In my last post I wrote about reading Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye. It contains some rather vivid descriptions of ham, which, like Leonora Penderton, are presented as too much, too rich, too juicy.
‘Susie,’ said Mrs. Penderton, ‘do people have gizzards like chickens do?’
The Captain stood in the doorway and was noticed neither by his wife nor
his servant When she had been relieved of her boots, Mrs. Penderton moved
about the kitchen bare footed. She took a ham from the oven and sprinkled
the top with brown sugar and bread crumbs. She poured herself another
drink, only half a jigger this time, and in a sudden excess of vigor she
performed a little shag dance. The Captain was intensely irritated with his
wife, and she knew it.
‘For God’s sake, Leonora, go up and put on some shoes.’
For an answer Mrs. Penderton hummed a queer little tune to herself and
went past the Captain and into the living room.
Her husband followed close behind her. ‘You look like a slattern going
around the house like this.’
A fire was laid in the grate and Mrs. Penderton bent down to light it. Her
smooth sweet face was very rosy and there were little glistening sweat beads
on her upper lip.
‘The Langdons are coming any minute now and you will sit down to
dinner like this, I suppose?’
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘And why not, you old prissy?’
The Captain said in a cold, taut voice: ‘You disgust me.’
Mrs. Penderton’s answer was a sudden laugh, a laugh both soft and
savage, as though she had received some long expected piece of scandalous
news or had thought of some sly joke. She pulled off her jersey, crushed it
into a ball, and threw it into the corner of the room. Then deliberately she
unbuttoned her breeches and stepped out of them. In a moment she was
standing naked by the hearth. Before the bright gold and orange light of the
fire her body was magnificent. The shoulders were straight so that the collar
bone made a sharp pure line. Between her round breasts there were delicate
blue veins. In a few years her body would be fullblown like a rose with
loosened petals, but now the soft roundness was controlled and disciplined by
sport. Although she stood quite still and placid, there was about her body a
subtle quality of vibration, as though on touching her flesh one would feel the
slow live coursing of the bright blood beneath. While the Captain looked at
her with the stunned indignation of a man who has suffered a slap in the face,
she walked serenely to the vestibule on her way to the stairs. The front door
was open and from the dark night outside a breeze blew in and lifted a loose
strand of her bronze hair.
She was halfway up the steps before the Captain recovered from his
shock. Then he ran trembling after her. ‘I will kill you!’ he said in a strangled
voice. ‘I will do it! I will do it!’ He crouched with his hand to the banister and
one foot on the second step of the stairway as though ready to spring up after
She turned slowly and looked down at him with unconcern for a moment
before she spoke. ‘Son, have you ever been collared and dragged out in the
street and thrashed by a naked woman?’
The Captain stood as she had left him. Then he put his head down on his
outstretched arm and rested his weight against the banister. From his throat
came a rasping sound like a sob, but there were no tears on his face.
The ways ham affects some men …
Leonora Penderton enjoyed her warm bath that evening. She dressed
herself slowly in the clothes she had already laid out on the bed. She wore a
simple gray skirt, a blue Angora sweater, and pearl earrings. She was
downstairs again at seven o’clock and their guests were waiting.
She and the Major found the dinner first rate. To begin with there was a
clear soup. Then with the ham they had rich oily turnip greens, and candied
sweet potatoes that were a transparent amber beneath the light and richly
glazed with sweet sauce. There were rolls and hot spoon bread. Susie passed
the vegetables only once and left the serving dishes on the table between the
Major and Leonora, for those two were great eaters.
I do like a woman who likes to eat.
‘Listen!’ said Leonora, and her fresh rosy face flamed suddenly with
anticipation. ‘I just wish you could see my kitchen now. Here’s the way it will
go. I’m putting in all the leaves in the dining room table and everybody will
just mill around and help themselves. I’m having a couple of Virginia hams, a
huge turkey, fried chicken, sliced cold pork, plenty of barbecued spareribs,
and all sorts of little knickknacks like pickled onions and olives and radishes.
And hot rolls and little cheese biscuits passed around. The punchbowl is in
the corner, and for people who like their liquor straight I’m having on the
sideboard eight quarts of Kentucky Bourbon, five of rye, and five of Scotch.’
Ham sandwich, anyone?