Lost Appetite was previously featured on the Scottish Book Trust website as part of their 2017 Nourish competition.
The desire for flesh came upon me. I was so very hungry.
The heavyset woman behind the counter stared at me, no doubt resisting all urges to turn me away. I approached and she looked to be ageing before my eyes, withering beneath the weight of her work. Nevertheless, she stood indefatigable in her plastic apron, the scent of rose petals, alcohol and grease seeping from every pore. I resisted smelling her any further.
‘Yes,’ she demanded. ‘What can I get you?’ The urgency in her voice belied the lack of customers in need of her attention, as if the job she was doing shouldn’t be hers to do.
‘Bacon roll, please,’ I said.
‘Is that all, dear?’
‘Coffee,’ I spluttered. ‘Milk and one.’
‘£4.75,’ she said without a hint of shame.
I handed over a crumpled twenty and apologised while doing so, immediately unsure as to why I was apologising. I then scraped my change from the counter, making way for a mug full of coffee, made in all-too-brief a time in which to make good coffee.
‘Milk and sugar on the tables,’ declared the woman. “I’ll bring the roll over to you when it’s ready,’ she said, as if issuing a threat.
I found a table, a plastic chair beside the window, a view of those wise enough to by-pass the cafe. Some of the dark matter masquerading as coffee had spilled over onto the table, which I interpreted as a cry for help. I eyed the milk jug suspiciously as I dipped a finger, surmising that the milk would be safe. Due to the milk-to-coffee displacement ratio, I sipped from the rim of the mug as it sat in the puddle of its own filth, burning my tongue in the process. The woman approached from behind while I drank like a dog. I jerked back to make way for the disappointment that was my bacon roll, thanking the woman unnecessarily as coffee made its way down my chin. I cursed my chin, the universe, the chain of events that had conspired since the dawn of time resulting in this latest embarrassment. I wiped my chin.
‘Enjoy,’ said the lady, her tone lacking the required effervescence the word demanded, before walking away, never to be seen again.
Tepid milk clouded the coffee. I added sugar for effect and stirred as I eyeballed the remains of the pig, its body fat poking out from the roll, glistening with a vengeful sheen. Touché, I thought, feeling more pity for myself than for the pig as I fondled the rind, grease coating my fingertips. The silver lining was that the lining of the pig fat came away with ease, leaving only a sliver of fibrous sinew which I decided I’d rather ingest than tug at again. The fat I had removed sat coiled on the edge of the plate, poised to strike. I grabbed the oversized plastic tomato beside the milk jug and covered what I could of the meat with plastic sauce.
I then took hold of the bacon roll and opened wide.
‘Put me down,’ whispered a familiar voice. ‘Nice and gentle like.’
I obediently removed the bacon roll from between my teeth.
‘There’s a good lad. Now, get your filthy hands off me.’
I obliged, dropping it onto the plate. I then hastily wiped the residue of flour from my fingertips as if it were contagious in some way.
‘Not again,’ I said.
‘So,’ declared the bacon roll. ‘We meet again. As ever, the advantage is mine.’
‘I fail to see how,’ I said, coming to terms with the situation. ‘You’re a bacon roll.’
‘And I am very, very bad for you.’
‘It’s no use,’ I said, ‘I’m far too hungry.’
‘Have a banana,’ said the bacon roll. ‘Fruit is always more delicious than you expect. It’s good for you. It’s filling. It’s cheaper!’
‘It’s not the same.’
‘I’ll only disappoint you. I always do. You don’t put ketchup on a banana, do you? No, didn’t think so. Condiments are but a crutch.’
‘Why always the food? The coffee doesn’t object,’ I said, drinking it.
‘Because it’s weak,’ said the bacon roll.
I looked up to the heavens, ‘Just let me eat!’
‘Only most of the time.’
‘Ye of little faith,’ said the bacon roll. ‘Then you are most certainly not. Sanity is relative to current popular opinion. People staring at rectangles in the palms of their hands is no longer perceived as unstable behaviour – everyone’s doing it. But me, I’m riddled with bacteria and microscopic lifeforms that you’d expect of flesh. You don’t know where I’ve been. At least you’re conversing with something organic.’
‘Oh, you’re organic?’
‘Don’t get excited.’
I placed my head in my hands, ‘The circle of life means nothing to you, does it?’
‘Now, now,’ said the bacon roll, softening its tone. ‘You know fine well I simply have your best interests at heart. Such as your heart, for example. Your BMI. ‘Overweight,’ remember?’
‘Technically. BMI doesn’t account for muscle mass.’
‘Oh stop making excuses, man. If only you could see what I see in your stomach – not pretty. Comfort eating leads to discomfort. Do yourself a favour – skip a meal.’
‘All I’ve done lately is skip meals. That jumbo sausage from the bakers, any idea how much that cost me?! ‘Fat and gristle and abattoir scrapings,’ you said. The Victoria Sponge – a birthday cake, by God! ‘A whole block of butter,’ are you kidding me?! ‘Even bread has sugar in it,’ you said. Let me eat!’
‘Settle down,’ said the bacon roll. ‘You’ll give yourself a heart attack. Face facts – you’re fat, I’m a bacon roll. Such is life.’
I slid the plate toward the empty chair opposite. Looking outside I saw only my reflection as I stroked my stomach, reminding myself to breathe.
‘I’m so hungry.’