Poison

Last night when I was working at a bar, a woman asked for an unusual drink.* It triggered a memory. Earlier that evening another man had asked for the same drink and when I asked how much of the special ingredient he wanted me to add, he shrugged and looked over one shoulder. His drinking partner was seated around a corner so I could not see their face. But it was not that memory, but another, that had been recalled by the drink. Around a month before, a woman had asked me for a drink that did not have any sugar in. She did not want water but something else, something that would make her feel good or happy, or something. She was looking for a solution; I could tell by the way that she asked me. I thought, and gathered ingredients. The woman was very pleased with the drink I mixed. It was not something I had made or seen before, a little unusual, but not particularly strange.

When she walked back to her table, with the drink in her hand, I saw that political campaign posters surrounded her place at the table. It was not long before an election. The table where she and her companions were seated, was at the front of the bar, you could see it from all around, with posters displaying their slogans for all to see. She was casually dressed, in practical clothes. She was short and quite fat, friendly and open to my untrained suggestion. I wondered why she wanted a sugar-free drink. Maybe it was to lose weight, maybe to protect her teeth, maybe she was diabetic, maybe something else. Bodies are hard to know, especially form the outside, and the words written about them makes witches and wizards out of us all: moralising spells are cast with spirulina spiralizers, self annihilation is plotted with brown paper bags containing a quarter of a pound of minced meat coated with melted cheese, and hexes are written with 4 teaspoons of sugar in every can you consume.

Last night, the woman was dressed up, I’d say. She wore an eye-catching purple top and her short, curly hair was enhanced by hairspray. I didn’t remember her at first. I didn’t remember making her the drink. But as I began to assemble it, as instructed by her, and asked how much of the special ingredient she wanted, I suddenly recalled her request for a drink containing no sugar. It felt familiar. But this time, when she responded, the poison that made her anxious was not sugar, it was the special ingredient. I realised that, since our last meeting, she had researched the new drink and now knew more than I did. I said that I thought I had made it for her before, and she said that yes, she thought I had too, she had just remembered. A look of familiarity flooded her face. But also caution. Now, she didn’t want too much of the special ingredient. Now she knew it was a poison in too great an amount, she told me. I told her I didn’t know that. She had bought her own bottle of the ingredient to have at home, so much did she like it. She had it all the time. But she said that if she died of poisoning, she would know whom to blame, nodding towards me, before returning to her table, hidden from my view.

*diet tonic water with angostura bitters and a slice of fresh lime

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