Buddhist Psychology. She has had many Flash Fictions published on the web in Pygmy Giant, Café Aphra, Flash Fiction Online, Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine and FlashFlood and in Lakeview International Journal of Literature, 100 Voices 2, and The Ham A. Joy has published two children’s picture books, No, I Won’t Go To Bed Tonight and Stinky Goldfish, and a chapter book, Don’t Blame the Dog. Joy lives overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland.