Sounded so good at the time. Should’ve known from the décor. Should’ve known from the fact they’re showing the freaking Grand National on big tellies in every corner. It’s not enough that I sleep in so badly I miss the bus and have to get a freaking TAXI to St Andrews, no change from twenty five sodding quid on that one, and now I’ve wandered into probably the most expensive eatery in the most expensive town in the bloody world. Of course it’s too late to go out now, the waitress has seen me. They’ve got a waitress. Christ, I thought this’d be a cheap and cheerful pub, a Panini and a black coffee with change from a fiver. Nope.
Grand National. Sad thing, really. World gets together once a year to throw money about arbitrarily, see which horse wins and the rest are lasagne fodder. That’s a point though. How many people ate those lasagnes and were fine for it? It’s total hypocrisy. God forbid you tuck into Rover or Fido, but we’re all fine eating cows and pigs aplenty. Don’t even call them what they are – dress them up as “mutton” or “pork” or “beef”.
Seven pounds fifty for a toasted sandwich. I should be a veggie. It’s a cheaper life, and you get a cleaner conscience with it to boot. Conscience. That’s what I was here for, that bloody play. Doing a performance of Everyman, a medieval drama about Death telling some bloke that he can’t get into heaven everlasting until he unloads all of his worldly goods and becomes pure in the eyes of God. Tell you, if getting rid of all your money cleanses the soul, then mine’s going to be freaking spotless by the end of today.
It’s on a board. The sandwich and soup are on a wooden board. I’m sick with this. Serving foods on these chopping boards that are bound to be diseased, all the germs soaked into the woodgrain. Hell, decent places don’t even use wood for their chopping boards anymore, they’re all glass or ceramic or something. Forget hygiene. Let’s have sandwiches on planks of wood, chips in a wine glass, and mushy peas smeared on the fleshless ribcage of a dead wildebeest. And it’s sideways. One of the sandwiches is sideways, they’ve wedged it between the other club and the soup bowl – the menu promised me a MUG of soup, by the way. How am I supposed to pick this thing up?
Answer: I can’t. It falls apart like the flimsy promise of this being a nice place to eat. Two rashers of bacon lie, forlorn, on the wooden deck, fallen pig comrades strewn amidst a softening bed of lettuce shreds. Do I pick them up again? No. The waitress walks past and asks if I’m alright. I raise my eyebrows in a non-committal manner, and she walks on. She’s willing me to do it, to pick up the greasy remains from the board. I won’t lower myself. That’s how they get you, making you feel uncouth for wanting to salvage the food that is already rightfully yours. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, I suppose. There is still something to be enjoyed in what remains within my grasp. I take a bite.
The chicken’s fallen, too. The whole chicken fillet’s made a break for it, bounced once on the filthy board, once on the chair and… where? Where is it? That’s, like, a quid’s worth of chicken just scarpered from my sandwich. For the love of... where could it have gone? It’s nowhere on the table, the chair, the floor, it’s just been swallowed in an alternate dimension.
Oh god. Oh my goodness, no.
Unless it’s fallen into my jacket’s inner pocket. I can feel it now, a chunk of dead poultry, marinated in mayonnaise, pressing against me, oozing over my bus ticket home. Oh god, it must be there, there’s no other explanation. I’m reaching in, waiting for the warm, clammy touch of certainty… it’s not there. Thank god. But where the- I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’m not going to think about it. Eat your mayo and lettuce and hideous bacon gristle sandwiches and don’t think about where the chicken has gone or why you paid so much for this.
I could’ve got three Penguin ‘80’ books for the price difference between this and the toasted cheese and pickle sandwich below it on the menu. Cheese is good. Melted cheese wouldn’t do this to me, wouldn’t have the gall to make daring escapes from its bread prison. The soup’s a tomato and basil inferno, and it’s got enough black pepper in it to blow your head clean off. But seven pounds fifty. I sup it all, spoon by tongue-searing spoonful, until it’s gone.
I trudge up to pay at the bar. “Everything alright?” she asks, all innocent-like. I open my mouth, freeze into a gormless “Uh…”, but she presses on anyway, possibly sensing a complaint hanging in my mouth and cutting it off before it can be expressed.
“That’ll be nine pounds forty nine.” I know. The espresso, served in a bloody thimble, was another two pounds on top. A fifty pence drops into my palm.
“I’m afraid we don’t have any pennies left.”
I say “I’ll live.” I think, I want to rip out your bladder and feed it to a tramp.
I turn to leave, and I see the chicken. Behind the table leg where everybody – EVERYBODY – except me could see it. Do I pick it up? I do not. Let it lie there, a testament to the godforsaken travesty that is this establishment. I look the chargrilled artefact up and down and whisper sweetly, “Fuck you.”
Adam Learmonth recently graduated from the University of Dundee after completing an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study (obtaining a First-Class Distinction). He was born and raised in the Scottish Borders, but left upon realising he was neither a farmer nor a tradesman in the making. He now lives in Dundee's west end. He was awarded the McKinney Memorial Prize 2009 and the Gavin Wallace Prize 2015, and was a winner of the 2013 Mardibooks Poetry Contest. His debut collection, "poems.", has sold over fifty copies in just two months.