I haven’t ever liked olives. The very sight of them repels me before pulling me back in pings of longing like an abused lover convinced that the next time will be different. I know, you’re likely sitting there thinking to yourself, “oh, but I quite like olives.” I’m sure you do, and I envy you for that, not least because everywhere I seem to be lately- Morocco, Greece, Italy- olives are revered like nipples on a nursing goddess. I too yearn to take pleasure in their taste and often look enviously upon my fellow citizens of the Mediterranean basin who, with a carelessness approaching utter disregard, plop them one after the other into their waiting mouths, pretending to pay attention to their companion’s conversation while in reality their thoughts are busy frolicking with green-haired maidens in baths of butter and garlic. Even now, the waitress has barely set the ashtray of a bowl down and already my companion is digging his puffy fingers into it, withdrawing olives faster than I would have thought this slow, mild-mannered man capable.
“Don’t like olives, Brendan?” he says to me, half the bowl already consumed.
“I-,” and here I stumble again, remorse washes over me and I, wishing to erase memories of past abuse, complete the sentence not with words but with the sound of an olive plopping against my tongue.
I bite carefully, my teeth avoiding the pit as my eyes scan the crowded tables around to ensure no one’s noticed my relapse. My eyes inspect a couple sitting at a table just across. She’s quite cute, her amber hair tied back in a ponytail and her mouth set in a serious manner, giving perhaps some evidence to the tone of their conversation. My gaze then takes him in, 20 years older, uninterested eyes, a hooked nose like that of a vulture and… Suddenly my eyes set on a third member of the party. At first I’d written it off as a piece of- gulp- olive, or perhaps an immobile cockroach, but now the nasty reality reveals itself as a mutant mole, the father of which is likely making monster movies in Japan. I stare, transfixed, wondering if she, like me, can’t take her eyes off it. I take a closer look at her, looking for a sixth finger on the tiny hand clasping a wine glass, or perhaps a protuberance under her collar where a second head might be attempting to sprout, but her shoulders are bare and unblemished, not even a freckle. Her body, though seated, looks to be petite and supple. Her face as seen from the side radiates light and youth. She is, quite certainly, too perfect for a man with such visible defects and must have some gross abnormality undetectable with the eye.
Before I can resist, the split olive lip has beckoned me back, waving two long hairs at me from its greasy back. My eyes widen, thoughts racing through my head unfiltered. I wonder what they’re like in bed, if he forces her to suck that thing… if she forces him to let her… If she likes it… The thought makes me shudder. What would it taste like, this lip hump you could ride through the Sahara on. Probably like… I gulp. An olive. I stop chewing, my entire mouth feeling the need to secede from the rest of my body and plunge into a vat of anti-bacterial soap. I feel suddenly sick, and when I look back at the couple, his hand now taking hers, I see his entire face has turned green, sweat running over his hooded eyelids and nose to pool around the creature nesting on his lip, a moat around an imposing fortress. I grab for my napkin like a shipwrecked sailor for land, spewing the fragments of olive until they stare back at me, the disembodied relation of the lip hump. I take my wine glass, fill my mouth and swish the liquid around angrily, repeating the measure once and then again.
The entire time my companion has been watching me, observing me much in the same way as one observes the curious behavior of a monkey at the zoo. His eyes darting back and forth from the napkin, to the wine glass, to the bowl of humps which, severed from their owners lips, blacken from lack of blood flow.
“No,” I say, the wine bottle empty and my spirit temporarily at ease. “I don’t like olives.”