Perhaps my most perfect memory is of the moment Alfie first took it out of its glistening sheath. It was still beautiful back then, and we were still a family. I watched him run his hands over the handle, the gears, the mincing teeth. I noticed that his reflection looked uncannily distorted in the chrome plating.
From that day forward, his hand never came off the crank. Quickly, Alfie progressed through the
conventional stuff—beef, pork, various würsts—and into the esoterica like venison and hare. He
wasn’t satisfied. Once the big game veterinarian stopped returning his calls, Alfie started putting just about anything through the machine.
Somewhere along the line he found a smock, which he insisted on wearing at all hours. He
developed other affectations, too: for an entire week he walked around with a grayscale filter in front of his face, shaking his head. Then he redid the entire house in sepia tones. “I’m trying to get back to a simpler time,” I remember him yelling at me as he cranked a goat femur through the machine. “The meat cured better in the past.”
After surprisingly virtuosic successes with spongecake and gefiltefish, Alfie was still unfulfilled. He moped for days, not even looking up to accept my compliments on his mortadella.
Finally, Alfie decided that he had to put time itself through the grinder. I remember that morning clearly. Just before dawn, I came downstairs in my nightie to find him hovering in a void, right arm cranking—somehow—the fastest and slowest I’d ever seen it, left arm delicately guiding the tendrils of spacetime into a sausage casing. The machine looked tarnished now—ancient, monolithic, menacing.
“Look at the marbling,” Alfie cackled in an electric baritone, the most powerful I’ve ever heard. He cranked furiously, like the furious man he had become. Furious at time. Furious at history for birthing him half a millennium after the golden age of sausagesmithing.
I looked into Alfie’s eyes and saw somewhere deep inside them the same stock photograph that
had enticed me to buy the grinder in the first place: a handsome silver-haired man, smiling at
the camera with impossibly white teeth, cranking sausage into the outstretched hands of his
joyful family. His apron was immaculate. Damn it, how could I have been so deceived? I saw
that photo in the inflight magazine 36 hours before Father’s Day. I thought we could have been
that family. It cost $200 to have it overnighted. “Gifts for Dads and Grads!”, the page heading
had taunted me.
As the universe collapsed, I broke eye contact and stumbled backwards, tripping over a cask of
saltpeter that was floating in the ether behind me. “It’s for the curing,” Alfie’s voice boomed in explanation.
“Is it?” I replied. “Is it?” Silence. “How are you going to cure things without any time, Alfie?”