Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 17

Emma woke up and every single part of her body felt dry. Her brain felt dry. She pictured it there in her skull all shrivelled and papery. As she rolled over to look at the alarm clock she felt her brain thud across into her ear. She groaned. Her eyes felt dry and her mouth felt extremely dry but somehow also inflated - her tongue felt puffy against swollen dry cheeks. Her throat felt like a glass ledge had been installed along the swallowing ridge. Every joint in her body had had the lubricating bits removed over night and now as she lay there she could feel each and every bone grinding against each other as she moved. The only part of her that did not feel dry was her stomach. That felt intensely wet; it felt sloshy, rumbly and unpredictable. She thought about just lying very still until a death happened to one of her vital organs and she was allowed to follow it to a happier place in another realm.

As she lay there, wishing for either more sleep or for a magical ghost butler that could bring her water, her brain began to fizz back to life and she replayed the night before to herself behind her eyelids. As far as she could remember she hadn’t been too embarrassing or ridiculous. She remembered having a great time, and then the over powering sourness creeping into her stomach and spoiling her view of the proceedings.

‘You were jealous of how well Jack and Anja were getting on.’ She kept trying to tell herself, but every time the thought popped up she would think something else loudly over the top of it before she could get to the end.

‘I don’t want to think about that.’ She snapped angrily - frowning, and then regretting the frown as her forehead complained at the disturbance. She rubbed her forehead with a quivering arm and marvelled at how her skin was managing to be both oily and crispily dry at the same time.

‘You should think about it though.’ The voice was persisting, ‘Otherwise we can’t deal with it. Do you have a thing for Jack?’ Emma relented and lay there in the bed thinking about it. Did she have a thing for Jack? She liked him. That was for sure. He made her feel content and happy and… safe. Yes, safe. But she barely knew him - so it’s not like she could really like him, could she?

‘You barely know Theo either.’ Her irritating devils advocate told her, ‘And you moved across the country for him.’

“Not for him.” Emma muttered out loud into the duvet and then scowled at how raspy and thin her voice sounded. Her throat was wrecked by the acidic wine she had poured down it all day. She’d awoken hours earlier than she needed to; she assumed what had woken her was her brain thumping on the inside of her skull and demanding water. If only she’d thought to bring a glass to bed with her the night before, but no such luck. The night before had been all about crawling away under the duvet and into oblivion as quickly as possible.

She slid out of bed and swayed at her first attempt to be upright. Today was going to be tough; the Christmas shop was bright and garish on a normal day, let alone on one where you’d stripped off the protective cornea in your eye using a white wine defence stripper. She padded through to the kitchen where the faint smell of hot oil and decimated meat still hung in the air. The thought of Anja cooking in here made her feel surly and small. She filled a glass with lovely, delicious life giving cold water and sat down at the table to have a think.

‘Are we really going to ruin the start of a brand new friendship with a bizarre jealousy for a man you’re not even that sure you’re jealous over?’ She considered how she felt… was it even about Jack?

‘Maybe it’s just how perfectly together and beautiful Anja is? She’s only 4 years older than you and look at her life compared to yours?’ Emma considered this option.

‘But it definitely didn’t spring up until you saw her talking to Jack.’ Was the opinion she kept coming back to. It especially hurt to think about when she thought about the two of them huddled conspiratorially in the corner of her living room chatting about Bath and restaurants and all the fancy things they knew about.

‘But maybe it was more just anyone having attention lavished on them when you don’t have someone doing that to you?’ She turned this thought over and over in her mind for a while seeing how it fit. It felt like a distinct possibility. She tried out an image of herself kissing Jack - just to see how it made her feel. But every time she got to the point where their lips met and she was thinking about kissing him he faded out of her imagination and her inner cameraman wouldn’t play ball. He kept panning away and she couldn’t think it through.

Emma drained her water and then poured herself another one. She really hoped this water was going to stay down. Emma hated being sick - who didn’t? She hated that burning feeling in her nose. She wandered through into the living room looking at the debris from the night before. There were discarded half full takeaway containers strewn across the living room, and on the floor where she had been sat there was an entire, unopened tub of Ben & Jerrys; presumably melted. Her stomach felt fuzzy and empty and for a bizarre half second Emma thought about just drinking the little pot of melted ice cream just to give her stomach something to do other than digest itself.

