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Fruit and Flesh


A thin, veined hand, knuckles and joints sprouting black hair like grass from the cracks in a path reaches into a box of Pink Ladies carefully removing a soft brown individual. It is half seven. Peter Butterbun, the owner of the hand, has been here since seven, packing out the fruit and veg, removing blackening bananas, peppers with soft spots like babies heads, slimy mushrooms, wilting lettuce like ageing men, section by section, shelf by shelf, searching for the weak, the pungent, the overly ripe, depositing the rot into a large black bin only after accounting for each item on the worn clip-board. Peter is struck by the similarity of fruit flesh and human flesh, wrinkling skin, spots and growths, perfect hardness, abominations, it is all here.

Peter is a big man, he takes up space. On a bus, for instance, he needs a seat to himself. Or, on an escalator it would be difficult for a person to stand next to Peter and go either up or down. At one time, it is hard to remember when exactly, Peter was comfortable in his size, like a perfectly ripe avocado, but no more. He feels now as if his inner self has shrunken, shriveled, receded and that he no longer fills himself. Perhaps it is not true, but either way it feels so, that more often he has minor accidents, stubbed toes, a finger caught in a door. Just this morning, before leaving for work, Peter stood after dropping a used tea-bag into the silver bin and smacked the back of his head off the underside of the kitchen press. It is as if he does not come all the way out to the extremities of his body, stopping somewhere under his skin, falling short along the length of his limbs at his wrists and ankles. Into the soft orange he pushes his thumb. Fetid juice runs into his palm and down the back of his hand, the pungent rivulets slaloming between the back hairs. It all comes to this, softness, waste, replacement. Into the black bin with the mess, a notation on his clip-board. The pencil back behind his ear. It is done, the morning display has been laid out. It is beautiful, and sad. Perfect piles of shiny fruit arranged on faux-delivery crates, on canvass sacks, barrels, the olden-days look, as if the produce had been delivered by the farmer or his son, but still Peter fells satisfaction as he stands under the soft spot lights, at a job completed and done well.

Ten to eight. Time for a break before the doors open. The first hour is the best hour, always has been, the pleasure of quietness and diligence culminating in this small bit of free time. It is curious, thinks Peter making his way across the shop-floor cutting through the aisles passing gourmet pasta sauces, handmade boxes of chocolates, batteries, toys, stationary, washing-up powders, everything needed to live today, or almost everything anyway, that this ten minute break feels more filled with the potential for happiness the entire evening after work. Through the staff-only door, pushing thick plastic hanging flaps aside and up the stairs. The staff kitchen, a big space enclosed by exposed concrete walls, furnished with soft leather couches in squares, large low tables in the middle, two squares and then, scatted like bird seeds, pairs and threesomes of chairs around round tables where smaller groups or duos might talk quietly, privately, perhaps even intimately. Along the far wall beyond the pool table and the table-tennis table, both of which are currently in use, the store-room lads loudly proclaiming their individual prowess, the inevitability of their coming victory, is the well-stocked kitchen where you can either store or make your lunch and where gratuities, tea, coffee, biscuits, grapes and even, although only occasionally, hand-made chocolates are left for the taking. Peter goes to the press for his cup, a gigantic orange mug with a face protruding. He is aware of Rita, like a meteorite is aware, of the terrible pull of a star in the emptiness of space. Waiting for the kettle to boil Peter is afflicted with the sudden inability to swallow, she is coming. He can feel her like the approach of a storm, the very air around him thickens and clots as if it is being whipped-up by the invisible pressures and intangible forces of the sky. She’s new, Rita, only here a little while.

“Morning, Peter.”

Like trying to force an elephant down a plug-hole, Peter makes himself swallow, “ah, Rita, Jeysus, didn’t see you there.”

Not as tall as Peter, not by a long shot, next to him, Rita is like a fairy-tale creature, a sprite, a woodland pixie, something like that, making him giant-like, monstrous.

“I was just over there,” Rita gestures vaguely while Peter busies with the tea-bag and the spoon.

“Will you have a cuppa?”

“No, no, thanks,” she shrugs her shoulder, touches again her hair, “I had my coffee.”

Into the cup with the tea a pour of milk.

“You going out for one, then?”

“Yeah, yeah, come on before the bell.”

