The Second Stomach
ANTHONY KANE EVANS
It’s funny really, then again maybe it isn’t so funny, how things which once seemed so modern, so up-to-date, so state-of-the-art, so cutting edge, can – when looked at in the rear view mirror – seem so hopeless, so old-fashioned, so downright impracticable. I was reminded of this, because I recalled to mind Robert’s invention the other day when Jasper burst in upon me, full of righteous indignation:
“In the United States they now manufacture a type of pill, that allows you to consume six times more than you are able to. You don't even put on any weight. That is to say every overweight American can eat the same amount as thirty starving Africans.”
Jasper is one of the few remaining angry young friends/acquaintances I have, and he’s a decade younger than me. Whatever happened to those angry young friends of my own age? Well, I’ll tell you what happened to them: one went stark raving mad, another had a nervous breakdown, a third runs a museum in Bournemouth and then there’s Robert. Now, this invention of his, well, it’s not that he got very far with it. But let’s start at the beginning.
He had dragged me up to the Midlands – Coventry or Leicester I can’t quite place it – this would be in the mid nineties, when we were in our mid-thirties, to see a revival of Edward Albee’s Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. When he first mentioned the invention it was during the interval of this play. We were standing in a queue for refreshments, me desperately in need of a double whisky in order to get through the second half of this painful ordeal.
“Don’t you just love it, that box, really! Ingenious!” Robert enthused, laughing jovially.
“Is the actor playing Mao really Chinese or is he done up in black face?” somebody behind me asked.
“It’s a she, and she’s in yellow-face,” came the reply.
“Double whisky,” I ordered, “what’ll you have Robert?”
He took a grapefruit juice. As I sipped my whisky I had to remind myself that I was a fortunate man. There was actually an interval. A break. Robert had been outraged when he first heard that they had decided to install one.
“They’re cutting the play in two!” he’d shouted, “bloody well amputating it they are, and why? I’ll tell you why, so some toffee-nosed middle-class git can get his glass of red wine and nibble of cheesecake.”
“Or the man with weak stomach muscles can take a breather,” I’d retorted, not forgetting my Wagner years.
Somewhere between the invitation and the performance Robert had somehow come up with this idea, this invention of his. Nursing my whisky, basking in the glow of that golden liquid, even more precious now that it was part of something like an –excuse the cliché – oasis in the midst of that great experimental desert.
“Enjoying it, are you?” Robert asked rhetorically.
He wasn’t waiting for a reply. Whenever Robert enjoys anything heartily, which is often, he cannot for the life of him imagine there might be someone not enjoying it (or ‘imbibing it’ as he would say).
Then a small miracle occurred. Just as people were going back in for the second half Robert pulled a blue print out of his back-pocket and spread it out across the table before me.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“You remember when I invited you up for the play and you said something about having an upset stomach?”
That was not exactly how I remembered it but I let it pass.
“Well, it set me to thinking, what if we could have a second stomach, you know, like a cow.”
“You do know that a cow’s got two stomachs don’t you? I mean, everybody knows a cows got two stomachs, right?”
“Yeah,” I lied.
I’ve never been able to take an interest in large animals and I have a particular aversion to the bovine in both man and beast.
“Well, here you go – a second stomach for us humans.”
I looked hard at the diagram. There was a sort of tube leading down into what looked like a plastic bag. The top of the tube was fitted with all kinds of levers and buttons as well as what appeared to be a mini-motor.
“I don’t get it,” I said.
Robert opened his briefcase and placed the actual contraption before me, plonking it down right on top of the blue-print.
“Behold, the prototype!” he exclaimed.
I looked down at it then back up at Robert.
“What, you surgically insert it into us or what?” I queried.
“No, no, not at all,” he said, laughing, “just a sec.
He went over to the service counter and came back with two large slices of black forest gateaux.
“Sorry, they were all out of cheesecake. Come on now, open wide.”
I would really rather have declined but you cannot pit yourself against Robert. Either you accept his force and go along for the ride or you break with him completely. I opened wide. He flicked some levers and fiddled around a bit and then, suddenly, I had this tube attached to the left side of my face. He threw what indeed resembled a plastic bag over my left shoulder. Next he took a slim silver case from his inside jacket pocket and flicked it open. Inside was some kind of reed attachment, it looked a bit like the sort of thing you insert into a saxophone before you blow it, only it was curved. He screwed it into the top of the tube which was attached to my face scratching my cheek a number of times in the process.
“Sorry, I should have screwed it on before I attached it.”
Next he put the other end of the attachment into my mouth. Finally, he pressed a green button on the top part of the tube.
“Okay, now eat.”
“How the hell can I eat with this contraption in my mouth,” I tried to say.
“You eat using the right-hand side of your mouth,” Robert said, in his best pedagogic manner, “come on, it’s the prototype for God’s sake, Mark.”
It was one of those theatres in the round – come to think of it I think we had gone all the way up to bloody Manchester – and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that all the doors to the theatre had been closed. This was the miracle I referred to earlier, the missing of the second half of that rare masterpiece.
“Come on, Mark, eat!”
I took a large forkful of black forest gateaux and shovelled it into the right-hand side of my mouth.
“How does it taste?”
“Okay,” (though it came out o’ay).
I mean, it was alright under the circumstances.
“Chew some more.”
I chewed. Then this little motor in my mouth kicked into action.
“Keep on chewing, don’t swallow yet.”
Savage how it can come, but, even more the preparations for it.
The play had begun again and Robert had still not noticed. I chewed some more.
“Okay, now swallow.”
I swallowed, or rather I tried to swallow for there was nothing to swallow.
“Surprised? Eat some more, come on.”
I ate those two enormous portions and didn’t swallow more than a thin trickle of chocolate.
“Aha!” from a triumphant Robert.
He unclipped the tube from my mouth and produced the bag from behind my back.
In the bag were two thoroughly masticated portions of Manchester’s finest black forest gateaux.
“You see, it works, it works!”
“I’m afraid we’ll have to ask you two gentlemen to leave, you’re disturbing the performance,” a young man in a braided uniform informed us.
Robert took a patent out on his design but it never quite caught on. Nobody would invest in its future. As I stated at the outset, I was only reminded of this incident, this invention, because of Jasper’s outrage over the new American pill. Of course, Robert’s invention had been more idealistic. The man in the street with a stomach ulcer, stomach cancer or some other stomach complaint, could eat yoghurt, porridge, vitamin pills, whatever he needed for his illness and yet still ‘enjoy’ a hearty meal in the bosom of his family. Or ‘collective’ as Robert would no doubt have put it.
Kane Evans (b. Manchester, England) has been published in various UK
magazines and anthologies like Signals 3 (London Magazine Editions,
2001) and Stride Magazine. When not writing, he produces/directs
documentary films on a freelance basis for Danish national television.
He lives in Copenhagen.