Table Manners – Cheryl Markosky

People get a kick out of Miss Mochi Cakes getting a kick out of food. She sits on the deck, legs dangling. Squeezing a slippery mango, carroty juices trickle down her thighs. Resembling Octopus brains – so Miss Mochi Cakes surmises without any Cephalopoda expertise – the slick flesh will make spines tingle. Miss Mochi Cakes has power over those craving her mango sucking. She slurps forbidden fruit like a babe sups mother’s milk.

Miss Mochi Cakes washes off the gummy syrup. No one would know she wasn’t in the Caribbean; she’s in close-up with a potted palm on her friend’s boat in Hackney. Miss Mochi Cakes posts today’s mango fest on her Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response videoblog. Grown men will whimper, recalling their mothers coring peaches, husking sweetcorn, scooping ice cream.

Known as Miss Mochi Cakes, the siren of stimulation is Maggie in real life. A hint of Japanese exotica helps sell foodie-licious dreams.

Miss Mochi Cakes is a serious ASMR artist. Scrolling through comments from her 9.73 million fans, she revels in praise for scraping avocadoes from skins and whirling spiralised courgettes.

Yet, there’s one unhappy customer.

Magneto Man – once an ardent disciple – whines disapproval.

‘Your squelchy jelly isn’t squelchy enough.’

‘Your hand-ladled Stichelton isn’t supple enough.’

At first, Miss Mochi Cakes deflates like a Victoria sponge let down by baking powder past its sell-by date. Then, she fights back.

‘Okay, buddy,’ Miss Mochi Cakes announces. ‘I’ll give you livery and lathery. Squidgy and squashy. I’ll touch every one of your nerve endings.’

* * *

Maggie/Miss Mochi Cakes spoons soup into the stroke-slackened mouth of her mother, who’s in the flat’s only bedroom. Maggie sleeps on a futon in the kitchen, bringing her closer to invented Japanese roots. It’s not cultural appropriation, she reasons. It’s good marketing.

Her mother’s distressed. Maggie feels guilt that she doesn’t understand, and anger her mother doesn’t understand her either.

An orderly person, Maggie’s mom hates spillage. Maggie steers broth between her mother’s gums, but liquid trembles down her chin. ‘Hey, Mum, it’s okay if you dribble.’

* * *

When Maggie was young, she had food reveries, forking mashed potato into Close Encounters of the Third Kind piles. Sucking spaghetti fervently, smattering tomato sauce over the walls.

Her mother reprimanded her. ‘Don’t play with your food. And use your serviette.’ It was always serviette; Maggie’s mum reckoned it sounded posher than napkin.

Maggie’s preoccupation with food sculpture meant work as a photoshoot stylist, until she was fired for being too messy. Tablescaping was the next failed venture. ‘In your hands it’s table-trashing,’ declared the boss sacking her. Things finally came good with Maggie’s quirky ASMR films.

She wishes her father could witness her success. He laughed when she mucked about with food. But his sense of humour evaporated the day he left to attend a conference, from which he never returned. Like Magneto Man, she tries to put him out of her mind.

* * *

Despite Maggie’s mother’s presence and 10 million staunch followers, she’s lonely. The only person she sees regularly is Ocado delivery man Steve. She calls him Mr Substitution, because he brings lemon toilet cleaner instead of fresh lemons.

‘Today, it’s a stuffed chicken toy instead of a roast chicken with stuffing,’ he says.

‘Shall I tear it open and do crazy things with the stuffing?’ She realises this could offer Magneto Man something new to hate.

‘Keep the fluffy chicken. It might cheer up your mom.’

Steve’s a good guy. Along with lugging grocery orders up five flights, he helps Maggie with technical problems when she’s recording. He even regularly says hello to her mother.

‘What’s the dish of the day?’ he asks.

‘I’m going East European,’ she explains, hoping to regain Magneto Man’s adoration.

She presses on with perogies – dumplings stuffed with cheese and mashed potato. Glistening in butter, topped off with lardons and sour cream.

Steve polishes off two helpings before descending the graffitied staircase to his van.

Magneto Man isn’t as accommodating. ‘It’s nul points from me,’ he taunts, channelling his inner Eurovision Song Contest judge.

* * *

Miss Mochi Cakes goes into a frenzy creating Choucroute Garnie, apple strudel and American pancakes drenched in Quebecois maple syrup. Salmon en croute, lamb tagine with fragrant couscous, and pistachio macarons. Herb sauces pour lasciviously from on high, hollandaise smothers perfectly cooked eggs.

A week of world cuisine for blogs that Magneto Man disregards, his comments becoming more hostile.

‘Miss Mochi Cakes, you’re a washed-up cow.’

She’s so exhausted at the end of the ethnic blog sequence, she collapses next to her mother’s bed. Lacking energy to crawl onto her futon.

* * *

The next day, Steve arrives with items Maggie doesn’t recall ordering.

‘More substitutions?’

‘Time to rediscover the magic of ingredients,’ Steve suggests.

He places an egg in the palm of her hand. Its fragility touches her. She feels the reassuring weight of a potato. Rings of an onion bring a mathematical joy she’s lost in her ASMR fog.

Steve slices a fresh baguette, butters it and layers French jambon inside.

Maggie starts to switch on the camera. Steve grabs her arm. ‘Don’t record anything. Don’t make food crackle, scratch or ooze. Just taste it.’

Maggie bites the perfect collation: salty butter combines with pickle in the best ham sandwich she’s ever had.

‘Not bad for a trainee chef, eh?’ Steve divulges that he’s studying at Leiths School of Food and Wine. ‘How about we make food that people can actually eat.’

He greets Maggie’s mother from the bedroom door. ‘All right then, Mrs Mochi?’

Maggie’s mother smiles crookedly. She’s always happy to see Mr Substitution.

Her mother chokes in a small voice. ‘Take her out.’

Steve clutches Maggie’s hand and steers her away from the apartment.

Away from Miss Mochi Cakes’ food cornucopias.

Away from taunts from Magneto Man, who will soon be chucked off social media after he’s outed by other women he’s hounded, too.

Away from trying to please invisible ghosts in her life.

Maggie smiles, licking a blob of butter off her finger.

‘Manners, Maggie. Always remember your manners,’ Steve gently chides.

Cheryl Markosky’s a Canadian-born journalist of Italian/Polish origin, splitting her time between the UK and Caribbean island of Nevis. She’s written for various newspapers and magazines, and ghost-written two books. New to the world of flash fiction, she’s been attending workshops run by Jude Higgins, Nancy Stohlman and Retreat West.

Image via Pixabay

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