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A Symphony of Chemical Reactions

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Six in the morning in the sitting room, rosin on bow. Funny bit of hollow in the stomach, lick of cold. Previously associated with such catalogued items as anticipation, anxiety, apprehension, fear, trepidation. Distracting. Must determine cause. No case on, lump of John safe beneath nest of bedding. Check on him. Door creaks; go still to preserve resting silence. John breathes — see the duvet expand and contract. Constriction around heart eases.

Something else then, carving spaces into the soft red inside bits. Cardia, fundus, body, antrum, pylorus. A rumble. Ah — ghrelin. Unmistakable. Transport must be maintained with fuel. Tedious. Insipid.

Muscle and tendon and joints in concert toward the kitchen. Leftovers from last night’s Thai, or a surprise from Mrs. Hudson — too foolish a hope? Yes.

In the cupboards: half a loaf of brown bread gone stale, tins of beans and sponge and soup, taxidermy owl, millet flour, melted sweets, mousetraps, desiccated clementines.

Fridge contents: snout of wild boar, aloe plant, blackcurrant preserves, empty milk carton, thin-sliced roast beef (by smell, too old for consumption; not too old to repurpose into mould cultures), apple juice, HP sauce, leftover beans, squirrel scalp, slice of fruit tart, manky chicken, last Saturday’s Malaysian, last Thursday’s Korean, last February’s Palestinian, red jelly, dinner roll dough, petri dish of taste buds collected from corpse in morgue. Molly so accommodating, but eyes now free of metaphors involving astronomical bodies and organs associated with the softer emotions.

And then: Margarine next to the taste buds. Mouth, brows, twist as if turned by gears in a clock. Inspect offending slab. Whole chunks missing — someone has been using this plasticine farce. The only possible culprit: John.

Close refrigerator door, eyes.

Captain John Watson, M.D. statistics:

  • Caucasian male
  • Forty-one years of age
  • 170 cm
  • Blue eyes, dark
  • Fair hair, greying
  • Short of stature but broad of shoulder and solid in soldierly manner
  • Weight during deployment: just over eleven stone, muscle
  • Weight after injury and medical evacuation: ten stone, loss of muscle density
  • Weight during first two years of acquaintance: stabilised just under eleven stone — much running balanced by much take-away
  • Weight during The Time Of Which We Do Not Speak: undetermined, suspect fluctuation
  • Weight upon resumption of previous living arrangements: steady increase toward, and then beyond, twelve stone, not muscle
  • Weight upon dopamine-fuelled declarations of romantic intent and eternal devotion and ensuing domestic conviviality: static at about twelve stone

Forcibly static, by means of culinary travesty.

Eyes snap open; ghrelin makes a nuisance of itself again, but is paid no heed. Can run on fumes. Shuck dressing gown, pants, threadbare t-shirt on the way to John. Slide in stealthy beside him — he is warm and sleep-fragrant. He snuffles, rubs dear nose into neck, murmurs nonsense into skin. Hush him, answer with lips in hair, rub hands over compact body. Linger.

Flesh fills palms just above hips, just below navel. Pleasing to touch, tender bits fit into broad flat of hand. Fine, soft body hair the same pale shade as the shafts of sunlight just now encroaching on the peace of the room. Venture a gentle squeeze.

“Mmph. Sherlock, quit it.”


“’m sleeping.”

“Could be not sleeping. Could be touching.”

Shift, nudge penis into soft hipskin. Puff of air from John’s lungs into collarbone; electricity down spine, scalp gone prickly. Warmth flares between shoulder blades, trickles from jugular notch to costal cartilage. Mouth suddenly greedy in a way stomach is not. Hands. Say his name, pull him on top, press concavity into convexity in urgent tumult.

Sunbursts make his hair shimmer, make his sweat shine, dazzle the eyes. Palms sweep over heated flesh afterward, idle, tracing, memorising.

“You’re going to kill me one of these days,” John says in breathless laughter. Hollows again, different variety: dread. Flip, press face into chest, moan a denial. No, never kill. Never be the cause of suffering. Never be without again. “Hey.” Fingers stroke through hair. “I was just joking.”

Drag bony prominence of own face down the modest length of John’s body. Settle on stomach, arms loose around hips. Swell of flesh on the bowl of his belly fits with mathematic precision between open lips, against inert tongue.

Say: “I will take care of you.” Say: “I will prepare you a glorious feast.” Say: “I will solve you the most interesting crimes.”

He snorts. Says, “Yes, Sherlock. Yes, of course.” Hand cups vulnerable occipital lobe, pets curls. Heartbeat through skin — John’s or own unclear, not worth investigating. Difference between the two scheduled for deletion.

