“Ripe” by Gwil James Thomas

First published in Perhaps I’m Wrong About The World: Issue 2

It’s time to wake up. You rub your eyes and briefly contemplate going back to sleep. The soft imprint of your girlfriend’s body is still on the sheets; the clock reads 10:09. You try closing your eyes to get back to the dream you were having. You were dreaming of Claudia Corbett; you were still older, but she was as you remembered her, somehow untouched by time. Already the dream was fading. But you get flashes of it, her standing there smiling, somewhere outside, hard to tell where exactly? The brushing of her dress, the peach-like fragrance of her perfume and more bizarrely how there seemed to be some flickering in her eye. Teenage impulses still running ripe. The pleasures of a life. Just a dream though. Nevertheless, what did happen to people like Claudia Corbett?

You have the day off, naturally you hate the job and boss you work for. But it’s time to get up and you make haste. From the minute you stand up, it suddenly dawns on you that there’s something strange about the day; it’s seems similar to others but at the same time very odd.

You hit the toilet and shower; you stare at yourself for a moment, give the reflection a glance, pull in your gut and slick back your hair. You briefly think how it’d be to see yourself as others see you.

You head downstairs. Be a while till anyone’s back home and you’ve got it all to yourself. You find a blueberry muffin and sip some coffee. You really want a cigarette. You turn on the T.V. It’s the Male Channel; Football’s Worst Injuries, Police Speed Chase, Wrestling and Hair Product Advertisements. Once that audiovisual sate has concluded, you pull the car keys from the side and close the front door, checking twice to see if it’s locked. You’ve got some work to do.

A few drops of rain hit the windscreen, but you wind down your window and fade in some music. It feels pretty good and you stop at the lights. You notice some girls walk past—one looks over at you. Behind them a youth, blows out a ring of smoke looking like he’s running from something. What’s that, nostalgia? Where did the years go? You were that age once; but that’s not the point. If only you could go back in time but go back with what you know now. There’s so much you could do, you’d probably have a better chance if you did it all over again right? But you overlook the fact that that’s what has brought you here, your own choices and maybe a few things that were out of your control. That might even be powerful if you used that, it’d make you really start to do things. Like paint that bloody front door, maybe. You stroke your eyebrow, subconsciously trying to feel for something to bring you back to the now and all there really is. A driver hits his horn. Lights are green. You move a little slower than usual and this causes a driver from behind to try to overtake you. By this time you’re already going forwards, he tries racing up to you. Getting a taste for some kind of thrill in your life, you keep your pace.

Before you can do little else you notice the face of the other motorist and you continue to stare with little idea of what he’s saying. Then it strikes you that his features bear a striking resemblance to a ripe butternut squash. Incredible. You laugh at his misfortune. He’s probably had this a long time. He keeps his eyes locked onto you, angrily putting his foot down and does this for a minute before failing to notice the car that’s parked at a strange angle. Slam, the side of his car hits it and bounces like a pinball changing course, until his car jolts back and also sticks out an angle too. Can’t have hit anymore than 30mph, though. There’s glass sprinkled all over the floor, he gets out and screams at you, he pulls off his shoe and tries to throw it. But you’ve already gone. Butternut Squash Head looks truly like an enraged bull.

“Peace and fucking…” you say, two things you doubt he gets very little of. You speed off and have soon passed by like seasons to trees. A clean getaway. You swing a left and stop for a moment and pull up the handbrake. You can’t help but laugh. He deserved it, wasn’t your fault. At the bottom of the street you can see what looks like a bodybuilder lifting weights while another man spots him. You really need to get in shape again. Though those two aren’t really selling it. When you get back home you tell yourself that you’ll do some exercises or go for a run. In the back of your mind you know you probably won’t. You should take up that free boxing lesson your brother got you for Christmas; that’d be something. At that moment your phone slides down the dashboard…. Back to reality.

“Hello love, how’s your day?” you ask your other half.

“Not too bad, I can’t talk for long. But I was just going to ask, have you been to the shops yet?”

“Just on my way now, got stuck in a bit of traffic.”

“Oh, well I was going to remind you to pick up the paint and some toilet paper as well. You remember which paint it was don’t you?”

“Yeah, white.”

“Not white; the shade was Arctic White, remember? I just want the house to look perfect for when my parents come down at the weekend. You haven’t forgotten that have you? What’s gotten into you today?”

