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Fork Prongs

Emily Black

His skin smells of chlorine because he’s been at the pool. Slumped against me shirtless, we’re watching cartoons. He stares at the screen, and I stare at his skin. He laughs and bats my shoulder with his palm. One of his eyes sits higher than the other.

‘You already eat?’ I ask.

He shakes his head. 

‘Hungry?’

Shrugs.

‘Want to get food?’

‘Yeah, could do.’

‘Italian?’

‘Uh huh.’

 

I get up from the sofa and call my friend Benji, who lives at Ladbroke Grove. I tell him to meet us at a restaurant on Kensington High Street. He’ll bring his girlfriend Scarlett, who he calls Scarl. To me, it sounds like Scowl.

‘Babe we’re going to meet Benji and Scarlett,’ I tell him, making his plans for him. I know he thinks Scarlett is a predator, six years older than Benj—when you’re in your early twenties, every year counts.

 

‘Where we going?’

‘Kensington. Twenty-minute walk.’

 

He leans back into the sofa and stretches, flexing the flat plane of his stomach. There are people walking above us, scurrying. Fat ankles; trainers; scooters. Our basement flat keeps us sheltered and gives us a nest, from which we observe the flat grey of London.

I pull my hair up and separate my greasy fringe. Red lipstick—smack—and deodorant under the pits.

‘Ready babe?’ he asks. He’s put a shirt on, which hangs from his frame. Yes.

 

Benji and Scarlett are leant on the wall outside the Italian. I can’t tell if they’re making out, or just talking.

 

‘Hey Kate!’ 

Just talking. No need to wait at an awkward distance until they get off each other.

‘Benj, Scarl,’ I nod. Scarlett nods too, looking me up and down. Her hair hangs loose around her shoulders, and she wears rust coloured eyeshadow. I think she sees me wince.

We’re seated near the window of the Italian, and they bring us olive oil and balsamic vinegar with bread for dipping. I stuff a slice of cloud into the oil and chew. My guy and Benji are talking about work, whilst Scarlett and I eat. The waiter brings us rosé and asks me to try it. I swirl the glass and take a sip, looking to the boys for help. Benj nods, and I say, ‘Yeah, it’s good.’

‘Can I get you something to eat?’ the waiter asks.

‘Please,’ my boyfriend says. He points at the aubergine rigatoni like a child, ‘The pasta, and a side of calamari?’

 

The waiter nods. ‘And for the lady?’

I’m staring at the menu.

‘Oh no, she won’t know what she wants yet, give her a second.’

Benji orders lobster, to show off how much money he makes, and Scarlett gets a pizza. Everyone is looking at me. I pretend not to notice and continue to scan the menu.

‘Madam?’

‘Yes, yes.’

‘You should try the lobster,’ Benj says, probably being snide about my salary.

‘The pasta?’ my boyfriend suggests, putting his hand on my thigh.

‘Could I get the same pizza as her.’ I point at Scarlett.

 

He nods and collects our menus.

‘How was work?’ Benj asks. 

‘Fine,’ I say. ‘This week was busy because of external deadlines, but then I get bored when we’re not busy.’

‘Consultancy is a doss,’ Scarlett says.

I shrug. ‘Not really.’

‘Good pay though,’ my guy chips in.

‘Not yet.’

‘You should get into banking,’ Benj says.

‘I can’t count,’ I scoff.

‘You don’t need to.’ He winks.

We toast to the four of us being together with the thin pink rosé—although I’m not quite sure of the significance of the four of us. An unknown quartet.

‘What happened to that job you were chasing in tech consultancy? Embankment office, right?’

I swill the wine. ‘Rejected it.’

‘Thought you took it.’

‘I did, but then I called back to say I didn’t want it, before I signed any contract.’

‘They let you do that?’ Scarlett asks.

I nod. The job was for a great big consultancy firm, known for working with billion-pound companies who want to know whether hiring more consultants will help. But I panicked and decided to stay in my grad role, because I couldn’t picture the people I’d be working with, and that scared me. The pay isn’t great, but they tell me it should be one day.

Scarlett starts talking about something to do with her boss and how he’s fucking her co-worker, which is apparently rich from him given he’s running a programme called ‘empowering women in the workplace’. But I’m not listening, because I’m eyeing up a plate of prawns belonging to a woman on the table behind.

‘Kate?’ my boy questions.

My torso is twisted to view their weird pink exoskeletons. ‘Excuse me,’ I say, gesturing to our waiter who’s walking past, tray in hand. ‘Could I change my order?’

He looks flustered.

‘The prawns please. Whatever that is.’ I point at the woman, who stops chewing for a moment to stare at me, contorted to look at her.

The waiter nods. ‘Of course.’

‘Oh Kate,’ Benj tuts, ‘Can’t choose what to order, and did first-year three times—in three different subjects—before you stuck with business management.’

‘That’s a lot of debt,’ Scarlett says.

‘Got there eventually didn’t I.’ I balloon my cheeks with another swig of wine.

‘Little baby, you are,’ he teases.

My guy looks momentarily mad. Then it clears.

Our food arrives, and there’s steam and sloppy pizza cheese, a large shiny lobster and purple aubergine covered in flakes of parmesan. My man bites into his calamari and it makes a horrible snapping sound. He offers me some, but I shake my head. ‘Yours is on its way,’ the waiter says, nodding at me.