The bell. Her joke with him, like they’re in school. How many mornings? What is it now, November. When did she start? Could it be five months and there hasn’t been a day yet, since the first day, that they haven’t gone out together for one. Together down the steps and then out the back fire-door the wrenching oil-less screech of the flat-bar and the hinges issuing like birds escaping from the jaws of a fox as they push through and out into the cold, grey air. The back of the shiny supermarket, the place you’re not meant to see, like skid-marked pants from a followed- through fart or a swollen tampon floating in a toilet bowl, is filled with bailed piles of cardboard, crisp boxes squashed tight against flattened shampoo boxes, tattered, sodden edges showing bits of brand names, stacked high against the back wall, rows and rows of high-sided trolleys, enormous bins, puddles coated with sickly rainbows. Next to a three-wheeled trolley a squashed chicken fillet roll, two wild looking jackdaws and an elderly crow contesting the wet, slushy breakfast. They walk together, side by side, Peter and Rita, carefully picking their path through the wasteland, careful of the half head of cabbage moldering, or the shards of green glass, to the corner against the wall behind the stack of pallets. They sit on upturned plastic crates that once held trays of cut meat.

“Cold,” Rita pulls her coat about her shoulders.

“To get worse, I think.”

“Ah, don’t say that.”

It had been bad so far, the winter. Too much rain. The darkness was everywhere, lopping off the head of the day before it had a change to grow into anything beyond work and toil. The summer was long gone, like the thought that things would always get better. From a pocket Peter produces a packet of cigarettes, vomit green, on which is the picture of a scarred back, a half-face looking back over a pallid shoulder. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer in big white lettering.

“Here, have one of mine.”

Removing a cigarette from the box Rita looks up and briefly into Peter’s eyes, “thanks, I’ll get you back tomorrow.”

“I know you’re good for it.”

In the bowl of her hand Rita shields the lighter flame. With her eyes occupied Peter stares at the slope of her neck seeing small translucent hairs and just under her ear a blemish.

“The Christmas decorations are going up today,” says Rita, passing the lighter into Peter’s hand, “can you believe it.”

“That’s all we need, now,” says he, luxuriating in the brief contact, the side of her finger against the side of his.

“I don’t mind the decorations,” says she, “but the music, Christ. It’ll be, driving home for Christmas from now to New Year’s.”

Peter lifts his mug of tea. Tendrils of steam are taken by the wind from the surface like souls by death from a killing field.

A gulp then from nowhere he roars, “it’s Christmas.”

Rita spewing smoke, keeling forward like a Jenga tower, “oh no, I hate that,” her face ablaze with joy like a sky aflame with fireworks.

Almost inaudibly, “are you hanging up your stockings.”

Gently Rita slaps his shoulder, “stop that.”

Words in his throat like breached babies won’t come, would she like to go out for a drink one night.

“Well, then,” Rita tosses the butt away, “that’s that.”

“Right,” up he gets.


A slow morning, like the clock is stuck in treacle. Peter replenishes the loose roosters, oranges and trays of closed cup mushrooms. Tinsel, baubles and other splendid things are hung from the ceiling. An enormous Santa is constructed next to the fish counter, in his arms a basket of plastic prawns. If she said no it would be over. Perhaps it is nothing more than convenience, habit, smoking together every morning. Peter won’t see her at break time, they’re on different times. She might even have someone at home, probably does in fact. Despite it all time passes, break-time, lunch-time and it is time for Peter to finish up. It’s raining now. Peter is in the porch, looking out at the carpark, adjusting his jacket. There’s nothing for it, he’ll have to go out. Is there food at home? There are two or three beers anyway, he’s sure of that. He hasn’t far to go, and now that he is out the rain isn’t that bad. It looked worse, always the way. Peter cuts across the carpark. The smaller shops, a phone shop, one selling curtains and blinds another, cheap knick-knacks, are busy. Before you know it, it will be here. People go mad, and for what? A day, like any other. Under the shelter, outside the Chinese take-away, Peter lights a smoke for the walk. In his head Rita is thinking about him. It would be nice to have dinner with someone. It’s awful to go home to an empty house, like walking into a grave. Peter steps out, blowing smoke. From nowhere a car, the blare of a horn.

“In the name of fucking Jesus,” Peter jumps back, dropping his smoke, both hands going to his heart, as if to catch it.

The woman rolls down the window, “are you alright love?”

“Ah, yeah. I am, sorry. Just a bit of a fright.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, yeah. Miles away. Sorry.”

Peter tries to get another cigarette, but his hands are shaking uncontrollably, so he can do nothing but go. When he gets in, he’s soaked through. Lights on. Heating on. In the presses, not much. Order a chipper, burger, chips, onion rings. Settle in front of the television.


(if you liked this read The Liar on Amazon)





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