Ah, che barbaro appetito!

I’ve still not been out, but I think tomorrow might be the day. Or the day after that. Maybe Friday. Once I’m well again. Except, I have to go on Thursday. I have an eye appointment.

I’ve been dreaming of food. You know when you’ve just had a root canal, and a burger ad comes on the telly, all…sizzling meat, flying lettuce, golden chips, and you just…oh, you want it. You want it so bad, but your mouth’s full of gauze and your dentist said no, and all you can do is salivate?

Now, imagine you haven’t eaten in a month. Four weeks, and this—this tiny list—is everything you’ve put in your mouth:

  • Half a bag of rice cakes;
  • A WHOLE bag of seedless black grapes, all at once—you’re a pig;
  • Half a fruit cup (you picked out the orange bits and left the rest);
  • One mango;
  • Thirty large protein shakes;
  • Two gallons of tomato juice because…you like it, okay? You love your tomato juice. You’re allowed.

That’s all you’ve had for a month, and food’s suddenly everywhere. You get on Twitter; your feed is food. Everyone’s posting their dinner. Crispy fried chicken with thyme-and-lemon batter. Goulash with cream. Poutine. Fresh starfruit, fresh kiwis, an entire fucking trifle, wax apples and watermelon, blended drinks with brollies in, tall stacks of pancakes, everything delicious, everything you could imagine, and none of it for you. Not one bite.

You banish the banquet and try to get some sleep, but your neighbour’s cooking dinner. Your nose twitches, and I don’t mean a figurative twitch. I’m talking dog twitching, sniff-sniff-sniff. You smell butter, then garlic, then ginger, so strong your gums hurt. You smell frying meat. Succulent meat. It gets spicy and warm and it fills your whole head, and you taste ginger beef. You fucking taste it. You lick your teeth. You’d kill for just the rice, just the rice after it’s soaked up the juices. One mouthful. One grain.

You get up and check the fridge. There’s Pedialyte. There’s a protein drink, half-drunk. You slurp tomato juice from the jug, glance out the window, and slurp again. It’s okay. No-one’s looking.

You sink down on the couch with tomato juice on your tongue. You look out at the mountains and think of fresh gazpacho, cold and refreshing. You chew your own tongue, but it’s soft. You want crunchy. You want croutons toasted with rosemary and olive oil, diced green pepper, onion, celery. You close your eyes and see your mother’s tablecloth, and that big silver soup tureen that’s only for gazpacho. Those gold-rimmed Royal Doulton bowls, each piled high with some topping or other, each with its own tiny spoon. You smell pepper. You taste salt. Those are tears.

You brush your teeth and want an After Eight. You lie down and curl up—you feel sick, but you still want to eat. You still want the feel of food, and the comfort of it, that sense of satisfaction.

You wait half an hour.

You can’t wait any longer.

You get up and suck a mango slice, making it last. You go back for another, but you can’t. You just…can’t. You thought you understood disappointment, but you didn’t. Not till now.

Later, you try a rice cake. You remember that one time—you were fourteen, and your mother wasn’t home, and her friend dropped off jam for her. Spiced apricot jam, made with brandy, homemade. You hid it in your bedroom and ate it all. You ate it on toast, on apple slices, on rice cakes. It was great on rice cakes. You wish you had some of that jam.

(You could call your mother and confess, nearly thirty years late, to having eaten the jam. Get her to ask for the recipe. But you have memories of jam-making, too, vague ones from childhood—elderberries dripping through muslin, fruity steam filling the kitchen. You don’t have the stuff to make jam, or those special jars to put it in, the ones with the seals. You can’t make the brandy jam. You get Heinz marmalade.)

(I mean, really, I wouldn’t eat Heinz marmalade. I get champagne and blood orange marmalade from one of those snob shops, y’know, twenty bucks a jar. But not today. Today, I’m out.)

You order groceries: more protein powder, more tomato juice. They bring Clamato, which is fish juice. You pour it down the sink. You have some pride. You order a treat, too, though you’re not sure you can eat it: tomato and artichoke salad with onions and chickpeas. You stand in front of the fridge and nibble one chickpea, then another. You fish out a slice of artichoke, put it in your mouth, and your knees go weak. It’s so tangy. So delicious. Your whole body puckers. You feel sick, then better, then sick again. You come back for another bite. It’s as good as the first. You manage three bites, an hour apart, and you’re in heaven.

(I don’t think I’ve ever eaten an entire tomato and artichoke salad at once. I’d normally have more than three bites, but I ordered half a kilo. Nobody would eat that all at once. I just have to keep biting, finish before it expires.)

…so, anyway, I’m hungry. Like, in case that wasn’t clear. (Don’t worry. It’s not a money thing. I can afford to eat. I’m just sick, is all. Waiting for my appetite to come back. The moment that happens…well, you get the idea.)

Time to try another bite.

(PS – I’m getting on better with Mr. Boose. On the work front, at least, all is well.)

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