Short stories to be consumed with a favourite beverage
Friday, 18 March 2022
by Robin Cantwell
Every Wednesday after
work, Jimmy and I would meet up over a trough of fast food in what was becoming
an increasingly desperate attempt to keep our friendship alive. The idea, so
innocent in design, had humble origins that could be traced all the way back to
the pub crawls of our university days - but how those memories, once pulsating
with the energies of youth, had long since decayed. You see, what began as a
way to make sure we stayed in each other’s orbits after graduation had, over
the years, spun dangerously out of control. No longer was this a space where
partners in crime could rejoice in milkshake-slurping merriment at the failure
of our petty foes, exchange strategies on how to romance elusive lovers or
burrow our way into the promised land of the get-rich-quicks. Alas, still
treading water after fifteen years, this Kentucky-fried friendship was now
based on one very simple, unspoken understanding: when you entered the
restaurant and picked your grease-stained poison, you were agreeing to all the
sad and sorry terms of a contract of failure being played out between two men
who refused to let go.
Enough was enough.
This week, I had arranged to meet up with Jimmy at one of our
favourites, Holy Cluck, so named because when you chowed down on their
fried chicken, the experience was often described by its customers as something
approaching ‘religious’. Found in the backwaters of South London, this all you
can eat, artery-clogging extravaganza had everything Jimmy’s heart could
possibly desire - right before I was about to explode it like a supernova. No
longer could I endure the deadly combination of malnutrition and toxic
friendship. I was here to end things, once and for all.
‘Wait ‘till you hear this!’ Jimmy garbled through a mouthful
of corn, his obligatory bib already smeared in all manner of sauces and stains.
‘You remember Ricardo, right?’
Before I had a chance to speak, I
noticed a string of coleslaw hanging from his beard. Secretly, I had always
resented this about him. I had a weak chin and needed to disguise it, but my
attempted cover up amounted to nothing more than a wiry patchwork of
prepubescent tufts. His, though, made him look like an ancient
Greek philosopher - one whose jaw deserved to be sculpted by the hands of
‘Which Ricardo? There was the one who tried to convert us?’
‘No. The one that slept with Jessa on the Jubilee Line.’
As I wedged myself into the booth,
he held up a screenshot on his phone. A news article explaining the sad story
he was here to share: about our old dorm buddy Ricardo, and how he was going to
jail for three years for defrauding a car dealership in the outskirts of Mexico
‘Christ,’ I said.
‘I know. Poor Ricardo, right?’
‘What the hell are you talking about?’ I replied, feeling
instantly re-energised. ‘It’s put a spring back in my step. Isn’t that the
‘Why do the failures of our friends matter to you?’
‘Matter? They don’t matter.
But every so often, it’s nice reading about someone we went to uni with who isn’t
skyrocketing their way to the stratosphere and beyond.’
‘Anyway,’ he burped, spoonfeeding himself some baked beans. ‘I
can’t stay long.’
‘No. I’m cooking for Salma.’
‘My girlfriend. I’ve…got a girlfriend now.’
I sensed danger.
‘Have I heard about this one?’
‘Well, I’ve been seeing her for a while, truth be told. It’s
getting pretty serious.’
I’d always wanted Jimmy to have more mystery, and not to
compulsively overshare. But over the years, he had developed a desire for me to
live vicariously through him, to fill the hollow within his own mind. But now
that he’d kept something from me - even though I was the one who had ordered
the kill - it still hurt to hear the shots ringing in my ears.
‘What have you got planned?’
‘After all this?!”
‘I’ll make room. I’m actually going to cook for her. I’ve been
taking YouTube lessons.’
‘It is,’ he shot back, sucking mustard off his fingers. Then,
as I quietly seethed behind my menu, deprived of my chance to be the one to
escape first, I heard his unmistakable, guttural laugh.
‘Oh, just something Salma said. About you.’
‘Go on then,’ I asked, digging my fingers into the laminate of
‘Well,’ he began, sizing up another wing, ‘she says we’re like
two carnivores who come to sink our teeth into ungodly amounts of meat each
‘…But do you know what she really thinks we’re doing?’
‘I don’t know. Fucking?’
‘Eating each other,’ he announced with that brainwashed glaze of honeymoon love
in his eyes. ‘She also thinks you’re trying to sabotage my career.’
‘There!’ he blurted out, pointing a drumstick at me. ‘That
is the micro aggression she mentioned. It manifested right on cue, too.’
When you know someone for so long,
they become part of your body. A girlfriend feels like an extra limb, but Jimmy
felt like a vital organ. And no matter how hard I tried to escape, it was never
meant to be. This was a forever friendship, with all the threats, attempted
getaways and botched assassination attempts. Yes, he was in all right.
Somewhere deep. It’s true that I’d
probably go through the motions yet again: I would go off the grid, block the
accounts, delete the apps, dodge and mute the rest. But having heard Jimmy
speak tonight, I already knew we’d be back here before long. Salma was right.
We were eating each other. And we’d never stop.
‘Anyway…what are you ordering?
‘I hear the chicken’s good here?’ I replied in a flash, to which
he burst out laughing - much, much louder than before.
About the author
is a London-based playwright, poet and fiction writer. With themes ranging from
toxic masculinity to the technological singularity, his work has appeared in
dozens of anthologies and magazines.
regular contributor to Pure Slush’s Lifespan Series, where ‘Carnivores’ was