There was an enormous quantity of soup, in what Maybury realized was an unusually deep and wide plate. The amplitude of the plate had at first been masked by the circumstance that round much of its wide rim was inscribed in large black letters, THE HOSPICE; rather in the style of a baby's plate, Maybury thought, if both lettering and plate had not been so immense. The soup itself was unusually weighty too: it undoubtedly contained eggs as well as pulses, and steps had been taken to add "thickening" also.
Maybury was hungry, as has been said, but he was faintly disconcerted to realize that one of the middle-aged women was standing quietly behind him as he consumed the not inconsiderable number of final spoonfuls. The spoons seemed very large also, at least for modern usages. The woman removed his empty plate with a reassuring smile.
The second course was there. As she set it before him, the woman spoke confidentially in his ear of the third course: "It's turkey tonight." Her tone was exactly that in which promise is conveyed to a little boy of his favorite dish. It was as if she were Maybury's nanny; even though Maybury had never had a nanny, not exactly. Meanwhile, the second course was a proliferating elaboration of pasta; plainly homemade pasta, probably fabricated that morning. Cheese, in fairly large granules, was strewn across the heap from a large porcelain bowl without Maybury being noticeably consulted.
"Can I have something to drink? A lager will do."
"We have nothing like that, sir." It was as if Maybury knew that perfectly well, but she was prepared to play with him. There might, he thought, have been some warning that the place was unlicensed.
"A pity," said Maybury.
The woman's inflections were beginning to bore him, and he was wondering how much the rich food, all palpably fresh, and homegrown, and of almost unattainable quality, was about to cost him...
Obviously it would help the catching-up process if Maybury ate no more than two-thirds of the pasta fantasy. But the woman in the dark blue dress did not seem to see it like that.
"Can't you eat any more?" she enquired baldly, and no longer addressing Maybury as sir.
"Not if I'm to attempt another course," replied Maybury, quite equably.
"It's turkey tonight," said the woman. "You know how turkey just slips down you?" She still had not removed his plate.
"It's very good," said Maybury firmly. "But I've had enough."
It was as if the woman were not used to such conduct, but, as this was no longer a nursery, she took the plate away.
...His slab of turkey appeared. He had caught up, even though by cheating. It was an enormous pile, steaming slightly, and also seeping slightly with a colorless, oily fluid. With it appeared five separate varieties of vegetables in separate dishes, brought on a tray and a sauceboat, apparently for him alone, of specially compounded fluid, dark red and turgid. A sizeable mound of stuffing completed the repast. The middle-aged woman set it all before him swiftly but, this time, silently, with unmistakable reserve.
The truth was that Maybury had little appetite left. He gazed around, less furtively, to see how the rest were managing. He had to admit that, as far as he could see, they were one and all eating as if their lives depended on it: old as well as young, female as well as male; it was as if all had spent a long, unfed day in the hunting field. "Eating as if their lives depended on it, he said again to himself; then, struck by the absurdity of the phrase when applied to eating, he picked up his knife and fork with resolution...
..."Eat up, sir. Why, you've hardly started!" His tormentor had quietly returned to him...
"I've had enough. I'm sorry, it's very good, but I've had enough."
"You said that before, sir, and look, here you are, still eating away." He knew that he had, indeed, used those exact words. Crises are met by cliches.
"I've eaten quite enough."
"That's not necessarily for each of us to say, is it?"
"I want no more to eat of any kind. Please take all this away and just bring me a black coffee. When the time comes, if you like. I don't mind waiting." Though Maybury did mind waiting, it was necessary to remain in control.
The woman did the last thing Maybury could have expected her to do. She picked up his laden plate (he had at least helped himself to everything) and, with force, dashed it on the floor. Even then the plate did not break, but gravy and five vegetables and rich stuffing spread across the thick, patterned, wall-to-wall carpet. Complete, in place of comparative silence followed in the whole room; though there was still, as Maybury even then observed, the muted clashing of cutlery. Indeed, his own knife and fork were still in his hands.
Falkner returned around the bottom end of the long table.
"Mulligan," he asked, "how many more times?"...
--Robert Aickman, "The Hospice," Cold Hand In Mine