A Taste – Part One
Kevin plunged the knife into the margarine and dug out a chunk, scraping it over warm toast. He’d been in the middle of checking a voicemail when the toaster popped, and now the bread wasn’t warm enough to melt the margarine.
Sighing, he stepped back, stared at the toast. This used to be a novelty, he thought. Jam on toast. I remember thinking ‘I haven’t had that for a while, jam on toast. So I bought some jam. Now, I have it all the time. Is this human nature. To take even the marginally exciting, and normalise it? To hell with it, I want something else.
He threw the knife into the sink, scooped up the toast, and threw it in the green waste.
‘Fuck it,’ he said aloud, ‘I want a waffle. Or pancakes. Ooh, pancakes! I haven’t had those for a while.’
Kevin walked into his bedroom and pulled on shoes; reaching for his wallet, he stuffed it in a pocket alongside his phone. Where they always went. His car keys were in the bowl beside the phone, because they always were.
It’d be pretty easy to kill me. I’m very predictable. Even from a day’s observation, you could learn all you need to know. I need a taste of adventure.
He slammed the door of his people carrier and reached for the sat nav.
‘What are you doing, Kevin? You know the way. Jesus.’
Kevin put the car in reverse, doing everything with a rushed, slightly violent action. On a whim, he pressed his foot on the brake, pulled his phone out of his pocket.
‘Tim? Kevin. Yeah, I know you can see who it is when I call. Habit. Listen, what are you up to? … Perfect. I’m going for pancakes… Because why the fuck not? … Now. You in? … Great… Yeah, yeah… the one off the one fourteen. Where Jimmy had his birthday… Alright, I’ll meet you there.’
His leg began to hurt from pressing the brake, but he forced himself to hold it there another minute, testing himself. What kind of test is this? What useful skill am I building up here? Ah, let’s go.
Kevin put the car in gear and began to drive. As he got out on the main road he cranked the radio, letting out a long screech as he did so, not knowing why, and not caring. He threw back his head and laughed, braking at the last moment for a red light.
Good. I wasn’t even that hungry anyway. By the time I get there I’ll have an appetite.
He switched on the radio, found a song he liked, and began howling. The light turned green, and he put his foot down.
Tim walked into the restaurant and exchanged a few words with the girl at the counter. Kevin waved him over. He wandered across, his gait reminding Kevin, as it always did, of a duck’s waddle. He’d mentioned it once to a mutual friend, who’d agreed, between fits of laughter, that Tim did indeed walk like a duck.
‘What’s so important?’ Tim asked as he slumped into the seat opposite.
Kevin studied his friend, pasty skin, double chin, receding hair. He had put on a bit of weight in the last five years, but his clothes always seemed too big for him. Kevin wondered why Tim never wore dark colours; always beiges and off whites. The man just seemed so… lumpy, so middle aged and depressing.
‘Christ, is that how I look?’
‘Huh? Oh, nothing. What were you saying?’
Tim shot him a suspicious glance. ‘I was saying, what’s so important?’
‘What important? I just wanted pancakes.’
Tim shot him another look, one which said he was sceptical. Kevin thought he might pursue it, but he didn’t. ‘Have you ordered yet?’
‘No. I know you hate it when people don’t wait. I did ask for coffee, though.’
On cue, a waitress brought over a thermos and set it down.
‘Could we get another one of those?’ Tim asked.
‘Sure thing, sweetie.’ The waitress smiled and walked away.
‘Why did she do that?’
‘Do what?’ Kevin said.
‘That. Call me sweetie. That vague flirting.’
‘It’s for tips. That’s how they make a dollar.’
‘I know. It’s just…’
‘It’s over the top. Unnecessary. We both know nothing’s going to happen. It just reminds me nothing’s going to happen. I’ll tip her anyway, if she smiles. There’s no need for epithets.’
‘Will you relax,’ Kevin said. He poured creamer into his coffee, along with half a tea spoon of sugar, carefully measured.
‘Still cutting back on the sugar, huh?’
‘Yeah. Paula nags me something crazy. Figure she’s right, though.’
Kevin thought about the margarine, wondering how the annoying scrape of it had prompted this whole day. He’d always preferred butter, and so had Paula, but she insisted on the heart healthy spreads. He couldn’t blame her really.
‘How’s Tanya and the kids?’
‘Tanya’s fine. She’s been away working on that shuttle project I told you about.’
‘Yeah. Some big deal, apparently. She’s been up in New York for the last four days. Kids have been stressing me out.’ Tim wrung his hands to accentuate the statement. ‘But the days home alone are nice. I get a lot done.’
‘A lot of napping, maybe.’
‘Hey,’ Tim chuckled, ‘more than that. And yeah, the occasional nap.’
