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Sport 42: 2014

Charlotte Simmonds — I Only Miss You When I’m Hungry

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Charlotte Simmonds

I Only Miss You When I’m Hungry

‘I’m retiring from a life of crime and men,’ she declared.

I tried to think quickly, to decide which one of the two the most outrageous to be claiming to have retired from was so that I could query the right one, but I was far too hungry to think straight.

‘Crime?’ I hazarded.

‘They don’t pay,’ she snorted. I was so hungry. If just one shred of lettuce happened to fall out of her burger and land on her plate and if she left it there and never bothered to pick it up, I’d eat it. I’d eat just that.

‘Men?’ I ventured.

‘Crime, men, none of it pays. You pay them. They send you bills. I’ve retired,’ she said, her mouth open wide, scoffing down every lettuce sliver her burger held. I couldn’t get my eyes off her burger and onto my water. I pulled and pulled at my eyes to move but they wouldn’t budge. They just stared.

‘And on top of that,’ she snorted again, and I hoped that mayonnaise would come out her nose, ‘the only good sex I’ve ever had has been with myself. ’Strue.’

‘In prison?’ I asked. I was not following this well at all.

‘No! I did not go to prison! I was sentenced to attend a defensive driving course!’

‘And you had sex?’ This really astonished me. I didn’t see how she could have done that.

‘No! I operated a vehicle carelessly!’

‘Recklessly,’ I corrected.

Carelessly!’ she recorrected.

‘Yeah, yeah,’ I said, nodding enthusiastically. My concentration was all higgledy-piggledy. I started sneaking my hand under the table closer to the edge of the plate. If I could just keep staring at her attentively with my Good Listening face, I could distract her into page 264 whatever she was talking about and steal a chip. I would even be happy to just lick the salt off the plate.

‘And then Matt said what?’ I asked, leaning in intently to catch the next word and to get my hand under the table closer to the side with her plate.

‘Nothing. He said absolutely fucking nothing. Men,’ she said, ‘I need a peanut butter milkshake. Men,’ she said, ‘they can go fuck themselves. What’s good enough for me, is good enough for all mankind. You stop that!’ She brought her elbow down sharply on the back of my hand and I dropped the chip I’d just snuck. It fell to the ground and was promptly stolen by a pigeon criminal who had not yet considered retirement from his career. It was such a waste.

‘You skinny bitches, I know you’re nice at heart, you try to make us fatsos feel better by offering to clock some of our calories for us so we don’t have to eat them, or you want us to feel like you’re joining in too and it’s not so bad, but that is just utter bull! That’s like . . . that’s like . . .’

My hand crept back to my lap as her brain searched for something to put in her mouth that wasn’t food. I did not care if she was overweight or not, I was just really hungry. I felt this one was going to take a while. Her brain found something. It wasn’t food.

‘That’s like a smoker who says, “I’m finally quitting after all these years, I’m getting out of this hole, I want a better life, I want no lung cancer, no disease, no early death, I want a long life of easy exercise and freedom, what shall I do with this great big packet of curses I just spent $35 on? What shall I do with this great big pouch of death? I know, I’ll give it to my best friend, the one I like the most. Out of all my friends I like the best, this is the one I like the best of the best, this is the one I most want to inherit my early death instead of me. If someone has to take my place in the underworld, it’ll be this guy,” and then that jerk passes on his tobacco to his best friend because he would rather see his $35 get turned into diseases than get turned into garbage. He would rather you died than just throw the tobacco away. He knows the curses are cursing him but he can’t stop loving them. He’s still in love with them. He still sees their beauty. You skinny bitches are just like that. Stealing my chips.’

And if what was in her mouth wasn’t food, I couldn’t be interested.

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I had no idea what she was talking about. Did she think it was easy being this skinny? Did she think it was easy staying a size two? I was so hungry all the time, and I could just never think straight.

‘We don’t need your pity gestures. If I’m gonna be fat, what the hell difference is one tiny chip gonna make? Go fuck yourselves, all of you. The whole lot. The whole world. Do you a world of good, you. . . you . . . world! What was good enough for my grandmother has got to be good enough for the human race. Just stop trying to get off with me.’