“No, Emma - you are not doing that.” She said out loud and glanced down at her watch. She was hours early to go to work, but the thought occurred to her that perhaps she could do something to settle her stomach before she faced a day of grinning elves and Santa statues.

She showered, dressed, grabbed her phone and keys and headed out for the day. Twenty minutes later she was staring at the MacDonalds breakfast menu and wondering what to order. A large portion of her brain was just suggesting All Of It and the empty feeling in her stomach certainly seemed to suggest it would fit. She felt like her stomach had been replaced by a black hole. The queue was shrinking and she still hadn’t made up her mind; her palms sprung a little clammy layer.

‘Calm down woman - you’re just ordering breakfast; it’s not the end of the world if you don’t know exactly what you want.’ She tried to tell herself, but when she surreptitiously wiped the palm sweat onto the tops of her jeans she could have sworn the faint whiff of wine came off them.

Emma approached the counter and the smiling man in the hat looked up at her. “Hi, what can I get you?” He asked brightly.

“I would like something that’s good for a hangover.” Emma replied honestly. She’d decided to just be blunt with the man and hope that he got this kind of thing a lot and would know how to help. He laughed.
“Fair enough,” he nodded, “When I’m hungover I have the double sausage egg McMuffin. With coffee.”

That sounded extremely edible so Emma nodded at him, “That sounds great.” She said, “But tea please - I can’t stand coffee. It tastes so mean.”

He frowned a little at her but in a friendly way and she paid him and waited while he piled a box and a small bag into the bigger bag. With her breakfast in her hand she made her way over to a free table and was extremely grateful to sit back down. An entire day on the shop floor with legs quivering more than Bambi’s was going to be a struggle.

She pulled the food out of the brown paper bag and began devouring it. It was greasy and delicious and definitely going some way to restoring the natural balance of her inner eco-system. She pulled out her phone to check how much longer she had before work and noticed that the screen displayed a text message from Theo.

She sat on the plastic seat and stared at it in shock. Her mouth was half full of unidentified mush but she entirely forgot about chewing, blinking, breathing or functioning.

A text message from Theo. In all of the confusion over Jack jealousy and wine she had managed to put it out of her head completely that she was waiting for a response. Yet here it was. A full week later. She prodded a greasy finger at the screen - leaving a sliding trail of muffin slime across the cracked surface. Her finger was too mucky from the burger for her fingerprint to unlock the phone and so she slammed in her passcode leaving four pudgy circular splodges of oil in a pattern on the surface.

Her eyes glittered over the words in the message.

“Hi Emma, great to hear from you. What are the chances of us bumping into each other like that? So weird! How was your weekend? Fancy a catch up this week? Tx”

She read it and read it and read it and read it. Poring over word and letter until it was memorised.

‘Oh my god he’s replied.’ She kept thinking over and over again. It was all that was going round and round in her head - she couldn’t even begin to formulate what her response might be because the only words she seemed to have space for between her ears were ‘Oh my god he’s replied.’

A full fifteen minutes later she came to and realised she had gone from having copious amounts of time to get to the shop on time to being in very real danger of being late. She took another bite of her breakfast but as the heat had drained out of the little bundle of fat and carbohydrates so had any semblance of it being delicious or even edible. She gave it an astonished look to check it was the same item she’d been eating back in the past where it had been delicious and hot. It definitely was. She weighed up though whether she would like to go back to the past and have that hot but be back in a world where Theo had not replied or be here in the now with a cold breakfast but a solid, exciting text message that asked her if she would like to catch up. With Theo. Emma knew the answer without even having to argue with herself. She threw the rest of the breakfast into the bonfire that was her hangover and headed out of the door to the shop. She’d have loved to have hurried but the wonky, unbalanced feeling in her head and stomach were not allowing her to move at pace and so she had to take her time. The phone burned in her pocket as she made her way delicately to Fiona and the shop.


Who else is at the shop when Emma arrives for work?

  1. Norman
  2. Norman’s wife
  3. Simon
  4. Jack

Does Emma suggest to Theo that they:

  1. Have dinner
  2. Go for cocktails
  3. Do whatever he wants to do

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