Love is the Shape of a Pear
I was in a pub and I met a man with Celtic symbols tattooed on his arms. He told me that love was shaped like an English poppy.
I laughed in his face. “A poppy? What kind of moron are you?”
He had crossed the five-pint threshold about four hours earlier and wasn’t in the mood for jokes at his own expense. “You come in here, into my local, and try to embarrass me in front of my best mates?”
“You embarrass yourself.”
The people he referred to as his “best mates” seemed confused by the reference and edged away.
“Love,” I announced, “is not shaped like an English poppy.”
“Oh, really?” he replied, sliding off his stool to square up to me.
“The shape of love is a pear.”
He didn’t like that one little bit. I felt his frustration in the form of his fist smashing into my nose.
I would go job to job, town to town, like some Cockney Jesus, preaching my radical views in a friendly way to the ignorant and the hateful. I was used to rejection and ridicule, living on the periphery, and was no stranger to beatings that left me in accident and emergency, black and blue.
The problem was that each person had their own point of view and definition when it came to love shapes. One person might say poppy, while someone else would say mushroom cloud.
Barry, the store manager of a supermarket in Romford where I worked for six months, was adamant that love was shaped like a bunch of grapes. “It’s all interconnected, ‘innit?” he said, over a morning cup of tea.
The wildest theory I ever heard – if you could call it a theory – was from a Scottish girl named Mary, who I sat next to in a tele sales job near Bristol. She was convinced that love was shaped like a potato waffle. “How could it be anything else?” she said.
“That’s absurd,” I replied.
“For one, it’s not even a fruit.”
“It has to be a fruit, obviously.”
“I think love’s more root vegetable than fruit,” she said all matter of fact, popping gum.
People needed to be educated.
I was at an all-time low… Struggling for work… Doing my best to pay overpriced rent for a single room in a house share with bad plumbing and fungus wallpaper. The constant poverty wore me down and led to moments of self-doubt and hesitation. I’d find myself daydreaming about the pros and cons of cliff tops, train tracks and a bellyful of pills.
Come the evening, I would force myself to preach in pubs to the unconverted. I soon wound up back in A&E after another run-in with an ignoramus drunkard. It turned out this douchebag did have “mates”, quite a few of them, and I found myself crawling across a pavement, trying to hide under a car, as these heretics with gelled hair and designer clothes kicked seven shades out of me.
A nurse briefly assessed my wounds and made notes on a device. She told me to give my details at the reception desk. After that, I sat on a fixed plastic chair, waiting for stitches in my crown. Opposite me, two policemen sat either side of a guy in handcuffs. He was in his fifties and had hurt his ankle jumping from a second floor balcony.
“It’s not like in the movies, eh?” he kept saying to no-one in particular.
A girl took the seat next to mine. She had long black hair and dark brown skin. “Why can’t you smoke in hospitals?” she complained. “Of all the places, it’s where smoking should be allowed.”
The moment she sat down, I had this intuitive sense that something life-changing was underway. I stared at a vending machine, hoping that the sight of chocolate bars, crisps and fizzy drinks would calm the thunderous emotions inside of me.
“H-e-l-l-o,” she said, waving her hand in front of my eyes. “Is anybody home?”
“What?” I replied.
She pinched out a cigarette from a new pack of ten and then rummaged through her large handbag. “There you are,” she said, talking to a plastic lighter. She then turned to me and said, “You want one?”
“I don’t smoke.”
“Typical… I bet you don’t know what shape love is either?”
“Actually, it’s the one thing I know with absolute certainty.”
“It’s a pear.”
She paused and we looked at one another. “That’s right,” she said.
Standing up, she said, “If they call, come and get me.”
“But I don’t know your name.”
She walked off.
“Chadha,” she said, sticking the cigarette in her mouth.
“Don’t light that in here,” ordered a man behind the reception desk with a military boom.
I watched her saunter outside without a care in the world.
She trusted me to watch over her handbag. I couldn’t recall the last time a person had trusted me with anything.
