Every now and then I’ll get some liver from the butcher. Try that meat jelly, metal-flesh, aspic snap again. I can’t figure it out, fully. There’s something that draws me in. Like how we enjoy our own smells, sometimes. Enjoy being fetid.
Bernadette Carlin looked after us on dark nights, sometimes. There was seven or eight of us. Auntie Carlin, that’s what the moms made us call her. They’d go up The Spills Meadow for dominoes. The loser’d have to look after her on a Sunday. Dad said she looked after him when they were kids, too.
We loved it and we hated it up on Gorse Road. There was so much clutter. Too much. One thing bled into the next, no start or end to any of it. Novelty teapots pushed into every inch of shelf space. Old ’oss brasses tacked to the fireplace. Wall racks of pipes – corncob, clay, meerschaum – framed the hall, stairs, and landing. Plates nailed to plaster traced every royal event. Piles of magazines. Bowls of sticky suck. Too much to see. Always open-ended.
She must be dead now.
‘See yo’ Sundee, Bernie,’ Mom or Dad’d say. That’s when you knew you’d be back in two nights’ time.
She’d make liver and onion and we’d do her tops or weed the garden or make sure she wor behind on her bills. She’d always make liver and onion. We’d always have a job.
‘Doh’er know the war’s over?’ Dad laughed. ‘’Er doh ’ave to ration an’ ate the giblets an’ gizzards a stuff these days.’
‘Tek ’er to Nando’s, Dad.’
‘‘Er’d ’ave ’eartattack.’
Some of the dads on The Wrenner worked with steel and car parts and went scrapping. The liver tasted like they stank. It gave me that back of the mouth top of the nostril feelin’. Like you might sneeze and you might be sick and you might like it too. One day I’d give John’s Dad’s arm a lick – just a quick lap of the sweat and the oil and the steel. Liver.
I’m sure she’s dead now. She only ever looked after us on those winter nights.
‘Yo’ doh see ’er when iss hot.’
The only time you saw her when it was getting warmer was on one of those bright winter days that come February half-term. You’d sometimes catch her collecting branches in the woods.
I saw Olwen coming out of there quite a bit. She always looked a bit creased round the edges. Lovely though. One day she came out with a big stick in her hand.
‘Here,’ she said, and prodded me with it. Not hard. Just playful like. But the end of it was freezing. Freezing. I mean, Jack Frost cold. Made me jump out my flesh.
‘See this?’ Dad said one Sunday. He held up a box of corn dollies. A shoe box filled with writhing and interlocking straw limbs.
‘On the fust day a Spring every year, yower Auntie Carlin sticks all of these out in the garden, ’er does.’
I screwed my face up.
‘Iss true. An’ on the fust day a’ Autumn, ’er brings ’em all back in.’
‘Summat about the seasons. Harvest Festival. The moon. Summat like that.’
I thought of that when they put the Wicca Man on at Christmas.
Liver made the back of your teeth hurt. Metallic. Pissy. I relived it years later when we did shrooms up on Poplar Crescent. Cold copper absorbed in muck of grasslands. Earthy. Makes you spit.
‘One Sunday,’ Nick told us weeks after, ‘’Er ’ad me an’ our kid doin’ ’er tools.’
‘’Er come in the front room,’ Nick said. ‘Me an’ Paul on ’er rug. An’ ’er was ’oldin’ a big case of tools. ‘Er put ’em down an’ ’ad us clean ’em.’
‘What wench of Bernie’s age ’as tools? What wench in ’er nineties needs ’em cleanin’? So I ask ’er, an’ ’er says: ‘Who’dya think shapes the limestone cliffs an’ the caverns on the Wrenner? Thass all ’er said.’’
How can liver be grainy and squishy at the same time? I still get it from the butchers when the mood takes me. I still can’t figure out the metal and the muck. The flesh and the steel.
‘Seems right to me,’ Polish Pete said once. ‘Liver. Flesh-metal, in Dudley. Seems right.’ He had a point.
She must be dead now. We don’t get much snow anymore.
R. M. Francis is a poet and writer from the Black Country and co-editor of Writing the Black Country, a blog which seeks to showcase writing from the industrial West Midlands. He gained a distinction in a Creative Writing MA from Teesside University and is currently researching his PhD at the University of Wolverhampton. Published in a wide variety of online and print publications, his first chapbook collection, Transitions, was published by The Black Light Engine Room in 2015 and his second, Orpheus, was published by Lapwing Publications (2016).
Banner image: Richard Samuel Chattock, The Wren’s Nest – Limestone Caves, 1872 © Dudley Museum Service