Continuing our series of short stories set in, or influenced by, London. This week, Clare Kane describes a party with a provocative sushi bar.
The girl lay across the bar, maki rolls carefully arranged down her front like chakras. I say girl, but really it was just a motionless, hairless body spread across the bar, its eyes open but rolled back and vacant, like the soul that once inhabited the figure had gone. I reached gingerly across her abdomen to take a cocktail menu. Matching nigiris covered her nipples. I studied the menu, trying to tear my eyes away from her flaxen limbs, and most especially from her shorn, plastic crotch, as lifeless as a Barbie's, and delicately decorated with two prawn rolls.
James was having a Japanese leaving party because he was being sent to the bank's Tokyo office for eighteen months. The years of all-nighters at Goldman's and JP Morgan, weekends locked in stuffy meeting rooms and evenings enduring small talk in painfully cool Shoreditch hotels had finally paid off for him. We hadn't talked about what this meant for our fledgling relationship, but I now knew that if this was what he expected from Japan, we probably wouldn't survive the distance. A clutch of dates and sugary compliments probably couldn't compete with California rolls on flesh trays. I had never met any of James' friends and now I was regretting coming to the party, especially as I hadn't spotted him yet. There were a lot of attractive women milling around. Maybe I wasn't the only one who wondered what Tokyo would mean for my fragile romantic hopes. I cleared my throat and asked the bartender for a sake cocktail. He took my order nonchalantly, unaware of the sleeping beauty under him, his elbow grazing her ribs as he took the menu back from me. I studied her cherubic face and wondered what her normal job was. A model? A dancer? A prostitute? Or were breathing trays so popular these days that you could make a living from being one?
I took a sip of the sake cocktail and felt someone sidle up behind me at the bar. I hoped it might be James, but the smell of wine and perspiration wasn't his. The boorish man pushed me further down the bar, so I was now at the girl's feet. He had a skinny companion with him, who looked hungrily at the sushi arrangement.
“Wouldn't mind a bite of that, would you?” the first man said, digging his elbow into his friend's side as the two let their eyes graze over the motionless body. The man reached out a chubby finger and removed one of the nigiris. A pink nipple stood to attention under the air conditioning. His friend mumbled in agreement. I took another swig of my bitter cocktail and was shocked to catch a flash of hot malice in the girl’s eyes. I couldn't imagine what it must be like for the breathing platter under the men. I wanted to lift a maki roll off her shin, but felt it would be an invasion, and a little unsisterly, so I balanced my drink on the bar and wished for James to arrive.
The two men got to work picking sushi off important body parts, stripping the girl of her modest coverings. They laughed together, flakes of rice sticking to the corners of their mouths and sake dripping down their shirts.
“This is so James,” one of them said. “Naked girls lying on the bar! Don't even need to buy anyone a drink.”
Was that really so James? I should never have come to this party. James could have been just another aborted romance, one more failed coupling I could mourn. But now he would be the sushi pervert, forever and always. I caught sight of the girl's fingers twitching. Her nails had been bitten down to the beds, an ugly contrast to the placid perfection of her body. So the human plate wasn’t totally unblemished, I thought. Maybe she even had feelings. It was the first movement she had made, so I fixed my eyes on her.
She heaved herself up, letting sushi flop onto the bar and crumble in fishy pieces to the floor. Then, balancing on the edge of the bar, she lunged at the fat man and sank her teeth into his thigh, incisors cutting through the acrylic of his suit trousers. He yelped and gestured to the barman.
“She bit me!” He hopped on one foot, miming outrage.
The breathing platter turned to him and said coldly: “I just thought I wouldn't mind a bite of that.” Then she leapt off the bar and ran, her buttocks clapping together as she fled. Without knowing what I was doing I slammed my glass down on the bar and followed her, skipping behind, feeling the rush of exhilaration from her freedom. I saw her disappear behind a side door and just then felt someone bump into me.
“Hey, do you like the party?” It was James. He had arrived late to his own party, just as he arrived late to all our dates. But this sushi platter wasn’t offering up neatly packaged rolls of patience anymore.
“No. I don't like it at all,” I said, taking the stairs to the exit two at a time, feeling as happy as a plate that has become a person.
Down in the bowels of the Circle Line I was still shaking with the pleasure of ditching James and replaying the girl’s liberation in my mind, the bite that freed her from the misery of being human decoration, when I looked up from my reverie and saw her standing on the opposite platform. Now dressed slouchily in a leather jacket and jeans, her perfect limbs hidden, she beamed across the rails at me as her train pulled in, the warmest, most human smile I’d ever seen.
We’re still looking for London short fiction stories. Please continue to send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
NEW: Over the next month or two, as a special theme, we're particularly looking for stories in which London is destroyed.
Previously in this series
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairytale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer's buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.