Tram Diary: Impeachable
T.S. Eliot’s 1915 poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock includes the line “Do I dare eat a peach?” It appears roughly mid-way through the poem as part of a series of somewhat comical, somewhat serious reflections about how growing older can shunt our behaviours towards the more absurd end of the behavioural spectrum.
The poem has been a favourite of mine since my first year of undergraduate study when, high on literary pretension, I committed the entire thing to memory, a feat of recollection now sadly beyond me. Even as I struggle to remember where I left my car keys, a few lines of Eliot’s poem linger still, most notably the one about the peach, and another about measuring out afternoons with coffee spoons which always struck me as rather wonderful. At the time I had only recently discovered the simple pleasure of going out for a coffee, which honestly wasn’t something I had ever done before apart from the occasional trip to a tearoom as a child on Saturday morning shopping-carrying duty with my mother. The thought of measuring out time with coffee spoons seemed so deliciously lethargic yet tantalisingly sophisticated, and for a time I would steal the more unusual spoons that would arrive with my long-necked lattes and frothing cappuccinos.
For my part, I do not dare eat a peach, least not in front anybody who might be offended by the public spectacle of man unwittingly performing an act of grotesquely theatrical cunnilingus on a soft fruit. As much as I enjoy peaches, I just can’t eat the things without making a mess of myself, my shirt, and whatever I happen to be sitting on at the time. When fully ripe, it’s just not something I can navigate with any kind of decorum and clearly Eliot was of the same opinion. It’s something best enjoyed alone, preferably in the sanctuary of one’s own home while leaning over the sink.
I have a friend who swears that he eats his while languishing in the bath and likes to tear it into pieces with his fingers so that he can devour it with the greatest possible relish without the fear of getting any on the carpet. This is the same person who has a habit of borrowing paperbacks from me and then dropping them in said bath when, full of peach and a warming glass of whiskey, he inevitably nods off. I have a several of these exploded tomes bulging out of my bookshelf, each sheepishly returned with their spines broken and pages splayed having been dried out atop a radiator. He promises to replace them but never does, although admittedly I do get the occasional coffee, although I never quite know what to do with the books. Throwing a book in the bin just feels wrong, but I also can’t help but picture my friend sloshing around in the tub in search my book, which are returned smelling strongly of medicated shampoo.
The reason I mention any of this is that these same chastening thoughts about peach-eating etiquette had clearly not crossed the mind of the breathless woman who bulldozed her way onto the tram this past Tuesday morning mid-peach, and plonked herself down in the seat opposite me.
Have you have made prolonged eye-contact with a lightly panting peach-eater on an otherwise empty 7am tram? Well let me tell you, it affords a degree of unexpected graphic intimacy bordering on the Freudian. One hand clamped on her phone, the other grasping the peach, its juices running down her wrist, she proceeded to gnaw and suck on it like a dog with a toffee, each overflowing mouthful accompanied by a symphony of greedy slurping sounds. My expression must have been one of wide-eyed nauseated disbelief, because she paused to give me one of those “so what’s your problem?” looks, before dividing her attention equally between phone and peach.
There’s a sign pasted in every carriage that clearly states that food and drink should not be consumed onboard, for reasons that should be obvious to everyone and yet every day people ignore this. The main city centre stop is the worst, especially in the summer, when people will enthusiastically delve into overfilled disintegrating sandwiches, dribbly ice-creams, greasy burgers, sweaty bags of chips, and on one frankly horrifying occasion an open bucket of fried chicken, all of which adds its own foetid notes of human despair to the permanent funk of body odour and exhaust fumes. For the love of God just stop it.
When the peach was finally over the peach-eater was left with stone, which she popped into her mouth to audibly roll around inside like a marble. “If she spits that onto the floor I’m going to die,” I thought to myself, “I will genuinely expire.” For a moment I pictured myself being shaken awake by paramedics, my wrists strapped to the arms of a stretcher as someone out of shot mutters something about “peach stone” and “psychotic break.”
Another horrifying thought was that the stone would suddenly materialise inside my mouth, teleporting from her maw into my own, at which point I would be forced out of my seat in search of something with which to kill myself.
I’m embarrassed to say that it’s part of my psychological make-up that at any given moment in time I’m doing mental inventory on at least half a dozen worse-case-scenarios and their equally insane contingencies. The most logical of these was the thought that rather than spit it out she would choose to swallow the stone, and then obviously start choking, meaning I would be forced to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre or possibly an impromptu tracheotomy, and here’s me without my emergency tracheotomy kit. Fully expecting to have to jump into action at any moment, I reviewed my internal flowchart of required actions.
Before making an incision with the sharpest of my house keys I would need to pull on the emergency cord to alert the driver, risking a £100 on the spot fine and possibly lifetime ban. With the driver having been alerted I would, one assumes, initially attempt the aforementioned Heimlich without reproach from my fellow passengers. Given the size of the peach, however, this would almost certainly prove unsuccessful, clearing the way for surgery. A quick spritz of hand sanitiser on my hastily MacGyvered coffee-stirrer gimlet and I could go to work, carefully following the instructions provided by the highest rated of the DIY tram-based tracheotomy apps on the Apple Store. She wouldn’t be grateful, of course, her outraged eyes still blazing at me with that “what’s your problem” look, even as I threaded a discarded McDonald’s milkshake straw into her gasping oesophagus.
Sitting opposite her, this disaster vignette playing out in my mind, I actually felt angry that I wasn’t getting more credit for something that demonstrably will not happen. “How can she continue to eat that thing after I’ve saved her life?” I thought, the ungrateful cow.
Having finished the peach, she wrapped the stone neatly in a piece of tissue and tucked it away inside her bag, and then cleaned her face and hands with a wet wipe like a normal person.