by Ron Hardwick
My colleague Blanchard asked me to have lunch with him. I occasionally dined with him at a charity shop that sold soup and rolls cheaply. The charity shop was shut.
‘We’ll go to the Good Earth Store,’ he said, brightly. I recalled the place. It had an Airstream caravan in the front yard and was as pretentious as Liberace’s hairstyle. To maintain its planet-saving credentials (everything was ‘sustainable’), it was all brick walls, stone floors, stripped pine tables and uncomfortable chairs. It reminded you of a sanatorium for tuberculosis-sufferers.
The place was packed, full of earnest, middle-class women and bearded men who looked like Billy Connolly. The women were all devoid of make-up. Many were reading socially acceptable texts. A scattering of young children ran around the tables, making a terrific din on the stone floor. The staff were mainly unshaven young eco-warriors in shorts and sandals.
The soup of the day was carrot, coriander and marrow. You had to pay before you could eat.
‘Don’t they do proper soup?’ I asked Blanchard.
‘Only one soup left,’ said the cashier.
‘Couldn’t you open another tin?’ I asked.
Grumbling, I ordered the soup and Blanchard decided on something far more expensive; a panini sandwich of goat’s cheese, dill and parma ham. The bill came to ten pounds ten pence. There was an awkward silence whilst I waited for Blanchard to offer to go halves. His jaws remained as tightly shut as a bull terrier’s. Eventually, I handed over a twenty-pound note from my dwindling store.
Blanchard said: ‘I can help.’
‘Hallelulah,’ I breathed.
‘I’ve got ten pence here,’ he said. Indeed he had and he handed it over. I received the tenner change. I turned my attention to the cashier.
‘Your prices are a bloody disgrace. You’re supposed to be saving the planet, not bankrupting it.’
‘Our pricing strategy is generally enough to keep the riff-raff out of here.’ He looked pointedly at me.
Blanchard picked up a huge block of wood and made for the one vacant table.
‘What’s that for?’ I asked him, peevishly.
‘It’s got a number carved into it, and you stand it up on the table so that the waiter knows who to serve.’
‘For God’s sake,’ I retorted, ‘It’s not the Savoy Grille.’
The waiter, a bulky chap wearing a headband, sailed by the table twice, not noticing the wooden house brick standing on it.
‘Hoy, mush,’ I said, ‘I like my soup hot – I don’t need you to take it for a walk.’
He harrumphed, lumbered into the kitchen, returned and jammed my soup down on the table.
Amazingly, it was tasty, even if it did have some dubious-looking seeds floating around in it. I didn’t much like the bread. It had the consistency of a carborundum block.
As we left, Blanchard said: ‘I enjoyed that. We’ll have to do it again sometime.’
I gave him the most telling of glances as he reached in his pocket for a toothpick.
Ron Hardwick resides in East Lothian, Scotland. He has written well over two hundred short stories and pieces of flash fiction.