Hungry Young Man
By Dan Micklethwaite.
Visions of roast chicken and lamb chops and T-bone steaks and lobster bisque and sticks of saffron crumbling into curry mixture, wrapping round the vegetables, gold-dusting the meat.
He blinks them away, scrunches his eyes like the fists of a fighter. Knocks them out, one by one, those daydreams of slaking the onsetting starvation.
He doesn’t need any distractions. Doesn’t want any.
His mind doesn’t, anyway.
That great bone-caged glob of grey matter, that summer house for his soul.
But his gut – his tummy, his stomach, his belly, his food-processing plant – it rumbles. Noise of, at first, the needle rip-tiding across paper churning out from a seismographic machine. Pictures of scientists gathered round studying it. White-coated figures – strange and sexless wedding cake dolls – holding a coven meeting whilst they check on the charts.
Another distraction. Another in-mind movie competing for attention with the thing that’s heart of focus for him now. He shoos it away. Holds finger to lips and attempts to becalm it to gag it to make it sod off.
They don’t, those white-coated fuckers. They stand there, not hearing nor heeding his outcries for silence, faces growing instead in consternation at the ink-marks that spool out on the seismograph page. Over their shoulders he peers, and can see same thing they do. The epicentre is far nearer than any of them dared think.
The noise – the rumble, grumble, sonic jumble – it levitates, it rises, but sinks deeper at the selfsame time. The needle-scratch is barely audible beneath it.
Still swinging his fists at all thoughts of mealtime, he has only his feet left free to try and trample this scientific worry with now.
He does not need these distractions.
He does not want these distractions.
He has only one thing that he wants on his mind.
Because of that one thing, he hasn’t eaten for days.
Hasn’t drunk much either.
Has barely slept.
If he sleeps, he reasons, he’ll miss his dreams. He’ll wake up without knowing quite what they were.
If he sleeps, he’ll waste the time he needs to spend wanting this one special thing.
If he eats, he will get sidetracked by flavour. By cacophony of tastes all consumed in combination, by bliss of full plate, and then of empty plate and full belly.
But that belly, being empty, is, paradoxically, the thing that is currently pissing him off. It attempts once again to invade his headspace with an image-crammed menu. Spreads a chequered tablecloth out and lays down its favourite heures d’oeuvres, sets down platters of crispy duck, of roast pork belly with fat rich and salt-glistening.
It turns the volume of its rumble up higher. Deeper.
The scientists, faces gone ghost-white as their coats, scream out, then scatter and scarper. The nuts and bolts of the seismograph shake loose and rattle out of their appointed sockets, end up break-dancing – freestyle, manic – upon the slowly cracking laboratory floor.
His eyes clamped so tightly shut right now that this earthquake’s beastly dub-step locates and pressure-points his temples. Heaves and swells against the borders of his brain.
He struggles now to call up the object, the subject of his wanting.
He wants her in his head, and her alone.
No, he wants her in his company.
No, not here.
He wants her in a desert island setting. On an atoll, somewhere. Just the pair of them, in utter and majestic separation from the world. Toes trailing slick and gentle patterns in the unanticipated clarity, in the ice-floe blue, the mineral green of the lagoon. Fish that trace spirograph circles around their ankles, fins tickling at their flesh. Rare species – colours thieved from undiscovered rainbows – to which he won’t give much attention, because he’ll save the bulk of that for her.
He wants that. Urgently.
But the quaking, jungle-drumming rumble of his belly doesn’t falter, doesn’t stop. The laboratory has crumbled to the ground now, is lost entirely in the grave-space of its foundations, and, around that ruin, he watches as other buildings in the city begin to wave and bend and tumble. Roads collapse. Bridges buckle. Restaurants explode.
Again, the menu that his stomach dreams of barges rough into his focus. The grumble of his gut has grown to such a vicious clearness that it almost seems to form the names of the dishes it desires to devour.
He doesn’t want to be distracted.
His stomach doesn’t care.
Spaghetti alla carbonara.
Butternut Squash soup (with crusty bread).
The rumble, the pulse, the voice of this other want, of this un-needed other hunger, it moves beyond the city. Moves over to the sea.
He doesn’t want to be distracted, but he cannot fail to watch. The ocean jumps at first with just a little ripple, but this small splash curls upwards soon and swiftly forms itself into harbinging beginnings of a tidal wave.
Struggling now to bring her face to mind, between the recipes his gut reels forth, and the torpedo-inbound rush and threat of the tsunami.
All he wants is the freedom and the time and the space to want this one thing. Is to be left alone to want it, to enjoy it, simply, without intrusion.
He doesn’t need all this distraction.
