Apologies for the long silence on this blog. I have been writing poems (shh, don’t tell anyone) and they take a lot of my time. But stories never stop. Here’s one about a bloke called Barnaby and a woman called Erica and a fridge and crying. It was put in my mind by someone telling me they’d used most of my tea bags. And I didn’t even mind because I always loved the look of the Tiger who Came to Tea and drank all the water in the taps…
Barnaby Sale knew she’d gone when his fridge was empty – properly empty. The last gherkin had disappeared and the fat jar of vinegar sat there like it had only stayed to make the announcement.
‘She’s gone, Barnaby. Now empty me down the sink and pop me out in the recycling box, eh?’
The aged marmalade was scraped down to nothing. The mayonnaise was clean inside like she’d licked it out. She had, probably, licked it out – wiping round with her finger and sucking, sucking to get the comfort from her skin. And then he finally realised that Erica would always be hungry. And Barnaby Sale sat on the floor by the fridge and he cried.
At first it was self-pity, defeat, anger. Barnaby Sale was a man of some generosity but he hadn’t intended her to take quite this much. The gurgle in his own belly just made it worse,
‘Will you shut the fuck up? There’s nothing to give you. She’s taken the lot.’
But there we are, he thought, you might as well clean out the fridge then. He groped down the back, into the thick mesh of web made by the spindly harvestman spiders that liked his basement flat. He flicked the switch and the lights went out. The darkness and silence were comforting. He ran a bucket of water that was too hot for his bare hands, added a splash of lemon-scented liquid and pulled on his rubber gloves. It was like a dare to dip his hands, push the cloth down to the bottom and wring it, steaming, over the surface. A second too long in the water and it would really hurt. Playing with the hurt was a good distraction.
And when the tears came back – as he reached the grubby scrapes under the salad drawers – he knew he was crying for her now and that felt better. Barnaby Sale had been brought up to be a giver.
‘Jesus, Barnaby, gave his life for you – for your Sins.’
And so, even Barnaby’s tears were for hungry Erica. She could drink them, or work her magic eyes at them and they’d harden into translucent drops to dangle from her perfect ear lobes. She wouldn’t want the snot that was snaking over his top lip, mind you. And the heaving, ridiculous sobs that were lifting and dropping his shoulders, they were of no use to anyone. So he stopped crying and, after a final wipe of his cooling cloth over the fridge door, he propped it open with a kitchen chair to dry.
Then Barnaby Sale made his shopping list. He could hear his mother’s voice floating in the space just behind his left ear.
‘Turn the other cheek, Barnaby. Christian charity. There are always miracles.’
But, all the same, Barnaby bought tinned soup, baked beans with sausages in, beef stew in a can. And when Barnaby’s cupboards were full of all his sealed up food, he took the tin opener from the drawer. Barnaby unclipped the clasp of the thick silver chain on which he hung his cross. He prayed for hungry Erica. Then he slid the silver chain through the handle of his tin opener.
Barnaby Sale eats only tinned food now and his tin opener is safe – knocking, gently, against his sternum – inside his cheesecloth shirt – the sort he likes to imagine Jesus wore.