Friday, 12 December 2008
Aubergines © M.E. Ellis
Our Mam loves aubergines. She’s bought them ever since I was a kid. I remember the first time I saw one. Thought it was a pear—a different variety to our usual Conference—albeit purple with a big ol’ belly. I liken food to people or their body parts. See human traits in many a Golden Delicious, a Jaffa. Mam reckons I’m an odd soul. She said so, see?
“You’re an odd soul, our David.” She bustled over to the kitchen counter, transparent bag of aubergines in one hand, six-pint flagon of milk in the other. Placing them down beside the kettle, she turned back to face me. “What do I resemble, then?”
I regarded her. The way she appeared, she reminded me of a raisin. You know, all wrinkled and dried out. Only I couldn’t tell her that. Mam’s always been vain. Couple that trait with a fiery temper and her tendency to be outspoken, and you’d understand why I answered as I did. “A peach.”
Mam’s brow furrowed, her lips pursed, and red splotches sprung up on her cheeks. “What, so you mean to say my face is covered in fuzz, David?” She passed her palm over her chin. “Have I got a beard or moustache growing? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
I swallowed. Heat bloomed on my cheeks. “No, Mam! I meant your complexion is like a peach, you know, the colour. And your skin is soft.”
Her lips morphed from their pursed state to a slack pair of lines. Spittle dribbled from one corner. “That’s all right then,” she said and cuffed the drool. She turned and busied herself, to make our cups of tea. “Want one?”
“Yes, please,” I said and tried to think of something else to say. Something that would relax her shoulders. “What do you think I resemble?”
Mam sighed, placed tea bags into two cups, added sugar. “A great big cauliflower,” she said.
“A what?” Confused, I glanced skywards, as if looking at the artex on the ceiling would answer my silent questions. Why a cauliflower?
“You heard me. A great big cauliflower. The florets remind me of your skin, all puckered. And the size of a cauliflower compared to the peach that I am, is immense. You do understand what I’m trying to say, don’t you, David?”
Hurt ran amok, skittered through my body on spiders’ legs. That she of all people would become like them, those people out in the street, who mocked me. “You’re saying I’m fat?”
Mam sloshed boiling water into our cups, jabbed a teaspoon into each one, and squeezed the teabags against the sides. “I’m saying that maybe, if you ate more fruit and vegetables instead of burgers and fries, you’d be a little slimmer, yes.” She slapped the teabags onto a saucer placed next to the kettle for just that purpose. Steam rose from them and curled into the air. “Why don’t you try a bit of aubergine for your tea?”
I considered it for mere seconds. “No, thanks.”
Mam picked up my cup, brought it over to the small kitchen table, and plonked it down before me. Tea spilled onto the polished wood. “See? You’ve never wanted to try anything different. That’s why you’re still living here at forty-three years old. Life’s passing you by, David, and you don’t even seem to care.”
As Mam walked away, I envisaged her tripping on the curl of the large floor rug. Saw her fling forward and bang her head on the cooker edge. Slump down in an aged, broken heap beside the pine cabinet. I blinked. My gaze rested on the back of her head while she picked up a knife and peeled an aubergine.
“If you weren’t so large, I’d lay you over my knee and tan your arse,” she said, stripping off the vegetable’s skin with jerky movements. “But you’d crush me, wouldn’t you? I’d also make you sit at that table and eat whatever I put in front of you. Instead, I watch you push the food I cook for you around on your plate, knowing you’ll go out an hour later and bring back a take-away. Sit and stuff your blubbery mouth with greasy food cooked by uncaring hands. But that’s all right. Don’t you go worrying about my feelings.”
Mam’s a weird one. If I spoke to her like that she’d clip me round the ear. Yet, there she was, nattering on at me as if she had the right to upset me like that.
It must be difficult for her to have an embarrassment for a son—she’s told me that often enough. Her being slim, still possessing the air of grace she’s always had, the refinement from her youth. And then there’s me, a…well….
As predicted, I left the table after dinner—and no, I didn’t try any aubergine, despite it being on my plate, despite Mam’s glare resting heavily on my bald pate—and strolled to the row of shops on our estate. Good job they’re close to our house, as breathlessness assailed me halfway there, and I had to stop, regulate my breathing. The Min-Wah Chinese take-away and Kibble’s Kebab Shop lured me, and I stood outside on the pavement. The aromas from inside urged my stomach to rumble. What did I fancy? Unable to make up my mind, I chose something from both their menus.
The walk home always seemed quicker than the journey there. Maybe the thought of eating spurred me on, nudged my feet to take longer strides. I reached our street, saliva pooling beneath my tongue in anticipation of the tastes to come. I’d eat, surrounded by the sounds of Mam tsking, the news on high volume, the clock ticking on the wall.
“Each tick lets us know what was once the present is now the past,” Mam said after I’d settled myself down on the couch, a tray balanced on my knees. “That the chance to remedy your unsavoury eating habits, get healthy, make something of yourself, has once again skipped off into the time of ‘I’ll do it one day.’ Every night it’s the same damn thing, our David. And look at you, ketchup from that stinky lamb kebab dribbling down your chin. Really!”
Regardless of her rant, I munched. Ketchup plopped onto my shirtfront. I knew that with each mouthful, my arteries would harder further, my gut would gain another inch, and my heart would gain a more erratic beat.
Mam’s voice droned on in the distance, as if she spoke from the other side of the meadow I imagined myself in. High grasses swished in the breeze, rustled like scrunched paper, whispered: She’s dragging you down, David. Don’t listen. It’s your life to do with what you please….
“It’s my life, Mam.” Startled, I heard the words; didn’t realise I had spoken them out loud.
“Yes, it is your life, David. One I gave you, remember that.”
The sun beat down on my head in that meadow, warmed my face, made me smile.
“Are you smirking at me, David?” Mam asked. The incredulity in her voice jarred my nerves. Kebab finished, I started on the crispy duck. “And as for eating duck. I can’t believe how you can do that when we’ve visited the ducks on the lake ever since you were small. We’ll visit them tomorrow, it being Sunday, and as you toss bits of bread to the mallards, one of their kin will still reside in your overblown gut. Have you no shame, David?”
She’s annoying, isn’t she, David? The grass, the grass whispered that.
“You’re annoying, Mam.”
She stood from her chair on the other side of the meadow, strode over to me, and snatched away my food tray. Pain barked in my head, the tray’s contact sudden, unexpected. The polystyrene kebab container bounced onto my shoulder before coming to rest beside me on the couch. Extra plain noodles became the hair I’d lost many years ago. The duck’s carcass sat on my lap. Plum sauce soaked through my trousers, burned the skin on my thighs.
Conscious thought fled. My body rose from its previous sitting position before I knew it, the duck crammed into Mam’s mouth, wedged in by my meaty palm.
The long grass whispered: Yeeeessss, let her taste it, David.
Posted by Emmy Ellis at 06:34