“Take it from me, Martin,” says the giant in a whisper, “you‘re dead meat.”
It’s the voice of someone I know, but I can’t put a name to it.
I’ll call him Slurpy.
Slurpy releases my tie, and I drop. I hit liquid. Soup, in fact. I plummet into pumpkin soup. It’s a dish I know from childhood, a specialty of my mother’s unsteady hand. A gobbet of the stuff pushes past my teeth and it tastes awful, just like I remember.
I surface with difficulty. The soup drags at my limbs and my suit’s sharp tailoring constrains me. I tire quickly, so I lie back. I try to float. It’s difficult, and I think I’m going to drown. I’m going to drown in my own mother’s soup.
I’ve not thought of my mother for so long now. Soon after my father left, she went onto anti-depressants, something like Prozac. The following year when a university offered me a place to study law my mother said, “Stay here, Martin love, please.” She smiled when she said it but by then her smile was less than convincing and I didn’t stay. I left her. I left her when she had no one.
The soup erupts all around me. It sucks me under and throws me up into a shallow silver bowl which holds me mid-air. Above, I see Slurpy’s chin. Beard-growth stands out on it, silver stubble in a chalky field, and above that his nostrils, hairs all protruding. Beyond these a thin, greasy quiff tumbles across his forehead.
I wore my hair like that once. Before I learnt about style.
I never once called my mother after I left. During college holidays I stayed with friends or went working abroad. I felt that if she’d screwed up her life then that was her look-out and I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of where I wanted to go.
I realise I’m standing in the bowl of an enormous spoon. Soup swills around my trousers and I stagger to find balance, reaching out to where the spoon’s handle sweeps away on one side. My hand rests momentarily on an elaborate deco flourish there, and with a shock I recognise it. My thumb has idly rubbed those stepped, geometric contours in the course of wordless childhood meals.
The spoon rises until I’m close to Slurpy’s nether lip. I’m struck, as I look up, by the fact that he has an overbite. I have one myself, you see, though it’s for the most part corrected, and I’m reminded of how it held me back, how it used to drag at my confidence. Behind Slurpy’s teeth I see black stains. I place my tongue behind my own. They feel smooth and clean.
I didn’t look back once I left university. I’ve made something of myself, you see, I really have, and to do that you must be focused. You have to set goals and then achieve them and if you permit anything other than that to matter, you’ll be disappointed in life. And who’s to say there’s anything wrong with that? Who? It’s how the world turns.
Slurpy’s chin dips. He lifts me to his eye-level and takes a look at me while his big lazy mouth smiles. His voice is so near and so deep when he speaks, I hardly understand his words.
“Yeah, Martin,” he says. “Dead meat, just like you deserve.” He pronounces my name with derision, as if I’m not who I say I am.
I get a good look at Slurpy from this height. It’s lunchtime but he wears a dressing-gown, one my father used to wear. He’s overweight and his body slumps against the table as if he hasn’t the energy to sit upright. His huge eyes are underslung with fleshy bags. Their pupils seem empty of life.
Behind Slurpy the kitchen door opens and another giant enters, an old lady giant who smiles the kind of smile which is there because the face has forgotten how to do anything else. She rests a hand on Slurpy’s shoulder.
“Good boy,” she says. “You’ve got your special soup, have you? Eat as much as you like.”
“Yes, mum,” says the giant.
“Now, you’re sure you’ve got everything you want, love, before I go for a sleep?”
“Yes, mum, thanks, mum,” he says. He grins.
“There’s a good boy,” says the old lady giant, patting his hand. “That’s the boy I’ll always love.”
And Slurpy opens his mouth and thrusts the spoon inside and with a huge overbite of a grin begins steadily to chew.
Peter Charles lives in the depths of South East London where he is trying to learn how to write. Really, the depths. Actually, an abyss. Peter Charles lives in an abyss in South East London and tries to write.