I only ever missed you when I was hungry. So I stopped eating because I didn’t want to forget about you. I didn’t want to forget your face. I wanted to remember every moment we spent together, every heaviness I’d felt as the weight of your hand rested on my shoulder, but I’d only remember them after a long day, a day when I’d been too busy to grab lunch, then as I was coming home on the bus, so tired and so hungry that I finally wanted someone else to look after me, someone else to be there for me, someone else to take me home. Not my mother. Some adult, my adult, my lover. The rest of the time I just got on with my life, until I noticed one day, feeling tired and hungry on the bus, that the pieces of your face weren’t coming together like they used to. The crispy shards of our conversations weren’t there any more. The words were there, but I couldn’t remember your voice. You were starting to speak with my voice, my accent, my sound, not the accent of my speech but the accent of my thoughts. You were beginning to disintegrate.

I missed meal after meal after meal to piece you together again. I imagined hunger would be the glue that would cement the brokenness into something whole and that the hungrier I got, the closer you’d be to returning, only you never came, and no meal after no meal after no meal began to have the same effect of meal after meal after meal. Instead of being too sated for my head to focus on missing you, I was too hungry to concentrate on anything that wasn’t food, and, somewhere along the way, I just forgot what the whole point of it had been in the first place and now the shards and shreds and slivers and slices of your face, your words, our conversations, the feel of your hand, have been irreparably ground into dust, trampled on over and over again, and slowly you are turning into nothing but paving. I page 266 wash this ground with tears in the middle of the night, forgetting why it is I’m even sad, and slowly these shards of you mixed with water become cement and you are nothing I see anymore, just a compressed surface beneath my feet that I no longer look at.

She had asked me if I liked Asialand. I had said what is that, a restaurant or something ’cause I’ve never heard of it if it is, or are you talking about like, The Orient as compared with The Occident and saying do I want some kind of Asian food for dinner and if that’s what you really mean, then why don’t you just say so the first time.

She had said, The Orient, don’t throw a spazz, man.

So I had said, Nah I fucken hate that place, it’s full of like rats and shit and open sewers and shit and that’s shit as in ‘turds’ not shit as in ‘stuff that I’m too lazy to describe’ and I hate all those little dirty birds in cages cheeping away that you can buy two for an oriental penny to toss in your darn soup and there is always just one chipmunk out the front of the pet food shop, and that’s not a shop that sells food for your pets, that’s a shop that sells pets for your food, and the chipmunk never has a damn tail because it lost it in a fight or something or whatever it did, and it bites you when you try an’ pet it and you worry about rabies all the way through the rest of Asia ’cause you didn’t get your shots before you left because there was a world wide rabies vaccination shortage and the prices on them had gone up and besides they take like four shots over months to get you immunised and who’s got time for that, but at the pet food shop you keep walking back and back all the way through to the end and the further back into the shop you go, the stronger it reeks and reeks till you think you’ll throw up but you don’t, you hold it in, you keep walking until at the very end of the shop there is this giant filthy tank packed to its limits with about ten Trionchydae and they’re all lined up against the glass, standing upright, with their two front soft paws pressing on the grimy pane, sliding and paddling against it, because there ain’t even enough room for them to lie down in there and walk on all fours like they should and their long pale necks are waving and waving and waving at you through the glass like awful stretched, tortured, withered, mutated foreskins crying, get me out, or either let me get you, or either I’m coming for you too, you too, you too, I’m coming for you, and they are so dirty and smelly and reeky that you page 267 are almost too stunned to pedal backwards quickly out of the shop, so you don’t, you pedal backwards slowly out of the darkness of the pet food shop until the bright light and humidity hits you again on the street and you are back with the rats and the open sewers so you find one and it smells a hell of a lot better than the pet food shop did but you heave into it anyhow and lose the McDonald’s you had for lunch which you never normally eat but which at least you know is clean, although not anymore, and the other thing you lose is that durn jellyfish soup which you’d thought would be all squishy like jelly and it wasn’t, because those fish go crispy and crunchy once you cook ’em, which is a real shock to your taste buds’ expectations and pretty disgusting and so The Orient, fuck no, that’s the stuff nightmares are made of, I hate that place.

She had said, Chill out, dude, you’ve got issues, whatever, we’ll get a burger and a milkshake.

