AMUSE-BOUCHE: A pungent sourness builds at the back of your throat, slowly at first and then with a crescendo of intensity as you flip through the authorized news streams. A string of smiling state-approved anchors informs you that everything is fine, that things are finally looking up, that there is nothing to worry about for those who have done nothing wrong. Subtle notes of accompaniment are provided in the suggestion that by being who you are, being what you are, you have already done something wrong. Harsh acidity gives way to the tang of adrenaline as you open a private tab and search for an unlicensed news source.
Suggested pairing: A cup of cheap coffee, long since gone cold.
SALAD COURSE: A daring citrus astringency rises off the powdered, sunrise-pink petals of St. Johns-wort from your garden. Your wife’s insurance still includes you—for now—but mental health care offerings are limited to counseling and prayer therapy. The nurse at the clinic laughed when you asked about coverage for IVF treatments.
Suggested pairing: Honey, to blunt the sharp edges of the flavor. It won’t help, but you can try.
SOUP COURSE: A lingering sweetness passed from your wife’s lips to your own, as you clasp hands and kiss on the steps of the state courthouse among a cluster of other queer couples. It hints of the apples you ate on the bus ride here, and the happiness you’ve shared that no one will take away. Later, the rich saltiness of summer sweat complements the bitter pall of the facial recognition-fooling makeup. They drip together down your cheeks in a nimble mélange as you flee the protest site ahead of the gas clouds and the Unlawful Assembly Unit. Don’t stop to collect the trampled signs: TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS. YOUTH OCCUPATIONAL SUCCESS ACT = CHILD LABOR. NO ELECTIONS NO JUSTICE. It’s too late in the meal for slogans.
Suggested pairing: Bottled water left out all day in the sun, with a soupçon of plastic aftertaste.
FISH COURSE: Trimethylamine gives the fish carcasses along the stream banks their characteristic bouquet. Hold your breath to reduce the effect as desired. The stream hides your group’s tracks and the camouflaged umbrellas fool the surveillance drones. The first set of wire-cutters break on the fence but the second slice true. You can’t take all the children, but a dozen slip through, wild-eyed, too thin. No food for those who refuse work, they tell you.
Suggested pairing: Bile from your empty stomach pairs with the pangs in your chest when a twelve-year-old girl pauses to cling to you in a desperate embrace. She can’t be yours. Someone would notice. Someone would tell. She should be yours. Someone should have been.
Why are you still here? You should be running. Surely they know you’re here by now.
MAIN COURSE: Piquant, reminiscent notes of copper arise every time your broken teeth slice into your cheek, your tongue. The prison doesn’t have its own dentist; you’ll make do with paraffin plugs while you wait for one to visit on rotation. You lost three molars, a canine, and the tip of your tongue. Don’t worry. You’ll still know how to bite, when the time comes.
Suggested pairing: Slake your thirst with the grayish water from the toilet bowl when they don’t give you enough to drink. Avoid staring too long at your own wavering reflection. You don’t have to remember who you are. There is someone else who always will. She can remind you, when you’re ready.
JUST DES(S)ERTS: The rich oiliness of peanut butter and tart, pulpy raspberries meld seamlessly to form this, the best sandwich you have ever eaten in your life. You don’t know what kind of person brings bagged lunches to a prison liberation, but you would like to be one. Don’t look toward the prison; the sight of the uniformed, bloodied bodies stacked in the yard will spoil your appetite. It would be a shame to waste the food. Lick your fingers for the last crumbs. They are an old woman’s fingers now, but they are yours. You will need them for the work that is to come. You will need them to hold your wife’s hand again.
Suggested pairing: The heady, almost intoxicating minerality of sweet salt tears.
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