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"Appetite" by Mike Hickman

Matt hoped to God he wasn't wearing the Cookie Monster T-shirt. While he might be able to afford one or two minor embarrassments today, he doubted such a lapse in taste would be forgiven by his colleagues on the committee. Particularly on the day he ascended to the Chairmanship. It was bad enough that he was soaking wet.

The rain had begun at the precise moment he identified his turn. Matt had walked some distance to find the building, en route checking at least three promising looking sign boards which turned out to be, in not at all short order, a printing firm, a football club for disabled children and a kennel for elderly dogs. He'd then had approximately five to ten seconds of elation when he found the conference centre right at the end of the road before the bruised sky ruptured above him. His new shirt – the better to suit his new professional and personal position in life – was quickly soaked through to his already sweat soaked skin. And the threat of the Cookie Monster beneath.

It was not a warm day. The sweat was not the result of the weather. It was more that the motorway had been heaving and driving really was not his thing.

Matt had told Sheila as much only last week, when she had asked if he might be able to give her a lift to the meeting, and he had reached for the lie that he wouldn’t be coming in from home this morning. And Sheila had believed him, because she’d heard his stories in the office about his nights away from home and his new life. Because he couldn’t help himself.

Because maybe he was hoping somebody might stop him.

The Cookie Monster might stop him.

Matt looked back up the road to the car, sitting there, engine still running, lights slicing through the stair rod rain. He’d arrived early, the better to ensure he wasn’t going to get lost, because – heaven alone knew – he had form when it came to getting lost.

Because Sheila would worry about him getting lost.

He thought he’d have at least an hour before the other members of the committee showed up, but he still had to fetch the car, get into the building, and find the most powerful warm air hand dryer to dry himself out.

Matt risked a glance down at his shirt front. There was a definite hint of blue through the material. A definite hint of the Muppet’s googly eyes. If he closed his own eyes and concentrated really hard over the downpour and the sound of the motorway in the distance, he could even hear the monster making its demands known.


He could.

This, Matt knew, would not do in front of his new colleagues.

This would not do when he was giving it the professional act as Chair. The agenda could not be disrupted by cries of “Cookie!” The AOB must not be derailed by acknowledgements of the monster’s overweening appetite.

The Cookie Monster was meant to be his special secret. Like the photos in his phone of his weekend activities. Of his new part-time, evenings and weekends, family life. The T-shirt, bought for him as a joke because he just “wasn’t the type” and he needed to “lighten up a bit” now he was going to be spending time around the kid, was there to remind him what he was doing this all for.

His hair slathered across his face with the driving rain, Matt heaved himself away from the contemplation of his shirt front and back up the road to the still chuntering car. There was a moment or several when he couldn’t find his keys. When he remembered that he had left them in the ignition. When he cursed himself for his inability as an adult.

But hadn’t he proved that he was an adult? With Cyn, every other weekend when Simon was away with his dad.

Until that one weekend, last weekend, when she’d told him she had to have the boy for the weekend because Ray wasn’t free.

Matt stalled the car. Matt swore precisely as the old him used to swear. He wiped the rain from his eyes, dried his hands on his trousers, told himself that surely now he had proved he was capable of anything, he could make it to the car park and ensure he was presentable for both Sheila and the meeting.

“Mr. Button!”

Sheila was waiting for him at the entrance. Of course she was. She’d made her own way perfectly well without his assistance. She’d brought the agendas and the minutes from the last meeting, and she looked, as she always looked, the very definition of “the business.”

“I wouldn’t ask,” he said, as he attempted to make his way past her. He’d put his dry jacket on over the soaked shirt. If there was a glimpse of blue or googly Muppet eyes to be seen on his chest front, he hoped his smile might distract Sheila from making it out.

She wasn’t looking at his shirt front.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

“The car broke down,” he lied.

If she had come by taxi, as he suspected, she must have arrived before he’d turned into the road. She couldn’t have gone by him while he was tromping around looking at signs. She couldn’t.

He would have seen.

Wouldn’t he?

Sheila helped him with his bag, suggesting that he take his jacket off to spare its lining, at the very least, from the damp. He refused this as soundly as he’d refused to contemplate driving her in. He asked where the nearest toilet was. So he could “clean himself up.”

Now, there was a thought that he might text Cyn later. This was what passed for a joke in the maybe no longer alternate weekend world he was sharing with her.