Tara and I got together. For eight months or thereabouts, we were in heaven. We would go and orate together in pubs to random strangers and I discovered she had a talent for nullifying the violence of men. It was a remarkable feeling to be in a pub and realise a roomful of people were listening to what the two of us had to say.
We rented a one-bedroom flat with a small patio where we grew tomatoes, strawberries and herbs. We took in a stray cat, which had half a tail, and named him Ferdinand. Every Saturday we would go to the farmers’ market and buy delicious pears. We placed the pears in a hand-painted ceramic bowl on a round wooden table by the patio doors.
Tara had a regular job in the haberdashery section of a department store and I was climbing the ranks of a local supermarket, having gone from trolley pusher, to night warehouseman, to day warehouseman.
I was making it. In the Life Graph of Happiness (LGH), I was at my peak.
My goal was to move into Grocery, where I could live my dream of replenishing the entire fruit aisle of a supermarket with thousands of pears.
The problem with happiness is that it never lasts.
Tara and I were lying in bed one night. “Stop kissing me,” she snapped.
“Why? What’s going on?”
“I’m tired of your constant kissing… It creeps me out.”
“You find me creepy?”
She swung out of bed to light a cigarette.
“You’re supposed to smoke outside,” I said, seeing the stress on Tara’s face.
She leaned against the wall by the window and opened the curtain a fraction, letting in a beam of moonlight. Ferdinand stretched in his cat bed by the chest of drawers and then fell back to sleep.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
She stood there in her thong, opening the window to tap off the ash.
“Please,” I said, “I want to help.”
“I don’t want your help.”
“But that’s what we do… We’re there for each other.”
“It is, yes, according to the gospel of you.” She gave a tiny shake of the head, opening the curtains wider.
“Why would you say that?” I replied.
“Because it’s true. I’m tired of going to dirty pubs, being surrounded by pervy old men… That’s all they are… You make everything about class… This is bigger than background and seizing the means of production.”
“But how can they ever overcome their oppressors if they’re unable to love themselves?”
She opened the window further, letting in more moonlight, and then she tapped ash into a clay ashtray on the window ledge. “You see,” she said, “you’re so black and white… I want to go to jazz cafes, wine bars and pop-up restaurants, where we can talk about love to a diverse mix of men and women as they sip cold craft beer and sample artisan cheese.”
She lit a second cigarette, staring away into the night.
“Tara,” I said.
“Don’t ask me the question,” she replied.
I had no choice. She kept cutting me off mid-sentence but I kept on until I could finish asking: “What shape is love?”
She sucked on the cigarette.
“What shape is it?”
“I’m sleeping on the sofa,” she stated, grabbing her hypoallergenic pillows. “Come on, Ferdy,” she added, making kiss-kiss sounds. “Come with mummy.”
Ferdinand did as she said. It was like the cat had taken her side.
I was groggy from a night of unsettling dreams. The flat was deserted and I assumed Tara had gone to work early. Besides, I was late for my shift and in a hurry. My priority was to shower, dress and to have a strong cup of tea.
I tried to call and message her from the supermarket. There was no response on her phone. I mean, it went straight to voicemail. I began to worry about what she had said and felt a wooziness in my stomach. I told Russell, the Day Warehouse Manager, I was unwell and had to knock-off early.
The cat greeted me at the door of our flat. Tara was absent. I went into the bedroom and the penny dropped that, when I was getting ready earlier, I had somehow failed to notice that she had left in the night. Her make-up was missing, along with her collection of African statues, healing crystals, various types of incense and asthma pumps.
I stepped into the lounge. I had a premonition of what to expect and sure enough, on the table, I saw the pears had vanished. Instead, there was a single nasty looking cooking apple in the bowl.
There was a note for me. It read:
In my heart, I was never entirely sure I agreed with you about love shapes. It turned out I WAS deluding myself. At last I can see what I think I believed from the outset: LOVE IS THE SHAPE OF A COOKING APPLE. I am sorry for the hurt caused.
Thanks for the memories!
Take care of Ferdy.
