A/N: There's a fair amount of British local colour in this chapter, so feel free to ask for a translation of anything you don't understand!
Chapter 3: Food, Glorious Food
Orphan, thought Gary. It seemed a ridiculous, almost Dickensian, word to him, more suited to the slums and workhouses of the nineteenth century than to the modern world. Yet that, in strict terms, was what he was. His father had been two months dead when he was born, killed in a car crash on the M1, while his mother had succumbed to lung cancer a couple of years ago. What had made that particularly hard to bear was that she had never smoked a cigarette in all her life – all the smoke was others', inhaled day in, day out for the thirty years she had spent behind a bar. It had left its mark on Gary, too; usually the most placid of people, he had spent his one and only night in police custody the previous spring, after landing a (rather ineffectual) punch on a youth who had refused to stop smoking on the bus, and blown smoke into his face.
He sighed. Ever since he had been bereaved, he had had an increasing sense that there was an aspect to him that went beyond the ordinary, and yet whenever he tried to put his finger on it, his mind resisted and careered off down another track, daring him not to follow. He knew that he could not be truly at peace with himself until he had uncovered the hidden part of himself, but he was somehow frightened of what he might find there. Was it something so terrible that he had locked it away, far from reach by his conscious brain? He stood there for a full minute, listening to the sounds of the night: a late bus ground its way up the Birmingham Road, a young woman laughed, and a couple of police sirens floated over from the direction of Tipton.
He closed the curtains, and wandered over to the fridge. It was, Gary had to admit, a little unusual to have such a thing in one's bedroom, but it was a facility he had no intention of giving up. The cool white cuboid hummed gently, and as he opened the door, the interior light revealed his meagre provisions: a loaf of white bread, some sliced meat, a few tomatoes, a bit of Red Leicester cheese, half a jar of mayonnaise and three cans of Banks's Bitter. Not exactly a royal feast, but it would do for tonight. He fished out a jar of Marmite from a cupboard, and spread it thinly on some of the bread, placing a slice of salami and a chunk of cheese on top, then squidged a tomato down on top of that. Folding the bread over, he created a somewhat lumpy sandwich. After doing this a couple more times, and chucking the knife in the empty sink, he sat down at the desk and began to munch away.
Gaz! You in?
It was Alex, who of his three housemates was the most inclined to talk about things other than sex, music and beer. That wasn't saying much, but Gary was grateful for any conversation he could get – even from someone who called him . Still, it could have been worse, he mused. Might have been . He called for Alex to come in, and a moment later a tall, blond-haired figure came through the door.
Cheers, Gaz. Mind if I have one of your tins of beer?
replied Gary. Did you want anything in particular?
Nah. Just felt a bit guilty about not noticing you come in. I went into the hall, and saw your shoes there, and that's how I knew you were here. Anyway, now I'm here, do you want anything in particular?
Alex looked as though he was expecting a positive answer, and Gary's brow furrowed.
I don't get you, he said.
said Alex, after taking a long swig of the Banks's from the can, you've just seemed a bit preoccupied lately. I know you think none of us notice anything like that, but actually we do – I do, at least, though I'm not sure I could say the same for Phil and Matty. I mean, look at this. He waved a sheet of A4 paper with a couple of blobs of Blu-tak still attached. It's the chores rota for this week, right? Look at it.
I've seen it. Gary pushed it away. I worked it out, remember? And I'm not doing the bins twice running, if that's what you're after.
No, no, said Alex, slightly irritated. Look at it. Look at it.
Gary reluctantly took the paper, and immediately Alex's point became clear. There were the headings he'd written out: , , and so on. All just as he would expect except for one. He didn't need it pointing out.
You see? said Alex. Even a five-year-old could spell that – and you certainly could. No way do you make mistakes like that normally. What the hell is going on, Gary? Seriously, if there's something bothering you, we want to help you. I know we're not really into the same stuff you are and that, but we don't want to have you thinking you can't talk to any of us.
Thanks, Alex, muttered Gary, but really, it's just a mistake.
