She was eating something, but I couldn’t see what it was because her hand was big, and she was wearing goalkeeper gloves. Because the gloves were so bulky, and she couldn’t bend her fingers to pick at her food, she had to pour whatever was in the polystyrene tray into the centre of the glove, and then feed from the glove like a cow or a pig. Her head was down but her eyes were watching me. In the bright white light of the food court, her eyes were like two black pins; they jabbed me.
My mother was cutting up her burger with a red plastic knife. She wore a pair of plastic gloves from a box that she always kept in her bag.
‘Don’t look at her,’ my mother said, smiling at her food steadily. ‘She’s probably very strange and deformed under those gloves.’
My mother was flattening her burger under her plastic-covered hand, and then, when she was ready, she picked up a very small cube of burger and held it up to the light. She put the cube near her nose and sniffed it deeply.
‘There,’ she said, luxuriously. My mother looked at me, spokes of wrinkles shooting out around her lips. She wore her favourite brooch, two sparkling cherries, on the collar of her coat. ‘Isn’t the food good?’ she said.
The girl was still staring, feeding from her hand, her tongue collecting little bits of beige and green and red. I tried not to look but my eyes kept dragging over to where she sat and my mother said, ‘Oh! Look who has a little crush!’
She waved at the girl with the goalie gloves, gesturing with her own plastic-covered hand.
When we got into the car, my mother was giggly; she said that she had forgotten to go the toilet. She needed to run back inside.
‘How could you forget that you needed the toilet?’ I asked her, but my mother was getting back out of the car and running in her little heels to the place where the department store doors were. My mother was quite old but she barely ate anything at all, so her arms and legs looked like they belonged to a child, and then attached strangely to a real mother’s head.
I fixed my eyes on the automatic doors and dared the girl with the black eyes and the goalie gloves to come outside, into the car park, but she did not appear. She must still have been feeding from her hand in the food court. When my mother returned a few minutes later, she was all pink, and she was wearing a clever, girlish expression on her face.
‘Did you enjoy your burger?’ Aunt Min shouted. My aunt was always shouting, demanding answers to questions, but she never waited for answers. She was much older than my mother, maybe even fifteen years, and her eyes were bugged, grey-blue with cataracts.
Aunt Min had problems with her legs and she was limping around pleasantly and straightening things, a glass frieze of a girl and a boy skating across a lake, pictures of my dead Uncle Louis and my fat-headed cousin, Peter. Her flat was always full of rubbish, but she kept little sections of it in pristine order. She began to reorganize a bowl of Quality Street that she kept on top of the television, counting the sweets back into the bowl by their colours. As far as I knew, those same Quality Street sweets had been in that little bowl for ten years, lined up: pink, orange, purple, green and blue.
‘What would we like to eat, hm?’ Aunt Min yelped, her filmy eyes leaking on one side.
‘I’m not hungry,’ I reminded Aunt Min, ‘I’ve just had a big burger at the department store.’
My aunt had worked in the Stockings department at the store for decades and she sometimes liked to tell stories about foods or burgers that she had eaten over the years, but now she appeared not to hear me. Her hands were still trembling over the bowl of Quality Street, as though she had become stuck there.
‘Oh, I could go for pizza,’ said my mother. She was on one of my aunt’s huge grey couches, almost submerged beneath the twenty or so embroidered pillows and the stuffed toys that surrounded her, and a small, yellow-eared dog was writhing around at her feet. I knew this dog to be called ‘Arnie.’
My aunt limped into the kitchen.
‘OMELETTE,’ she shouted, and she began crashing pans out of the cupboards.
I looked at little Arnie, his papery pink tongue. The tongue was very dry and it had chalky white lines of saliva on it.
I was feeling relatively safe on my sofa, wondering, in my head, whether my aunt ever fed the dog, or whether it survived by eating bugs and other small things. It was pleasant, watching Arnie’s thin body writhing and listening to Aunt Min shouting to herself in the kitchen, but when the dog opened its eyes they were very black, and I got a terrible surprise.
‘What is it, darling?’ my mother said, drowsily. She had kicked off her shoes and her eyes were half closed. As I watched, Arnie began to lick my mother’s ankles and chew on the end of her stocking.
‘That tickles,’ my mother said.
At the dinner table, my aunt asked, ‘Does anybody want to say Grace?’ and before anyone could answer, she shouted, ‘THANK YOU, JESUS.’
I went to pick up my fork but my mother gripped my hand. There was a noise in the hallway and Aunt Min held her head on one side, concentrating on the sound; she brushed her hair away from her ear. My aunt had an agonized expression on her face.
‘Jesus?’ she said.
Then my mother and my aunt began eating. They made many pleasure sounds as they ground the omelettes into their plates with their forks and Aunt Min kept jumping up to move things around in the kitchen, to turn on the radio and then turn it off. After a while, I saw that my mother was painting her lips with the yellow paste that she had made underneath her fork.
Arnie came into the room and looked up at the table hungrily, his malnourished tongue hanging down like an old sock, and then the doorbell rang.
Aunt Min got up from the table very quickly. I heard her shouting to somebody on the doorstep. She couldn’t seem to find out who it was and what they wanted, so she kept coming back down the corridor and into the kitchen and looking at us. My mother dabbed her yellow lips clean with a napkin and went out to the door.
I heard my mother. ‘Oh!’ she said, and then, giggling, ‘Oh! Look who has a little crush!’
My aunt came back into the room and took my shoulders. Her eyes were orgasmic in their bulging.
‘There’s a girl here to see you,’ she shouted. ‘Do you want to go out for something to eat?’
‘I’ve just had a big omelette,’ I said, and I writhed around a bit under Aunt Min’s yellow hands, until she had steered me to the door, and I felt the black eyes looking at me, jabbing me. The girl was still wearing goalie gloves, but she had taken off her jacket and now I could see that her arms were very muscular and her t-shirt said ‘I DRINK MILK’ in vine-like purple letters.
‘Are you hungry?’ the girl asked me.
I looked at the three smiling females: my mother, Aunt Min, and the girl. I had to admit that I was; I was very, very hungry.