The waitress dropped another flask of coffee on the table, smiled. ‘What can I get you two handsome gentlemen.’
‘Can I get a stack of double blueberry pancakes?’
‘I’ll have a short stack of pumpkin, please.’
‘Comin’ right up.’ The waitress winked and walked away.
‘Geez, she’s really laying it on thick,’ Tim said.
‘Short stack?’ Kevin said, raising an eyebrow.
‘Hell, I’m still on a diet.’ Tim rubbed his belly. ‘Need to keep in shape.’
‘Yeah. Round is a shape.’
The two men laughed, and chatted away. After ten minutes, the plates arrived.
‘Ooh yes, Kevin said,’ rubbing his hands together. ‘Now this is what I’m talking about.’
The waitress laughed, but it came out like a throaty cough. ‘You must really like pancakes.’
‘Yes ma’am, I do.’
‘Well, enjoy. Can I get you all some more coffee?’
‘That’d be great.’
Kevin tucked into his food with relish, then, seeing Tim’s more delicate method, forced himself to slow down.
‘You know, I eat way too quickly. I need to learn to savour.’
‘I’ve always thought about you, you mistake quantity for quality.’
‘Yeah. Well, when it comes to food anyway,’ Tim said, around a mouthful. He swallowed back some coffee. ‘Just enjoy each bite. It makes the experience last longer, and, you don’t put on as many pounds.’
‘This guy, lecturing me about pounds.’
‘Hey, am I wrong?’
Kevin’s only reply was a shrug. They finished their food, pushed plates aside, and sat back, sipping their coffee.
‘Hey, thanks for coming to lunch,’ Kevin said after a time.
‘Of course. I enjoyed it.’
‘Hey, you want to go on an adventure? I feel like I need an adventure. That’s what prompted this trip. I was making jam on toast again, and I thought I needed something… new. Or at least, different.’
‘That’s what prompted this? Jam on toast?’
‘Well, the margarine. I never got to the jam.’
‘The IHOP isn’t adventure enough for you?’
Kevin gave his friend a look. ‘What do you say? Let’s go downtown, go to a strip club. Drive to Vegas. Hell, let’s just go out to the middle of nowhere and shoot your forty five.’
Tim shrugged. ‘I’d love to. I really would. But I have deadline. And the kids will be home soon. Shit, speaking of which…’ He was looking at his watch. Standing, Tim threw a few bills on to the table. ‘Hey, I better take off. Lunch is on me. We’ll go shooting next weekend, if you like. Huh?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ Kevin said. He waved as Tim slung his jacket over his shoulder and walked out of the restaurant. ‘Next weekend,’ he said softly.
Kevin took a gulp of coffee and stood up, pulling on his jacket. He headed for the exit, changed his mind, and wandered across to the bathroom.
As he stood there, he began to wonder what it was about a safe, routine life which was at once so desirable and yet so horrifying. He couldn’t decide. Paula had been making noises about children, and he supposed the time was right, as right as it would ever be. Perhaps he’d talk to her tonight about it.
He washed his hands and waited for them to dry, wondering when the hell they’d invent a dryer which actually worked. Who’s they? Why don’t you invent it yourself? You’d be a millionaire. Well, because I don’t have the skill. I’m just a copy editor. I don’t know about machines.
‘And all the people who do are busy trying to make machines to create water out of thin air, or recycle plastic, or something like that,’ he said. Realising he was talking to himself, he looked up. No one else in the bathroom, which was just as well.
A noise sounded from the restaurant, loud and sharp; people screamed, and then stopped. Kevin felt the need to use the bathroom, even though he’d just done so. His guts were telling him something.
He cracked the door, tip toed out, and craned his head around the corner, looking into the restaurant. There was shouting, some in a language he didn’t understand. A woman was crying, while a child screamed. Then, a burst of gunfire so loud it made Kevin jump. He ducked back around the corner.
‘Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, oh Jesus…’
A man shouted in a language Kevin thought might be Arabic. He wasn’t sure. His hands seemed to move of their own volition, fumbling with his phone. He switched the alerts to silent, keyed in 911, and dialled, still holding the phone down by his waist.
A tinny voice answered. The gun went off again, and Kevin risked another look. Movement. Shit, was that toward me? Fuck. What do I do?
He slipped the phone into his pocket and then just stood there, waiting.
NEXT CHAPTER: A TASTE – PART TWO
more by RICHARD SHURY
Richard is a big fan of science fiction, but dabbles in other genres. For more short stories and longer self-pulished works by him visit Richard Shury.
For his articles on the issues of our time, or just day-to-day musings visit his blog rashury.co.uk.
Photograph by Serge Esteve