Short Story: Ikram’s

‘A perfect California day’ the announcer says over the radio as we drive to the hospital. Outside, the sun is lemonade -yellow. Katie has her dark glasses on and growls about how hungry she is. ‘Fuck not eating for twelve hours’ she says. Later, she sits grumpily on the hospital bed. “I’d kill for a shwarma’ she says and I promise her she won’t have to. She looks so sweet. Her long brown hair is still rumpled and damp from the shower. I kiss her mouth, on both corners, where her frown line is and it makes her smile.
We’re not nervous, this surgery is going to fix everything. All the weakness she’s been feeling; we joke that she’ll probably start putting on weight as soon as she’s discharged.

I help her get undressed and once the gown is over her head, she shows off the hole in the back. ‘Easy access’ she grins. I ease her back onto the bed and she grimaces as her sheets meet her bare skin. ‘It’s cold’ she says and fidgets with her wristband. Her wrists look tiny, like a child’s. I wish I could ignore the sharpness of her bones when she moves. That morning, I promised her we’d go straight to Ikram’s after the surgery. It’s the best shawarma in Long Beach. The place I took her on our first date.
‘Just think about that, I’ll buy you a whole one’, not that I’ve ever seen her finish a full wrap, even before she’d gotten sick. The shwarma are huge. Fluffy bread wrapped around steaming, succulent meat. They’re bigger than my head (and Katie’s always telling me how big my head is). She smiles when I kiss her pale forehead and waves as she’s wheeled away. I stay where she can see me and wave, big comical waves like a cartoon person. As the nurse rounds the corner with the bed, Katie cranes her neck, ‘see you soon Guppy’ she says, wiggling her fingers above the stiff hospital sheet until she disappears behind a swinging door.

I’m sitting in a red plastic seat in the waiting area when a nurse comes to get me. I stretch my arms over my head and smile at her, but straight away my heart starts going. It’s too early for the surgery to be over. The look on her face sets my stomach lurching. ‘Are you Mr. Carradon? Who admitted Katie Freedman?’ I nod, the nurse is holding a clipboard. She asks me to follow her and I do.

The doctor is an attractive woman, it registers somewhere in my brain. She’s still in her scrubs, but she has a doctors coat over the top. She waits until I sit down before she speaks. ‘I’m very sorry Mr. Carradon, but there has been a complication during surgery. Katie, your partner, has passed away’. Her voice is kind as she keeps talking but everything after that is just white noise.
‘Wife’. I interrupt her. ‘She’s my wife’. The doctor stops talking and looks at me, her eyes narrow slightly as though she is making an assessment. ‘Technically she’s my girlfriend but we call each other husband and wife’. My voice is very loud in the small room. It is not a doctors office. The walls are pale yellow. There is a painting of Van Gough’s Starry Night on the wall. There are tissues on the table.

She speaks slowly and leans forward to put her hand on my arm, her blonde hair has streaks of grey in it. She isn’t wearing gloves, which means between seeing Katie and speaking to me she had time to take them off. I wonder how many minutes passed between that moment and this one. She’s speaking slowly, as if to a stupid person. Katie’s internal organs were weak. The stress of the surgery on her body had been too much. She mentions that the doctors hadn’t been aware of just how much damage there had been to Katie’s liver. ‘Her internal organs were shutting down even before she arrived.’ She asks if Katie struggled with addiction. ‘Yes’, I say, ‘but not for long.’ She knew I wasn’t okay with it. We couldn’t be more than friends when she was on stuff. The words keep coming ‘she’s been clean for years now’. Katie hated that I couldn’t be with her when she was high, it’s why she always got clean again. There’s a look on the doctors face, it passes like a shadow. That’s the ‘another junkie’ look.

An addict, a junkie.

I tell the doctor I didn’t enable it. She nods but her eyes are sad. Katie kicked the habit for good a year ago, joined the church. The way the doctor talks, the addiction is a recent thing. ‘No, no.’ I tell her again, just to be sure. ‘She’s not like that. She promised me.’ Katie doesn’t do that stuff anymore. The doctor asks if Katie had been taking anything else recently. Something she might not have mentioned to her other doctors, something that wasn’t on her record.

I mention some pills she’d been prescribed for pain. The doctor looks at me with her eyebrows raised and writes in her notepad, I feel the familiar discomfort about the little white pills Katie had started using in the last year. If she didn’t get them from a doctor, where had they come from? ‘She’s Mormon now’ I tell the doctor, but I don’t know why.

