GIFTS AND FOOD ITEMS
The thud was the most upsetting part of it. Dog food was never meant to be icecream scooped on to a crystal dinner plate. Beckett didn’t expect her summer to be like this. I guess she was just happy to not have the task of needing to taste the dog food. The texture alone made her stomach churn. However, she wasn’t going to let this hinder her first photography and art direction job in the real world. She was going to place things just so on the plate and make sure this picnic was fit for a king.
She knew that in her heart of hearts, this was just a nepobaby gig. Her father was a huge sponsor of Survivalist Magazine; he was a mass distributor of camping goods and regularly took out two-page spreads. She was a Paracord Princess. So when it came time to hire someone for this taste test of dog food for emergency consumption, she was the right girl for the job.
Her mother always told her that as a Southern woman, it was important to be a good host no matter the budget. That ambiance was just as important, if more important than the food being served. Anyone can make deviled eggs but put it on the right platter with the snuggest of divots and you have a high class event. Beckett didn’t know if she would ever get married or not, so the crystalware came out of her trousseau for its maiden voyage.
The gamey smell of Solid Gold dog food plopped out in front of her reeked slightly of pennies and popcorn. She set up her tripod and adjusted the lighting meter. Shooting outdoors was exciting but created all sorts of new diversions- mainly the flies that hovered around the food, somehow also exhausted by the August heat.
“You done yet?”
She had forgotten she was sent on assignment with the writer, a world-weary man with sunken-in eyes and a missing canine tooth. He was about 65 years old and had wisps of white in his shaggy charcoal hair. He wasn’t the typical kind of guy you’d except to be writing for Survivalist Magazine. Most of the men working there went to the gym several days a week and wore surprisingly clean baseball hats. Not Scooter. Scooter was a gruff but affable man, who she had grown up with. He was always good for a story and a joke at the Survivalist Magazine 4th of July parties she had gone to her whole life. Dog food starts to look good, when people try to render deer into hotdogs.
“Oh, yeah, I’m sorry Scooter- I think I got my shot.”
“Yeah, it is just I want to get to my food before the flies do.”
Usually the writer and the photographer weren’t sent on assignment together like this, but Scooter had failed to bring something to the table in a long time worth reading. As a bird-watcher, his tales of best ways to track exotic creatures failed to interest the adrenaline-fueled fervor of these neo outdoorsmen. With his budget being halved, he really could only afford to buy this dog food once.
“Ok, Scooter- tuck in I guess?”
Beckett gave Scooter a spoon and he took one big bite into the chunky beef-product. His missing dog sloshed the meatcream with loud smacks. Beckett didn’t know someone could sigh and eat at the same time until she saw this.
“Well?” Beckett questioned.
“This one is definitely a higher caliber of protein than other one. However, I don’t think it Is adhering to the 95% rule. Even though it is grain free- I can’t really make out what is inside this food. There is no shape true to life and honestly the taste, while not overly unpleasant isn’t anything to write home about.”
“So how many dog bones do you give it?”
“About 3 out of 5.” Scooter postulated.
“Which one are you up for next, old timer?”
“Why don’t you hit me with the Purina Proplan.”
“You got it boss.”
Becket struggled to use the can opener attached to her Swiss army knife but finally artfully plopped down ribbons of meat product fresh on to the plate for Scooter. Purina Proplan used to be what she gave her dog, Midnight. Suddenly she was stricken with a pang of grief. Midnight had died while she was away at school. She remembered when her parents had called her one Tuesday morning before finals to let her know that Midnight had been bitten by a raccoon while he was out patrolling the garbage cans. The fight had been too much for Midnight and he crawled under the foundation of the house and died.
“Well, this dog food isn’t going to eat itself, get your photos already!”
Beckett wiped the plate down and wondered to herself if she even would be able to remember the last time she feed her dog. Did she know she was feeding Midnight his last meal when she had? As she positioned the can to face her camera she remembered her dog’s face which had begun to look like it was dusted in powdered sugar before she left. Beckett took the photo and pointed to the can as an invitation for Scooter to do his thing.
Scooter shoved the beef slices in his mouth.
“Yeeeup, I think we got a 95-er here, definitely all meat here. Mind you, it is probably snouts and assholes, but who doesn’t like hot dogs?”
Beckett looked into his eyes and saw he had the beginnings of cataracts, which glistened in the sun.
“How does it taste?” Beckett questioned.
“A little like a Salisbury steak that was soaked in a hot tub filled with Pepsi.”
“That’s pretty specific, Scooter- do you think they’ll publish it?”
“Who even cares- just give this one 4 out of 5 dog bones.”
“Ready for the next one?”
“Lay it on me.”
Beckett’s dog had had cataracts too, well, during his final year. Sometimes he would just walk into a corner and forget why he was there. Slipping on the floor, stuck in the world- stuck in his mind. It had been so tragic because Midnight had been such an athletic dog. Always joining the family on camping trips. He loved to swim in lakes and chase big ole sticks they threw in the water for him. Beckett plopped out a turkey based, veggie medley. It almost looked like the inside of a pot pie. She was tempted to garnish it with a sprig of cilantro. She arranged and took her shots. In the corner of her eye she could see Scooter starting to sweat. Was he nervous? Was he sick? He almost looked… no. He almost looked hungry.
She placed the Marie Calendars abortion in front of Scooter and he shoveled it in his mouth eating it voraciously.
