Last night I dreamed I was a sausage on a disc of steel. Beyond a low encircling metal wall roared gouts of orange fire, and, in the flamelight, I could see the silhouettes of other souls who shared my torment, crouching in ones and twos or prone upon the metal, their voices shrill with lamentation.
I felt a gentle pressure at my back and turned to find a small loukaniko, his brown skin puckered on a knobbled, shrunken body. I recognized him at once: I had found him at the end of a long summer in our house in Greece, trapped forgotten in the permafrost at the back of the icebox. I’m sure I dropped him straight into the bin, unceremoniously, uncooked, but now it seemed he bore me no ill will. He nodded.
Every sausage tells a story, brother, here in Purgatory. You see this pitiful old gentleman?” I gazed down at a withered Florentine salami, leprous with soft white ash and bound with string. He was clearly in distress, moaning and twitching uncontrollably. “He hung for years, forgotten, from the splintered rafter of a Tuscan kitchen. He hears the claws of rats along the beam at midnight.” (A gang of spoiled bratwursts had devised a game, darting towards the old salami, yanking on his string and running away.) “And here’s another one, no longer sane.”
I turned reluctantly. “Alas! Poor sausage. I knew him, Loukaniko. But I spurned him with good reason. Look how his pallid flesh is swollen with disease and pinked with the flush of salmonella. He was a breakfast sausage I almost bought in the restaurant car of a railway train.”
“And still he rocks from side to side,” mused the loukaniko, “trapped in the rhythm of a wasted life. But save your pity. No one here is that much better off. Do you not know the company you keep? Look around you. We are the missing links, the unwanted, the uneaten, doomed for a certain time to live again our unconsumed, unconsummated lives.”
A detonation, and from the invisible heights flashed monstrous forks, puncturing, piercing, pushing us this way and that. Loukaniko hissed a curse. “My instinct, brother, is to kick against the pricks. To spite those unseen demons I would leap out of this pan into the cleansing fire. I’d do it were it not for Nancy.”
“My little Nancy Andouillette. Panayia! Such a belly. But she is too philosophical. She greets my courage with an existential nausea, refusing to believe we’re where we are. She spends her time in conversation with a Californian boloney who claims some recollection of a previous existence as a pig.”
A little way across the slippery surface of the pan, a crowd had formed around a fine-looking Derbyshire banger. I pointed out that this one did not fit Loukaniko’s explanation of a legion of the damned, he seemed so irresistibly healthy and robust. The jovial Derby heard me and with his honest face split by a grin, rolled over.
“Yer right!” he laughed, “I’m in my prime. But I were never meant for eating. I ‘ad a career, sithee, on the stage. I was lead sausage on Dog Toby’s string in the seaside Punch and Judy. It were a good life. We boarded in a small refrigerator in the van. ‘E’d bring us out and on the cue we’d swing up into view, dangling from the puppet’s jaws; then the chase scene—most exciting—then, clack, clack! Down the blessed crocodile. I looked to end my days an actor, till the fridge broke down. Not a mark of mold, mind you, but he yanked us forth, and with never a word he threw us out the window, into a ditch among the grass and mud. The other lads were all for heading back to Chesterfield, finding a space and putting on a performnce of their own. Me? I’d had my fill of show business. So there and then we parted company. I sat down by the road to wait for fox or ferret. I never saw the lorry.” He turned to my loukaniko. “I’ve thought on what you said. I’ll jump. Better to fry than rot in Hell.”
“Purgatory, not Hell,” said the pedantic little Greek, with a glance of shy admonishment at me. “Hell, as we know from our Dante, and some of us from personal experience, is an eternity in the freezer.”
“Aye, aye, whatever. But are we all agreed? I reckon we must do it all together. Is everybody with us?” Murmurs of assent. “I can’t hear you! I said, Is everybody with us!”
The noise was deafening. A horde of fiery-tempered chorizos shouted “Si!”; “Hot diggety-dog!” yelled a ballpark wiener, keen as mustard. Two delicate Essen frankfurters, their heads still joined by a knotted, membraneous cord, nodded and then began to weep. “And I,” boomed a voice from behind me. “I too will jump and face the one true destiny of our kind.” A great black giant pushed his way forward, towering head and shoulders above the rest of us.
“If only Nancy…” Loukaniko glanced wistfully at his andouillette. She raised her chin and looked away.
Behind me, another voice was heard. “I vill not jump.” A hush fell upon the crowd. We turned to see a haughty Königswürste lounging near the handle of the pan. “I vill not jump in the company of this schwartzkopf.” And he twitched a finger at the giant.
“Why not? Because he’s black?” I asked, astounded.
Königswürste curled his lip. “No, it is not because he is black. I myself am black in parts. It is because he is not vun of us.” He heaved himself from the rim and pushed slowly into our midst, stopping before the object of his prejudice. “He has guts, but he is no sausage. Ze schwartzer is a pudding.”
Alarm and consternation. “Boudin!” hissed Nancy Andouillette. The frankfurters began to cry in earnest, and those nearest the black pudding edged away, leaving him alone in a circle of hostility.
“I say again,” continued the relentless Königswürste, “You are not velcome. Go back and die amongst the haggis.”
The crowd wavered, undecided. There was nothing for it. I rolled forward and touched the interloper. “Hath not a pudding eyes? Hath not a pudding organs, dimensions, salt and stuffing, and little bits of pork? Sliced with the same knife, subject to the same bacterium? If you prick him does he not ooze? If you fry him does he not sizzle? Death marks not the company we keep. Let us meet our fate together!”
“And you,” said the German when the cheering had died down, his tone full of chilling disdain. “Vot do you know of such things? A common saveloy.”
I would have answered, but our conversation was interrupted by a peal of girlish laughter. Königswürste spun round, then his sneer relaxed into a licentious smirk of approval. “Ach, that one. Her life! A decadence. Such airs and graces from a mere chippolata, a mindless canapé. But she shows courage, nicht vahr? Look now! She begins to dance.”
“She’s doing the mashed potato.”
Nancy Andouillette gazed at the tiny twirling figure, poignant against the dazzling flames. “This is our sign!” she cried, turning to the rest of us. “What gesture could be more authentic! Our destiny is in our own hands. I applaud her. Vraiment, we are sisters under the skin.”
A gasp went up. The cocktail chippolata was poised upon the rim of the skillet. She turned and smiled gaily at us, gave one last laugh and was gone.
We lay in silence, waiting, our backs against the hot metal. Then the Greek started to rock from side to side, gathering momentum, and one by one we followed suit, tossing and turning in the pan, rolling ever closer to the edge.
I remember the rush of heat and flame, a searing orange light.