An Excerpt from “The Sacred Gifts of Cows and Cheetahs”

Keya Mitra

In the space of one week I become a we. I make love to my Austinite atop a graveyard of barbecue ribs after a family gathering at his ranch that makes me nostalgic for my own parents, who together inhabit the urn on my fireplace mantel in Houston. My Austinite lover impregnates my first womb. Later in the week, driven by my hunger for the familiar, I reunite with my estranged husband—a first-generation Indian American—who impregnates a second uterus I am not aware I possess. Nine months later, if all goes well, I will give birth to a drawl-stricken Indian slash Austinite named Fraud and a tiny Indian girl named Maude. They are the fruits of my whoredom, a confusion I cannot name.

I am not the kind to make love to two men in a lifetime, much less a week. It happened because I scarfed down maple-glazed BBQ at my Austinite boyfriend Freud’s family reunion and found myself still hungry, because his brown eyes had the same lazy, seductive drawl as his voice, and because after I’d devoured beef for the first time in twenty years I couldn’t bear to see the ribs of the deceased cow thrown away. Once I did, nothing would testify to the fact that the animal had existed. After the guests departed, Freud crouched over the ground, holding a limp, black garbage bag to collect the ribs that had been tossed onto the dry Texas soil. His hair, ungelled by the hours spent inebriated in the heat, formed a thick fringe over his eyes. His jeans were belted loosely around his waist but tight around the thighs, which in my heat and alcohol-fueled delirium seemed so taut and beautifully shaped that they seemed intent upon seceding from the rest of his body and forming their own perfect union. I perched on the folding picnic table.

“You’re going to fall off that table, darlin’. It’s not meant to sustain human weight,” he said. The word darlin’ got me every time. It was a word my estranged husband, Manesh, would have, could have, never used, one I’d been craving my entire life. Sweat trickled from the indentation between Freud’s clavicles onto his white undershirt and belt buckle, which had, over the course of the evening, become unclasped.

It was eight in the evening but only now was the sun beginning to make its reluctant descent. In its last moments the sun resorted to exhibitionism to make itself known, saturating the sky with a brilliant, orange fury.

“If your thighs wanted independence,” I said, as the makeshift table creaked beneath me, “would you grant them the right to leave your body? Hyderabad was unsuccessful in seceding after India’s independence, but your thighs might make a better case.”

“You’re drunk, baby,” he said. The alcohol had helped me survive an evening with his well-meaning Texan relatives who deemed me beautiful because they knew “exotic” could be offensive, and they could not find a more fitting adjective to describe a second-generation Indian American woman. But were they so different from me? I fell in love with a twang, after all.

Beneath the fading dominion of the sun the ribs were luminous. They radiated life in Freud’s long, tempered fingers.

“You’re intolerably sexy,” I said, and the table crashed beneath me. I landed atop the pile of ribs, rear first. Freud loomed above me, the bones spilling out of the flaccid garbage bag, his belt buckle jangling and brushing against my cotton T-shirt.

“You OK, Aneat?” he asked. He called me “Aneat” instead of “Anita” because he claimed that I was “a neat lady.” What would have been corny coming from a plainer man’s mouth was unbearably endearing from his.

“I want you,” I whispered. “Bones and all.” I pulled him to the ground.

We understood one another primarily through the union of our bodies, although we struggled through the necessary dinners and labored phone conversations. I knew he was an engineer by trade, just as he knew I was a lawyer. But we experienced one another as farmers and pioneers, tilling the soil with our bare feet, finding new ways to shape the land. I never walked intentionally barefoot upon the earth in my twenty-eight years until I met him. The soil, when we stood upon it, seemed more malleable than I’d ever imagined.

And nothing could move me like the sensation of his skin against mine. Growing up in Houston to conservative parents, I kept myself contained, ashamed of any bodily protrusions or fluids that revealed my gender. Around Freud I allowed my hair, usually secured into a timid ponytail, and my orgasms to tumble forth without apology. We made love atop the bed of ribs that spilled out of the trash bag. Bones jutted into me from both ends.

“Your bones are poking me,” I whispered halfway through.

“Bones? Plural?”

I pulled a rib out from underneath my rear. Another was jammed underneath my back. “You have some competition, cowboy. I’m getting rib-humped like crazy here.”

“Those ribs can’t compare to a live, throbbing unit,” he said. His face was strained and swollen with the attempt to balance conversation and thrusting.

“I don’t know,” I said. “These ribs might still have some life to them.”

“You take dirty talk to a whole new level,” he said.

In the graveyard of ribs on his parents’ ranch, keeping company with the refuse and dying grass, Freud and I tried to bring new life to the dead.

. . .

Read the rest of this story in the Kenyon Review Sept/Oct 2015 issue, on sale now!

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