Hunger 5

The memory is so vivid, so real that he feels his mouth pucker, fill with sweet saliva, he can almost taste the blackberries, warm pastry, the goey joy of Birds custard.

Blackberrying – 1939

His mother, hair covered by a silk scarf, wrapped, turban like around her peroxided sausage curls, ranges ahead, using a walking stick, kept especially for this purpose, to pull down the sweetest, hardest to reach fruit.
He, knees scabbed from a failed attempt to tight rope walk the entire length of the garden wall, works in her shadow, reaching out for the best, blackest berries, dropping them in slightly pulpy handfuls into the saucepan on the ground.
His sister, smaller, more easily distracted, wanders from bush to bush, picking, eating, sometimes remembering to drop a token berry into the saucepan with the broken handle.
And afterwards, when he has watched his mother roll out the pastry with a milk bottle left to cool in the larder and cut two perfect leaves from the off cuts to decorate the pies’ lid, he waits, while the smell of almost autumn fills the kitchen.

Another memory and he surrenders himself to it, smiles as he remembers his sisters’ suspicious, almost doubting face.

Banana – 1945

His sister, who is too young to remember their life before the war, pokes the fruit with a cautious finger.
He, 15, almost old enough to join the Home Guard, if peace doesn’t break out soon, can, if he concentrates, remember bananas, banana sandwiches. White bread sliced with the razor sharp bread knife, the banana itself, perfect circles covering every inch of the bread and then a sprinkling of sugar on top, but he has no memory of the taste itself.

The banana has sat, an exotic visitor amongst the slightly wizened, slightly battered apples, the last of this years’ crop, waiting for Sunday tea.

His mother carefully, deftly un-peels the fruit, making sure that none of it is caught within the skin and then slices it into 3 equal pieces.

Brought back to the now, the present, he realizes that he has no recollection of the actual eating, but the waiting, the anticipation is as clear as if it were yesterday.

He lets his mind drift, wool gathering, killing time.

Drinking red wine from France – 1950

He knows about beer, slightly flat, warm beer, drunk on Saturday nights, while they look at girls and wait for something, anything to happen.
He doesn’t much like the taste, but enjoys drunkenness, fuzzy inebriation, the sense of possibility that alcohol gives.

The bottle of wine sits on a kitchen table, between him and Roy, old school friend, university boy, someone who got away.

The cork screw, attachment on a swiss army knife is produced, the bottle opened with great ceremony and then the bottle ” left to breathe”.

Covertly, he watches it while Roy talks about girls and books and people he has never met.

The taste, when finally it comes, is disappointing, reminds him of the bottle of Sarsons vinegar, used liberally on the high days and holidays treat of chip shop chips, never eaten from the wrappers, too common, but placed in a pyrex dish and kept warm in the oven before being served at the table.

But, the drunkenness is glorious, makes him feel smarter, more than his everyday self, can, briefly, imagine himself seated at a Parisian cafe bar, watching girls, French girls stroll by.

The memories are coming faster now, the dead time between lunch and tea flying by.

Spaghetti Bolognaise – 1955

He doesn’t know it now, but this is the girl he will marry, but at this moment they are both stiff with awkwardness in this newly opened Italian restaurant on the High Street.
They have ordered half a carafe of house red and he has squirmed with embarrassment while the waiter has gone through the ritual of pouring an inch of the cheapest wine on the list into his glass.
The spaghetti is served with a spoon and fork, the pepper mill, longer than his forearm is wafted over his food, Parmesan offered and nervously refused.
They both look at the cutlery offered and she more confident, more able to admit confusion, shrugs and calls the waiter, asks for knives and carefully they cut the long strands of pasta into bite sized pieces.
The taste of the food, rich, oily, stays with him until he carefully cleans his teeth the next morning, anxious to remove any hint of garlic before he goes to work.

Cream Tea, Ilfracombe – 1958

He leans forward, happy to have any reason to touch her in this public place and carefully, using his handkerchief, dabs at the blob of clotted cream on her nose.
The beach-side cafe is genteel, silver pots of hot water served alongside the tea pots with the spouts that always leak, just a little.
They are on honeymoon, hoping for sunshine, but happy with rain, happy with anything that allows them to lean into each other, stay close.
The cream tea is a luxury, carefully budgeted for, she piles cream and jam onto the fluffy home-made scone, bites down, the yellow of the clotted cream, the deep red of the plum jam oozing together and smiles with pleasure.
He smokes a Senior Service, carefully nips the tip and puts the half smoked cigarette back into the packet before he spreads butter thinly onto half a scone.

Heinz Chocolate Pudding – 1961,

The baby leans forward, mouth opening in anticipation, he, mindful of his work suit, his white shirt, still 2 days away from needing washing, carefully removes the red lid from the tiny glass jar.
He picks up the spoon, stirs the contents and then carefully, loads the spoon.
The babys’ lips wrap around the sweet desert, smacking together in pleasure as the pudding is devoured.
Her hand, small, soft, wrist ringed with fat suddenly darts towards the spoon, grabs it and drops blobs of chocolate onto his hand, his wrist.
He pulls away, trying to avoid splattering his only decent suit and the speed of the movement frightens her.
He smiles, while still trying to check what damage has been done and then relieved, he offer her more of the desert and almost without thinking licks some of the spilt food from too near his cuff.
The sweetness is intense, almost over-powering.

