Calf

White human arm splashing into milk holding rosemary

We’d decided to try out Calf, the restaurant where the only thing on the menu was calf. Each set of diners was assigned their own room, called a “pen.” When we got there, the host walked us to our pen and latched the door. We were told ahead of time that there would be no bathroom breaks, so we’d made sure to empty our bladders before we left. I noticed the tables had long sheets of white paper draped over them, the kind you could draw on with crayons. I used to really enjoy drawing on these kinds of tablecloths as a kid. Back then, it helped pass the time. 

Part of me didn’t want to be here. I was more of a homebody, not one for high-concept restaurants. But Jill insisted. I couldn’t blame her. She was trying to distract herself from what happened seven years ago today with a big night out. Things were going well with us lately, although they could always be better. Such is the nature of romantic relationships. We sipped lukewarm glasses of milk, which were already at the table when we sat down, and settled into a comfortable silence.     

At Calf, there were no printed menus. We knew going in what we’d get for dinner. Despite this, a waiter still came around to the pen to take our order. He wore a hairnet and a white smock, like he worked at a dairy farm. 

He turned to me first. “What can I get for you this evening?”

“The calf,” I said.

“Good choice, sir,” he said, without writing it down. I was usually impressed when a waiter could remember an order by memory, but in this case it wasn’t all that impressive.

“And for you, madam?”

  Jill didn’t respond. She was staring vacantly ahead like she often does, eyes glazed over. She was off in heaven again visiting her son, Tim, who had lived and died before I’d ever met her. I didn’t want to interrupt, but after a while, I answered the waiter’s question on her behalf. 

“She’ll have the calf,” I said. “So two calfs in total.”

“It’s calves,” the waiter said. “With a v.”

“Really?” I asked. “How come?” For some reason, I’d always thought of calves, the plural form, as leg muscles. I didn’t like the idea of chowing down on a sinewy set of calves. 

“That’s just how it is,” he said. Then he motioned to Jill. “Is she all right?” 

“She’s visiting her son in heaven,” I said.

“Ah,” the waiter said. “My grandpa just got to heaven last week.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said. 

“It’s okay,” he said. “Grandma was already up there, so it worked out.”

After that, he left to put in our order, and Jill came out of her trance. She blinked a few times and swallowed, as if testing her body for hitches upon reentry.

“How’s Tim doing?” I asked, once she’d fully returned.

“He’s fine,” Jill said. 

When it came to Tim, I usually just let it be, but Jill seemed so distant. It bugged me. “Tim’s only fine? Is something wrong with heaven these days?”

She shrugged. “He gets lonely there all by himself.”

I didn’t ask about the ramifications of that. If heaven was supposed to be so great, why wasn’t he happy? But I guess I couldn’t blame him. What would my life be like without Jill in it? I couldn’t even blame God. It would be hard to make a paradise that appealed to everyone, even if you’re all-knowing. People are just way too complex for everyone to be happy. Maybe we all got our own personal heavens, like a pithy rejoinder to the phrase “Hell is other people.” But I hoped not. Unlike Jill, I was one of those unfortunate people who couldn’t see heaven. That meant I had to rely solely on other people’s visions, which tended to be frustratingly vague. I still spent a lot of time wondering what heaven was all about.  

Jill drank the rest of her milk in a single, undulating gulp. It left a white mustache above her top lip. “Do you think they go to heaven, too?” she asked. “The calves, I mean.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I hope that if they go, they all get to be together.”

“That’s nice,” I said, although the thought of millions of motherless calves crammed together in heaven made the idea of being alone up there sound pretty good in comparison.

It wasn’t long before the waiter came back with our calves. He led them into our pen and then handed us our knives, which we were supposed to use to slit their throats. The two calves stood there, shivering. They didn’t seem scared, per se. It was more like glassy-eyed confusion.

“Enjoy,” the waiter said, brightly. 

Before he departed our pen, I met his gaze. “We were just chatting about whether calves go to heaven. What’s your take?”

The waiter adjusted his hairnet, then flashed us a smile. “I like to think we’re helping them along.” He patted one of the calves on the head.

“But what if they don’t go there?” Jill asked. “What if they don’t go anywhere?”

The waiter seemed to consider the implication. “That would be a bummer,” he said. “But it’s best not to think like that if you’re hungry.”

We stared at him. We stared at the calves.

“In the meantime, can I get you two anything else?”

We shook our heads.

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