No 60 - Summer 2004
The Snail Drunk
I hope the waiter brings the chicken
wings in those little raffia baskets and
we better get a full array of condiments
not sauce in sachets and we want our
two complimentary beers cold not warm.
The waiter brings the chicken wings
in raffia baskets with good cloth napkins
besides, gingham, to match the table.
The condiments are unrivalled - jars of
faultless, tart jellies and hot, thick relishes.
We specifically instruct the waiter - No
beer - but he seems to glaze over at the
slight deviation from the menu. No beer?
he repeats, stunned. He scribbles on a
pad to confirm, No beer, then asks again.
No - his carbon paper smile obliterates all
our demands with officious welcome - our
complaints or a compliment, thrown to
break the ice, all are removed alike - lovely,
lovely chicken - you're going to enjoy it.
Our waiter brings two cold beers on
the house and another two, then two
more and a peppy couple at the next
table hand us forty Marlboro light and
a Marlboro lighter to light them with.
As the evening progressed the whole place
seemed to gather at our table. Everybody
was delirious with laughter, the beers
were flowing — I was resigned to it by then —
for anything I said met only with approval.
Then waiters brought chicken wings in
little raffia baskets and the full array of
condiments and watched as a tallow tear
bulged from the corner of her eye and
set — your silken hair, my love, like straw.
I stared down at the chicken, incredulous
only noticing then the blotches of faint
green cubing under its skin. Like plaice
copy the sequencing of their surroundings
so our chicken had too, from the napkins.
Suddenly her head began lolling over —
only the whites of the eyes left showing
like two mint imperials. Faces, swirls of
grimacing under laughter, orange and
hot like a brazier’s empty into hollow.
I thought the moment had passed, that
her choking had gone without epiphany or
remembrance. Not so, I ordered more
chicken, some cold coca-cola and a pack
of Malboro full strength to revive her.
Her neck as suddenly stiffened to revive —
her pupils dilate and the throat clears of
dyspepsia — you know what’s coming next —
that’s right, you know what’s coming, why
stiffen to revive, you know what’s coming.
Two waiters come, one grabs the cloth
and pulls it away, everything on the table
stays as it is, a miracle — everyone’s amused.
Meantime, a second waiter is setting up an
adjacent table and the night begins again.
Peas rain down from the mezzanine floor —
more of a balustrade really I suppose, with
its thick choke-leg uprights and toffee-tan
varnish, like the type in Western saloons — the
devil’s in the detail, garden peas rained down.
She ate with renewed vigour but I couldn’t —
the missiles had grown from a trickle to a
positive downpour. I glanced up and one
lodged in my eye, to chunks of laughter — do
you think we ought to move to a quiet table?
No, I do not think we ought to move to a
quiet table, I think we ought to weather the
storm here. Waiter, bring us chicken wings
in raffia baskets and we want two umbrellas
and waiter, no peas with that, no beer.
So there we sat, she in a soiled frock, empire
waisted and me in cummerbund and dicky bow
and two waiters are holding brollies over our
heads, it’s quite romantic really — we’re damned
if we’re going to let anyone put us off our food.
It was romantic, she leaned over, whispering
this in my ear, if you must know — Oh, my darling
how I love your chicken breasts, pimpled and
grey in the cold. With that I unbuttoned my shirt
and flashed her, raising whoops of elemental joy.
Hand on her knee, cold grey plume, Jesus
Christ, we’re kids again. The chicken arrives
and the peas subside slowly to an occasional
insubstantial plop in the beer. My love, your
skin’s translucent, I can see the meat go down.
Skeins of beautiful Vivaldi stretch an already
beautiful moment out. As it rises and dips I
imagine love to be something like this, like
coming inland after years at sea and I say so
to her, No, she says no, my love, that’s wind.
When the lights dim to a catheter yellow and the
waiter starts wiping tables, it’s a hint that it’s time
to go. Smearing a glass with a tea towel, he comes
over to inform us that they can wrap the bones up
if we like, there’s plenty of meat left on them yet.
No, we’re going, I tell him, but then the chef
comes out of a back room with a bottle wanting
to engage us now his shift is done and we can
hardly turn him down — OK, just one small glass —
waiters appear out of nowhere with chicken wings.
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- Poetry Cornwall
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