Eight minutes later, Richard returned. Jenny was etching something pornographic into the tabletop, scratching at the surface with a house key. She looked up, her gaze holding something devilish, almost diabolic. Richard grinned.
“Two Antediluvians, shaken and stirred.”
“Champion. Tell me, what goes into an Antediluvian? Does it require a sprinkling of arched nose and too-thick reading glasses? An artificial grey patch and stupid wizened curl?” She was referring to Ronald.
“Cherimoya, or custard apple. It’s one of the only tropical fruits I can handle,” he said, gleaming, missing the boat.
“What do you mean? You don’t like mangoes, papayas, pineapples?”
“Yes yes, of course they’re fine. But anyway they’ve been normalised. They’re no more tropical than palm trees, which are scattered round Torquay harbour like breadcrumbs, leading nowhere. But there are others, real fruits of the tropics which haven’t been integrated into the British palette.”
“For example,” he leaned back. “Well. I’ll tell you, but first, to your health.”
“To ours.” They clinked, drank, winced. There was an uncomfortable silence during which their eyes met.
“Richard?” Jenny’s face had coiled into a mutated spring, darkening in three areas.
“Oh, dear,” he said, letting the brownish yellow liquid flow back into his glass. “This cherimoya’s rotten. That’s rotten luck.”
“It’s awful, Richard. Awful. Don’t take me back there, I won’t allow it.” Her face was still distorted. He passed her a serviette to mop her chin, then went back to the bar. His thick wrists slid along the top, feeling the rough matte wood for signs of wear.
They were given lime daiquiris, a platter of carbohydrate-based snacks and half a dozen cans of Diet Coke as compensation. Reimbursement was impossible.
“The system doesn’t allow it,” he told her.
“Bloody typical. What do you call these?”
“Mini Cheddars, only they’re not. They’re posher.” He threw two into his mouth, only one making its target. The other collided with his unshapely chin and made him blink.
“They’re pretty good. Crunchy. And these?”
“Thins. Cheese thins, I suppose.”
“Anything that’s called a Thin is bound to be disappointing.”
“I know,” she said. “You were going to tell me about tropical fruits.”
“I was. There’s one I can’t handle, though I can’t recall—” He stopped short. Was he about to recall? His mind had been washed clean of childhood remembrances and adult guilt, was untarnished by all the shame of a human life. He thought of tropical fruits.
“Durian. Oh, my.” His eyes began to trickle. “I remember. I can’t stand it. But how did I know I couldn’t?” Some shred of long-term memory wedged deep in his cranium, jogged by the fact of a dodgy cherimoya? Was it so fundamental, so formative as to survive hibernation, to be roused by the sudden sensory reference?
“Durian?” she said. “I’ve heard of it. I heard a story about a kid.” Richard groaned. “My father used to work at a secondary school, before he died. He’s dead now.”
“Secondary school.” His mouth opened and a spindle of saliva fell, hung an inch long from the corner of his mouth.
“Not far from here. They used to celebrate Ivory Day.” The words made Richard’s stomach twist. “It was really archaic. They all dressed up in robes and hung chandeliers and draped insignias on sheets in the Great Hall, the Ivory Hall. Talk about bloody antediluvian.”
“Elizabeth,” he said.
“That’s it. That was her first name. Christ, to think, all those wars. That’s what constituted a hero. Can you believe it?”
“Yeah, well, what happened went down in the annals. They split the fruit in some creepy, pseudo-masonic ritual. Elder and a Minor, textbook weird. Poor soul chosen at random, gallumphs onto stage with his tail between his legs, two thousand eyes trained on him begging for a false move. Fucking kids. Kids love failure. So do adults, mind. We’re barbaric. Richard?”
“Barbaric. You’re right.”
“I know. So the kid gets up there and he’s got this problem with his bowels. Nobody knows about it but him, maybe his parents. Actually I bet they do know but they’ve not let on that they know, leave him in the dark, neglect the sucker. Barbaric.” Jenny slurps the last of her daiquiri and instinctively cracks a can of Coke, cruising into the present tense. Her palette dries easily so she likes to have a drink to hand. She sips the fizzy drink, immediately regrets ridding her mouth of lime tang. Picks up the coupe and drains the dregs, craving citrus. Wonders if a daiquiri should even be served in a coupe. She’s sure it isn’t. What an establishment, mouldy fruit and misaligned glass/cocktail combinations. Muses on its origin – glass, not cocktail – remembers a classmate years ago telling her of Marie Antoinette’s breast, sliding into glass in conical perfection. Perfection? She imagines her own breasts being cast into silicone, handled by masters of ergonomics wearing white gloves and marvelling at her body. Artful hands playing her like an instrument. Future generations drinking from her shapely bosom. Indirectly but still. The prissiness of it all. Buxom, delightful.
“Richard? Are you with me?”
“Good, because it’s just getting to the good bit.”
“The good bit? What happens next?” Richard reclined sideways to nearly horizontal, world spinning about him, his weight propped under one elbow. Drool formed an eel-like bridge between the left corner of his mouth and his forearm, slid like a snail-trail onto the table. Jenny barely noticed, she was thunder and lightning.
“Kid goes up there, knees trembling. He’s heard of the durian, knows how bloody dangerous it is. How fucking stinky it is. And he’s got this problem with his bowel whereby all is let loose if too pongy a pong strikes his nasal cavity. This really is a recipe for disaster, you appreciate.” Jenny slurped at her Coke.
“So the leader, elder, whatever masonic bogus he goes by, slices the fruit in fitting with tradition. Tradition, that’s who’s to blame here.” A car horn carried into the room via the open door. “He cuts it right in half, its scent wafts kidward. Kid balks, freaks, doesn’t know what to do. What can he do? He’s at rock bottom, there’s nowhere he can go.”
“What happens?” Richard almost shouted, somehow counting on Jenny to rewrite this memory for him, as it flashed past his eyes in a foray of fleeting images. Dreadful, haunted images.
“He shits his pants, Richard. The whole room hears it. There’s a deathly silence, you understand. The sound of knife through durian husk is practically amplified by the reverence in the room. It’s a palpable silence broken only or at least first by the sound of knife through husk, then second and louder and more dreadfully by the sound of this kid passing gas, sludge, brown matter filling the space between his behind and the cloth of his pants. It’s pathetic and tremendous and unbelievably tragic. I almost couldn’t believe it.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“I don’t believe you. You are telling me this.” His faced drained of all colour and he lost consciousness. He slumped further in the booth, his chin inching closer to the table until it rested grubbily on the off-black lacquer. He was out for a minute, like a light, like a candle.
If you enjoyed this, read more excerpts at the following links:
EXCERPT [Reveries]: Richard goes to his first Masturbators’ Anonymous Meeting
EXCERPT [Reveries]: Richard shits in the bath, is upset
EXCERPT [Reveries]: Richard, Jenny, and a pair of antediluvians
EXCERPT [Reveries]: Josie Haybottom is late
Buy the book here.