by Grace Maxwell Brown
Each feast doesn’t always commence at midnight. Rather, it’s your own version of midnight.
At Alison’s house the feasts will be sparse. You’re aged eight, and so the twilight hour falls between nine and ten pm, when parents will be awake, watching the news in the front room, and you sneak down – quiet, shh, watch out for the creaky step – into the kitchen to prepare your spread. A piece of toast with sliced plastic cheese on top, butter melting off the edges, thrown onto a chipped plate next to a poured out packet of Skips, sometimes Quavers. (Are you concerned everything is the same colour?) Alison likes savoury, so she’ll also add some crackers and/or oatcakes and eat them dry.
‘I bet you can’t eat three crackers in a minute?’ she’ll whisper to you as you squish against each other in the galley kitchen.
‘Yeah, course I can.’
And you’ll stuff a cracker in your mouth to prove it. Competitive like that. Mash your jaw and feel it grow weary at the strain. Find it difficult to swallow the mushed remains, as they become chalk in your throat. Alison will finish her three in under a minute. Grin at you, stomach bulging with her success. You’ll spend the rest of the night fetching cracker crumbs with your tongue from between your teeth.
You’ll have your first olive, aged eleven, at Eva’s house. The saltiness of it will make you suck in your cheeks; the texture will unsettle your predeterminations of hard, round, foods. Eva will arrange the feast, intricately, on the delicate porcelain tray she – careful, now, be gentle – pulls down from a cupboard in the white, glossed kitchen. You will close the cupboard behind her, perplexed at its lack of handles; the vast glass window that acts as a wall will reflect your tartan pyjamas, bare cold toes. Eva will ask if you like truffles, these ones, she shows you, have champagne in them. Her parents don’t drink so won’t miss them. You’ll eat five and feel sick, convince yourself you’re drunk, find a hidden empathy for your Auntie Helen. Eva speaks in rapid beats, jumping jacks from topic to topic. It makes your mind reel more than usual (that could, of course, be the champagne). She speaks of her parents like they are the floor above you and could catch you both out of bed and/or stealing and/or eating champagne; even though you both know they’re not in. But you can’t say this because – Eva is your friend.
“Midnight has changed to a quarter past two; the feast now the climax of a disappointing house party and a long walk home through empty village streets.”
Fifteen and full of unrequited (lesbian) love, you’ll watch Rosie gorge herself on your family chocolate box. Midnight has changed to a quarter past two; the feast now the climax of a disappointing house party and a long walk home through empty village streets. Of drunken hiccups, which smooth like syrup up your throat, taste like spiced apples. Rosie will eat all the Kit-Kats first, stop for a brief moment to down a glass of orange juice (Vitamin C: good for you), move onto the chocolate-coated cereal, which she shakes up to the brim of the bowl and lashes with milk.
‘Are you allowed chocolate cereal every day?’ she will ask you.
‘Why wouldn’t I?’
You’ll chew little bites from a strawberry and inhale the cleansing steam of your peppermint tea. Think about how mature this makes you look, even if you don’t understand the taste of it. Watch as Rosie dives another hand into the chocolate box. Pulls out a Penguin. (Eats it whole.) You will hear the biscuit crunch and crunch. Later that morning – or does it still count as evening if you haven’t slept? – she’ll spend a while in the bathroom and you’ll pretend not to notice any of the sounds she makes then.
Cheesy chips: the saving grace, heaven’s blessing, knight in shining armour of the midnight hour. Bought on the wet Leeds streets at 4 am when roads are filled with beeping taxis and tumbling students. When the stench of kebab and/or vomit pilfers through the cigarette smoke. You’ll race away from it, polystyrene gift in hand. In bed, under the covers with your housemate Catalina, you will lick the grease from your fingers. Giggle to each other about nothing, about everything. Question your existence. Agree you’re both embarrassing and obnoxious (in a good way), say oh-my-god-what-is-my-life, but what you really mean is you’re happy and carefree and safe. Revel in it. You’ll feed her a chip, the one you’ve been saving for the perfect last bite, flawlessly crisp and molten with cheddar. She’ll take her time to eat it then look to you and your hovering finger with a dapple of grease on the end. She’ll lick it off for you.
Grace Maxwell Brown | @gracejbrown