How Long Can You Stew For, Before You Fall Apart?
By Jane Hyphen
“How long can you stew for
Before you fall apart?”
That’s the little mantra I had going round in my head as I consumed a tin of baked beans. ‘Remember to chew those cell walls’ that’s what my mother used to say and I was. I was chewing and a little imaginary voice was repeating the mantra, was it a mantra? I don’t know, perhaps it was more of a premonition but the bubble burst when my doorbell unexpectedly rang.
My neighbour three doors down, Kelly, has become super inane and judgy in these recent corona gripped weeks. She has always been inane it must be said, she was very beautiful when young but beauty fades, inanity stays. It started with lots of public displays of “helping” on our neighbourly Whatsapp group, followed by a great deal of fussing over the public show of gratitude in the form of applause for the NHS on Thursday evening. Kelly works for the NHS in some part-time clerical capacity.
We all took part in ‘the clap’ which felt a bit patronising given that they don’t have proper protective equipment but I suppose it might just help their morale since they are working in extremely difficult circumstances. If only there was something more substantial we could do for them. Anyway Kelly took the trouble of filming herself and her husband clapping and then posted it on our Whatsapp group and also Facebook just in case we needed to see it again, none of us did.
A few days later Kelly and her husband posted a local request for bread flour. Now in my cupboard I happened to have two bags and this made me feel guilty, not really sure why but I decided to take one down to their house. I knocked their door, it opened and immediately I made my first mistake in attempting to hand the bag to Kelly’s Husband Craig. Initially he held his hand back and I considered placing said bag of flour upon their doorstep but it looked dirty so I continued to stubbornly hold out the bag of flour. He winced and took it from me very quickly. Then Kelly appeared behind him.
‘Hi,’ she said in a very over the top manner. ‘Thanks for the flour.’
‘Oh, that’s ok.’
‘What do we owe you?’
‘Oh, nothing, it was pennies.’ By now I had taken several slow steps backwards and fallen against a Pyracantha I dusted myself down and was standing a good three meters from them.
‘Have you volunteered for the NHS yet?’ she said, staring at me in a scrutinising manner.
‘Er no, I, I’m hoping to return to work as soon as possible.’ I shouted, my pathetic voice, unused to loud projections, cracking a little.
She shook her head very hard from side to side. ‘Well I don’t think you will be!’ she said smugly.
‘Oh, ok, bye then.’ I lifted my hand and turned back towards my home feeling confused, sort of shafted and guilty. Part of me wanted my flour back especially given that Craig and Kelly are both quite obese, another part of me wanted to shout, ‘I’m vegetarian!’ I’m not even sure why. Perhaps because the root of this virus thing lies in eating animals but does it? And what does my vegetarianism have to do with anything, not much at the moment but I still felt like shouting it.
I returned home and questioned myself for not volunteering and then forgot all about it, after all I’ve got other people in my circle to look after. The next morning I received another Whatsapp message from them informing me that because of Kelly’s special NHS status she was able to purchase some bulk items of food and did I want some flour. Did I? Might as well I thought, maybe just a little. ‘Yes please, the smallest bag they've got.’
So, the doorbell rang. I chewed my “cell walls” quickly and opened the door to see Craig holding a sixteen kilogram bag of flour. Now Craig has been working out these past weeks. He didn’t quite get to Decathlon in time to beat the national shortage of dumbbells but he managed to purchase a grippy, padded matt and a figure twisting waist disc. I am also aware that he has been lifting a large paving slab in his back garden and has become ‘yoked out’, well not really but he is fat-strong, like a Staffy who sits on the sofa watching horse racing and eating nasher sticks all day but still looks butch in a chain martingale in the local park, if you know what I mean.
Anyway I remember hearing the word,‘Catch!’ as the heavy sack came flying towards me. Then the phrase, 'Go large or go home!' That's funny I thought, I am home, as I held out my thin arms to intercept the missile. The weight of it overwhelmed me as I clutched it to my midriff I lost my balance, my head fell backwards and hit the bottom stair. I then heard the front door slam. Now the next part is a bit of a blur but I do remember standing up and catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I was fully coated in white dust like a clown. There followed a period where the room was spinning and I fell asleep.
I woke up feeling hot and the room was dark and had an orange glow as if it was suddenly the height of summer and evening time. Music was playing and I struggled to stand up among the thick layer of white flour upon the floor. I went to the front window and saw a giant orange baby drinking Coke in the next door neighbour’s front garden but somehow I just accepted this as regular. There were voices all around like somebody was having a party and I hadn’t been invited. I turned on the television and sat knee-deep in flour, in the lounge watching Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun.
Drifting in and out of consciousness I must have missed the part where Diana Rigg gets strangled because when I woke up Hercule Poirot was already discussing her murder with the Dowager Countess of Grantham. It was boring without Diana Rigg and now I was distracted by a very loud buzzing noise outside near the back of my property. I went upstairs to look through the back window and to my horror the giant orange baby had acquired a chainsaw from somewhere and was cutting down all the trees in the informal nature area behind my house leaving only bare earth.
I went online to try and find the contact details for the tree protection officers at my local council but I just kept going from help page to help page; bin collections, council tax, business rates, report a pothole, report somebody flouting the restrictions, report somebody with more than thirty toilet rolls, nothing about giant babies with chainsaws. It was so frustrating but now my dogs needed a walk and I was yet to use up my one outing of the day so I dusted the flour off them and attached their leads.
I’ve noticed that my dogs have been extra energetic during this corona lock-down. They are like puppies again, fuelled up by the extra company and love they are getting. We trotted to the park which was mostly deserted except for a small sprinkling of strangers and curiously a gorilla and an orangutan who sat together in front of a hedge looking sad and lost. I turned to one of the humans and remarked how thin and depressed they looked and he replied that they hadn’t anything to eat in the park and he didn’t know how they were staying alive. Another human spoke up and said the primates had been there for over a week.
I racked my brains as I considered how we could help them to find food given that purchasing fruit and veg currently involved a queuing system and a heavy marinade of paranoia. Then I came up with an idea, they could go to the bins at the back of the supermarket and pick out all the out of date vegan food. Afterall, the perimeter fence wouldn’t be an issue for them. I was trying to articulate this idea to the various strangers in the park and their dogs while the simeon anomalies looked on quietly. The thing was everyone was ignoring me or talking over me. I found myself getting more and more exasperated, anger and fury started to boil up inside me.
I just kept repeating the same phrase about the bins at the back of the supermarket until my voice was hoarse. All the time the gorilla and orangutan looked forlorn and hungry and the busy body humans around me ignored every word I said. Then my dogs became impatient, frightened now, they began to bark and lick my hands.
I woke up on the sofa with both dogs glaring at me, their singular walk long overdue. Hercule Poirot was being informed that he would be awarded the Order of St Godwin the Inquisitive, first class. I go to the front door and look through the little window at the side, a small bag of flour has been left on my doormat. As I bend down to pick it up a small puff of wind is expelled from my body and I realise that I didn’t chew those cell walls adequately.
“How long can you stew for
Before you fall apart?”
I’m not sure but the fine between consciousness and oblivion is getting thinner.