I lay down on the floor of the lounge. I thought I was going to cry but evidently my tear ducts were broken. I only made a feeble stuttering sound.
Lunchtimes in the staff cafeteria / canteen were entirely predictable… I knew what was coming… Blokes could not stop themselves from arguing about love.
I had kept my counsel in my supermarket job and did not express a single opinion. Tara had told me that success in the workplace depended on never speaking your mind. In fact, she said you could only start speaking once you had fully learned how to tell the same lies as the most senior people.
I’d barely spoken a word since I started, except to say “yes” and “I agree”.
It’s pretty much why I had climbed the ranks and could realistically begin to imagine myself filling the fruit section with heavenly pears. Except I had a peculiar feeling when I returned to work the day after Tara left… Emotions simmered inside of me… Things I had been holding in… I knew that no matter how hard you tried to suppress it, pain and frustration always came out eventually.
The canteen lady served me pie and chips and I found myself deliberately heading for the table with the top dogs. It was like I was in some automatic mode. I honed in on the ones who were suited and booted and thought they had all the answers. It was Tony, the Night Warehouse Manager, and Russell, my direct boss. They were already deep in debate.
Tony said, “When I was growing up, my mother told me that love comes in all shapes and sizes, but I was never 100 percent sure. How could that be the case? And then I met my missus, a Geordie but with hippie parents, and she explained that love had to be an organic, free-range egg. And it’s true, right? You can’t argue with her logic.”
“An egg?” roared Russell. “Do me a favour… What a load of bollox…. Never heard anything like it… My wife told me love was a rose when I met her and I told her she was an idiot… I was having none of it: love is a ripe pineapple and that’s a fact. My old man said the same and his old man before him. I won’t stand for any bollox from any of you lot either,” he said, making eye contact with the other people at the table.
He then jabbed a fork clogged with buttery mash potato in my direction. “You never say a word on this… What do you think?”
“Yeah, you,” he said, licking the fork.
I inhaled deeply and pushed back my chair to stand… My moment had arrived… I raised my plate, with its steak and kidney pie, peas and chips, and grabbed the attention of my assembled co-workers by smashing it onto the floor.
“Each of you talk about love,” I said, “you say it is one thing, then another, and you can never come to an agreement. Every day you row about it, making point and counterpoint. It causes you sleepless nights, anxiety, depression – it makes you drink, take drugs and turns you to acts of brutality.
“Some of you in this room will kill because of it, and some of you will take your own lives. You’ll suffer terribly because of your inability to find common ground. I say this to you… and I will say it only once because this is an actual scientific fact… love is shaped like a pear.”
There was silence. From the pocket of my boiler suit, I produced a beautiful, juicy pear. I held it up above my head like a trophy and turned 360 degrees, allowing everyone in the room to see.
“This is love,” I said.
There were boos and swearing. A jacket potato, full of beans and cheese, was thrown at me… Pandemonium was to be expected… This was the fate of a pariah, a non-believer, an away supporter who had strayed into the terraces for home fans, singing rebel songs of glory.
I lost consciousness as I tried to turn over the table. It was either Russell or Tony who gave me an uppercut to the chin that sent me tumbling to the floor.
I was thrown onto the forecourt by Gary, a grey haired security guard with a stammer who had served as a medic in the Falklands with the Welsh Guards.
It was a shame to say goodbye to the flat and the patio with its tomatoes, strawberries and herbs, but I could not afford a one-bedroom flat by myself. I resumed wandering the country, trying to scrape a living in towns and villages. I avoided cities for the usual reasons.
Preaching to the unconverted is a thankless task, but it’s my calling.
There was no denying my LGH had dipped considerably since Tara departed. At least I had Ferdinand to keep me company. We had a long chat, mainly about his disloyalty on the night Tara and I broke up. It was a difficult and painful conversation for the both of us. I finally decided to forgive him as he was genuinely sorry for his misjudgement.
If only Tara could see us now and how the two of us are doing – Ferdinand is glued to me, he never leaves my side.
I know one day she will come to her senses and realise what a mistake she made.
Nobody finds true love in a cooking apple.