‘I wish I got the pizza,’ I say glumly, eyeing up Scarlett’s plate. She lets me eat a slice, and the waiter points out I have tomato on my chin when he brings me my prawns. They look alien, and more dead than seafood really should.

My guy gets drunk, and you can see it suddenly come over him. His voice low and assertive, chatting shit about how we need to do this more often. ‘You know, we don’t make enough time for you guys,’ he says, twirling pasta on his fork even though it’s not spaghetti.

We don’t have enough time for ourselves, I think, yet alone our random couple friends. I nibble a prawn. Benj laughs at me because apparently I’m eating them wrong. I drop my fork on the floor and it clatters loudly. The diners turn to look at me, including the lady who ordered the dish originally, now halfway out the door.

I lean down to pick up the cutlery, and the blood rushes to my head; the booze cutting to my brain. I look at the shiny silver prongs of the fork, splitting off into four. Four different routes coming off the main prong which holds it together: something to cling onto. An origin story.

‘You get lost down there?’ my man says when I come up for air, fork in hand.

‘Almost.’ I finish my last prawn.

I have too much wine and start talking about when my parents got divorced, and how I chose to go and live with Mum because I thought that was what little girls did—follow their mother. Scarlett is staring out the window, and my man is watching me. But I’m telling the story to Benji really. I tell him how when I was eighteen, I’d wished I went to go and live with my dad, because my mum and I spent all day barking at each other, but by that time it was too late because Dad had a new lady.

‘Shall we get the bill?’ Scarlett asks.

‘And it was weird, because I never saw myself wanting to live with Dad, and maybe I didn’t, but there’ll always be that part of me who’ll wonder.’

‘I think you mean that’ll wonder,’ Benj says.

‘No, I mean who.’

The waiter appears, and Scarlett asks for the bill. It’s dusty and purple outside, and there’s half a bottle of rosé left, but I don’t remember us ordering a third.

We split the bill, and I’m pissed off because we all end up subsidising Benji’s lobster, even though he ordered it because he’s the only one who can afford it.

 

My guy ordered us a taxi and is now in the loo. I lean against the wall outside the Italian with Scarlett and Benj. We’re silent in the half-dark.

‘Want to come back with us?’ Benji asks.

I cock my head. Scarlett says nothing, just stares.

‘You know what I mean Kate,’ he says, ‘Have a little fun, us three? Me, you, Scarl.’

‘I don’t do that stuff,’ I say, looking at the pavement.

‘Yeah you do,’ Benj says.

‘Nah.’

‘Yeah.’

‘My boyfriend’s in there,’ I say. ‘Why are you asking? You know I’ll say no.’

‘He’s too drunk to notice. You can head back in the morning; he’ll still be asleep. Put him in his taxi. We can walk back, us three.’

Benj always gets like this after a drink.

I linger, imagining the other side of the night; the arch of his brows and Scarlett’s pink-sting lipstick. Her copper eyeshadow rubbing off on my body. Scarlett is hot, but I’d hate for her to think I fancy her.

He appears from inside the restaurant, swinging the door open and breaking the peace. Benj coughs and says, ‘Your taxi should be here. We’re going to walk back.’

I nod, and turn to my man. ‘Come on babe, time to go home.’

We leave and get in our ride. My man rests his head against my shoulder as I give the driver our address. The world outside is lurid and fake. Traffic lights are green, then as we approach, they change their mind. The aircon is on inside the car, even though it’s cold. The radio plays.

It’s always there, that delicious itch to imagine the other plane; the other side of my two dimensional being. Every alternative and every possibility strung into the arc of my life; the directions which emerge from each finger and each way I could possibly point; the head is the helm.

On the ride home the songs on the radio sound so good, like they’re salty and I can taste them. I haven’t felt this way in a while.

I picture Scarlett’s copper eyes and imagine kissing her lips. Benji and I slept together before I was with my man—we call them the bad old days, sticky with nostalgia and bar filth. He was still with Scarlett back then, and I’d followed them to a bar because I was lonely. Scarlett left early, citing being older. I think she knew what was going to happen and didn’t care. Benji fucked me on the sofa whilst she slept next door. He was gruff and exactly as I expected him to be in bed. An illusion was somewhat ruined—one I’d never consciously known I had. I remember the texture of their rugged woven throw on my back. I felt drunk and peaceful, but when he stood up and flipped me over, I said I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t like the thought of Scarlett asleep, and I wanted to go home and be by myself. ‘You’re so indecisive,’ he said, and carried on.  

 

Light filters through the slit in the thick curtains, and my man’s body is hot against mine. ‘Morning,’ he croaks.

‘Morning.’

‘Last night was heavy.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Got to get up and get ready for work.’ He nods to himself. His breath smells, and chlorine somehow still lingers on his skin.

‘Yeah.’

I think of all the ways I could’ve woken up that morning: with Scarlett; Benj; alone. But I’m here, in my own bed with my man, and I chose this fork today, this delicate prong of life.


Emily holds an MA in creative writing; her work has appeared on The Litro Lab Podcast, in The Tilt, Ellipses Zine, The Final Girls, The York Journal, Ginosoko Journal, and Disgraceful Magazine. She was longlisted for the LYB Tate Prize and The White Review Short Story Prize 2021. She’s currently based in West London.

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