They let me see her, but Katie is gone. A pale body with dark hair lies on the hospital bed. There’s a sheet up to her chin but her hand hangs over the bed. My hands shake as I reach out to touch it. Afterwards, I vomit in a bin next to a door in another room. My arms are red with marks, I can’t stop pinching myself. It can’t be true. A nurse asks me to contact Katie’s next of kin. I say dumbly, ‘that’s me’. She talks to me about insurance and calls my brother, passing me the phone. My voice sounds strange, even to me. ‘Meet me at Ikram’s place’, it’s the only thing I can say. I hear Dave’s voice as I pass back the receiver to the nurse. He wants me to stay where I am, he wants to come to the hospital, but there is nothing left to do. The nurse asks if I need a priest, but for all Katie’s talks about the church, I can’t think of what Mormon’s do when someone dies. We haven’t eaten for hours. Katie wanted shawarma.

The nurse says that I should wait for my brother to get there. I leave anyway. Weaving through traffic is the only thing that feels normal, from Newport to Long Beach, it’s a long way in traffic – longer from the hospital. Forty-five minutes bumper to bumper is worth it for Ikram’s, Katie and I always joke, and it’s true. They have pickled beets and yellow peppers.
You can help yourself and heap as many as you like into small plastic cups. Katie says the hummus is orgasmic. My favourite part of the meal is watching her lick it from her fingers. I drive without turning my head, if I just keep driving I can feel her in the seat beside me. Bouncing up and down, tossing her head in the breeze from the open window. There’s salt on the breeze, onshore. My mouth feels furry, I run my tongue over my teeth and still taste sick.  I grip the driving wheel so hard my knuckles are white. My vision swims. I waver on the edge of the abyss and remember to breathe out. Back into my body again, I clench the wheel.

I pull into the parking lot and am greeted by the familiar green sign. Ikram’s. I was here the week after 9/11 when there was a motorcycle cop standing outside the front door. He wasn’t doing anything, just standing there. Watching who went in and went out. One of the women working there whispered at me when she handed me my wrap ‘but we’re Christian’ her voice went up at the end, like she was asking a question. I nodded and lowered my eyes. Today there is no cop, and the smell of cooked meat and onion fills the air as soon as I push the door open.
I order two wraps with beef and extra tahini. As I fill the little plastic cups with pickled beets and peppers, I juggle the wraps and the small containers. Pickle juice drips onto the floor. I wait for one of the women behind the counter to recognise me. No one does. I imagine one of them asking me where my wife is. Ask me, I want to shout. My hands shake and I spill more juice on the floor. I slide into one of the red booths at the back. My hands still shaking. Three seats away a family is eating. They’re in the booth Katie usually chooses. I stare at them and wonder if I can ask them to move. A small boy with eyes so dark they look like deep pools munches pita bread with his mouth open. I decide against it.

I hold the warm bread in my hand and close my eyes, it’s so soft. I smell the fatty meat and the onions and I can see Katie’s smile behind my eyelids. I hold it there, elbows on the table. I look like I’m praying but what I’m doing is feeling the warmth from the food and wishing it would warm me. I am freezing. And I don’t want to eat. It was Katie who was hungry. I rest my head on the table and Dave finds me like that, the bread cold in my hands. He slides into the seat next to me, not opposite as he would have usually. I can’t speak and he understands. He takes the wrap out of my hands and puts it on the plastic tray.  Tahini and meat juice has run down my arms and stained my sleeves. Dave and I know the language of grief. We lost our older brother two years ago, I comforted him as he raged drunkenly in the garage. Back then, I wondered if I could ever feel as sad as Dave did, but my anger at Len’s death came eventually too. Then it had been a creeping sadness, a fog. Like he did at Len’s funeral, Dave wraps his arms around my shoulders and my head finds his shoulder. I feel the familiar emptiness. I didn’t think it could be, but his time it’s worse. This time I am carved from wood. He speaks and I feel the tears come. ‘I’m so sorry’ he says, his voice is muffled.

