Hunger 2


He knows he shouldn’t, really, really shouldn’t and even as he thinks that, he knows that he will.

The very thought has unleashed a warmth in his mouth, a tiny trickle of saliva. Casually, he brushes his hand against his lips, checks for any obvious signs of actual drooling, his lips are dry, he relaxes, pulls down his t-shirt, XXXXL and heads towards the precinct, thighs chaffing, rolling slightly on the balls of his feet, already aware of the sweat gathering in armpits, under breasts, in the small of his back.

The warmth from the bakers hits him as he steps into the shop, he breathes in the scents of baked bread, hot sausage meat, grilling bacon and the less easy to define, the smell of cooking fat, baked sugar, confectioners custard.

There are four people ahead of him and he finds himself jigging with impatience. Now that he has made the decision all he wants to do is get the food and get home as quickly as is possible.

The women in the shop, pink pinnies, hair nets, recognize him, smile and the oldest, older than his mother, steps up to serve him. He feels awkward with her, months ago when he stretched his hand across the glass counter to pay for 12 donuts, 2 victoria sponge slices , 7 sausage rolls and a bacon and cheese cob, she rested her hand on his, her fingers slender, nails painted a bright orange. Her hand seemed swallowed up in his fleshy fingers, dimpled wrists and she patted his hand and he didn’t really know what to do, so, he just picked up the warm, greasy bags and left.

He has to make quick decisions now, the hunger is growing inside him and he needs to know what exactly he is hungry for. He rolls his tongue around his mouth
“Sweet” he thinks ” I need sweet”

And then the challenge is to get the order out, grab the food and get out before someone feels a need to say something, almost but not quite quietly enough and if that happens then the shame will flood in and the food, all those sweet, buttery pleasures will satisfy nothing and the hunger will grow and send him out again and again while the food turns to ashes in his mouth.

He speaks fast, doesn’t make eye contact, keeps his head down.

Today is a day for soft food, food that will melt with very little need for real chewing, food that will coat his mouth, his teeth, his lips with fondant icing, caster sugar, bright red processed jam.

The walk home is calmer, he is tired but the weight of the carrier bags is a comfort. As he walks, he dips a finger into the first paper bag he can reach and scrapes chocolate icing with his nail and delicately licks the finger.

He would like to open a bag, right here, right now, but knows that food eaten on the go doesn’t count, doesn’t fill the hunger and besides there is always someone to pass judgement, pass comment or simply pass by with a barely disguised look of disgust.

So, he waits, placating the hunger with little dabs of sugar, blobs of chocolate icing.

Home and the ritual unpacking and placing of the food, straight lines across the tiny kitchen table.

He arranges the food by type and color, all the donuts together, a pyramid of fleshy dough,the eclairs he sets out in wobbly circles and the iced cupcakes range from pink to yellow to the most satisfying – the brown and cream filled chocolate one, a limited rainbow of sweetness.

And then, a pause, a deep breath and he starts.

The beginning is always the same, decorous, paced, a bite, place the cake down, a breath and then another bite, pause, breath, but the hunger is unimpressed, demands a more conveyor belt approach.

The bites become bigger, the pauses shorter, his breathing more ragged.

His hand seems to act independently, reaching across the table to grab and then to ram the food into his mouth, faster and faster.

Flavors are mixed up now, jam and chocolate and cream and pastry, breathing is more difficult, turns to a rasping sob and then, it is done.

The table is bare, his hand, each finger working separately to chase down the remaining crumbs, but this, he knows, is just routine, tidying.

He sits back, sighs, seeks completeness, his hands, no longer busy at the table, rub his stomach, petting it as if it were somehow something quite apart from himself.

There is a moment, before the loathing and self hate kicks on, before the hunger reasserts itself, a moment of complete calm, his eyes half close, his tongue seeks out of flavors on the roof of his mouth the remainder, the hint of sweetness. He tries to hold on, to keep the moment, but, as always, it slips away and he is left, head dropping with exhaustion, whole body beyond sated, mouth furry and the skin tight, taut against his stomach.

And then, the hatred, the promises, like garbled childhood prayers, it won’t happen again, he will show self control and all the time, his hand, his best eating hand is still dabbing up tiny remainders, intent on not missing a single morsel.

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About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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