But I couldn’t. Why, because I’d spent my last antipodean penny down at the Love Brokers, coughing up to that money-grubbing shyster for him to write some masterfully eloquent missive, displaying such wondrous erudition that you would be forced to take me back, forced to catch the next flight out of the Occident down through the Orient and on into the Antipodes, taking me into your arms and declaring with unbounded passion, ‘Never more I will abandon you, never more!’ Love Brokers, what a misnomer, or perhaps in fact rather apt, as they’ll break your heart and bank balance, but instigate love, never. I suppose they are truthful in the first instance but misleading in the second, and what do you expect from advertising? Not the truth, anyhow.

That was four months ago and I’m still paying off my debt. To the bank, that is, not the hustler. He closed up shop with all the smart sharpness of a smart sharp a week after clearing my life savings and a five-thousand-dollar overdraft clean out of my accounts.

I suppose you were not so dumb as I’d fondly imagined you to be. I suppose you read between the lines, recalled accurately that I have no such way with words, that I’m not so coherent or fluent with my own language, that I’m not half as cool as I’d like to be, or that I’m wasting away to leafless twigs and have left barely flesh on my bones for you to come home to and embrace. Perhaps you saw through the page 268 paper and the outdated photographs to the hideous truth I live inside of every day. Or perhaps you just no longer wanted to be manipulated by crazed, obsessive, jealous ex-girlfriends, although I prefer to imagine you more kindly and think rather that you moved house and that although you left a forwarding address, of course you did, those useless new tenants are too lazy to do anything with your post, even too lazy to wipe their arses with it, that they are the sorts who would sit all night in darkness rather than change a light bulb and let the house fill full around them with grey smoke, choking rather than clean the stove.

So I’d said, sure, let’s get a burger, even though I knew I had nothing to buy one with, and she knew that too, but I guess she liked to watch me squirm, which shows precisely the kind of cold-hearted son-of-a-jerk she is, and you wouldn’t ever catch her giving money to charity, nuh-uh, no way, and if she passes a beggar on the street, that guy that goes, ‘’Scuse me, do you have two dollars?’ or sometimes, when inflation is pressuring us all, ‘Scuse me, do you have two dollars fifty?’, she’s the sort of person who will smile, and inside she’ll be snickering to herself because what she loves more than anything is being witness to the shame, discomfort and suffering of others. She really does quite well on it and that’s just the sort of son-of-a-jerk she is. All our family is the same.

I had always wanted my mother to be there for me. I had wanted her to look out for me. I had wanted her to do things like get my back for me when the kindy thugs were squishing my newly found pet worm. I had wanted her to foot the bill for my burger when I’d spent all my spare coins on your arse. Better still, I had wanted her to say things like, ‘But sweetheart, you’re so beautiful on the inside,’ and, ‘Darling, don’t do this to yourself,’ and, ‘Thank goodness he’s gone, you can do so much better than that,’ and, ‘Come on, get out there and get back in the game,’ and most, most of all, I’d wanted her to say, ‘Don’t touch that man with a 62,921,654 foot long telephone pole, get out now while you still can and stay the flip as far away as possible,’ only I’d have wanted her to say that back before, back when I still could and back when it was still possible, and then now, I’d have wanted her to hug me and cuddle me and kiss my forehead and smell my hair and say, ‘Lovey, I’m so sorry. I’m so, so very sorry.

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Sweetheart, I’m so sorry. My precious, precious little girl.’

But she didn’t. She wasn’t that kind of mother. She said, ‘I had a really weird dream last night. I was working at a daycare and Brad and Ange would bring their kids there. Brad and Angelina, bringing their kids to my daycare.’

So I said, ‘Yeah, thanks for sharing that. That was really enlightening. Really.’

And then she said, ‘It probably means something. I should change careers maybe. Since I’ve retired. From crime. And men. Well, they’re pigs, aren’t they. All men are pigs, really, and who’d want to sleep with a pig, I mean, that’s just bestiality really, isn’t it, and there are laws against that kind of thing, aren’t there, so men, living, breathing, sleeping with women, I don’t even see how that’s legal. It should be a crime. And if it was a crime, then I wouldn’t have to retire from a life of crime and men, I’d only need to retire from a life of crime, see, kill two birds with one stone. That’s not illegal. Killing birds. With stones. Nothing illegal about that at all. Unless you killed a kiwi.’ Here she paused and got all pensive and thoughtful for a bit, finally, I guess, thinking about something other than herself and about the plight of the poor kiwi bird. Perhaps she was considering taking out a subscription to Forest and Bird. I wish I’d had the kind of mother who’d signed me up to the Kiwi Kids Conservation Club when I was little but I hadn’t and it was too late for that now, much too late. Perhaps she was considering making amends for all the poo she’d put me through as a child now as an adult. Perhaps she wasn’t. There’s always hope. Even when the hope comes far too late. Even when you’re drawing your final breath on top of a mountain and the rescue helicopter finally shows up far too late. There’s always hope.