As soon as I can speak, I tell him to eat. The wraps are cold but I don’t want Katie to be hungry when she gets to heaven. I don’t tell Dave that. We don’t believe in those things. Even when she became a Mormon, the three of us would smoke cigarettes in the garage and laugh about God being the only way to fix a junkie. Junkie – she hated that word. She described the feeling once, when we were together in bed. The memory of our bodies so close makes me reel with the sharp pain of it. She said wanting a hit was like a terrible hunger. A bottomless need for the high. Even talking about it made you crave it. I wonder if I’m ever going to be able to stop wanting Katie. I know I won’t. Not ever. The pain is deep and darkness flutter at the corners of my vision. It sits between my guts, settling there like a cat as I force the food down. Bite after bite. Dave’s face is wet as he eats. Katie meant something to him too. We eat in silence, our tears mixing with the hummus, the pickled beets and the lurid yellow peppers. We eat and eat until there is nothing left between us.

Eating Phallic Food in Public

When I was 12 I had an experience that changed my life. I ate an icy pole on the tram. As I happily licked the delicious lemony goodness off a stick two elderly men sat opposite me with odd looks on their faces. I suddenly felt self-conscious. I looked at my icy pole and then back at these two hideous hairy men having a Lolita moment. I was confused. Needless to say, I didn’t want to eat the icy pole anymore.

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I asked my mum about it later and she said ‘those men were looking at you because to some people, eating a phallic shaped icy pole simulates fellatio’.  My mum has always used the correct terminology when discussing sex. This conversation led to other, more confronting discussions and I was left with a phobia of eating phallic shaped foods in public.

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As Seth said in Superbad ‘You know how many foods are shaped like dicks? The best kinds’.

Over the years I awkwardly looked on whilst everyone else happily and innocently ate penis shaped foods. Although I did my best to join in, I never feel really comfortable.

Sausage Sizzles:
What a fun family friendly situation, where everyone is happily chomping on sizzling meat dicks covered in mustard and smothered in tomato sauce.

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Lollypops:
Try sucking on one of these without being suggestive. I dare you.

Icy poles:
You are my kryptonite. The best-tasting flavours are always shaped like penises. Where I wonder, are the vagina ice creams?

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Eclairs:
Not only are these delicious treats shaped like genitalia but they are filled with cream. Try and eat one without the cream spurting out and all over your face.

Bananas
Nature’s favourite fruit. Yellow, delicious and curved to the tip. We all know what these remind us of. Serving suggestion – instead of going straight for the tip of this yellow devil, break off pieces in your fingers.

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Rice paper rolls:
Delicious, healthy and flaccid, these beauties are difficult to dip into peanut sauce (without them falling apart) and are equally tricky to consume in public.

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Sausage rolls:
Again with the sausages. This time in pastry.

And on and on it goes…

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So what is the problem?:
1) If I’m going to eat a dick, I’d prefer it not masquerade as a snack.
2) I’ve cottoned onto a food industry secret that has been undiscovered for years — that everything awesome is cock shaped because somewhere, someone is having a huge laugh at our expense.
3) Things shaped like penises are easier to eat. But are they? I beg to differ.

As I get older I realise that most people don’t care if their food is shaped like a cock. From souvlaki to sushi they’ll devour with gusto — no matter the shape or size.

While I’m left sneaking into corners to eat a sausage roll, life is passing me by.
I’ve decided that this year, 2015, is the year that I’ll beat my fear of eating phallic foods in public, once and for all.

Then when I’m really old, I’ll take it to the next level and embrace the sexual connotations. Like this lady. Did she really need two? Yeh, she did.

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Thanks to Shutterstock for providing a wealth of hilarious images.

Let them eat cake – Do it.

There is never a bad time for cake. Think about it. Whether you are at a funeral or have lost your job, a slice of sweet fluffy goodness always makes things better.

When I first started working in an office I was shocked at how awkward most interactions are.
In the hospitality industry your workmates are personable and attractive. Switch to an office environment and the pool of people who have social skills diminishes considerably. Which is why there is nothing better than cake at the office. What better way to unite a group of people who have literally nothing in common but a stomach?

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It doesn’t matter how much of a bitter bitch you are, throw cake into the mix and everyone is friends. Unless you miss out. Then shit’s going to get real.

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Five situations only made possible by cake:

1) Calling something moist. Seriously, it’s the only time the word moist is appropriate.

2) Everyone needs a Bruce Bogtrotter moment. Remember when Brucey was forced to eat an entire giant cake as punishment for stealing Miss Trunchbull’s prized slice? How many of us have gone back for seconds or thirds and then felt violently ill.

3) Bad cake is still cake. Someone has just had an experimental evening in the kitchen and they’ve brought in the crusty, burnt fruits of their labour. Although you tell yourself you wont eat any, you’ll hit 3pm and after speaking to Marian from finance about her tinea and you’ll need something, anything, that will make the world a better place.

