What Mother Would Have Wanted

by Stephanie Hutton


Mother’s letter of last instruction was of course addressed only to me. It stated every detail of how I was to serve her organs as the post-funeral supper. Never one to trust my judgment or culinary skills, she attached the appropriate recipes in a neat document which smelled of disinfectant.  I cried for two minutes. Then I wrote out a shopping list and contacted my three sisters to let them know I would provide all the food for the funeral – a small affair as only those who felt obliged through blood would attend.

I set to work in the kitchen, still half listening for mother’s stick banging on the floor of her bedroom to call me to attend to her never-ending needs. For starters, spiced sweetbreads. As directed, I soaked mother’s pancreas in vinegar which the recipe stated ‘removed impurities’. I swirled the liquid searching for evidence of cruelty. Its sour smell replied. Next came devilled kidney on wild rice. Mother had not left the house in twenty-four years since my father died. She never forgave his abandonment. Then a side of rough pâté. As I rubbed chunks of mother’s gin-drenched liver against my fingertips, I felt the unexpected hum of love for her. There was to be no sweet.

My siblings arrived in suitably sombre attire, checking their work phones and sighing frequently. They sat stiff-backed on mother’s leather sofas. Outside the certainty of London, each sister seemed out of place. They had escaped this house and that woman as soon as possible. Annual visits dwindled to polite postcards from exotic locations. As the youngest, I was left with no choice but to stay. She lived for so long, I forgot to leave.

They filled their plates with morsels, chatting about the markets and ignoring me.

‘And I suppose you’re vegetarian now,’ said the eldest, rolling her eyes.

Embalming fluid is toxic. Lethal.

‘I haven’t decided yet,’ I replied, rolling food between my fingertips.