Keep Refrigerated – a short story

Keep Refrigerated

 

The grapefruit was not as great a fruit as she’d expected, when mixed with the cold bitter of martini and vodka. Maybe it was because she sat alone, so there was no one else there to take the sting off things. Looking back on it, she was probably compensating for the fact that she’d given the lemon meringue pie to that homeless man. That’s why she’d sought out the relinquished tang of a grapefruit martini and its silky sugar cladding. Would she regret it in the morning? Possibly. She was torn, recently, between a desire to love herself and indulge in “the moment”, and a deeply ingrained wish to be as close as desirably possible to what she was not. The mindfulness classes she’d been taking recently had urged her towards the former, but she was yet to be convinced how a different frame of mind would change the picture she saw when she lay flat and naked on her bed, and a handful of hip normally hidden behind her back revealed its secrets as it was pressed round into a squidge on her side. She took a sip of the martini, and wondered how many slurps of sugar syrup were hidden in its small, thin frame.

The text came through that she’d been expecting. She’d buy their tickets for them, so they’d still have time to chat before the trailers. It was hardly believable, was it, that he would have actually wanted a lemon meringue pie. But he had. He had seemed very genuine. Almost sheepish, as though embarrassed at skipping his mains and going straight to pudding. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a lemon meringue pie. It floated out of a deep rut in her memory – a school friend with whom she’d buy and eat a whole pie with, sat on the locker room benches, on a morning when they felt particularly sorry for themselves.

A cold breeze stirred around her ankles as her friends arrived. Their presence alerted to by two cold cats, slinking around her feet. They had cats’ eyes too, her friends. The gentle, sensual slope of Polly’s eyelids, continually suggestive of how they might be lain down and closed by the right caresses. Grace’s, a kitten’s, perfect diamonds. In their own way, both pairs quickly, subtly, looked a little longer than usual into her own as Polly greeted her with the new hug. Just a little more pressure, a little more encompassing, and no kisses on the cheek. It’s funny how when you watch someone being hugged, it’s so hard to detect that slow, loaded squeeze. They exchanged news, how they were and how they were not. Laughter, verging on hysterics, at the “cheery number” they were about to watch. Yes, admittedly, it would probably have been better to avoid the Hungarian Holocaust drama, but the reviews were so good, and the only other option was a romance. Did they want drinks? Snacks? The most remarkable thing about this lovely old cinema was that they turned a blind eye, perhaps even encouraged, bringing snacks and drinks into the screenings. And they could be guaranteed that the audience watching Son of Saul would either have bought a little something on a napkin from the bar here, or have nice Tupperwares of wrapper-less one-bites. And in the holders next to them, wine, cocktails, or coffee to silently sip on.

She got a plastic cup from the bar and tipped the remainder of her martini into it. Depreciated from its glass cradle, it was barely more than a thimbleful. It tasted like juice. She babbled about work, all the leftover food and drink she’d been encouraged to take home with her this evening. How none of the other helpers wanted to take any, as they were going straight out to bars, or clubs. How lucky, that she had been able to stop all that food going to waste. She explained about the homeless man, and the lemon meringue pie, before showing them the cheeses left in her bag, slowly stinking hello. Neither of her friends wanted to take one off her hands, but they were more than happy to share the two barely opened bottles of red wine she’d also come away with. She thought about the wine and grapefruit meeting in her stomach, the light peach droplets of her martini (which would have been just fine on its own, she might have even gone to bed pleased) drowned by the ensuing five hundred centilitres of a wine-red odyssey. A sullen, sugary mess, the colour of bruised fruit. She necked her martini and held out her plastic cup for some wine. She checked the time – it was nearly eight, they had better go in. Were they sure they didn’t want anything to eat? Surely, given the awkward time, neither of them had had dinner. But they had food at home, they didn’t mind eating late, they’d rather save the money. Well, she didn’t like eating late, she reasoned, so she’d have a treat now and that would be the same as having a normal supper. She bought a brownie, but asked for a cookie too as she handed over the money to pay. It was such a tiny brownie, after all.