Well, if you say so, said Alex, finishing the beer. He didn't sound at all convinced. I've got to get ready to go out, anyway. It's Cold Fusion at Samsonite tonight.
Good grief, thought Gary. How in God's name does he get any work done? And what sort of music do they play at a place called Samsonite, for crying out loud? Summer Holiday? But all he said was, Okay, then. Have fun.
When Alex had gone, Gary remembered that he had forgotten to give the rota back. Still, he could always make a new copy. But what on earth had come over him with his spelling? He'd cruised through English at school, getting A after A without raising a sweat, and a typo such as this was completely incomprehensible. He simply couldn't account for it.
The next day being Saturday, Gary was deputed to stock up with provisions for the household. That meant enduring a couple of hours in a horrendously busy supermarket, which in turn meant enduring the clogged weekend streets of the West Midlands. Gary had passed his test at 17, but had never particularly liked driving, and avoided it when he could. Still, a supermarket run by bus was such hard work that here he relented.
Gary's car was a ten-year-old Ford Escort, in a rather virulent green. It was hardly stylish transport, and had done some preposterous number of miles, but for £400, who was complaining? Certainly not the seller, who had been delighted to get the ugly sod, as he called it, off his hands. Gary sank into the sagging cloth of the hideous zebra-striped driver's seat, snapped his seatbelt closed and turned the key. Amazingly, despite the coldness of the morning, the car started first time, and he shoved it into first and made his way out of the driveway.
The mile and a half to the supermarket was, as he had known it would be, hell. The traffic lights seemed to have been programmed to annoy him, and his left foot was kept constantly occupied on the clutch in the stop-start traffic – he had rather coveted an automatic, but how many Ford Escorts had one of those? He fiddled with the radio, and found the sports news, though he immediately regretted having done so - England had closed on 132 for 6 in reply to Australia's 560 for 4 declared. He gave a resigned shrug, turned off the radio, and steered the car into Sainsbury's car park.
Gary couldn't remember anything about the actual shopping when he got back; it had been so boring as to have erased itself from his memory almost as soon as it had happened. One thing, though, did stick in his mind: a poster for a science-fiction film that was just out, about a distant planet where the rulers were animals, who regarded humans regarded as curiosities, to be petted or discarded as the fancy took them. Gary thought it sounded a bit of a rip-off of Planet of the Apes, but still, he might go along to the cinema tomorrow: there was nothing else to do, after all; and for a reason he could not put a finger on, something about the film had attracted his attention.
Matty came out to help with the unloading, though as usual his courtesy did not extend to removing his Walkman, which was blasting out one of those thrashy metally groups, that to Gary all sounded exactly alike. Matty was the youngest in the house, at 18, and it showed, both in his physical features (insofar as they could be seen behind his long, greasy, jet-black fringe), and in his relative emotional immaturity. Unlike Gary's, his parents were both alive and well, though divorced, but he had not seen either for over a year: his father was a guest of Her Majesty in Long Lartin Prison, while his mother had taken to living with an itinerant pedlar named Jackson in Wales – no-one ever believed this, for as everyone told him, such people were a thing of the past and yet, it was true.
Still, Gary tried to make small talk. You doing anything this weekend? he asked.
I said, DOING ANYTHING THIS WEEKEND?', yelled Gary into Matty's ear.
Gary gave up, and the rest of the unpacking was carried out in silence; at least, silence of speech: Matty's earphones were providing enough background noise to drown out a small nuclear explosion. When it was done, Matty flumped down in the living room in front of the blaring television (still, Gary noticed without surprise, not having switched off his Walkman), and Gary himself went into the kitchen and began to see about getting lunch for three. Only three, as Phil was out at the football – a lunchtime kick-off, this being the local derby with West Brom. Gary hated these days – there was always trouble at that match, and the others refused to go to it for that reason, but Phil had been to every home game for three years, and was not about to stop now. Still, Gary had to concentrate on the task in hand, for he it was who was responsible for this week's meals. Or, as the old rota, its embarrassment now firmly binned, had had it, Meles.