In Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake nine-year-old Rose tastes emotions in the food she eats:
So every food has a feeling, George said when I tried to explain to him the acid resentment in the grape jelly.
I guess, I said. A lot of feelings, I said.
When she tastes her brother’s toast, with butter and jam and sprinkles of sugar, she detects something folding in on itself. At the bakery she tastes the baker’s tight anger in a chocolate chip cookie.
I always taste expectation in the first few sips of champagne. Burnt pizza tastes like meanness. The hot, fluffy flesh of a jacket potato is somewhere between laughter and sleep.
All the dinners I resisted eating when I was little: could I taste my mother’s hard work and thrift in them? I was too young to empathise with the effort required of her to keep a house, to feed and clothe three kids, to pay the rent and bills on my dad’s steelworker wage, and still put away a little each week. I am sure she went without for us. I am sure they both did.
When I was eleven I visited the Roman Baths in Bath, grown up enough to wander around the thermal spa ahead of my parents, old enough to have my own pocket money to spend in the Pump Room tea and coffee shop.
It was sitting in its own fluted white paper case and looked like a doughnut glazed with syrup; a flower of cream had been nozzled onto its crown. Its exotic name was hand-written on a folded card: Rum Baba. It had to be delicious.
At the first mouthful the cloying sweetness seemed to penetrate my teeth and gums while another flavour, probably rum essence rather than true rum, rushed like a wave of acrid disappointment to the back of my throat, my nose, and even into my eyes. These were flavours beyond the capabilities of my eleven-year-old taste buds. This was a cake from an adult world. It repelled and confused me. And I felt like crying when I left it, uneaten, on the table, the proof of my pocket money squandered.
The spa water at the Baths was laced with minerals: it made us smack our tongues against our teeth, the roofs of our mouths. Is this what the past tastes like: layers of salts and sulphur compounds, calcium, potassium, magnesium. Fissures and pathways. Hardness and softness.
Hungry Writing Prompts
- Write a list of happy food.
- Write about sleep.
- Write about the things your parents never had.
- Write about someone eating cake in a coffee shop.
- Write about hardness.
I love how you lead the reader so effortlessly into your childhood experience.
Synesthetics can see smells, hear pictures, and smell colours and numbers.
Just imagine how wonderful and sophisticated is our brain that it can file each of our sensory experience neatly into millions of files and retrieve them in a fraction of a second, making us all reel under the gush of nostalgia?! But what if they are wrongly connected to different sensory areas?
This is called ‘Synesthesia‘. It is a condition inside the brain where the sensory nerves from various sense organs bringing in different sensory experiences are wrongly [subjective judgment warning] connected to different sensory areas! And can you imagine the effect it has on the person? He can see smells, hear pictures, and smell colours and numbers! It is very true. There are a number of people in this world who can see colours when you mention a number, or when they look at objects, they either smell things or get a particular taste in their mouth that the object is in no way associated with those sensory experiences.
[Otherwise known as Spud-u-like]
Within minutes, the meal appears, but something about it feels different. The fish and the chips are good, very good in fact. But instead of the expected two slices of white bread with the merest hint of butter scrape, there is a crusty roll and two tiny oblongs of butter wrapped in gold-coloured paper. And no tea.
I decide to ask the waitress about the absent tea. She is busy and it takes some time to attract her attention and by the time I do, I’ve eaten the food. When I beckon, she stops by the counter on the way and arrives with the tea.
Do I want a sweet, she asks. No, thankyou.
We never had a sweet because my Dad did not believe in sweets, nor puddings, nor afters. Indulgent, was his word, and his other word was forbidden. And the tea went with the meal and we drank it as we ate. Too late drinking it afterwards for it to help the food go down, like.
Now that I am an adult, have travelled around the world a bit, with enough money to eat what and where I like, I have enjoyed different foods. Or, as my Dad would have said foreign muck.
Fish, chips, tea, bread and butter, though. Hard to beat.
I’ll be in tomorrow, I tell the waitress, at the same time. And I would like the same meal, please. But can you bring the tea at the same time as the rest, please?
Hi Dylan - yes, synaesthesia is something I use when I teach poetry. And I once met a woman at a writing workshop who used to see people as colours... I was a kind of silver blue (at the time) she said.
Stephen - great piece of flash fiction. Why not try and publish it?
Tonight I'm having spaghetti bolognese - I'll let you know what it tastes/feels of : )