by Brendan Strong
Oven. The oven. The oven had me out there doing what I had to do because of the oven. I hate going out there. The people and everything. Looking at me looking at them. It’s like some kind of dysfunctional mirror. Anyway, the thing is – was – I had to go out on account of the oven burning the last of my rashers. I was hungry. It was life or death.
I hit the street – inertia from the stairs had me running, the flat of the ground stopped me, hurtling my face, knees, hands and forearms into the pavement, which showed its reluctance to give way by skinning all of them. The only comfort you get at a time like this is a fucking good curse. Fuck – being way over used – wouldn’t do it. So I went with the C-word, which brought on the ire of a passing woman, who theorised that use of such a word would inevitably lead to my becoming a rapist. I shook my head, sighed, and pushed myself up, to which the woman shrieked, and ran.
The shop was next door, but now I needed plasters. It was huge, overlit, and freezing. I spent a few moments browsing the deli counter to catch the heat released from the ovens with “Freshly Baked Today!” plastered on them. They weren’t opened.
I walked across to the chiller aisle behind the series of freezer aisles and the fridge aisle where the drinks were. Rashers. Packs and packs of rashers. All I wanted was a pack of rashers, but now I had to decide which was the best value, and which spoke about me as a consumer. Was I a family, with active children and traditional values? Maybe I was a young, about-the-t, own girl who might like something a little different for my cream cheese and cracker bread. I could well have been a burly gent, looking for something home-cured, or at least cured in the home-cured way. I was hungry, and here I was considering my true identity within a broad socio-economic structure in the chiller section of a mini market.
I realised much of the groundwork had been done for me. I was here, wasn’t I? In this mini market. So, I was a man who needed convenience in my life, but also the range of products offered by a brand as powerful as this one. With, of course, smiling staff who were ready to help. Maybe I was helpless? Is this why I came in here? Should I ask one of them – what do people like me buy in the way of rashers here? I just didn’t know. Without relish, I realised that I didn’t even know what people like me bought in the way of rashers anywhere. In effect, I didn’t even know who I was. I had to find out, and quick, before my toes fell off from the chill. I walked back to the magazines and papers. One of those should be able to tell me.
But was I broadsheet, or tabloid? Celebrity gossip or cosmetics and beauty advice? Boobs or arse? Sports or markets? DIY or cars? I had never even considered the options before. I bought a paper with boobs, news, a good-sized classifieds section and a page dedicated to business movers and shakers (mostly those who had wives or daughters with sizable assets). I thought maybe perusing this over my food would help me find who I really was. Something would grab my attention and I’d say, Yes! I am a man who is interested in X, and eats the appropriate rashers!
I was heading back to the chiller section when I realised this wouldn’t work either. I’d need to read the paper first to find out the person I was before coming back to buy the appropriate rashers. There was no way I was doing that. For one thing, I was too hungry. For another, I’d come in to buy the rashers in the first place. So if anything, I should buy a few packs of rashers, decide who I was, then come back and buy the appropriate paper. I went back to the rack and put the newspaper away. Then, back to the chillers, past the freezers and the coolers to pick up one of each pack of rashers. But then I ran out of arm-room to carry them. I should have thought ahead. I couldn’t possibly carry all these personalities. For one thing, I’d be like a mad man, running round with happy children while making big, thick sandwiches, with a light cream cheese spread. No, that way madness lies. I would have to just go for it.
I closed my eyes, and plunged my arm into the chiller. First one pack, then another, then another, I felt my way to what I believed was my true identity. In a world of chaos, this was the only way to find ones’ true self. Just grope in the dark until you feel what’s right for you. I opened my eyes and looked at the cold squishy block in my hand. I was surprised by who I really was.
I trudged back to the rack, past the coolers and freezers, to select the appropriate newspaper. I went to the till. The girl there gave me a look, and all I could do was shrug.
“Yes,” I said, “I know. I wouldn’t have thought so either. But you are who you are, so I guess this is me. It’s disappointing, I can tell you. But maybe I can be happier now I understand what I really…”
“Five euros twenty seven please” she rushed it out of her, like the words had been running from her very fundament, making themselves breathless on the journey out. I handed over a crumpled fiver from my pocket. I dug about for change.
“Five, six, eight, ten… hold on” I said
“No. That’s fine.”
“Well, thank you very much!” I said, delighted by this strange show of true human charity. She was letting me off seventeen cents. I would have to remember this.
“I’ll remember this” I said to her, and her face changed.
“Are you threatening me?” She said
“No, no. I meant… just seventeen…”
“Please, go. How do you know my age?” She was panicking now. Was that woman right? I head meant the cents, but could the paper and the rashers reveal the rapist in me? Something I never even knew existed, brought to the surface. It was astounding. I was fascinated by the idea when her shrieking voice woke me from my brief reverie: “Darius! Darius!” A large, blond man came hurtling from a door beside the chillers.
“Sophie?” he said, then “Can I help you sir?” to me.
“I think I’d better go.”
“Yes.” he said
“Yes.” she said
“Yes.” I said. It was a positive end, but it depressed me so much. I – a conservative, rural, middle class Irish family with a penchant for rape – trudged back to the apartment. What a let down, I thought. I guess they may have thought me racist, more than a rapist. What with these rashers and this newspaper.
They were spitting away nicely, and I was reading all about a bizarre love affair between a Dublin businessman and his chauffeur, when the Angelus came on the TV. To be true to myself, I decided to reflect on my new life. I wished I could have said the Angelus, but I hadn’t learned it yet. I’d need to do so, to be true to myself, I knew it. I’d make an appointment with the local Parish priest, or PP as I’d call him from now on. Before that, I’d need a little book to write all my addresses, numbers and notes in. Not a Filo-Fax. Not a personal organiser. Nothing ring-bound. Just a little book I could carry round in my handbag (I’ll need one of those too) and refer to and write notes in whenever I needed to. Maybe I could even record the prices of the things I bought in there. Help me to create my household budget, so I didn’t end up like that poor shop worker who had taken offers from several credit card companies, and ran up debt of five thousand euro.
After the Angelus, the news came on. I couldn’t believe it. After all the torture. “Pork products, such as bacon and sausages have been linked to cancer.” For Christ’s sake. You can’t be anyone without it being the cause of your own death. But still, I went to the oven, pulled out the griddle pan and threw the rashers straight in the bin. The bin liner melted and the grease spatted the rest of the junk in there. I felt hungry and thought that was a rash judgement and lit a cigarette to consider what I was going to do next.