My Work Is Outside the Box
First published online 23 June 2007
And there came an time when my stomach was at its most vulnerable following a period of diarrhoea, and I decided, against all sane judgement, to become a food taster at a capitalist concern in Northern England. Short of work, short of sense, indeed short of scruples, I wheedled my way to the inner sanctum of the Board Room, passing, in turn, their sweet and sour products over my palate with what looked like artist’s brushes, then evaluating each one with words placed on my tongue by decades of being high-blown and high-flown, if fundamentally low-born.
“This substance has the surface taste of savoury spearmint but the undercurrents of gum blood,” I reported. So, naturally, it was discarded as toothpaste, but used later (waste not, want not) in a highly secret recipe for the vampire market.
On that now infamous occasion when a new line was about to be launched, the Board of Directors snorted as they sat around the polished oval table, closely scrutinised by the framed oilshots of countless generations of their snag-toothed ancestors. As the Directors each partook of the new line’s samples, I caught just the odd puff of wind surreptitiously broken from below the bespoke hangings of their behinds. They awaited my final decision, to ascertain if it was poison or provender. Looking like a flattened peeled prawn to give fullest effect, it was to be make-or-break in marketing terms. If this pink wad did not sell like their previous market leader, Crimson Crunchies, the whole flapdoodle of the family firm would certainly go bust.
Centuries of careful, pedestrian, painstaking Methodists had, of course, laid the foundations of the business on the back of blood-drop sweets and raspberry enema. All this would end up, if the new line failed, with the factory gates clanged shut and the workers, left inside, loyally continuing to stir the rumbling vats of scarlet slime for decades to come without pay.
The Directors looked up at me from their individual platters, slowly relinquishing the masquerade of tasting the firm’s new line in bouts of choleric self-importance. One spat a gobbet into the communal slop bucket under the boardroom table. I fingered the pink wad. It seemed to wriggle under the touch, but I knew it was dead, having killed it myself with my bare teeth. I had indeed been attendant at every stage of its manufacture with the initial excision from the mother body, through the intricate insertions of several specially incubated cultures, to the end process of plunging it from the anus upwards at such a pressure it could not help but slowly surge towards the gullet whilst assuming all the aspects of inverse digestion—which would eventually be its uniqueness at the very pitch of sale on the mongers’ slabs.
“Wait!” The bark was urgent. I looked up to see the Chairman slavering like an oven-ready pig in labour. His sodden whiskers drooped and his lips were fast clamming together with some unexpected recoil of earlier sampling. His eyes stood out on raw stalks, so as to bring my image closer.
“Yes, Sir?” I tried to cast my register between irritation at the interruption and humility that only employees sure of their position can master.
“The firm’s prayer—we have not said the firm’s prayer.” The Chairman’s eyes boggled at the thought of this near omission. So, heads were lowered in unison, whilst I, from time to time, glanced up to ensure nobody was breaking the code of the prayer’s blind solemnity. The Chairman intoned the words at a pace that threatened to overtake itself, spinning so slowly that his rattling ball of phlegm could find no lodgement in fleshy hole or socket. “May God make us truly thankful for what we are about to feed the masses. We nourish the world, so that we can nourish ourselves.” He sneaked a glimpse through his flickering eyelids to ensure the monkish contemplation of the rest of the Directors. Thankfully, my head was lowered at that point. “We give taste, where there is blandness. We give substance, where there is air. We give extrusion, where there is constipation…”
On and on it went. In the old days, the firm’s share price was suspended for the interim. I took a peek at the mother pink wad. It had gone! Crawled from the saucer! I surreptitiously peered beneath the table and saw it stuck fast like bubble gum. The prayer droned on. “We give texture, where there are slops. We give lights, where there are grits.” One ancient Director, who seemed as if he had once emerged from a swamp, was already belly-up and rasberry rippled. I lowered my head and joined in with the prayer: “Where there is death, we give life. Where there is life, we give death. Amen.”
I felt within me a new force that would replace the abortion under the table—a different new line even at this moment seething up from the very lips of my lungs—something that would burp babies better than croup liver oil. Something we could put in the free school milk to make it look like diluted blancmange. But it turned out to be a virulent common cold germ that I knew was incurable—so incurable, of course, the body from which it suffered entered a spasm of optimum rebirth as a huge pulsing lobsterish thing with fangs. Brainstorming, which prevailed almost instantaneously, proved, however, that it possessed nothing like the potential marketability of its regurgitated afterbirth which probably had a residual gestation period exceeding my many residual years of child-bearing, if not the rest of my life. Purple-people eaters. Neatly packaged in long wooden boxes.