Sleep obliterates sun.

Tesco Express inadequate, regular Tesco somehow even more so. Former too small to turn around in without knocking merchandise over and being asked to leave, latter full of old people pushing trolleys very slowly down the middle of the aisle. Mobile indicates fine foods to be best found at Borough Market or Harrods. Hate Harrods; smells like grandmummy, an inveterate cheek-pincher and tongue-clicker and general disapprover.

Foot to pavement heading south, arm upraised to hail cab. Pause. Mobile indicates Borough Market is closed Sunday through Wednesday. Dull.

Research recipes instead. How many courses might be forced into a Johnbelly? Is proper cutlery available? Utensils? Mrs. Hudson will have full complement. Is a call to Cook in order? Have not spoken to Cook since 1997. Threatened with frying pan on last occasion. Cowed.

John’s tastes as soldierly as his shoulders: will eat anything, appreciates a full stomach regardless of contents. Preferences unobtrusive, more likely to say “oh, I’m not picky,” than anything else. Choices at Thai, Chinese, and Korean restaurants tend toward chicken or pork; Indian and Bengali, goat, lamb; Mediterranean, lamb, chicken; Italian, pasta, unpredictable meat choice, sometimes even just veg; French, occasions too rare to build reliable database. Out of depth at posh places regardless of type of cuisine, though manners are impeccable. Line of shoulders register tension — uncomfortable awareness of the modesty of his clothing, of the eyes of others.

Conclusion: bring posh to him, but keep meal under “comfort” heading. Appetiser, entrée, pudding.

Flick of thumb sends screen scrolling — eyes catch on “honey.” No harm in including treat for self? John would not begrudge it.

Menu set. Prepare list of ingredients.

Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Salad:

  • pears
  • herbed goat cheese
  • mixed greens John prefers rocket
  • caster sugar
  • cinnamon stick
  • white wine
  • orange peel clementine will do
  • vinegar
  • olive oil
  • shallots
  • salt and pepper

Honey Glazed Pork Belly with Star Anise:

  • pork belly
  • honey
  • more olive oil
  • clove of garlic
  • ground cinnamon
  • cloves
  • star anise
  • more salt and pepper — freshly ground?
  • potatoes for mashing

Clementine Cake:

  • new clementines — ones in cupboard sad
  • eggs
  • ground almonds
  • more sugar
  • baking powder
  • icing sugar

Chemistry and time management — shopping and cooking will prove an all day job. Will need John out of 221b for duration to preserve surprise. Have fifty hours until Borough Market opens — fabricate convincing task.

“Go away.”

John in his particular chair, terrycloth dressing gown, damp from shower and fragrant. Reading the paper. Inner thigh peeking out from shadow; distracting.

“Nope,” he says. Does not even look up.

Stomp foot, snatch paper away. Gaping John not as unattractive as Gaping Everyone Else. Still.

“Oi! What the hell are you on about, Sherlock?” Gape twists into scowl.

“I said go away, I’m busy.”

John leans forward and plucks paper back.

“And I’m reading. In my own home. Where I live, whether it’s convenient for you or not.” Shakes paper out, resumes reading. Rather, resumes appearance of reading. Still fuming.

Come round, stick hands under John’s armpits, file away resultant squeal for future enjoyment, lift and propel forward. John squawking name, also filed away.

“Must be off, must clear out, must leave me to my work. Bye bye now.”

John stumbles, whirls around, pushes away. Mouth pursed in manner meant to signal vexation but instead serves as invitation to suck. Resist. Went badly last time John was in a strop.

“Jesus, what are you so bloody busy with, then?”

“Not looking after out of work doctors with bum shoulders while I have more important things on.”

John’s jaws clench, eyes narrow, shoulders square. Not good?

“You’re an arsehole, you know that?”

Shrug, look away, twiddle phone.

“Fine. Fine, I’ll leave. But you don’t get to — Fuck. Just. Sometimes I really don’t know why I put up with you, Sherlock.”

Heavy, angry steps up the stairs, door slams. Whole of the house rattles like a rustled skeleton. Twiddle phone.

John takes six minutes to vacate 221b.

Compose text: Pick up ammonia — S. Do not send.

Compose text: You are my lighthouse — S. Do not send.

Compose text: Be back at 8 — S. Twiddle phone.


Shopping takes 97 minutes. Banned from only six traders’ shops — success.

First: the cake.

Boiled clementines prove too large a temptation — drop three to the floor to investigate splatter pattern. And throw remaining two at the wall.

Two hours lost. Must start cake again. Baking will interfere with roast.

“Mrs. Hudson! I’ll need your oven!”

