By Neil Clark
Then there was the romance between the carton of smoothie and me.
It started innocently enough. I knocked it over and it said, “Stop looking at my bottom.” When I examined it closer, it told me other things. It told me that it was good for me. It had a website, which complimented me and told me its mum hopes we end up together. It told me I’m perfectly layered, like a lasagne. It said to get in touch any time, to ask it anything.
So you can see how I’d be led on.
I’m alone. As in, I’ll spend hours in front of the mirror interviewing myself, putting on different voices, sometimes dressing up. Alone, as in when I’m doing a dump, I’ll do it with the door open and provide running commentary. I’ll cuddle my pillow at night and pretend it is anything but a pillow. I’m forty-five and recently gave myself a love bite on my right bicep. Since the last time I kissed someone real, millions have conceived and given birth, and those children have grown up and kissed more people than I ever did.
The night I knocked over that carton, I had this dream. There were Ferris wheels on fire, and the flames were doused by hoses spraying fruit smoothie.
I brought it up in the pub the next night, after pint number five. Mentioned that I felt there was some sort of ethereal connection somewhere.
“My smoothie cartons try to be my friend too,” said Darren, the barman. “So does the company that provided my shaving products. I cancelled the service and they keep emailing me asking where I’ve been, saying they miss me and stuff. Stuff that’d get you a restraining order these days.”
What I didn’t tell Darren was that we were already more than friends. I’d emailed ‘Smoothie HQ’ asking about favourite films and music. I’d confessed my Ferris wheel dream. Someone called Lucy replied and it turned out we had things in common. She helpfully suggested that maybe the Ferris wheel means going around in circles, and the fire signifies anger.
The smoothie carton was waiting for me when I stumbled home, seven pints in the bladder. I clutched it from the fridge and sang it our favourite song, quoted it lines from our favourite film. I devoured the remainder of its sweet nectar and licked the residue from its rim. I told it I wasn’t bothered about its lack of curves. Then we lit candles and bathed in coconut water and put the world to rights. We made Jackson Pollock art on my white bathrooms tiles – dramatic splashes of kiwi and beetroot. We awoke in a warm embrace, pillows tossed aside, the line between reality and dreams blended and smudged.
“You’re being manipulated,” said Darren the following night, pulling pint number four. “You do realise they’re really people in suits, with PHDs in psychosomatic ploys to get your money? Those smoothies are probably made in a Chinese sweatshop, and Lucy is probably a fat, balding middle-aged cocaine addict with a mistress, a six-figure salary, syphilis and an offshore bank account.”
“Well… you’re just after my money too,” I said. “That’s why you talk to me every night. What’s the difference?”
“Mate, I talk to you because you sit at the bar, and if I don’t engage with you, you start staring into space and muttering unintelligible garble to yourself. Then the other punters start to leave. Also, scientists have been running some tests on me recently. Results came back saying that I’m actual flesh and blood, not a carton.”
But Darren didn’t know what he was on about. He didn’t know them the way I did. They were not cocaine addicts in suits with syphilis. I’d seen them myself. It was all on the website. They were out and about in shorts and knitted scarfs, seeing the world. They were taking pictures of fruit farms in Africa, supporting local produce and charities. They were taking kooky selfies and blogging, bantering, living ethically – loving!
The emails with Lucy went on. Long enough to get into conversations about marriage and core values and favourite baby names. Long enough for me to tell Lucy I wanted to visit her and the gang. I wanted to go fruit picking with them and chill with them in their office, compliment them for real. I came up with a nickname for her – ‘Juicy Lucy’. I bought all the flavours and did the Jackson Pollock art thing all over my own naked body and sent her the photo.
Someone I hadn’t spoken to emailed back. Gordon, he was called, Head of Customer Care.
It’s been lovely talking to you. What we had was special. But we think it might be a good idea if we stopped emailing. It’s not you – it’s us. All the best for the future.
“Dumped by blended fruit.” Darren hadn’t charged for the last two beers. It was after closing time. “I’ve heard some belters from you over the years, but this definitely makes the top five. Here, I’ve got an idea,” he spontaneously drummed his fingers on the bar. “You got forty quid? Give it here. Trust me.”
Next night, Darren plonked a cardboard box on the bar. “This is a starter kit for your new life.” In it was some fruit and a blender. Taped to the blender was a list of dating websites. “Get yourself out there, mate. You’re an interesting guy.”
I got home at half past two and started blending fervently into the night…
Until a knock on the door woke me up. It was a woman. She told me she’d just moved in upstairs. Wondered if I knew anything about the noise in the middle of the night, something sounding like a vacuum or a lawnmower.
“Oh, I was doing my art,” I said. “I’m an artist.”
Then there was the romance between me and the upstairs neighbour I kept waking up.
o o o
likes fruit smoothies, but is more of an Irn Bru man. He is a Scottish writer with Guyanese and Chinese inflections (it’s complicated… one day he might write about it). His work has been longlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and has been published in a number of print and online journals. Most days, he posts very short stories in tweet form. Find these @NeilRClark