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4) On a diet? Not anymore! That delicious slice of lard will taste way better than your quinoa salad.

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5) The saying “I love you like a fat kid love cake”. I know childhood obesity is a serious problem but look at this guy: brucebog

Marie Antoinette may have had her head lopped off but she was onto something. Cake does make everything better, especially in a professional environment.

Except when it looks like this…

sexual harassment cake

For more hilariously bad cakes see cake wrecks.

The Real Meat Injection

While shopping for cat food in Coles I found the following product, Coles Complete Cuisine, Real Meat Injection.

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 It raised a few questions for me…

1. Why would I want to give my cat a Real Meat Injection?
This sounds like the kind of offer one receives at a backpacker bar.

2. HIGH “PALATABILITY”- I’m pretty sure palatability isn’t a word.
Also, since it is food, I would assume that it’s palatable, for the cat at least. No need to make up a word to tell me about it.

3. 100% SATISFIED or 100% REFUND — How does one judge cat food unsatisfactory?

“Look here, the Real Meat Injection wasn’t nearly large enough”

“The vegetable flavour was there, but Mr. Whiskers couldn’t taste the cheese.”

“Tibbles is actually lactose intolerant. The cheese flavouring upset her stomach and she shat all over the shag carpet.”

I am willing to bet that no one has successfully wrangled a refund for Coles Complete Cuisine Real Meat Injection. If anyone has, I want to know who they are and how they managed to prove that they were not satisfied with cat food. Then I will hire them as my attorney.

Long story short, despite the dismal product marketing, I am a huge fan of Vegetable and Cheese (not to mention Real Meat Injections) so I bought 7 boxes… all in the hope that I’ll be 100% satisfied.

Pube Potatoes

Recently I travelled to India. On my last day, I decided that I was going take risks and be adventurous. I saw a man selling fried potatoes on the side of the road.

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Well, I decided. I’m definitely going to have some of those. They look delicious. I asked the gentleman above if he would be so kind as to give me some of his wares. I pulled a few rupees out of my purse and felt proud that after 3 and a half weeks in India, I was starting to feel less like a tourist.

He nodded enthusiastically, gave me a charming grin, pulled out a small aluminium bowl and scraped on the potatoes. With his bare hands. That had just been down his pants.

Sometimes in life, you just roll with it. This was one of those times. Yeh, his hands looked like they hadn’t been washed in 6 years, but this was INDIA. I needed to lose my western squeamishness and harden the fuck up.

The potatoes were delicious, fried and coated in exotic spices, I shovelled them into my mouth with gusto. Then I saw something that made me stop.

This is what I saw (look closely at the potato):

Pube Potato

I sometimes wish that situations like this one will go unnoticed. That I could somehow, just throw away the potato and pretend I had never eaten the rest of them. But life doesn’t work that way and it was only a millisecond after I had seen it, that my travel partner and best friend Erin pointed an accusing finger at the remaining potato.

“There’s a big pube on that potato”.

Fuck.

Why we are all afraid of being forever alone

It’s Friday night and I’m standing in the line at the Fish and Chip shop. It feels about 100 degrees and I am sweltering whilst waiting to order. I’m crowded in by families, couples getting up in each other’s personal space and groups of friends gossiping about their week. I have a sweat moustache.

    Fish and Chip Lady: “What’ll you have love?”

    Me: “Um, do you have a small pack of fish and chips?”

    Fish and Chip Lady: “That’ll be the single pack.”

    Me: “Yeh, one of those please.”

    Fish and Chip Lady:“Are you sure hon, that won’t be enough for you and your boyfriend”.

    *winks saucily at the strange man standing behind me*

    Me (face turning beetroot): “Erm…  he’s not.. I mean, we don’t… I’m by myself”.

    *Awkward pause*

    Fish and Chip Lady (staring deep into my eyes in pity): “Oh, okay. I’ll put that through”.

As I pushed through the sweaty people waiting for their orders, this is what popped into my head:

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As I wiped the sweat off my upper lip, I thought:
‘So what if I’m getting fish and chips on my own on a Friday night? I like fish and chips. Sure, I probably wont finish all the chips. But fuck yeh, I won’t have to share my calamari rings.’
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A week later, I ducked into a food court for a quick bite. I grabbed some delightful spring rolls and this napkin –

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This is when I realised, society says; ‘it’s weird to be alone’. According to this napkin and the Fish and Chip shop lady, you should be with someone. Hanging out alone in public is a social faux pas.