“This one is a 5/5- next!”
“That’s your only note?”
This new food she plated was a stringy, gamey mess almost similar to pulled pork. She had not even given Scooter the go ahead when he started scarfing down the dog food by the handfuls.
A rice-based, chicken broth glob. Scooter licked it up, scooping it into his mouth with his fingers.
Scooter could not wait, and went back to the old cans, eating their contents while Beckett styled her next photo. She knew Scooter was a little eccentric, but this was beyond the scope for her. Maybe because if he didn’t finish this assignment, it was very likely he would never work again that was making him so nervous. Yet Beckett liked Scooter, and tried to ignore it. She styled a souvide pork ball submerged in clear jelly. He sucked it down like engorged boba.
“Scooter are you ok, man?”
A velvety ground beef and peas.
A fajitaseque platter.
A fishy, nautical treat like cafeteria tuna fish.
“Scooter we are out, you did the last test.”
“What do you mean we are out?” Scooter nervously chuckled.
“That was the last can. We can go home now.” Beckett said and pointed to the trail with her thumb.
“What do you mean? I’m still hungry.”
“How can you be hungry you ate like 10 cans of dog food.”
“But my stomach, it is hurting- I’m so hungry.”
“Are you sure, that’s hunger Scooter- I don’t know what they put in this food.”
“You don’t have anything on you? No treats?”
“Naw man- I’m totally out!”
Scooter started sweating and pacing. Foam started crusting around his mouth. His cataracts were catching the setting sun with every pace. Beckett, pushed her canteen in front of him.
“Hey Scooter, take a seat- drink some water for a second!”
His hand jetted out and pushed it away from him,.”
“I don’t want your FUCKIN’ water!” I’m just SO, damned hungry!”
“Whoa, that was uncalled for-“
“YEAHUGHHHH,” Scooter screamed.
He dropped to the floor and started seizing. Beckett rushed to him, as he started vomiting up a confetti of dog food.
“Oh my god! Scooter are you ok?”
He didn’t speak as he tried to shovel up his puke back into his mouth.
“STOP SCOOTER! STOP EATING YOUR PUKE!” Beckett implored as she tried to hit his hands away from his mouth but he growled at her. He was manically obsessed with continuing to eat.
Beckett started to scream and cry, the commotion attracted the attention of a hiker who was about 20 feet away. He rushed to the scene and thinking that Beckett was in danger punched ole Scooter in the face. Still sobbing Beckett pulled the hiker off of Scooter.
“Stop it! Stop it! He can’t help it!” She pleaded.
The hiker stopped confused but it was too late. Scooter was on the floor, knocked out and mouth ajar.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry, I thought you were in danger.” The middle-aged year old, Patagonia-wearing man said.
“Oh no! Poor Scooter, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. He barely made this walk up the hill for the photoshoot. I can’t leave him and my gear here- I don’t know what I’m going to do!”
“Don’t worry, I’m going to call an ambulance and we’ll get him some help.” The hiker offered.
The man pulled out his iphone and called 9-11 and walked away leaving a distressed Beckett wiping puke off of Scooter while she cried.
“Hello- authorities, I’ve encountered a young woman and an older man struck with dementia in the park, we need someone to help recover him.”
Beckett sat back on the dirt floor and tried to catch her breath, which was hard with the various slews of dog food and gastric acid mingling in the air. She heaved and tried not to puke herself and shuddered. Time moved unnaturally. The hiker left and came back with paramedics. The hiker explained what he had stumbled into, and Beckett could not get on her feet to explain her situation at this point. The hiker attempted to convey to the paramedics that he had only hit Scooter because he thought Beckett was in danger. Beckett glanced over to Scooter on the floor. For a brief second, she swore she saw something small and pink emerge out of Scooter’s mouth. A tongue?
“Ma’am are you ok? Do you need medical assistance?” She looked up at the paramedic.
“I’m fine- I just, don’t know what happened to him.”
Beckett glanced back at Scooter. The protrusion was thinner than a tongue and emerged almost as if smelling the air. It floated against gravity and dipped itself into a puddle of the puke and seemed to sip from it. Before she could make out just what was happening. The paramedics, put Scooter in a stretcher and wrapped him up in a space blanket. The worm had slurped back into his body like a strand of spaghetti before anyone else had seen it. They somehow made it down the hill. Scooter off to the hospital and Beckett to her car. She didn’t know how she got home. She didn’t know how she managed to still take all her equipment back with her. But there she was, showering off dog food trying to forget everything that had happened.
A weeks later the magazine came out. It was the first time Beckett had ever seen her photos published before and she could help but have a little bit of pride despite the circumstances. She was surprised to see that the author was still titled as Scooter McGruffins. When she had inquired about Scooter after “the accident”, the editor was brusque with her.
“Scooter is fine. Last I heard he moved to a farm in the countryside with lots of space to run around.”
She hoped he was. He was such a good man, despite all of the dramatics. She went to her fridge and took out some cold leftover meatloaf that her mom had made for her after she found out about her job assignment. This would be a breakfast of champions as she paged through her first magazine spread.
As she bit down on a forkful of the meatloaf, something struck her canine in a weird way. She swallowed and pulled her fork away from her mouth to inspect what she had eaten.
In the meatloaf there was something wriggling. She gasped as she saw half of a worm struggling within the grey mass. It was absolutely disgusting and yet, she was still hungry.