‘My name’s Tim, and it’s been 536 days since I ate human flesh.’
Polite applause from around the circle.
‘But it’s hard. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about it. About slow-cooking someone’s upper arm with garlic and rosemary. About boiling someone’s liver. About the crunch that comes from a deep-fried nose.
‘But those days are behind me, thanks to this group. As I always say, I’m no longer a cannibal – I’m a can’t-ibal.’
More applause. Tim sat, wiping sweat from his brow. The newcomer watched him from the corner of his eye.
The next week. ‘My name’s Lucy and last night… I fell off the wagon.’
‘I saw this man, this young, fit, lad with such tempting thighs. Out jogging he was. He stopped at the corner of an alley down the road from my house for a breather. There was no-one else around and it seemed like it was just meant to be. I bopped him on the head with a club that I… that I carry around, not for knocking people out that I want to eat, well, not usually anyway, I carry it just for emergencies, you know…’
The group nodded sagely. Several made moves to conceal a range of blunt instruments they carried beneath their coats.
‘…and I waited until I was sure the coast was clear and dragged him back to my house. His thighs tasted so good lightly roasted with mash! Delicious, juicy, I can still taste them.’
‘And what did you do with the rest of him, Lucy?’ asked the group facilitator, Julie, gently.
‘His head’s pickling in a jar in my pantry,’ wailed Lucy, snot dribbling from her nose. ‘And his torso’s boiling for soup. I ate his buttocks in sandwiches on the way here… oh god, they were so good…’
She collapsed in her seat next to Tim, who put his arm around her. ‘Some seventy-fifth birthday this is!’ she sobbed.
The group broke for the evening. The newcomer was last to leave.
The following week. The newcomer is here again. Julie turned to him.
‘So – Harvey, isn’t it?’
‘You’ve been coming for a couple of weeks now. Why don’t you tell us about yourself?’
Harvey stood. He cut a large, imposing figure. The light glinted off his shaved head. There was a crooked scar where his left eye should be. His nose looked to have been broken and reset a number of times.
‘My name’s Harvey,’ he said. ‘And I’ve never eaten human flesh.’
The group looked at each other.
‘Then… why are you here?’ asks Julie.
‘Because,’ said Harvey, ‘When I was a lad, my mum dropped me off at school one day, and then didn’t come back. The police couldn’t find her, but it turned out she’d picked up my older brother from big school before she buggered off. So I was left alone, a little five-year-old kid, never knowing, ever, what happened, blaming myself.
‘And then, last year, after a life of being in and out of institutions, I decided to try and track them down myself. And I won’t bore you with the details, but I found them. And I’ve been following them both for a few weeks now. And now’s the time to let them know about it…’ He turned to Lucy. ‘Isn’t it mum?’ He turned to Tim. ‘Isn’t it, bro?’
Silence. ‘Walter?’ said Lucy, eventually. Tim could only stare.
‘Harvey, now, mum.’
‘Look, Walt…’ Tim managed.
‘Walt… Harvey,’ said Lucy. ‘We’re sorry. Both of us. The thing was… well, you can see what we are. And I was watching you grow up, this gorgeous little boy, and all the while Tim and I were… eating people. And while I’d been foolish, selfish, enough to introduce my tastes to Tim, I couldn’t, wouldn’t do the same to you. But I didn’t know how to stop doing what we loved to do – I didn’t even know if we could stop – without involving you. It was safer to leave you. Don’t think it didn’t break my heart.’
‘I was on my own!’ exploded Harvey. ‘First dad left, then you two!’
Lucy looked at the floor. ‘Yes… about your dad…’
Harvey let this sink in. ‘Oh. You…’
‘He was a bit stringy, but delicious with chips,’ said Tim, who’d never liked his dad much, or his brother for that matter. ‘Ow!’ he complained, as Lucy kicked him in the shin.
‘I see,’ said Harvey.
‘You know, the police are looking for that jogger you killed and ate last week.’
Lucy’s eyes went wide. ‘You wouldn’t!’
‘I would, and I think I will. I’ve spent a lot of time in prisons thanks to you, mum, and you, brother dear, and I think maybe it’s time you found out what it was like.’
‘Wal… Harvey, please!’
‘It’s not nice, mum, but then, you’re not very nice either. Killing people! Eating people! Leaving a little snot-nosed lad to fend for himself! You deserve to rot in jai—‘
Harvey fell to the floor. Behind him stood Julie, clutching an iron bar. She looked shocked at her own actions.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, to herself, to the group, to Harvey. ‘But threats like that simply do not help the recovery process!’ She looked at the prone figure. ‘Is he… dead?’
A group member checked Harvey’s pulse. ‘He’s dead,’ he said.
Everyone looked at the corpse, and each other. Lucy knelt next to Harvey, her eyes red.
‘What now?’ someone said. ‘We don’t want this to be found out about.’
‘Well…’ said Tim.
‘Yes?’ said Julie.
‘Isn’t there an oven in the back room? Quite a big one, as I recall.’
Julie sighed. ‘Okay. Okay. Just remember, a lapse is just a lapse. We can all put this behind us tomorrow and move on. Is this… all okay with you, Lucy?’
Lucy looked up from the floor, her hand stroking Harvey’s bald pate, resignation across her face.
‘I’ll take a buttock when he’s cooked, Tim,’ she sniffed. ‘Waste not, want not.’