Spoilt for Choice
With a finger hovering over the lacquered box, Martha deliberates – vegetable, mushroom, fish, chicken, beef, ham, lamb? She chooses chicken and unwraps the gold bouillon. Stray flecks fall onto an envelope. Her colleague impales a sour cream double-bean Spud-U-licious and asks, ‘Why do you eat stock cubes?’
Martha stands barefoot on the chair clutching her dress to her waist, self-conscious that her knickers have a hole in the crotch. Her skin is clammy.
‘You’re fourteen and fat,’ says her grandmother slapping her behind.
With a black marker gripped in her talons, she circles and jabs the condemned parts – belly, buttocks, thighs – pressing hard as if the act of marking will itself excavate excessive flesh.
Martha could give many reasons for eating stock cubes – flavour, convenience, variety, the tinselly sweet-like wrappers. Instead she says, ‘They’re nice,’ and nibbles a grainy corner that clings to her palate before melting into a gooey paste.
Her first, secret taste defies the misery of insipid vegetables and foul teas. The rich, salty eruption makes her salivary glands surrender and her mouth seize up. Only the sting of icy water can pacify her riotous tongue. Craving soon turns to habit. Steadily she denies hunger. In time, denounces food.
Lunch over, Martha sits back. She slices open the envelope and scans the letter. It’s no different to the others – grandmother…sick…please come home. The hourglass is almost empty. She crumples the flimsy sheet and tosses it into the bin.
Eva Rivers lives and works in South London. She has a BA in English Literature and an MA in 18th century literature from Queen Mary University of London. She is currently working on her first novel and writing short stories. When characters won’t do as they’re asked, and when the dialogue doesn’t flow, there’s always salsa…
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