As I sat in the brightly lit fast food restaurant my guilt began to chip away at me. The debris caused by the relentless chipping began to gather in my throat causing an obstruction. I gulped at my sugary cola and yet the bites of burger, which I had been coveting all day, turned to polystyrene in my mouth.
Initially we introduced the idea of theme nights so as to detract from the lack of variety. We had skidded upon some financially difficult times-Kel had been made redundant and I had to endure a demotion in the name of austerity. Our cupboards were bare and what little was in them had to be rationed. The kids took a little while to adjust and our youngest started to lose all interest in food, something the school was quick to pick up on.
In all fairness it had been Kel’s idea-she always took a more creative approach to a problem. She came up with ways of making the kids meals more exciting by making them look like something else or introducing an element of fun. We didn’t exactly condone them playing with their food but they could be at play while eating. We had conjured up astronauts, deep sea divers, pirates, cowboys and shepherds-the kids had smiled again and the youngest started to pay more attention to what was on his plate.
At first I embraced the sense of fun and worked with Kel to find different ways to sculpt instant mash. All too soon I lost interest and the thought of wearing a homemade eyepatch and imagining that my sausages were pirate galleons was too much to ask after a crap day at work built around pretence.
On my way to work this morning I found a quid and as I eagerly thrust it into my pocket I took it as a sign that I had permission to absent myself from our family meal tonight. All day I had promised myself a burger, eaten in my own company and with no pirate or bloody stormtrooper in sight. I had called Kel explaining that I needed to work late and for them to go ahead and eat without me. I felt undeserving of her gushing concern for my welfare.
Waiting in the queue I played with the two coins in my hand, their weight adding to my already heavy load. When my turn to order arrived I knew exactly what I was going to have-it was the only thing I could afford.
“Junior meal please mate.”
Inside the box that held my small meal is a plastic figure. It stares up at me from the bottom of the box. Reaching inside I take hold of the figure and at that moment I have a strong urge to retch. My dinner companion is a pirate.