So I said, in a moment of brief lucidity, since she had paused for thought and was chewing carefully and gazing off into the distance behind me, which helped somewhat to distract from my hunger pangs, ‘I guess it isn’t true that you are what you eat then, is it, if all men are pigs, because if we assume that there are almost seven billion people in the world, and that out of those seven billion people, 22.43% of them are Muslim, 0.21% are Jewish who definitely don’t eat pork, then we have a 7.13% Buddhist population, 13.78% Hindu and 0.11% Baha‘i, at least some of whom in each of those faiths are likely page 270 to be vegetarians, but how much, how many, we don’t know, so let’s take on board conservative estimates of the breadth of vegetarianism globally which sets it at roughly 4 rising to 5%, although this too is troublesome as the guesses for privileged white Westerners set the ratio of female vegetarians to male vegetarians at something like 68 women to 32 men out of every 100 vegetarians so that complicates statistics slightly, although that’s only, mind, in the West and does that educated guess of total vegetarians include the many millions of involuntary vegetarians who would more than love to eat meat were the option available to them in countries like North Korea, China and many parts of Africa? Then probably not all of the Muslims and Jews keep their trousers perfectly ironed and don’t not eat pork one hundred percent of the time, I mean there must be some who do, and actually my world percentage there is not the percentage of those who are Jewish but those who practice Judaism, do you even know the difference, and my world percentage of Muslims is for those who follow Islam but there is no difference there, except that you could be a little bit like a Catholic and not be too strict about it, just happen to have been born into it, so if we assume for the sake of a margin of error that at least some of the Muslims and Jews are a bit naughty we can knock that number of non-pork eating meat-eaters at 22.64% of the world down a few points to be generous, so let’s say maybe 22.6 and add to that the vague estimate of perhaps 0.4% people who don’t eat meat at all and I’ve kept that number on the low end too for your sake, so let’s bump that up now to 23%, and that brings the number of humans who don’t eat pork to about 1,615,022,287, but then to consider also that 26.3% of the world’s population is under the age of 14, so hence not fully to be counted as a “man” and 7.9% of the world is over 65, so I don’t know how you feel about them, Mum, do you want to count them as men, too? I mean, you’re not so young yourself anymore, you could hardly nab yourself a 35-year-old these days, so if we take all that into account, we have 73.8% of a total population being fully grown “adults” and we can assume, alongside knowing that the world ratio of males to females is not, as so commonly touted by lonely single women in their thirties in the affluent middle classes of, again, Western cities, grossly disproportionate in favour of there being so many more women born than men but knowing, cleverly page 271 as we do, that rather the ratio at birth is pretty much 50/50 men to women, only a couple of point-point-points difference really, so small that you wouldn’t notice and in fact these point-point-points pretty much always come out on the side of men meaning that there are ever so slightly more men than women but hardly and not so as you’d really notice, half of that total population is going to be female so there’re probably around 629,858,693 men in the world who don’t eat any kind of pig meat at all, although there being that possibility that probably more women in the West become vegetarians than men, that does kind of screw things up a little, on the other hand, you could also consider that there are probably currently something like 424,750,862 boys under the age of 15 who are going to grow up to not eat any pork, that could be a helpful thought, but I’m just saying, I guess, that your statement, if it was, in fact, accurate, paired with world statistics, pretty much makes for conclusive evidence that would entirely disprove the commonly advanced supposition of, “You are what you eat.” I think that’s all I’m really saying.’

She stopped stuffing her face for just one instant, which was good to see, but she continued chewing all the while. She stared at me. I grew very ashamed. She chewed and stared at me. I blushed and looked at my fingernails, which had clawed their way into the corners of the table wood. It was all very uncomfortable for me for some time, although she looked perfectly at ease herself. Who’s ‘she’, you always used to ask, the cat’s mother?