“Calm down, of course I haven’t forgotten. Listen, you sound stressed. How about we rent out a film tonight? We’ve earned a free customer rental on our points card. I’ll pick up a bottle of Rosé. It’ll be nice.”

“It’s fine, just a bit hectic. That does sound nice though.”

“Well, just think of something for us to watch later.”

“I will, I better go now though. I love you, Pickle.”

“Love you too, Pumpkin.”

You hang up. A brief drive further and you’ve parked up. You show your membership card and head inside. It’s spacious and cool in there and with the added advantage of the shiny floor it makes you a little relaxed. You push your trolley. You pick up the paint, Arctic White; you know because you check the label twice. Then you walk about and pick up some nails, toilet paper, beer, bread, a bottle of rose wine and salted peanuts for next weekend. A little less off the to-do list. Behind the counter you can just make out that the girl’s nametag reads Alicia. She looks very sweet, with delicate features and you queue up, hoping that when it comes to you, you’ll be served by Alicia, so much so that you don’t even check to see who’s on the other counter. As luck would have it, you’re passed onto Alicia. Of course you’d never cheat on your girlfriend. This relationship finally looks like marriage. But you tell yourself that just like shopping, you know what you want to buy but you still look around, right? That’s only human. For a brief moment Alicia stands there in her navy blue polo shirt, then she wets her lips. In the background some workers lift things from the mountainous shelves. You imagine playing a game of tennis with her, that’d be great.

“Morning sir, did you find everything that you wanted?” she asks you as your eyes meet.

You pause for a moment and come up with a really good answer to that question.

“Yes, I’ve got everything thank you.”

Alicia smiles and starts finding bags for everything. You pay by card. As Alicia keys in the amount, you really stare at her, then she swings around; catching you red-handed.

“If you’d like to verify the amount and enter your pin sir,” she says.

This isn’t going too well.

You really want to think of something suave to say, but you can’t. What’s up with you? You just smile at her instead. Alicia looks a little confused. Your precious ego’s shattered. You’re humiliated. You take out the card and say goodbye. As she serves the next customer she looks at you from the corner of her eye. It’s a little sly you think. You’ve still got it, you remind yourself. She’s a pro, probably had people mentally undressing her for most of her young life. As you near the exit, you turn your attention to a girl whose nametag reads Charlene. She hands you their Autumn catalogue. They have a lingerie section, you’ll give that a good study when you get back home and Buddha willing, eventually paint the front door.

From just over your left shoulder you hear some commotion over the authenticity of a blind dog. What happens next is unbelievable. Or at least, a bad coincidence. It’s Butternut-Squash Head. Having now dragged himself from the wreck, probably rushing to work, he stands there in his uniform still fuming. That’s commitment, if nothing else.

You walk hurriedly to your car and start it up. It’s fine, looks like he didn’t notice. You’ll need some food before you start work on anything else though. You drive across the concrete expanse of parked cars and head to the nearest drive thru.

Luckily you only have to head into the next parking section. Before you are able to drive up to the menu, a board reassures you that the food’s “100% real food”. To keep you entertained, they’ve left cute plastic dinosaurs amongst the surrounding plants and chips of wood. Eventually you saddle up to the window and collect it. Once you’re passed the brown paper meal bag, you take extra care putting it down. You don’t want to get sauce on the seat again.

You pull off the plastic casing of the straw and throw anything unnecessary out of the window. Doesn’t matter, someone’s going to pick it up. Their job’s bad enough anyway, they’re hardly going to get picky over that. Ready to feast you park up again. While your body digests it all you feel a little tired and wait there for a minute yawning and stretching.

Something in the distance approaches. Its shadow briefly pans on the dashboard, then just as quickly, you’re yanked from your seat. It’s Butternut Squash Head. His head seems to be throbbing. He hooks you in the gut before connecting a fist with your head. You fall on the floor. You lay there a moment a little dazed. Before you can do anything, a woman runs to him and yanks his arm. Like he’s there defending her honour or something stupid. Her face, although animated, looks worn, but her breasts bounce up and down as she screams to Butternut Squash Head, who’s already moving away rapidly back through the maze of cars. You get up on your elbows ready to find the prick, as tiny specks of grit fall from your shirt. In the heat of moment, you hardly took note of it, too preoccupied to really stare; the girl looks a perfect match for an older Claudia Corbbett. It was possible. Anything was possible really. That shatters that fantasy. But at least you knew what happened to people like her now. After a quick glance to make sure you’re still breathing, she’s gone too. Maybe Butternut Squash Head was on his lunch break. You know where he works, he knows that too. You’ll be back.