“And your food processor!”

Rubbing rounded pork belly odd — equal parts repulsive and sensuous. Wake from innard-curdling rub trance thirty-two minutes after starting.

Honey everywhere. Need high pressure hose.

Should not have cooked in bespoke suit.

Fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher fire extinguisher

Will refrain from repeating with poached pears the boiled clementine experiment.


Mashing potatoes unexpectedly strenuous. Arm sore.

Survived minor kitchen fire only to be felled by boiling honeygarlicwateroil and flaming pear.

Clementine-peel icing in hair.

Mrs. Hudson quite a creative cusser.


Cake and roast warming in oven.

Greens tossed with vinaigrette in aesthetically pleasing salad bowl, pears at the ready.

A sturdy primativo uncorked and breathing.


Kitchen not fit for Johns.

Suit torn, stained, burnt.

All surfaces, domestic and bodily, covered in fine sheen of icing sugar, olive oil, clementine zest, goat cheese, honey, cinnamon, sodium bicarbonate. Cautious sniff of self. Skin smells faintly of rasher-wrapped oranges on fire.

Quick: block off kitchen with well-placed hanging sheet, clear off table in sitting room, put out place settings, choose candle in scent most likely to mask lingering notes of smoke in the air, shower, arrange hair artfully, sling on fresh suit in John-approved colours [trousers and jacket in charcoal, crisp dress shirt in teal, second-shiniest Italian shoes], lounge about looking busily idle and picturesque.


Meal set out, candle glowing. Mrs. Hudson cooing over the display until forced downstairs.

Door swings open precisely at 8 — a soldier’s habitual punctuality. John gawps between the jambs. Lips, suggestion of tongue. Lips. Lips.

“What did you do?” he asks. Voice faint with wonder.

Fling out a hand, push down hot, fizzy sensation rising in stomach. “I made you a glorious feast.”

John strides across sitting room in determined little soldier gait, bypasses table as if no glorious feast sits upon it just for him. Comes up close enough to smell, to detect the spectrum of sandy colours in his hair. Breathe him deep, memorise. John takes injured hand in his own. Suppress instinct to pull it away from him, to hide its ills. Fingers warm, short and staunch, so gentle. Presses lips to back of hand, to wrist, to each suggestion of redness and pain. Heart gone defective, skipping.

“Let me take care of this.”

“It’s no bother, John. A feast.”

“A lovely feast, Sherlock, and one that will keep two minutes whilst I exercise my medical license.”

“Fuss, you mean.”

“Fussing over you seems to be my lot in life, yes. Hush now.”

Lights bright in the loo. Sit on toilet, rest head against Johnbelly. John holds hand under cold tap while rummaging for Sudocrem, gauze, surgical tape.

“What’s got into you, then? Cooking?”

Shrug, bury face in jumper.


“Hate margarine.” Love so much Johnskin, pressed against length of body.

“Oh…kay.” Both syllables drawn out. Have confused him. “It looks gorgeous anyway. I didn’t know you even knew that burners traditionally made food rather than blood type experiments.”

“A meal is merely a symphony of chemical reactions, John.” Sniff. “Of course I can cook.”

John mouth sound #17 — smile, category 2 heading 1: fond, 37% marvelling, 100% marvelous, only 2% exasperated.

“First I’ve heard of it in the five years of our acquaintance.”

Huff. John laughs, soft. Stomach jostles face.

“All right, all right. Thank you, Sherlock. It’s beautiful and I can’t wait to eat it.”

John turns off the tap, pats hand dry with small square towel. Smooths ointment over each patch of red.

“You’re not angry anymore.”

A sigh. “No. I knew as soon as I got your text that you were up to something on my behalf and just completely graceless at keeping me away long enough to do it.”

Inhale and hold. Recycled air, stale foam, popcorn. Cigarette smoke, formaldehyde, fresh-cut grass, bread. Exhaust, soil, fryer grease. Exhale.

Cinema, St. Bart’s, various parks around London, Trafalgar Square, undetermined restaurant, Mike Stamford’s, homeless network enclaves. Pieces of what he’s done today knit together like an intricate puzzle. Ask about it anyway.

John begins to speak. He’s a storyteller, an increasingly good one as time and his blog march on, and seamlessly he brings together the threads with which to weave the tale of his day.

Listen. Listen to his voice, to his heartbeat, to the sound of surgical tape being drawn out, snipped short, and placed just so on gauze to cover injury. Listen to his excitement, his amusement, his hand passing over an ear in a caress, his nails scratching gently at nape of neck. Listen to how well, how thoroughly, how much he cherishes this imperfect moment. Listen to John Watson, who loves you.

art by inchells