To Victor’s relief, there are normal places in this world of dreams run wild. The landscape can become more fractured and mad than any place in Wonderland, but where the buildings stand and what’s inside them remains more or less constant. Not far from his hotel (although can one really call it a ‘hotel’ if he’s living there?), Victor discovers the local grocery. There’s a lot of items stacked on the shelves or piled in the bins that he doesn’t know, but there’s also plenty that he does, and that’s a comfort. Not having any way to cook (and not really knowing how beyond putting meat between bread – the one time he tried to make himself soup, he burned himself on the kitchen stove), he buys – or, well, takes, since money doesn’t seem to exist in this world, at least not for people like him – simple things that don’t need much preparation. A basketful of fruit – apples and oranges and bananas, all things he can eat quickly whenever the mood strikes him. Slices of turkey and ham and chicken, and Swiss and provolone and cheddar, all of which can be preserved in the icebox until it’s time for lunch or dinner. Bread he knows will keep long enough for him to make plenty of sandwiches – and wonder of wonders, it comes pre-sliced now! How convenient! Muffins and bagels will also keep just long enough, and make decent breakfasts to boot. And there’s also the more exotic items in their cardboard boxes and strange plastic packaging, promising instant food in a variety of puzzling and intriguing flavors – curious, he “purchases” a few, hoping they’ll live up to their grand claims.
As with everything in life, some do, some don’t. Granola bars prove to be a good investment – they’re quick to eat, quite tasty, and seem poised to keep for a good long while. The “soup in a cup” (which he makes by heating water in the coffee maker – what else is he going to use it for?), by contrast, turns out to be more or less powdered Houndsditch chicken noodle. The chocolate sandwich biscuits with the white filling are bloody delicious and far too easy to nearly eat an entire package of in one sitting. The flavored milks are a mixed bag – he doesn’t think much of coffee flavor, but strawberry’s decent enough, and chocolate nearly as addictive as those horrible, wonderful biscuits. The pressed rice cakes, on the other hand, are uniformly flavorless, and he has no idea who on earth would eat them. They’re too dull even for Burtonsville. Overall, though, the food is good. None of it is haute cuisine – he’s surviving off baked goods, sandwiches, and a host of snack foods – but it keeps him going, and that’s all he can really ask of it. And it’s probably safer than any trotter or meat pie he ever bought off a Whitechapel street salesman.
Clothing is a different adventure. There’s such a wide variety of styles and colors and fabrics in this world that he’s lost the moment he walks into the store. Fortunately, the owner takes pity on him and leads him over to the suits. The cuts are different than Victor remembers, but the basic concept is the same, and that’s all he needs to know. He picks four – one in dark grey, two in black, and one in navy blue – and has them altered to fit his absurdly skinny frame. The tailor is a kind man who takes Victor’s nerves in stride, and even alters the cut of his new outfits slightly so that they’ll match his old suit better – something Victor is incredibly grateful for. Shirts (he’s surprised to discover collars and cuffs don’t come separately anymore – at least it means he doesn’t have to worry about misplacing them), ties, waistcoats, socks, and – underthings (why have drawers gotten so much shorter??) are also procured, along with a long heavy coat for any winter weather that might be dreamed up. Victor happily puts it all away into his closet and dresser once he’s back home. He’s not sure how he’s going to do his laundry just yet, but at least he’s not restricted to just one well-worn suit anymore. And these suits should last him much longer, given that the air here is not filled with smog and the streets with various bits of filth. Pathetic, really, he thinks to himself as he grabs an apple from its place on the table. Only a couple of days into this new adventure, and already Astralfield is miles above Whitechapel.
But then again, a sewer would be miles above Whitechapel.