Moore fictional food from LorrieJune 20, 2009
Another taste of food-in-fiction from the superlative Lorrie Moore, still from this old collection Like Life.
This from a story called Joy, where Jane works in a midwestern shopping mall, in a cheese shop called Swedish Isle. Her job is to proffer samples of cheese spreads and dips on crackers out in front of the shop.
She liked the customer contact. “Care to try our chive-dill today?” she would ask brightly. She felt like Molly Malone, only friendlier and no cockles or mussels; no real seafood for miles. This was the deep Midwest. Meat sections in the grocery stores read: BEEF, PORK, and FISH STICKS.
“Free?” people would ask and pick up a cracker or a bread square from her plastic tray.
“Sure is.” She would smile and watch their faces as they chewed. If it was a man she thought was handsome, she’d say, “No. A million dollars,” and then giggle in the smallest, happiest way. Sometimes the beggars – lost old hippies and mall musicians- would come in and line up, and she would feed them all, like Dorothy Day in a soup kitchen.
Jane runs into an old high school friend in the mall.
“Bridey, you look great. What have you been up to?” It seemed a ridiculous question to ask of someone you hadn’t seen since high school, but there it was.
“Well, last year I fell madly in love,” Bridey said with great pride. This clearly was on the top of her list, and her voice suggested it was a long list. “And we got married, and we moved back to town after roughing it on the South Side of Chicago since forever. It’s great to be back here, I can tell you.” Bridey helped herself to a cheddar sample and then another one. The cheese in her mouth stuck between her front teeth in a pasty, yellowish mortar, and when she swallowed and smiled back at Jane, well, again, there it was, like something unfortunate but necessary.
At the end, Jane’s colleague Heffie quits work at the shop, “but the day she did she brought in a bottle of champagne, and she and Jane drank it right there on the job”.
They poured it into Styrofoam cups and sipped it, crouching behind the deli case, craning their necks occasionally to make sure no customers had wandered in.
“To our little lives,” toasted Heffie.
“On the prairie,” added Jane. The champagne fizzed against the roof of her mouth. She warmed it there, washing it around, until it flattened, gliding down her throat, a heated, sweet water.
She and Heffie opened a jar of herring in a cream sauce, which had a messily torn label. They dug their fingers in and ate. They sang a couple of Christmas carols they both knew, and sang them badly.
Inside the deli case, the dry moons of the cheeses and the mucky spreads usual plastic tags: HELLO MY NAME IS. Jane reached in and plucked out one that said, HELLO MY NAME IS Swiss Almond Whip.
“Here,” she said to Heffie. “This is for you.” Heffie laughed, gravelly and loud, then took the tag and stuck it in one of her barrettes, up near the front, where the hair was vanishing, and the deforested scalp shone back in surprise, pale but constant, beneath.
Long extract, I know, but I couldn’t resist.