Jeune fille mangeant un oiseau

Kathleen Rooney


The young girl's lace collar recalls a tablecloth, but there isn't any table. As if she were starving, she eats the starling bare-handed. Neat hair, summer heat, and a tree full of live birds looking on, unalarmed. Pale arms in her sleeves, a little ecstasy of cruelty leaving her eyes, beneath lowered lids. Calm illustration in a field guide to slaughter.

Sans son or daughter, the Magrittes have Loulou the Pomeranian. Loulou has heard people say that the master based this painting on a day he watched Georgette devour a chocolate bird. Forget what you've heard. The painting evokes World War I. War as ultimate eater of meat. Consumer for whom there can be no satiety. Distance from the violent origins of food. The violent origins of what looks like order.

Loulou's teeth are sharp and pointy, but he's never caught and killed and devoured a creature. Teeth to feathers, teeth to muscle. Giblets like raspberries. Blood like blood.

The excellence of Loulou's sense of smell controls how he feels about food. The one time the master and Georgette tried to feed him tinned something, he detected equine. Horse meat came to be used in dog food during the Great War as a means to dispose of the endless dead horses, then they just kept using it. Now he eats as his people do: milk and bread and hamburg and lamb, and his pom stomach has no bottom when it comes to potatoes. A thoughtful cook, Georgette never forgets how Loulou favors organ meats: liver and kidneys.

From the trenches all the men could see was the sky. They wanted to be in it—no longer fodder but free—or failing that to feel its freedom inside them. Eat the sky became their heartbeat. You can't, came the reply. Eat the sky. You can't. Eat the sky. You can't. Eat the sky. You can't. Okay, but just try.