The liver grew big in the pan, almost double its size, bloated as if it were still in the ruminant's stomach, gaseous and ready to dispel itself at the jabbing of my fork. But it remained stubborn and rubbery, outside assuming that cooked gray brown, but inside refusing the warmth I readied for my appetite. And grainy, almost with a yellowish, bilious tinge to it, it refused to acquiesce to the heat of the frying pan, gave off instead the impression of poisons still in the ungulate's body that it was processing. That it hadn't been removed from the cow, that I wasn't standing over it with a fork and knife alternately pricking and jabbing, ready to test whether it was done, edible.
It remained large, hepatic, bloated, and the veins when I tried to see if it was done inside actually stopped my knife, stubbornly elastic for the circulatory system they were no longer a part of. And the animal itself perhaps fricasseed, sold by now, or in someone's stomach, but not for the liver, the purifying instinct was still there. It still harbored the spirit of the cow; could in its shiny exterior reflect just because it was an internal organ its large amber eyes, the appreciative transparency that reached all the way down inside, past the thickest neck, under the softest velvet coat, unpoisoned by the oxides from the bell it wore, whose jaws could work despite constant clanging, despite its audible domestication and docility.
Ownership didn't break the cow's heart, even after slaughter had removed the liver. For the liver grew in the pan; it'd never take my blue eyes for the beauty of amber. I felt the cow was still half-grazing, that there was a swaying in the liver, that its rubbery resistance to my admittedly dull knife had something to do with the undulation of the cow's walk, setting out for pasture, the impurities it absorbed along the way that allowed it to take another step. I felt in the pan the freedom and instinct for survival that the liver inspired. All the tension of refusing to heat even after I turned the flame up and scorched it smoking the whole kitchen, that for a moment I completely lost sight of it.
Do you suppose that the liver then achieved the visceral satisfaction of an imagined reunion with the body, as I too was for a moment out of sight? Do you think it felt the rise of the backbone, the pendulous hindquarters, the weight of the dewlap, the hardness of the haunches, and most of all the freedom of the tail, like the gentlest of whips spread out at the bottom, all chestnut and white to swat the fly that I was to the large four-footed beauty that it inhabited? Did the liver imagine it was united with the body through the smoke, already in some underworld?
I turned the heat down to clear the air, saw that the underside was charred, cut it again, but still the dark maroon interior was not cooked, still it was grainy and yellowish, as if due to some distemper with having been separated from its live organism, as if from peevishness it refused to be cooked, as if it would rather go mushy and soft, anything not to be eaten, rather give the impression of impurities still in it that should not be devoured.
I sliced off a portion of it, put it in my mouth, but found it bitter; something about it resisted eating, some bloatedness that gave me the impression of refusal to release its poisons, as if the heat only gathered them together, more concentrated, uric, unexpelled. The liver was almost runny at the center now, like a nose that couldn't be wiped, it was breaking down inedibly.
Finally what I did was lift the frying pan off the heat and scrape the onions I had smothered the liver with (Maybe that was why it refused cooking, the vegetable surroundings. And it wasn't me at all.), scraped them onto my plate and threw the hot, rubbery, steaming organ into the trash, then deposited the pan in the sink where it sizzled in reproof for the liver having triumphed over being eaten.
Perhaps “The Liver” started with only the simple difficulty of cooking a piece of liver through and through. I do not believe I questioned why the cook was eating liver in the first place, or even if the question dimly occurred to me. From the beginning the story returns to the organ’s origin, but never expresses a problem with eating meat, only in its preparation.
The simple difficulty with cooking an animal’s organ evenly prompts thoughts of the entire animal setting out for pasture, the sway of its walk, its pendulous hindquarters, the weight of the dewlap, the actual insignificance of the cook compared to the freedom of the tail that swats him like a mere fly. In fact the cook is even lost in the smoke, further marginalized by the organ’s reunion with the whole animal. The cook is reduced while the stubbornly bloated organ is reunited by imaginative moments with its owner. Could it be that we are marginalized by what we eat? That in the future our culinary choices will appear barbaric and a violation of life?
Writing is often revenge, to get back at what we may not even realize is happening. The apparent difficulty of eating an animal’s body part for a moment revived the animal. The title is after all “The Liver.” What a persistently powerful name for an organ that doesn’t want to die, though alone in a frying pan and separated from the rest of itself. Might the narrative be a reproach for all animals so thoughtlessly killed and cooked? The plundered organ not only is reunited with its owner throughout, but finally triumphs over the cook, exacting a kind of revenge not being eaten.
At the time I am not sure I knew that I was taking myself to task for not having the discipline to resort to a more benign plant diet.