Elizabeth Sloughter's Heart


She labeled the sketch beef stake, seeing
that she had depicted what looked too like
a crooked heart. N B, when seared on the gridiron,
it must be turned perpetually. A slash

of ink across the page split the picture,
marking the best way to slice the meat
off the rump. Cutting top to bottom—
a quick quill scratch—would do if smaller servings

were needed, but chopping at the grain
was very bad. She knew from years watching
over the help that her kitchen would be a shambles
hours before every midday meal, but who

could worry over a bit of spilled blood
unless the flesh of the hothouse Seville oranges
was ruined before the jelly could be made?
But the new girl, it seemed, would never learn

to prepare meat for the master's table, would weep
like a babe when a steaming half of veal was thrown
onto the block. What waste to spend a page
on a simple drawing, but what was Mrs. Sloughter

to do? The child would have to give up
those tears. To sever, quickly and cleanly,
was an essential skill. All mortal things
owe God their deaths, she'd explained over the cleaver.

She'd held the small hands in place, so hard
she'd felt the pulse. Even ladies learned sacrifice.
What kind of woman would she become, what sort
of wife, to hold a lowly animal so dear?