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The fear of being alone is real for many of us. Otherwise why would that meme be so damn popular? It probably stems from the human fear of death and the idea that we face whatever comes after life by ourselves.

And I get it, some people out there are legitimately lonely. They don’t have any friends, some of them need some loving. Perhaps they are even looking for someone to share their lives with. But that’s being LONELY. Not ALONE. And that’s why we have the internet.

The thing that no one talks about is that relationships are fucking hard work. I’m not just talking about your lover or your wrestling partner. I’m talking about spending time with your family, being nice to your average work colleague and dealing with your friends 24/7. That shit is exhausting and if you don’t get a chance to re-charge with some quality alone time, you’ll lose your mind.

Like this guy, who just wanted to eat his freaken ice-cream and didn’t feel like sharing:

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The problem is, that so many of us are from the Disney generation where it’s been drummed into our brains that we need someone else to make us happy.

I’m not advocating that you get rid of your friendships, relationships and average colleagues. What I’m saying is, that people who are uncomfortable hanging out by themselves must have really shit personalities. If you can’t stand being around yourself than who the hell else will?

You know what makes me suspicious? Those people who stay in relationships that suck. The whole “I don’t want to be old, alone and get eaten by my cats” mentality.

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Are you afraid of ending up alone and being eaten by your cats? Answer these 3 questions to find out:

  • 1) Have you ever gone to a restaurant/ cafe or bar by yourself, on purpose?
  • 2) Can you spend an entire day by yourself without calling someone to hang out with you?
  • 3) Have you ever ditched a social engagement for some alone time? (Sexual and non-sexual, both count as self-love).

If you answered YES to at least one of the three questions above, you are doing alright, will find inner peace and may manage to walk on hot coals without getting burnt.

If you answered NO to any/all it’s time you invest in some one on one loving. Take yourself out for a nice meal and glass of wine. (Don’t get too comfortable drinking alone though, I hear that’s a slippery slope).

So the next time you get stood up, haven’t been invited to a party or your lover is screening your calls, remember kids – being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.

Just for reference – this is what Fish and Chips for one looks like:

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Fish and Chips for One

Yeh, that’s right. Fucking awesome.

Travel and Vomit-A tale of Irony

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I was preparing to fly to India and decided, last minute, to make myself a quick pasta. (So I’d be nice and full on the flight).

I had been discussing my travel plans excitedly all week, laughing off the odd comment about food poisoning and people who return from overseas travel with weird parasites in their intestines. That’s how optimistic I was… laughing at parasites, which are generally horrifying.

My travel buddy Erin picked me up at 7.30. Our flight was due to fly out at 12.50am so we planned to stop by her dad’s house on the way to the airport.

It was then that the trouble began. It soon became obvious that I had given myself food poisoning with a vegetarian pasta. There was brocoli in it (but surprisingly no trace of carrot).

After being the worst how guest ever and then having to pull over on the way to the airport so I could retch into a clump of Australian flora, the irony dawned on me.

I gave myself food poisoning hours before my flight to India.

I have always struggled with the concept of dignity. Mostly because I experience so little of it in my everyday life. Take for instance, the moment when (after sprinting to the toilet at the airport) I am walked in on by a German back-packer who then awkwardly retreated the way she came, because her giant backpack made it impossible for her to turn around and.

The horror on her face is etched into my memory.

The other awkward part about being sick is that bathrooms aren’t hygienic to kneel in. Why? You may ask. Don’t they clean airport bathrooms? No, the answer is, they don’t clean them. There are pubes everywhere. HOW CAN THERE BE SO MANY PUBES? I thought, as I picked one from my jumper.

It doesn’t help that when vomiting in a public toilet, everyone assumes you have an eating disorder. Which is rude because if I was, no one was helpful at all. They all just looked around like “oh there is the girl who just violently spewed up all her home-made pasta and sounded vaguely like a dying cat”.

Luckily the retching subsided just before we boarded the plane, but I like to think that I made history after that 13 hour plane trip. If you like, you can shake the hand of someone who actually felt better after getting off an international flight, than when they got on. That’s right kids, there is always a happy ending (especially in Asia).

However, this start to a holiday is certainly one I will not forget. After looking at food like this, (see above) the deep irony of this event is not lost on me.