by Mariah Feria
Meg filled her shopping basket with party rings and little packets of Iced Gems. She tried to ignore the questioning glances from other shoppers, as they attempted to make sense of her interesting attire: a mustard coat, purple-and-pink stripy socks pulled up her shins, bright blue trainers and a hot-pink bobble hat. Her leggings – dark, with an intricate mosaic pattern on them – were the most understated item of her look.
Having recently lost her job and tired of her uninspired job hunt, Meg had left her flat in search of tasty, childhood snacks. It was a habit that resurfaced whenever she felt stressed and needed a little comforting.
Currently in her basket, alongside the party rings and iced gems (‘Can you believe they still make these, do you remember having them in your lunchbox?’ she’d said to her boyfriend during their food shop last weekend), Meg had placed some chocolate milk, POM-BEARS and a packet of sliced corned beef.
Meg remembered how she gorged on POM-BEARS and chocolate-chip cookies when she was sick and couldn’t eat for a week. Convincing herself they weren’t too unhealthy (the crisps were gluten-free!) yet still provided enough calories to keep her weight up, she shovelled in mouthful after mouthful, discarding the empty packets across her bedroom floor.
However, the food wasn’t always laden with sugar and salt.
During a heavy period at university, Meg remembered how her Mum would make her liver and bacon to keep her iron levels up. She went to the supermarket and was thankful to see liver on the shelves, even more relieved to discover how cheap it was. She didn’t realise you could also get pigs liver, chicken’s liver, and what was that? A cow’s tongue – gross! Meg popped the liver into her basket, fetched some bacon (smoked, of course) and hurried back home.
“Meg had left her flat in search of tasty, childhood snacks. It was a habit that resurfaced whenever she felt stressed and needed a little comforting.”
Other times, she turned to ‘yellow-fish’, for when she was feeling a little rundown. During fresher’s week – caught in the throes of the infamous fresher’s flu – she decided to hunt down some of the fish during her next food shop. Her Mum had called it ‘yellow-fish’ pronounced more like ‘yella’, highlighting her East London roots. Meg got to the supermarket and realised she didn’t even know what type of fish it actually was. ‘It’s smoked haddock,’ said her Mum when she rang her flustered at the store, ‘And don’t forget the vinegar.’
There were other times when food didn’t so much sooth her troubles, but transported her back to a time she’d rather forget.
Olives. Those small, slippery balls of nothingness, sometimes filled with peppers, herbs or cheese, reminded her of the hours spent on hard plastic chairs in her grandmother’s porch. In Spain, there was always a bowl of olives on the table, toothpicks resting on the side. Unable to speak the language of her many Spanish relatives – and her dad refusing to translate what they were saying – Meg resorted to eating the olives. They always had stones in, and they were always disgusting. Yet she ate so many over the years of holidaying there she convinced herself she liked them. Now, whenever she did buy them, she soon remembered she did not.
Right now though, back in the supermarket dressed in her slobbiest clothes, food was Meg’s comfort. It was a relic of an easier, simpler, if not always happier, time. These days, she couldn’t curl up on the sofa and get a cuddle from her mum. She couldn’t slam the door like an angry teenager after being accused of smoking a cigarette. She couldn’t load up Sims 2 and spend an evening creating the perfect life for herself alongside the members of One Direction.
But, she could eat party rings, and let the colourful sugar on her teeth take her there again.
Mariah is a recent American lit and creative writing graduate, currently working as a social media assistant for the local press in Norwich, UK. She blogs in her spare time and is also discovering a love of writing creative non-fiction.
The illustration for ‘Party Rings and POM-BEARS’ is by Lilly Pollard. Find more of Lilly’s work on Instagram: @lillys_pad_