See Food, Eat Food

by Christopher James

My sister, Char, and I sit down with Russian coffees, hers a little more coffee, mine a little more Russian. Her hair is still wet from falling in the pool, and I’m worried she’ll catch a cold, but she only rolls her eyes at me.

“So,” I ask her, “are you still seeing Michael?”

Michael is twenty-four years old, and he works in an auto-shop that overcharges people for basic repairs. He’s big and a little bit stupid and he doesn’t talk much, but he’ll drop anything if Char wants him.

“Michael’s a loser,” she says, and if this sounds like progress it’s not. She always calls him a loser, but then she keeps seeing him.

“Is there anyone else?”

“Not yet,” she says, but she smiles, so I know she has someone particular in mind. “There’s a man I met at work, though. His name’s George. He’s a little bit older, but he dresses really nice and he’s very charming. I think he might be interested.”

I’m familiar with the difference between Charlotte’s description of a new man and the reality of the new man, so I’m used to reading between the lines to get a picture of the truth. If she says George is a little bit older, that means he’s much older. Probably late fifties, with grey hair, probably a big man, because Char likes big men. He wears a suit. He’s married, and flirts with anything in a skirt.

Char says, “He lives in Cotteridge, but he comes here every other week on business. He asked me if I like seafood. I think he wants to take me to dinner.”

I think he wants to fuck her in his hotel room. I don’t like the sound of George. “You don’t like seafood,” I remind her. “It gives you a rash.”

“I like some seafood,” she tells me. “There’s that new restaurant, I read about it, I think he wants to take me there. I could get fish. He speaks German. Isn’t that interesting?”

He probably has a German wife. He’s used to coming into town on business, then finding a woman he likes the look of and beguiling her with his suit and his love of expensive seafood restaurants and his bilingualism. Char works in a small bookshop. It’s just the kind of place you would go to find a woman easily impressed by a few trappings of faux-sophistication. Taking her out, getting her tipsy, and bringing her to his hotel room. Then the next day he showers to wash her off, and goes back to his schöne Frau and gehorsame Kinder at Heimat, geliebte Heimat in Cotteridge.

Char always ends up with men like this. She thinks they’re going to be different from the last one, she thinks they’ll stay with her and look after her and treat her right, and they never do.

“Just be careful, Char,” I say. “Remember you have a son.”

“Now you worry about my son,” she tells me. “But when he goes out without telling his mother where to, you say it’s nothing.”

After that she stops telling me about George and adds a little more Russian to her coffee.

Christopher James was born in London, England and now lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has been published online in Tin House and Camera Obscura and in print in the Times and the Smokelong 10 Year Anthology.

What interesting, fascinating behind-the-scenes info can you give us about “See Food, Eat Food”?

    There were many elements to this story that weren’t entirely coming together, until I decided to have Char describe a man she liked and her brother see the man in a very different, very cynical way. With that simple device, the writing of the story was very easy and very fast, and if you can measure the success of a piece by how much you enjoyed writing it, this was a big success for me. I think I’ve been in training my whole life to write from the perspective of a very cynical character, so it was a lot of fun.

    Interesting tidbits: (1) The title comes from a kid’s joke. I’m on a seafood diet. I see food, and I eat it & (2) it’s not easy on Google finding a translation of Home, Sweet Home.

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