EXCERPT: 'Cleaving' by Julie Powell

After slicing the liver, I go to give my hands a quick rinse in the utility sink at the back of the shop. On my left hand, my cutting hand, I'm wearing a curious uncured leather bracelet that wraps around my wrist, then meets in a single thin band at the back of my palm, a slit in the end of which encircles the base of my index finger. A few coarse, snow-white hairs cling to it, though most of the hide has been worn bare. People mistake this for some sort of brace or therapeutic wrap, a treatment for carpal tunnel or a sprained wrist, but what it really is, to me, is a reminder of what I've experienced these last years of marriage, obsession, butchery. I try to wipe some of the blood from it, but as much soaks into the leather as washes away. Then I retrieve a china plate, white with small cornflower-blue blooms, like something you'd find in some quaint old home kitchen, and line it with an absorbent pad and a square of green butcher paper. I arrange the slices in an attractive floral pattern.

It was confusing and distressing to find myself, so soon after that whirlwind year came to a close, more or less where I'd been before. That wasn't really true, of course. I could not, without seeming churlish and ungrateful, deny my good fortune, the money and job offers and a book to write, the fans and friends and of course the devoted husband. Eric and I seemed calmer together after weathering what I'd spent the last year putting us through. I had every reason for contentment, pride, fulfillment. So why did it all feel like – I don't know, like cheating, somehow? If I pinched myself, I feared I'd wake up, disappear from this dream world in a puff of smoke.

Starry eyed and vaguely discontented, and with too much time on my hands. It was exactly the wrong time for the phone call I got that summer of 2004, a year after my cooking project ended, as I was putting the final touches on my very first book. A call from someone I'd not heard from in years, a half-remembered murmur coming across the line, sparking uncomfortable memories, of a handful of long-ago late nights I'd nearly succeeded in forgetting. "Hey, it's me," he said. "I hear you've been doing well for yourself. I've moved to New York – let's get lunch sometime."

I realize that this could all look a little incriminating, a woman in a butcher shop in upstate New York, covered in blood and completely unruffled by that fact, wielding knives casually, lovingly manipulating offal with gore-begrimed fingers. No, I'm not a lover caught red-handed in the middle of a crime of passion, or a psychopath in the midst of a ritual dismemberment. No humans were harmed in bringing you this scene, but still, I get why it would all make some folks, well, speculate. Speculate, maybe especially, about my expression, which betrays more than just the professional indifference I'm trying hard to project. If you look closely enough, if you get past the (formerly) white apron and the blood and the big knives bristling at my hip and up to my eyes, I'll confess you might see something a bit unnerving there. A secret glow in the eyes. A little thrill. As my friend Gwen would say, "Makes a girl wonder where she's hiding the bodies."

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