Saturday, 15 June 2019

'The Hungry Ghost' by Clare O'Brien

It came as a shock.

It hit me hard, full in the chest, an electric jolt like a lightning flash followed by a long, booming thunderclap of despair.  It almost knocked all the air out of me.  And then it was fading, rumbling haphazardly away down the booze aisle like a drunken cloud.

I held onto the supermarket trolley for support and wondered if I’d been taken ill.  I was well into my fifties. Was this how it felt when you had a heart attack, a stroke? Was it something to do with my hormones?

Slowly, the panic subsided.  Whatever it was had passed on.  But the encounter had left me weak and tearful, like a maudlin drunk.  I felt drained, my mood had nosedived and I’d forgotten which wines I’d meant to buy. Maybe it was just the menopause, after all.

It was weeks before it happened again.  Gentler, this time, amongst the refrigerated fats in the dairy aisle. Milk, butter, yoghurt, cheese. The soft sadness blew through me like a wave, and my flesh rippled and billowed in its wake. I sensed longings and regrets for which I had no words, and the present faded to a thick white curd, milk of amnesia.  I lost my appetite in its depths.

I met it fairly often after that. Never when I was expecting it; always when I was absorbed in something else; a conversation, a plan, a hunt for some new ingredient.  It roamed up and down the warehouse superstore, patrolling the food aisles but never venturing as far as toiletries, homeware or clothes, never going near the sliding doors or the bleeping cash registers.  It haunted this human refuelling stop, invading, insatiable, hungry for our hunger, feeding off our greed.

In time, I began to feel sorry for it, stomachless, tongueless as it was. I wished I could lend it, just for a moment, the taste of butter or the smell of wine.  But I feared it, too.  Its ravenous emptiness knew no restraint.  If it could, it would swallow me whole.

I haven’t felt it for a while.  Maybe its hunger has burnt itself out.  Maybe it’s simply starved to death as it drifts uselessly through so much plenty.  Or maybe I’ve just moved on, my skin thickened, my ageing senses no longer primed to detect its desolate hunt.  I almost miss it.

I watch the other customers as they fill their trollies.  Do they feel its hunger?   Commerce continues. The registers ring.


First published in Issue 16 of Riggwelter in December 2018.

1 comment:

  1. This went somewhere I wasn't expecting. I love the roaming hunger monster here; I think I've felt his touch before.


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