‘Yes, well,’ said the cat’s mother. ‘Just lose a bit of weight, or put some on, or get your hair done, no, I know, get a boob job, that’s what you need, and get back out there and nab yourself some bloke. You just need some bloke. You need a good rooting. They may be pigs, but that’s just what you need, you’re not so much of an animal yourself, and I may be retiring from them, but not you, missy, you shouldn’t, no, you need some filthy animal scrabbling around down there on you, nope, you’re too young for retirement from that. Get some pig to pork you with his porker. Don’t be so cynical. Get those boobs out there and take a pig by the balls.’

She continued stuffing her face.

‘A boob job?’ I asked. ‘Can you even get one of those in New Zealand?’

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‘Course!’ she snorted, and again no mayonnaise came out her nose. It was the great tragedy of my existence that such moments of predictable comedic excellence I had learned to expect from television never properly occurred when I was expecting them in real life. ‘You can get one in Thailand, can’t you? Mexico? Sure. Everywhere in the world you can get a boob job. Even New Zealand. If you can get one in a Third World country, you can get one here. What have they got that we haven’t? Course you can.’

‘Actually, Mum . . .’ I was going to tell her that there is not really any such thing as a Third World country anymore as it’s all to do with property prices and such like that and that even in India now you can get some very expensive properties with palace gardens which even just an average joe like her belonging to their developing middle class can afford, all with some kind of swimming pool empire like this, Jacuzzis and all, whatever the hell they are, but then I remembered which ex-boyfriend it was that had told me that ‘fact’ and that it probably wasn’t reliable, also that this ‘fact’ from this ex-boyfriend was now at least six years old from its first point of telling and besides, her talking had started back up and she still hadn’t offered to buy me even just a tiny snack so I gave up and stared at my fingernails again which were now firmly entrenched in the sides of the table. I wondered if I would ever be able to extricate them from this mess of wood and whether this was some great metaphor for whether I’d ever be able to extricate myself from this mess of you, or whether I’d have to walk away leaving my nails behind like a declawed kitten, and then what would I do? How could I fend for myself? How would I be able to hunt and catch food if my family ever abandoned me by the side of the road? How would I be able to protect myself against dogs if no one ever wanted me anymore? Then I remembered I wasn’t actually a kitten and felt a bit better, and that no one had abandoned me. Except for you, and my blinking mother, which is all the family I have, but even she hadn’t abandoned me properly, she was just sitting in front of me scoffing while I hungered to death. It’s a kind of abandonment, but not a full disappearance. She was still visible anyway, and there could still be hope of change, reform, newness, unlike with you. There was still potential with my mother, for us to love each other, or care about each other, and not just this whatever it was we did instead.

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And there I was, back to missing you again with every intestinal cramp of my being that rocked my abdomen, and no, of course, I wasn’t getting a boob job. What would you think of that? Every major decision I made was based on, What would you think of that? Even the decision to eat or not eat. Would you prefer that I missed you or didn’t miss you. Would you prefer that I hung off your every syllable and that I was always there for you at your beck and call or that I faded out of existence like so many molecules of hydrogen dispersing through the atmosphere.

I slowly breathed myself out, and somewhere on the other side of the world, approximately 62,921,654 feet away, approximately I say, that’s just an estimate, a guess, a purely, totally, completely, utterly random stab in the dark, I wouldn’t want you to think that I’d measured it or anything, the distance from here to Lyon, or that I was some kind of crazy who’ll just never stop thinking about you and internet-stalking you years after we’ve broken up and aren’t even speaking to each other online anymore, roughly 62,921,654 feet away, your new sleeping girlfriend Ramona with the long dark hair who’s not nearly as thin as I am, and don’t ask me how I know that, you know I’ve always had slightly psychic capabilities and I’ve always been good with telepathy, I didn’t look you up online, I promise but I’m only promising that because you’ve always been such a sceptic about the paranormal when anyone who really knew me, you see, you don’t know me anymore, would know for sure I would never revert to such beastliness, and I try and I try and I try to be scientific like you are but my mind just doesn’t work that way, and the paranormal does, it works, don’t ask me how I know it works, I don’t know how it works, it just does, now breathes me back in.