More Spies by Steve Goodlad

Jess was five months pregnant, and though she’d already experienced some unusual cravings, the current one was something else. She wasn’t prepared to let anyone see her nibbling on a mini pork-pie while she sat on the back seat of the bus, but there and then, right at that moment a Melton Mowbray with a crunchy crust really hit the spot.

It was a mini pie, part of a pack of 12. She had three more packs in her bag and had the sort of craving that she just knew might have her calling at the supermarket on the way home for more. Jess had never smoked in her life but was sure that a nicotine craving couldn’t be any stronger than the craving she now had for mini pork-pies.

Thank goodness the bus was not busy as the plastic packaging rustled as she pulled another from its moulded casing and began to gnaw at the crust with the stealth of an addict in possession of a much-needed hit. An automated voice announced the next stop: Artillery Lane for Her Majesty’s prison Wormwood Scrubs, and here was Jess like a habitual druggie ingesting not crack cocaine but a cracking pie.

Previous cravings had included carrot sticks dipped in marmite and then one night she’d woken her husband to order a banana and tuna pizza from Just Eat. She did share it with him, though at two in the morning he didn’t seem to share her appetite. Now it was pork pies with a vengeance.

Last week, they’d gone to dinner at her brother-in-law’s. He hadn’t known about the pregnancy until then. “Blimey, who ate all the pies?” he bellowed as he saw her swollen belly and she suddenly remembered what a figure she’d had, the effort it took to stay in shape, and it all felt worth it because even in her mid-thirties she looked ten years younger and her husband adored her. So, his brother's remark stunned her to silence. She felt a pang of selfish regret as though she’d given something away rather than gained something she desired. It brought her to tears on the way home. She knew it was the hormones kicking around the self-doubts and confidence, exploiting her weaknesses. Her husband pulled the car over, told her how much he loved her and made her feel better. But the remark triggered the next craving and six days on, she still felt it.

She overheard the man on his phone a few seats ahead of her.

“Be careful, the workplace is full of spies, if word gets back…”

But all Jess heard was; “a place full of pies.”

Everywhere Jess went, there seemed to be pie references. On the TV news last night, a prominent politician had been victim to the so-called Phantom Pie Flinger. The board meeting she’d nearly slept through had used PowerPoint Pie charts to demonstrate company growth in sales. Her colleague had been chatting about going to Pilates and all Jess could think of was Pie and Latte’s.

And now she was beginning to fantasise, her destination was Brock Street in Euston, her stop would be Melton Street and she imagined a row of shops dedicated to selling her favourite brand of pork pie.

If only. As the bus continued to make its way with pies not just on the brain but now on her tongue, she was getting less concerned about keeping her addiction so carefully hidden. The few people on the upper deck were all staring ahead, so she took another pie, and at the rate she was going this packet wasn’t going to last the journey. She’d have to go back to her supplier; a Costcutter on Drummond Street. She remembered feeling paranoid as she took three packets of mini pies to the counter, and when she noticed the shop assistant spying the ‘Baby on Board’ badge pinned to her coat, she blushed profusely.

Glancing momentarily at her badge then looking down at her bump, Jess gasped and smiled as she felt a kick – then, feeling uneasy, frowned, and decided, in case this craving was a sign she had some kind of iron deficiency, to see her doctor first thing tomorrow. With guilt assuaged somewhat, Jess turned her attention back to the pie she held and, bringing it up to her mouth, took another bite. She loved how crunchy it felt when she ate it, soft and easy to chew but, yes, crunchy, so crunchy.

“Mummy, why is that lady eating a pie at this time in the morning?”

Jess looked up to see a mother and child advancing towards her down the aisle. She’d not been aware of them coming up the stairs, but the boy was giggling while the woman simply frowned. Presumably she could see the badge that Jess was wearing, and being a mum would surely know that cravings often made no sense…

…but, let’s face it, a pie wasn’t quite on a par with Marmite and carrot sticks at midnight, and Jess, mortified by what was now a look of disgust on the woman’s face, but relieved that the bus had stopped at traffic lights, got up as if Baker Street was the stop she actually wanted.

The 57 was every five minutes so Jess wouldn’t have long to wait for another, and keeping her cool but needing to escape this embarrassing situation quick, not least because the boy’s outburst had made others look round, clasping the rail she began to gingerly make her way along the aisle.

It was one thing though for a mother to look on disapprovingly, but that man three seats in front; frowning. What a cheek! Realising though that things couldn’t get any worse, and with nothing now to lose, Jess, emboldened as she brushed past the mother and child, flashing them her best fake smile, turned suddenly to the grimacing man and said, with a light-hearted shrug, “more spies.”

And, with that, Jess exited the bus.

Selected: 14th Picture This
Published in Issue #30

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