VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Paul Tanner

meat like him

lonely? oh aye –

he’s got: no job. no friends. no girl.

the benefits office boots him out after he’s signed the forms. the jobcentre tells him to get back out there. his local boozer is full of couples and families, and any singles in there are usually too young and/or out of his league (some middle-aged divorcee once struck up conversation with him, but he didn’t like her hairy arms). hell, even the landlady would rather he wasn’t home during the day … she doesn’t outright say it, but he knows … he’s not stupid. just because he’s jobless and single, that doesn’t mean he’s stupid, does it? does it?

so yeah: indignities fucking left, right and centre.

but in a supermarket? he can stay all day.

in a supermarket? he’s entitled to human interaction.

oh aye – he can quiz the shop workers on anything and everything while they try to work. he can demand help while the shop workers are trying to help others. and if he’s careful – if he doesn’t raise his voice too much or swear – he can even get away with a few little digs here and there. he’ll say:

oh, I just thought you’d know how many grapes are in a bunch, you know, since you work here? but don’t worry …

or he’ll accidently walk into a female worker while she’s bending down to pick up a crate and he’ll be oh so sorry, he didn’t mean anything by it, honestly …

or he’ll graciously allow you to suck on a mint at your checkout station, even though, you know, you shouldn’t really, and a more vindictive customer would take offence because it is a bit unprofessional, but don’t worry, he won’t say anything …

and the best part? they have to respond. they can’t ignore him, because after all, not to put too fine a point on it, or sound like a snob or anything, but hey – he does pay their wage, doesn’t he, by shopping here? never mind they pay their own wage, by generating the tax to pay him benefits, so he can shop here – it’s not like it’s all their wage, is it? they clearly have enough left over to date one another, and not have to share a kitchen with a landlady who hates them, don’t they? like, they all fell out of the womb and into jobs and sexual relationships, while he’s been cursed to wander the aisles of their workplace jobless and horny forever, which gives them a reason to be here working. when they’re not flirting with each other on their staff nights out at his local boozer, you know, as he sits in the corner sipping at the one half-pint he can afford? watching as they gyrate and laugh in front of him like the vindictive exhibitionist maggots they are? even though we’re all meat. whether you work at the blessed supermarket or not, they’re just meat like him and as easily torn, aren’t they, the maggots withholding their orifices and luck from him?      

so yeah.

he’s owed these recognitions.

they owe him recognition.

they’re obligated to thank him and apologise and laugh at his jokes and let him accidently touch them now and then and get a few digs in and nod along to his fascinating insights on how they can improve … aren’t they? because they wouldn’t be them if he wasn’t him.

oh aye – capitalism is his friend. capitalism is his only friend. it offers the warm bosom of companionship. it promises all the tiny sly societal revenges against the women who ignore him and the men who have it all, the men who have:

the women who ignore him.

the jobs he can’t get.

the slightly nicer rented abodes that he can’t afford.

oh aye – he can, and he will do this all day.

until of course, the shop workers beg him to leave. until they have to insist, in a calm and reasonable manner: please, we closed half an hour ago and you’re not insured to be here. please, we still have a lot to do. we can’t remove you by force, but we don’t want to have to call the police, when there’s so many other important things they could be doing. please, let us do what we have to do, so we can go home back to our loved ones, in our slightly nicer rented abodes?

and he has to be careful if he wants to return tomorrow, doesn’t he? he has to graciously concede defeat, and return to his lonely room, hiding from the landlady, and wait eight to ten hours before tomorrow starts, when they open again.

eight to ten hours studying the random items he bought, after much discussion. studying them for defects that qualify for a refund …

eight to ten hours mulling over everything that was said to him, and how it was said, formulating all the polite constructive advice he can offer the shop workers, to help them improve their customer service skills …

eight to ten hours alone with no women to accidently brush up against.

eight to ten hours looking in the mirror at his little slanted shoulders and receding hairline, comparing himself to that massive brute who works on the deli section at the supermarket. him, with his six-foot gym frame and shaved head, even though he has a really low hairline. that dark peak in the centre of his forehead, as if to say, hey, I chose to be bald, and I still look better than you, with those pale blonde wisps dotted about your skull. hugging and dancing with that Karen on checkout 7, his big hairy shovel hands pawing her curves for the whole boozer to see, while he sips his half-pint in the corner with a shameful little jealous hard-on. it’s for his benefit, that is. they’re mocking him.

everyone knows he likes Karen. she’s half his age and he knows for a fact her dad’s a jobless loser like him, he’s seen him at the benefits office. he’s looked at his crotch, thinking that dick spat Karen out. he got close to it once. they were standing side by side in the queue, and he leaned in close and he could smell the cider on Karen’s dad’s breath, and he said: I’d like to rape supermarket girls, me, and you know what Karen’s dad said? me too, he said, and chuckled between his yellow teeth. cider breath huffing out in yellow jagged lines. he wondered if he’d help him fuck Karen. maybe they could take turns. maybe he’d allow Karen’s dad a go. he got the feeling Karen’s dad would be down, the drunken dirty bastard. that’s why he’s always giving her fatherly advice at the supermarket. he’ll say: if you have a boyfriend, I hope he treats you right, while she processes his refunds. he’ll say: just milk, no alcohol for me, you know, to so she can compare him to her real dad, and realise, oh, he’s like dad, but sober. then she’d call him daddy. it would be so sexy. why can’t she see this? why does she choose to flirt with the deli counter meathead? and then it hits him: she’s getting back at daddy, by flaunting with her fellow supermarket workers in front of him. that’s what it is.

the ungrateful maggots! he’s the customer! he gives them a reason to exist, a reason to work and dance and fuck one another, and this is how they repay him? this is how they repay the capitalism that keeps them all together? 

he’s half a mind to tie her dad to a chair and make him watch as he sodomises Karen. then tie Karen to a chair and make her watch as he sodomises her dad. then make them fuck and kill each other. he’s half a mind, you know, if he wasn’t such a nice fucking person?

oh aye – another long dark night of the half-soul, it is. 

but finally, it’s morning.

it’s always morning eventually – sometimes he thinks he’s lived forever! – and he hears the landlady moving about in her room upstairs (she’s probably looking for her underwear. she’ll never find it) and the supermarket will be open soon.

so, he’s down the stairs, hands laden with items to return, head full of rehearsed conversational starters and constructive criticisms to dispense … and he’s reaching for the door handle when something comes through the letterbox:

it’s a leaflet from the supermarket. Christmas is coming, it says, so they’ve extended their opening hours!

he carefully pockets it within the big inside pocket of his jacket, so it doesn’t crease. he could put it on the mantel and pretend it’s a Christmas card from a loved one, if his cheap room had a mantelpiece.

it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t.

oh aye – I love you too, capitalism, he coos, looking around at the invisible yet crystal clear societal construct all around him. may those ungrateful maggots at the supermarket see you value and mine, he prays, as he heads on out.

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