The Art of Tetman Callis Lit & Crit The chosen people, the promised land, the cattle to the slaughter

The chosen people, the promised land, the cattle to the slaughter

“Would America be just like he’d imagined it?  Along with the rest of the world, Robert had lived under a rain of American images most of his life.  Perhaps the place had already been imagined for him and he wouldn’t be able to see anything at all.

“The first impression that came his way, while the plane was still on the ground at Heathrow, was a sense of hysterical softness.  The flow of passengers up the aisle was blocked by a red-haired woman sagging at the knees under her own weight.

“‘I cannot go there.  I cannot get in there,’ she panted.  ‘Linda wants me to sit by the window, but I cannot fit in there.’

“‘Get in there, Linda,’ said the enormous father of the family.

“‘Dad!’ said Linda, whose size spoke for itself.

“That certainly seemed typical of something he had seen before in London’s tourist spots: a special kind of tender American obesity; not the hard-won fat of a gourmet, or the juggernaut body of a truck driver, but the apprehensive fat of people who had decided to become their own airbag systems in a dangerous world.  What if their bus was hijacked by a psychopath who hadn’t brought any peanuts?  Better have some now.  If there was going to be a terrorist incident, why go hungry on top of everything else?

“Eventually, the Airbags dented themselves into their seats.  Robert had never seen such vague faces, mere sketches on the immensity of their bodies.  Even the father’s relatively protuberant features looked like the remnants of a melted candle.  As she squeezed into her aisle seat, Mrs. Airbag turned to the long queue of obstructed passengers, a brown smudge of tiredness radiating from her faded hazel eyes.

“‘Thank you for your patience,’ she groaned.

“‘It’s sweet of her to thank us for something we haven’t given her,’ said Robert’s father.  ‘Perhaps I should thank her for her agility.’

“Robert’s mother gave him a warning look.  It turned out they were in the row behind the Airbags.

“‘You’re going to have to put the armrests down for takeoff,’ Linda’s father warned her.

“‘Mom and me are sharing these seats,’ giggled Linda.  ‘Our tushes are expanding!’

“Robert peeped through the gap in the seats.  He didn’t see how they were going to get the armrests down.

“After meeting the Airbags, Robert’s sense of softness spread everywhere.  Even the hardness of some of the faces he saw on that warm and waxy arrival afternoon, in the flag-strewn mineral crevasses of mid-town Manhattan, looked to him like the embittered softness of betrayed children who had been told to expect everything.  For those who were prepared to be consoled there was always something to eat; a pretzel stall, an ice-cream cart, a food-delivery service, a bowl of nuts on the counter, a snack machine down the corridor.  He felt the pressure to drift into the mentality of grazing cattle, not just ordinary cattle but industrialized cattle, neither made to wait nor allowed to.” — Edward St. Aubyn, Mother’s Milk

4 thoughts on “The chosen people, the promised land, the cattle to the slaughter”

  1. Jesus. Yes. Yes, to the melted-candle softness, the spreading tiredness, the industrialized consolation of processed food.

    Unsurprising, perhaps, that everything in that vending machine is soaked in corn syrup.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this excerpt all afternoon. Last week I read an article in a women’s magazine about how we should accept ourselves at any weight, love our bodies, and be ‘fabulous’. The article was illustrated by pictures of morbidly obese women in bright clothing (lots of scarves and big earrings) and I thought, Well, but love yourself by looking after your body. Accept yourself by admitting there’s a serious problem, that if you are getting in your own way, and your knees hurt, and your arteries are clogged and you are injecting yourself with insulin after every meal, then you are in poor health, and at your own sticky hand. Why accept that?

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