On their atoll, on their sandcastle in the centre of the seven seas, they both look up in unison.
The wall of water sweeping closer. The great blue broom of being a part of this life, come to shift this idyll underneath a rug, come to make sure that he forgets, and remembers it was never real.
Grumble, growing ever closer to language, is carried both beneath the wave and within the chariot of foam that crests its peak.
It doesn’t matter if he does not want to be distracted.
The slamming hulk of navy blue is nearly on them now.
A few specks of water falling, redolent of nothing more than lightest rain. A quick shower.
His eyes screw down tighter.
In his soul’s summer house, the lights are all switched off.
He is not sure what to think.
He is not sure if he can think anything at all.
Then, a voice.
Still enough of a trace of gruffness, of grumble, to it for him to discern its origin, its source.
Hey you, up there!
‘Yes,’ he replies, tentatively.
Why the hell am I this hungry?
He shrugs. Then, recalling the darkness, speaks: ‘I don’t know.’
It is a weak answer. He shuffles his feet, uncomfortable. As if by way of reprimand, he stubs his toe on the edge of some unseen and unknown object.
You must know. You are the controlling force. I look to you for everything.
This could, of course, be the tiredness talking, but he is genuinely perplexed.
Not out of choice, perhaps. But out of necessity, yes.
‘I don’t know what to tell you. Are you looking for an apology?’
Again, he is aware this response is shonky, not what’s being searched for, but he keeps himself still. Tries not to wince or whinge or gripe about his hurting toe.
It is not my place to ask for an apology. I simply want a reason, an answer to this question: Why am I so hungry?
He stands there, silent, thinking it over.
He folds his arms, cautiously.
He strokes his chin, carefully.
For the first time in days he is without distraction, but he cannot come up with an answer.
He is sure, however, that replying back ‘I don’t know’ will just not do at all.
He repeats the question aloud to himself, to see if that will stimulate the problem-solving portion of his brain.
‘Why am I so hungry?’
Quiet, for a beat, and then his belly speaks.
You’re hungry too? I thought that was my cross alone to bear.
‘No. I am hungry too.’
He finds a little relief in admitting that aloud.
And yet, you carry on dismissing all entreaties I make to you for food. Why do this, if we are both of us hungry?
It is a fair question, he knows, but he feels his stomach simply will not understand if he attempts to explain.
Explain what? his tummy says.
Taken aback, he stays speechless for a moment. Then opens mouth and talks into the lightless space.
‘There are different types of hunger.’
Pensive, his belly prompts him: Go on.
‘You want food. A basic, essential form of sustenance. You can dress it up however you like, and label it with fancy French names, but still all you really need to cure your hunger is to eat.’
Agreed. But is that not also the case for you?
He pauses, considering how best to word it.
‘But there is another hunger in me, which feels so much more pressing, so much more important, and yet which cannot be so quickly or so simply satisfied. It is the kind of hunger that a man may spend his entire youth – sometimes longer – cultivating, refining, harbouring – and then, when it is at its fullest, it is the kind of hunger which overpowers all others, which ignores the rest in its own quest to be sated. It finds the one thing it wants most – does not often need the manifold options of a menu – and demands that its owner pursues that one thing above and before all other things. You talk about a reason, and this is all I can say. My hunger is my reason, however stripped of reason that hunger may in itself appear, and to compromise it with other appetites seems like nothing but unnecessary delay, a waste of my all-too-finite time.’
Again, silence in the summer house.
Again, he doesn’t move, still digging his bruised toe into the comfort of the carpet.
The voice of his gut interrupts his musing.
I understand, I think.
He rocks back a little upon hearing this. He had not expected that to be the case.
Yes, I understand this idea of hunger you cling to. This need to chase one thing above all others. It is strange, for sure. It is strange, and, as you say, not properly within reason. Selfish, even. And stupid. And blinkered, certainly. Yet, the fidelity of your pursuit is touching. The single-mindedness of purpose that you have, as you say, cultivated, is even kind of noble. Albeit in a quaintly ridiculous way. But, yes, I do understand.
He stands there, breath coming out through a widening smile.
Fighter’s fists of eyes steadily unclenching.
Lightness returning to the house that he rents beside the now-calm mass of the sea.
Having said all that, I think you should at least eat a sandwich. After all, I’m still fuckin’ starving down here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Micklethwaite has a postgraduate qualification in English literature and currently resides in Yorkshire, UK. When he isn’t writing, he’s usually telling himself that he should be. His stories have been published in Ink Sweat and Tears, BULL: Men’s Fiction, Birdville, with another forthcoming in NFTU. A further selection of poetry and prose is available on his blog: http://smalltimebooks.blogspot.co.uk/
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, January 29th, 2013.