Tapas – 1968

She, bored of the luke warm Heinz tomato soup, the over-boiled vegetables served every evening at their hotel has found a teen age baby sitter and bullied the thick legged rep into telling them about the nearest proper Spanish restaurant.

And now, they are sitting, skin tingling from too much sun, eating tapas.
The table is piled with tiny brown ceramic dishes, he cannot help thinking that they have ordered far too much food, can already feel the heaviness that will sit on his chest all evening and into the morning, but her delight at the excess is infectious. She dips into a bowl of tiny sun dried tomatoes, he only knows what they are because the waitress has carefully described each dish to them.
She aims the fork at his mouth, laughing at his discomfort and then, because they are on holiday, because he does not want her to think of him as a man scared to take a risk, he opens his mouth and allows her to feed him.
Later, when all the dishes has been cleared away and the waitress, unbending as she sees their pleasure in her mothers’ cooking, has placed a bowl of freshly picked cherries between them, it is he who now places a perfect cherry between his wifes’ lips.

Fondue – 1973

The children, bribed with Radio 1 in their bedroom and allowed to take a whole packet of chocolate biscuits upstairs have been exiled.
His wife has spent days hunting down the exotic ingredients needed for this, their first ever fondue party.
Items are ranged along the kitchen work surface, garlic, nutmeg, a bottle of white wine, a strange cheese, whose name he cannot pronounce and which could not be bought in the local co-op is leaking an unfamiliar smell around the house.

He has been allocated bread cutting duty, the baguettes need to be chopped into neat equal cubes and absently he pops 1, 2, 3 into his mouth until his wife, lips thin with anxiety shouts at him and then he stops, focuses instead in filling the woven bread basket.
He is somewhat surprised, almost disappointed, after the days of preparation to discover that fondue is at heart complicated cheese on toast.

The fondue sets sits on top of the kitchen cupboard for years until the kitchen is re-vamped and it is bagged up and left outside a charity shop.

Muesli – 1979

His daughter has become a vegetarian, is debating veganism.
Meal times have become a battle ground and looking for middle ground, a truce, he has driven her to the local whole food co-op.
The shop reminds him of his childhood, sacks on the floor, brown paper bags, old fashioned weighing scales, but the staff have none of the comfort of Mr Ridley and his dusty brown grocers’ coat.
They sport piercing, pony tails, clothes that are ripped, shabby, but he suspects an artfulness,a deliberation.
His daughter wanders happily, picking up food items that seem joyless, mostly colorless and waiting, he starts a conversation with an older, less threatening man who is carefully bagging up a mixture of oats, nuts and fruits.
They smile at eachother and the assistant, pausing, tells him that this is muesli, a breakfast cereal and that he can tell a lot about a customer from the type of muesli they choose.
He waves a be-ringed hand at the shelf and the father, still waiting, grabs almost at random a bag.
Later, when he examines the cereal more carefully, he sees that it has dried bananas and apricots and wonders what it says about him.

Chicken Tikka Masalla – 1985

The microwave pings, mindfull of the steam burn from the sausage and mash last night, he pauses for a few moments before he pulls away the cellophane.
The chicken is an unlikely orange, cubes of meat suspiciously symmetrical floating in a thickening sauce.
He stirs it cautiously, pulls a plate from the mismatched pile in the almost empty cupboard and then smells burning, the naan bread, left, forgotten under the grill has burst into flames.
He grabs at it, burns his fingers and drops the blackened bread into the washing up bowl, managing to cover last nights’ plate, cup, bowl in burnt ash.
Sitting at the one chair at the too small table, he shovels in the food, missing the naan bread, he uses the crust of a loaf to mop up the sauce and wishes that he still smoked.

McDonalds Happy Meal – 1993

His daughter, vegetarianism long since abandoned, shrugs apologetically, mutters that the kids like it, will eat everything and it’s cheap.
The children start a chant for a Happy Meal and he offers to take them to the counter while she balances the newest baby on her lap.
At first he is perplexed by the queuing system, waits to be served, while giant teenagers push past him until finally, his grandson takes him by the hand and leads him to a counter and confidently orders two Happy Meals.
He is bemused by the choices on offer, has no idea what a Filet of Fish, a Big Mac or a Mcrib could be and aware of the press of people behind him, smiles at the girl at the counter and says he too will have a Happy Meal.
There is a pause and she shakes her head,almost dislodging her red baseball visor, tells him that he cannot have one, only children are allowed happy meals.
He stares at the menu board behind her, has no idea what to order, wants to ask her what is good, what will he enjoy.
His granddaughter feels his discomfort,his anxiety and when the pause has gone on too long, tugs at his hand and whispers that her daddy always orders a Big Mac with cheese.
So, he does.

Sitting with his family, he is surprised that the burger is so tasty and when the children are distracted by the plastic toys, he steals their fries, suddenly ravenous.

And then, he is back in this day, this room.
The door opens and a pinny clad girl, not one he recognizes pushes the door wider with her foot, her arms full of tea time trays.
She approaches bed, smiles vaguely and goes to place the tray of food on the bedside table, she has to push the untouched lunch tray to one side, not really noticing she leaves the tea tray there, just out of reach and is gone.

He wonders, if today, this evening, anyone will remember to come and feed him.

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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