 

Yes, the film had been harrowing. Beautiful, but harrowing, and she wasn’t sure if her two friends had been able to separate the two effects enough to enjoy it. On the way out, she finished the bag of Twirl mini-bites, which Grace had forgotten she had in her bag until they sat down in their seats. Grace felt sick so easily, and was much more of a savoury person than a sweet one. She, on the other-hand, so angry at the cookie and brownie, and seduced into irrationality by the sludge of wine in her head, had decided that she may as well make a meal of it and gratefully accepted the proffered packet. It had sat for the rest of the film between the two of them, as she became more and more conscious, more and more repulsed, at the unequal frequency of the hands venturing towards it from either side. There was undeniably a certain oddity, a certain guilt, at eating whilst watching a film of that sort. It seemed wrong, stuffing flaky clusters of cocoa fats into her mouth whilst skeletal figures crammed against cement walls on the screen in front of her. Angered at her behaviour, she’d decided that it was pointless to just be a bit bad. She may as well start again tomorrow. So she had swallowed the next mini-bite and drained her glass of wine, feeling ill, but intentionally so, so it was good.

Discussing the cinematography afterwards, she pulled (disinterestedly, she hoped) at the small pouch of skin underneath her chin, which she had not been aware of at the start of the day. Polly and Grace were hungry, they wanted to get back for supper. She would rather have walked, but when two out of three wanted an Uber it would have been odd to not get in it. She said that she might just nip to the loo whilst they waited for the car to arrive. In fact, they all would. Peeing quickly, she had time before the others came out to briefly lift up her shirt in front of the mirror and see where all the mini-bites had lined up around her waist. Perhaps it was a flattering mirror, but it wasn’t as bad as she had expected. The other cubicle doors began to unlock, and she wasn’t sure whether she dropped her hands down to the soap dispenser in time, so she spoke, blusteringly, about a funny mole she thought was changing shape on her tummy. Both friends had a look, and Grace complimented her, irritated, on her flat, toned stomach.

In the Uber home, they discussed their next plans to see each other. It would be dinner, at Polly’s, on Friday. She was fine with that, but could it please be at eight, rather than seven thirty, so she had time to go to her body pump class beforehand? You’re so good, they told her, and eight was fine. Sat in the front, hidden by the back of her seat, she slipped her left arm underneath her top and grabbed a handful of herself from above her trousers. She pulled at it, rolling the folds deeper into the crease she made, sticking the pointed nail of her index finger sharply into herself. Polly and Grace chatted in the back about whom else to invite on Friday.

Back home, she began to empty her bags onto the counter. What a treat – English Mature Cheddar, Long Clawson Blue Stilton, Belton Red Leicester, Wensleydale with Cranberry and French Petit Brie. Her tongue felt a little wet. She opened the fridge, forgetting to cover her nose. The stench was overwhelming, and she heard herself make a noise of disgust out loud in the empty flat. She turned the radio on as she slowly got used to the odour. She put the cheeses away into the fridge, squeezing them one by one onto the top of rotten piles of food and plastic that slipped on their putrid juices at the base of each shelf. A thick goo was starting to puddle underneath each drawer. She wasn’t sure whether she was going to be able to find room in the fridge for the final cheese. It was an awkward shape, a large half-wheel of Stilton. How funny – how delicious and creamy its mould was, unlike the thin, communal sap percolating at the bottom of the fridge. She’d also taken home those crackers she liked, the black pepper ones. They cut through the rich Stilton expertly, with just the right amount of spice. She needed the loo again. In the bathroom, she took her trousers off entirely. She was going to bed anyway. Naked from the waist down, she turned slowly in the mirror, pinching the flesh above her hips until it went red. A beep came from the kitchen – she’d left the fridge door open. She went back, staring into its stuffed mouth for a place for her Stilton. It wouldn’t keep out of the fridge, she didn’t believe in people who kept cheese in the larder. Taking a knife out of the drawer, she sat down on the kitchen stool with her book, and the crackers. Didn’t you have vivid dreams if you ate cheese before bed? It proved difficult to keep her place in the book without smudging greasy blue and white thumbprints over its pages. The sooner she finished that Stilton, the sooner she’d be able to get into bed and read properly. But by then she was tired, and the imminent ease with which she could end the day was irresistible. She slept flat on her back, a starfish splayed diagonally across the bed, to not waste all that newly available space.

 

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