Sheila didn’t look disappointed at his refusal to take her advice. She had so much practice in not looking disappointed where Matt was concerned. He left her to set up the room while he went to acquaint himself with what turned out to be a very underpowered warm air hand dryer in the gents.

The new shirt dried. But it only made the situation worse.

“Christ,” he said, because he was the kind of person who could afford to relax his rules on language now. At least with Cyn on evenings and weekends.

“Cookie!” the Cookie Monster said, through the shirt. Matt near tore it in his anxiety to take it off and hold it closer to the jet of almost warm air.

“Cookie!” the Cookie Monster said, pleased at its liberation.

It was Matt’s little secret. Like the band on his wrist – pushed so very far up his wrist – from that festival he’d been to with Cyn some weeks back. Where the teenagers had laughed and pointed at the pair of them doing their thing, and Matt had actually liked being referred to as an “old man.” When he wasn’t. When he hadn’t lived long enough. When he’d not had these moments back when he was supposed to be having these moments.

But he was damn well having them now. So, let them laugh.

The Cookie Monster was a reminder for him and him alone of what he had waiting for him when he was done here, and when he was done with the working week, too.

The Muppet wasn’t there for anyone else.

He wasn’t.

Which was why it was okay to take the T-shirt off, stuff it in his bag, risk wearing the shirt on bare skin.

Now, there was another thought Cyn would have liked.

He didn’t take the T-shirt off.

“You’re sweating.” Sheila leaned across to Matt with handkerchief in her hand. Everything was working. Everything was fine. He was sitting at the head of that table in front of those people, and they had accepted him as their Chair. He had scrutinized the faces and not a one of them had wrinkled their nose at him as he started the proceedings. If they were a little reticent in coming forward with questions and observations, and if there was a distinct lack of eye contact, then perhaps that was to be expected from a confident performance on his part, too.

He himself hadn’t liked to push himself too far forward in meetings of this kind. He understood.

He took the handkerchief.

And Sheila helped him through the remaining agenda items and AOB and she coughed - how could he not notice? - when one particular rumble of "Cookie!" from the depths of his chest threatened to be altogether too audible in the awkward pause he left for himself when he forgot Tony's item about the Porchester Project.

Sheila fielded the questions about the next meeting's venue and timing, and she was the one to thank everyone for attending, taking the compliments at the smoothness of the meeting under its new Chair and Secretary as perhaps, Matt knew, she ought to.


Which only left the question of what to do about the threatened lift back into town she might be expecting.

Running out of time to tighten, Matt was saved the need to lie by the message that came in from Cyn. A string of emojis, only some of which were acceptable in public, promised an evening this time without the boy. She suggested the first of the bars,where they might go on to from there, what they might do with the rest of their evening.


"I'm sorry, Sheila, but something's just come up."

It was, of course, raining again outside as the delegates heaved their way back to their cars. Cyn would have liked the purple of the sky. It was her favourite colour.

They were standing under the porch, watching the puddles deepen. Sheila had the paperwork in her folder, and she'd promised the minutes would be with him by Monday morning. Matt was as grateful to her as he always was. Within reason.

"I can get you a taxi," Matt said. "On expenses," he added.

And there was that look again. The one he could usually deflect with the smile. If he wasn't in the open like this. If she wasn't already staring at his chest.

He'd try for 45 minutes this time, he told himself. The journey to Cyn's was a good hour and a half in bad traffic, but if you knew where to gun that accelerator, and where to slow down again to avoid the speed cameras, it was possible to do it in under an hour.

The man he was now would be able to manage the journey in one hour.

He didn't need Sat-Nav or, as he'd sometimes joked, Sheila-Nav to help him.


"Thank you, Mr. Button," Sheila said, repeating it to be sure he knew it was for the offer of the taxi.

"But," she added, leaning in again in such a fashion that he had to look down, had to glimpse the spreading blue front of a jacket that had surely been grey this morning, "I really would change before you get to your destination, if I were you."

Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018's "Not So Funny Now" about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Red Fez. His co-written, completed six-part BBC radio sit com remains frustratingly as unproduced as it was the last time he updated this biography. So here it is, line by line (we're going to be here a while): "What happened to your lovely new uniform, then?" "My robes met with a slight accident, if you must know. In the members' entrance." "Ouch. Nasty."


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