An essay by Bernard Asse, as provided by Nathan Crowder
Art by Luke Spooner
You sit there smiling, full of self-importance, bloated with secrets and my finest burgundy, and question the path that brought you here to me. Our previous interactions in the Grand Salon piqued your curiosity, made you envious, perhaps. Me, the lowly child of a Parisian ex-pat and a college professor from Senegal, the talk of the city’s elite, my designs worn by the daughters of wealth and privilege. You look upon my Haute Couture and see nothing special, nothing magical. Certainly, I must have done something scandalous, must have fucked my way into a position of influence, must know where the bodies are buried, to achieve such unwarranted acclaim. How tired your bleated protests, thinking they are unique, thinking you are the first to question my vision as a designer.
Rooting in the soft ground of my known history, you tried to dig up some dark secret. You found nothing but carrots but convinced yourself they were diamonds. Convinced yourself that my association with esoteric spiritualists makes me look mad, as if black magic could account for my successes.
If I truly were a sorcerer, then you were a fool to come to my home to confront me.
But we shared a laugh over it, didn’t we? The blow of the accusation turning instead to an introduction, a laying bare of grievances, an opportunity to expose our true selves. To a fine meal shared between new friends.
You sit before me as the daughter of wealth and privilege, striving to make an impact in the fashion world. Too late you found that real talent cannot be bought. Your money and influence cannot bring you that spark. You cannot create, only acquire. You see yourself as less because of this. If only you knew your worth, your inherent value, perhaps you wouldn’t be here.
And here I am, Bernard Asse, who came from nothing, Parisian born but raised in far off Dakar. Senegal? How can genius come from Senegal? you think. Surely this is a mistake. It illustrates your ignorance. Your lack of vision. Genius can come from anywhere. You only need be hungry for it.
My mother was hungry.
Her family was born in the blood and fire of the French Revolution, the filial ties that came before made irrelevant by the events of the time. There could be no going back. My mother’s people were reborn the children of the guillotine. They learned new paths towards knowledge and power. Or perhaps old ways. Very, very old ways.
There is magic in the meat. Surely a sensualist like yourself grasps the faintest spark of that truth. But beyond the limited edge of your understanding is a universe of possibility.
The people were starving, you see. Dire circumstances such as that, it makes the previously unthinkable a reality. The suggestion of “Let them eat cake,” cuts even deeper when you realize they were already at each other’s throats. Ghoulish, you say? Monstrous? Those were monstrous times, my sweet. And people have to eat.
Ah. I see the horror in your eyes. I see you question the fine stew I served for dinner. You have no reason to fear. It was pork loin procured down the street. You deserve nothing finer.
Speaking of pigs, have you heard the story of the three-legged pig? Your confused expression tells me that the answer is no. But where was I?
Oh yes. Heritage.
My mother was forced to flee Paris when she was young. She had been careless, a schoolmate gone missing under mysterious circumstances. As you might expect, suspicions had been raised, and she had to leave her old life behind. Senegal had been a French territory until four years earlier, and though it was not the most welcoming place, at least it was far from curious eyes and scandalous whispers. She lived quite well there once she adjusted. Dakar is a lovely city.
Shame you’ll never visit it, really. Paris has its charm, but there is a warmth and richness in Dakar that must be seen to be appreciated.
My parents met at university. He was a few years older, a medical student at the head of his class. He read obsessively, medical journals as well as Camus and Sartre in the original French. He spoke four languages fluently, and a smattering of at least four or five more. My father was a genius.
And my mother was hungry for knowledge.
They say that not everyone learns the same way. Some from reading, some from practice, some from lectures. The children of the guillotine, they consume knowledge. Nothing base. Not like you are thinking. Not like a wolf. Not like some animal gorging at the trough. There is ritual to the process. A holy communion. Beauty, even. Such beauty a mind like yours could scarcely conceive.
If you know how to see this beauty, there is magic in the meat. Knowledge, memories, secrets. Held fast in the fat and sinews, that spark can be transferred in the sacred act of consumption.
The pig. Yes, the story of the three-legged pig. I was going to tell you that story. I see the pleading in your eyes. Do not worry. I haven’t forgotten.
Or are you looking for something else? Perhaps your gaze snags upon the candlelight reflecting off my cutlery? Or you hope for someone to interrupt us, perhaps? You needn’t concern yourself with that. I live alone. My lifestyle requires a certain degree of discretion. Of seclusion.
Now. Where were we? Yes. The pig.
There was salesman who came upon a farm out in the countryside. In talking with the farmer, he noticed a massive hog wallowing in a pen. This magnificent beast happened to have a wooden leg. The farmer noted the salesman’s curiosity and said, “I see you eying my pig. That’s an amazing pig. One time I was fixing the tractor and the jack fell, pinning me under its weight. I would have died if that pig hadn’t come to my rescue, pushing against the tractor enough that I could get free. A magnificent pig. Then, not too long after that, my house caught fire in the middle of the night. My family would have died had that hog’s squealing not woken me up. As it was, I had enough time to rescue myself and my wife and daughter. Yes indeed, that is one amazing pig.”
“But why does he have a wooden leg?” the salesman asked.
The farmer smiled and his teeth shined, sharp and cold as a guillotine. “A pig that amazing, you don’t want to eat all at once.”
I tell that story so that you may understand this one.
My parents met in college. They fell in love and returned to my mother’s ancestral home in Paris. Where they were married. Where I was born. And over time, my brilliant, loving father wasted away before my eyes.
Well, not wasted.
Not a bite was wasted.
Whittled away, perhaps?
She loved him so much, it took years for my mother to consume him.
My mother, she was crafty. She was clever. She was subtle. Thanks to my father, she was brilliant as well.
And I, Bernard Asse, toast of the Parisian fashion scene? I was my mother’s son.
I saw what she had, and I grew hungry.
I see you eying my knife. It is an heirloom. A final gift from my mother. They say the blade was forged with steel from the guillotine. I can’t prove this historical footnote. But I believe it, and that’s enough.
Don’t bother getting up. Not that you can. Pork loin wasn’t the only ingredient in the feast I served you. No, your bowl had something else in it as well. Something to help you relax.
It’s not your fault. I want you to know that. Your aspirations exceeded your reach. You couldn’t see your own value. So busy chasing acclaim by any means necessary that you didn’t realize you had fattened yourself on other people’s secrets. Secrets have currency. And for we children of the guillotine, there is magic in the meat.
I know you understand that. If not now, you will eventually.
We have time, after all.
Bernard Asse is a rising star in the fashion industry, known for his innovative choice of materials interpreted through a lens of classic silhouettes. He is hungry for success and his new collection will walk Milan 2020. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Nathan Crowder has a fondness for writing about superheroes and some of the darker corners of history and culture. He has seen every episode of Project Runway at least once.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“Children of the Guillotine” is © 2019 Nathan Crowder
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Luke Spooner