You go back home and paint the door. You’re pretty pissed off though. You crack opem a beer and while you drink it, you recall the events of the morning. You can’t believe that Butternut Squash Head had the audacity to do that. You sink into the depths of the seat, take another swig and imagine really fucking him up. Yeah, that’d be good. Make him taste the grit.

You’ve told yourself that you’d quit smoking a thousand times, but you’re so pissed off now you grab another nail from the packet. It calms you down slightly. Then suddenly you hear the keys in the lock and stub the cigarette out and putting what’s left into your pocket. Your girlfriend stands there at the door, like a hound sniffing out cocaine.

“The door’s looking good… Why can I smell cigarette smoke?”

“Don’t know, I bumped into an old mate earlier, who stank of the stuff. How was your day love?”

Your girlfriend stands there in the door speechless. You stare across the carpet; the catalogue you picked up earlier is there, folded open at the lingerie section. But she’s a woman of the world, not some precious character from a Victorian romance novella. No it’s something beyond tobacco filled air and possible self-appreciation.

“Was your day good then love? I picked up the wine,” you add.

“Your head…” she says.

“Oh yeah, hit it on the door knob when I was painting didn’t I.”

“No really, your head…” she says, still speechless.

You take the last swig of your can and rise up to the mirror. Your head, it’s throbbing and looks like the beginnings of a perfectly ripe Butternut Squash. Your girlfriend takes two steps back. It’s really throbbing now. You stare at the can and read the back label and spit out all you’re able. You close your eyes. This must be a bad dream, this is impossible. Could it have been something in that fried food? That sauce was a little funky. You run outside, then back inside feeling your head. You smash your phone against the wall. If you’re dead, it’s not too bad, nor worth the fear anyway. This is how it was though? It’s all little strange. Maybe it’s purgatory? Just don’t look in the mirror, whatever you do don’t look in the mirror. You run to the car, this isn’t quite over.

Momentarily you consider switching on the radio, but with the risk of bad music, makes your head violently pulsate. Another trip back, you park up and wait outside Butternut Squash Head’s place of work, though Butternut Squash Head sounds a little ironic coming from you now. Like the beautiful distraction she is, Alicia steps outside, she stares at you in the car, but quickly looks away. With less of a spotlight, you see Claudia Corbett waiting. She doesn’t look so bad. She shouldn’t be in this place. She should be in a high-rise career in London, Paris, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, or what not. You want to tell her that now. Eventually a man comes out and she wraps her arms around him, like a child to their blanket.

The man looks a little like Butternut Squash Head. But his head seems a little deflated now. A man ready to get lucky and have dinner cooked for him. You want things to be like that again, you want to hand him back the curse and you get out and slam the door. With no pun intended, it suddenly dawns on you that maybe this is all in your head. It’s a coincidence, people can’t really go around with heads that morph to vegetables can they? God, your head hurts too.

There’s a sudden clanking sound like another car’s trying to mount yours, as you turn your head a 4×4 veers itself from the now dented side of your car and you’re catapulted across the bonnet, rolling on the broken glass of the 4×4, tearing your skin across it, like your name’s Iggy Pop. Before the driver can stop, they smack into a signpost, with the clunk of twisted metal and once again you fly forward through the air now; you see flashes of things, a vapor of blood, a swarm of hungry seagulls above, a skyline that looks more beautiful now than it ever could have been, some horrorstricken shoppers, then you hit the floor. A surge of pain arrives followed by numbness.

The day really was full of surprises. You flicker your eyes, you hear someone screaming. Shut up you idiot, you think. Your mind goes somewhere else. This is what you imagine it’s like to be able to meditate like one of those monks. It’s like you’re in bed again, stuck in the dream with that exciting taste of fresh love.

You want to laugh, this is where we’re all going, what we spend our time trying to prolong, are supposed to be afraid of? Something’s running thin and there is neither light, nor sun. From somewhere else, you laugh. Yes, there was something strange about the day, similar to others but at the same time very odd.

Very odd indeed.

Profile: Gwil James Thomas

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