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Meat Paste


by David Ashbridge

Meat Paste

This story was submitted to The LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2019

I’m in the garden and so is my sister. She’s got her doll's bath, with its pretend shampoo bottles and tiny sponge. It’s full of water and she’s been bathing the dolls that she’s now getting dirty again while playing with them in the flower beds.

Dinner time is announced by Mum coming outside and handing over two plates of meat paste sandwiches. She goes back inside. I’m still holding my plate in both hands when she returns and sets down two glasses of orange squash on the concrete footpath. My sister is wandering around in her yellow summer dress, humming to herself while she eats the first of her sandwiches.

‘Eat your dinner,’ my mum says to me, going back into the house. Standing there in my blue shorts and red and cream hooped t-shirt, I can feel the sun’s warmth on my arms and legs. I hear my sister continuing her humming and glance at her as she’s about to finish her first sandwich.

‘You’ve got to eat your dinner,’ she says. Bossy.

I walk over to where she’s now started her second sandwich. I look at her empty plate. I look at my full plate, at the thin, pink line of meat paste that I can see from where my mum has cut squarely across the bread, with the two sandwiches slightly apart, the gap between them forming a narrow V-shape that points towards me. I can feel my toy gun against my leg, in the pocket of my shorts as I look at the arrowhead shape between the sandwiches. Beneath and above the meat paste, I can see the equally thin, yellow lines of margarine. I look down at the doll's bath. I take one of my sandwiches and drop it into the water. It lands right in the middle, sending droplets over the sides and causing little waves. I jump back a few inches as some of the water splashes onto my legs. The sandwich expands wonderfully, swelling and growing. I wait while its transformation is completed. I drop in the other sandwich, reaching forward, arm stretched out, standing back this time to avoid further splashes. My aim is almost as good. It too swells and grows. They float there, the corner of the second one nudging gently against the cut side of the first, not quite in the same V-shape as on the plate.

Then she’s there beside me, my sister, and I can feel the treachery oozing from her. She’s going to tell my mum and I’m going to be in trouble. And she turns, shouting the news before she’s even through the door, repeating it in the hallway before my mum pushes past her.

She’s in the garden now, my mum, and the terror has come. I’m for it. I can’t undo what I’ve done. The two sandwiches float there, testifying against me, looking up at her, mute witnesses to my crime, telling her that it’s true, that I did drop them into the doll's bath. But they’re not the victims, I am. And it’s my sister who’s the criminal and so is my mum, but I’m the one that’s going to be smacked. Her hands are out in front of her and the terror won’t go away.

But she doesn’t smack me. She takes her hands and exacts a far worse punishment than a clip around the ear or a red handprint on the leg. She bends down and reaches into the water and lifts out both sandwiches. She pauses, placing one on the grass. She squashes the other one up, between her two hands. She puts this disgusting lump on my plate, picks up the second sandwich and repeats the procedure. And, now with one in each hand, she squeezes again, the wet bread forcing out into spikes and ridges between her fingers. She uncurls fingers and thumbs, revealing two perfect imprints of the insides of her hands, the lines and shapes faithfully reproduced in two lumps where margarine and meat paste merge with white bread. As she drops them onto my plate, they look like hand grenades or hedgehogs, and I can’t imagine which would be worse to eat, the spikes or the explosives.

She puts her hands on her hips and this time she doesn’t go back inside the house. She watches me eat. It’s a slow process; the taste is horrible; the mushiness is worse; she hasn’t squeezed all the water out and I think I’m going to be sick.

My sister is muttering to her stupid dolls and I can tell she’s enjoying what I’m having to do.

More than once my mum tells me to hurry up as I pull another tiny lump off and put it gingerly and unwillingly in my mouth. She goes back inside. I’m chewing mush. She comes back out again moments later. I’ve had no chance to hide the remaining pulp. The slow process continues and I’m desperate for her to go away. Eventually, tired of waiting for me to finish, with the second lump half gone, she walks back inside, with a final reminder that I have to eat it all. My sister follows her, skipping. Even she’s grown bored with my torture.

No sooner have they disappeared than I’m nudging the soil in one of the flower beds with the toe of my shoe. I’m not foolish enough to use my hands and get them dirty and be caught again. The soil’s light and easy to move, the result of Mum and Dad’s constant weeding of the flower beds. I drop the remnant of the mush into the hole I’ve made and quickly cover it over, scraping soil backwards with the sole of my shoe, before moving smartly back to the centre of the lawn. A final wiping of the toe of the upper of my shoe on the grass and the deception is complete. I haven’t eaten it all. Nobody has seen me and I’ve won.

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