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by Mark Mayes

You’re greedy, she says. Someone who was once related to me. She still exists, but is no one to me now.

They found me with the empty (but for one spoonful) tub of cherry ice-cream. We were in another country, visiting. It always ended in a row of some sort, these holidays. My greediness came to the fore on this occasion, was made much of. I’d taken the tub and found some private corner away from their eyes. They’d wanted some, of course. It had been planned. She, in particular, made out like it had ruined her life — that lack of ice-cream, wolfed down by her fat little brother. The greed.

I was a fat boy, it’s true. A bit later, I’d nearly drown in a swimming pool in Norfolk, on another holiday. I’d go under and under, and the family stood around, apparently not noticing — mostly smiling, as I remember. Some other kids saved me — thin ones, with muscles in their abdomens and taut chests. We saved fatty, one of them said.

Now when I buy ice-cream I usually eat the tub in one sitting. Or if I’m feeling virtuous and disciplined, I might save a small amount until the next day.

Yes, it’s the usual. About this food being a substitute for a sense of emotional safety, or certain kinds of love that adults are supposed to need. For reliable peace around me. As group peace always came so rarely, and was shattered so cruelly, like a jigsaw being scattered over a carpet of shit.

Sweet things. But savoury also — chips and deep mayonnaise, curries, pasta, and oh, cheese — mature and melting. Always softening in the mouth — satisfaction suffusing my tasting self. The oils and sugars and salts easing my mind to temporary respite.

Sure, there have been periods of restraint, even a total sugar bar, at which my body became what it always was beneath — taut and acceptable (to some imaginary other). But the food is still my resting staff; and at the end of an empty day, I reach for pâté on toast with thick butter. Then dark chocolate at 85% cocoa mass. The whole bar or nothing. The better stuff, when I can afford it. Quantity over quality when money is low.

Now I eat alone. Always. That I make sure of, like a proven religion. Doors are locked. Lights lowered. And no one calls me greedy. Not even me. I wipe the sauce on my sleeve, and stuff my cheeks with those flavours and masses that saturate my mind to non-thought, to pure experience. And the voices are still about me. Not still as in continuance, but quiet, I mean. The food blocks them, as it was always meant to. And the food blocks me, and any unrealistic desires.

There is reliable enjoyment of a kind. And there is taste upon taste. And no morsel of shame. Except an occasional view in a mirror, which is an accident, and so fleeting it scarcely matters.

Mark Mayes has published numerous stories and poems in magazines and anthologies. 2017 saw the publication of his novel, The Gift Maker. He also writes songs.