I imagine most of you missed the opening and *rapid* closing of the restaurant, La Maison Vivante. I only visited the one time, myself. When I walked in, there were no hosts or waiters in the dimly lit (but stylish) dining room and only one other patron — a well-dressed man, not much older than I, who was spooning soup into his mouth as if he were in some sort of speed-eating competition, his face barely two inches away from the bowl. I took a seat and began perusing the menu.
A tall man wearing chef’s gear came out of the kitchen, moving with an odd sort of grace for a person his size. After a brief word with the soup-slurper, he glided over to my table. “Good afternoon, sir,” he said smiling. “What can I make for you today?” Every bit of him was round — his face, his large belly, even his hands with their sausage-like fingers. His eyes seemed particularly, unnaturally round and unblinking. In contrast, his jet black mustache and Vandyke were waxed and pointed resembling stiletto knives. I gave him my order, he brought me a pitcher of lemonade and a bread basket. I waited for my meal.
After a while, the chef, who appeared to be the restaurant’s sole employee, Wheeled a small cart out of the kitchen. He brought the soup man a rack of lamb at the same time he delivered my sautéed spinach and several slices of prime rib. “Bon appétit, m’sieur,” he said, a broad smile still plastered on his face.
Slicing off a juicy, bite-sized piece of meat I was more than ready to enjoy, what looked like, a well-prepared meal. As I raised the fork to my mouth, I suddenly heard someone nearby say, “Oh boy!” I looked around. The chef was back in the kitchen, the soup man now had a mouthful of lamb. Dismissing the distracting outburst, I raised the fork to my mouth again and heard, “Here we go!” Unsure of where the voice was coming from, but forming a theory, I lifted the fork to my ear.
“Well?” the bite-sized piece of meat shouted into my ear. “What’re you waiting for? Eat me!”
I looked around. I looked at my fork. I looked at my plate. “A trick,” I thought. “Ventriloquists do this sort of thing,” I thought. “It could be some kind of gadget,” I thought. Still holding my fork, I bent over my plate of prime rib to inspect it more closely.
“Hurry up and tuck in! We’re getting cold!”
I’m sure my frantic leap backward out of my chair looked most undignified. Mostly, I think, I was shocked about being shocked. Since arriving in Babbage, I’ve been attacked by robots, dive-bombed by gryphons and assaulted by an assortment of mutants, monsters and mad men. I’ve been shot at, blown up, and forced to perform complicated ballroom dances. Honestly, I was surprised that a talking plate of beef could leave me so… surprised.
“You’re talking! Why are you talking? Why is my prime rib talking?!?” I managed to blurt out.
“I know, we’re supposed to be falling apart in your mouth! Yielding to the force of your mighty chew, plunging dizzily down your gullet and dissolllllllllving in your stomach!”
“You’re looking forward to me digesting you?”
“Only from the moment we were sliced from our carcass!”
Yet another you-should-move-back-home-where-things-like-this-don’t-happen moment had caught me off guard. “CHEF!!!”
The round man with the chef’s hat drifted breezily from the kitchen and stopped at my table. “Are you enjoying your meal, sir?”
“No. but my meal seems to be having a jolly old time! May I ask, where this meat came from?”
“I raise the meat myself. It’s fresh from my lab.”
“Don’t you mean your farm?”
The chef stared at me a moment, wide eyed and smiling. “As you wish. We can call it a farm.”
“He’s letting us get cold,” said the meat at the end of my fork.
“You shut up!” I replied. I turned to the chef. “Did you know about this? Was this deliberate? Did you deliberately make meat that can talk, even *after* it’s been cooked?”
“Well,” said the chef, “I like eating animals, it’s why I learned to cook. I wanted to raise my own, but there were no farmers in my family and I didn’t know where to turn. So, I just made animals that talk. How else does an amateur know what the animals need if they can’t say anything?”
“And you thought it would be a good idea to create animals that *want* people to kill them, cook them and eat them?”
“Oh, I can’t take credit for that idea. I got it from a book. Quite clever, really.” He turned to my plate of prime rib. “I’m rather pleased with how they’ve turned out. So tender! Sublimely succulent!”
“Yes, we are,” said the meat on my fork. “EAT ME!”
“I’ve heard quite enough out of you today, thank you!” I said to the chunk of beef, my shock having been displaced by some brand of anger. I pointed at my fellow diner. “Is it the same with the lamb?” I asked the chef. “I haven’t heard the lamb say anything!”
“Well,” said the lamb that was still on the diner’s plate, “Mr. Solo has already had so much of us, I suppose we’ve run out of conversation.”
“Quite so,” said Mr. Solo, who was sucking on one of the bones. “As you can imagine, their knowledge of current affairs is somewhat lacking, but the meats are quite well versed in philosophy and literature. I’m not terribly well read, I’m afraid. I believe the chef reads to his livestock regularly.”
“I do! Yes, I do!” said the Chef, still wide-eyed and smiling the smile that, by that time, had just become creepy.
The situation seemed thoroughly unreasonable and the two humans in the room were making me feel as if I were the crazy one. “How is this even possible? There’s no mouth… no brain… no lungs… how is this meat speaking?!?”
“They’re very determined,” said the chef. “You shouldn’t let anything stand in your way if there is something you really want to do. Look at this wonderful restaurant I’ve built!”
I addressed Mr. Solo: “And you… you have no problem with any of this? Eat here a lot, do you?”
Solo nodded. “This man is a brilliant cook!” he said, pointing to the chef. “You can’t get a rack of lamb like this anywhere else!”
“That I believe. Tell me something: When it comes… out the other end… is it still, you know, chatty?”
Mr. Solo nodded again, much too enthusiastically. “Until it finally dissolves in the sewer. It brings new meaning to the phrase ‘Talking sh–‘”
“OH. MY GOD!!!!”
I took a deep breath. “Look, Mr… Chef,” I said, trying to regain my composure, “I am fully aware of the growing popularity of vegetarianism, but I have opted to eschew such a lifestyle… and I came to terms long ago with the notion of animals getting their throats cut and their flesh ripped off so I can enjoy sandwiches and casseroles made out of their corpses. (And, believe me, I do enjoy them.) But listening to my diner as it encourages me to eat it is not my idea of appropriate table talk and I question the sanity of anyone who thinks it is!!”
“Oh, but raising meat using my methods is so convenient,” said the chef, “and the flavor is so delightful, it makes for a marvelous dining experience. I’m afraid I must find fault with your arguments, sir.”
“AND I’M AFRAID YOU’RE TRYING TO FEED ME TALKING, UNDEAD ZOMBIE BEEF!!”
There was the sound of splashing and the clinking of ice. I looked at my table and spied a lemon wedge jumping from the top of my glass pitcher of lemonade. It made a wet spot on the tablecloth as it balanced on its pointy end. “Ahem… If I may interject here…”
“Oh, shut up and sit down!” said the rack of lamb. “For heaven’s sake… as if anyone wants to hear what a lemon wedge has to say!”