Friday 18 March 2022



by Robin Cantwell

milk shake 


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 Michelangelo himself.

            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 City.

            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 point?’

            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.’

            Sounds incredible.’

            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 my menu.

            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 week…’


            ‘…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.’

            What 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                                                                                

Robin 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.

 He’s a regular contributor to Pure Slush’s Lifespan Series, where ‘Carnivores’ was first published.

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