Here is the piece I submitted to Short Fuse:
Sometimes you’re just not hungry and it’s hard to be creative. It’s when the thought of being creative brings the weariness of having a black raincloud following you around for the whole day, an unwelcome inevitability that you can’t shake off. This morning, Amanda is weighed down by such a feeling. It started with the shower, the electric one downstairs that no one else in the house uses because its feeble drip isn’t harsh enough to wake up a manly skin and has the curious habit of suddenly going cold and flashing ‘User Protect’ on its control panel, something no one has ever taken the trouble to investigate. Today, Amanda had been in the shower, making a list in her head (not shopping, that was another one), not just standing there under the drip being idle or doing whatever the others did in the shower, and she got ‘User Protect’-ed. She hadn’t even finished washing. There was usually time enough to either wash and condition her hair (briskly) or shave her legs and underarms (if bristly) as long as she wasn’t too precious about either operation. Exfoliating with moisturising facial pads, their slight dampness suggesting that maybe they had been impregnated with something extra as she had mistakenly left them within arm’s reach of her youngest children but which she couldn’t justify throwing away because of their cost, was sometimes an option if she was really quick and had already done the basics. She resented the time she spent shouting through the door whilst she was in the shower to children searching for lost shoes, wanting yoghurts, the television channel changed or their wounds kissed better. She had tried to impress upon them the importance of only trying to communicate with those in the same room as them unless it was a matter of extreme urgency but unfortunately, their interpretations of these guidelines were flawed and her presence in the bathroom at any time of day drew them like magnets to the other side of the door to ask ‘What are you doing, Mummy?’ and they liked her to be very specific in her reply.
Today, Amanda had got up early. It’s Thursday of the half term holiday and she knows that the only way she can hear silence in the house is to stay one giant step ahead of them. She has crept on tiptoes along the edge of the landing to avoid the creaking floorboards, stepped over the dog sleeping on the turn of the stairs and gone down to have her shower. As you’ve already heard, this hasn’t really gone very well. Usually, the freshness of the morning, the distance that sleep has put between her and the previous day’s irritations are enough to project her on into the day with a measure of positivity. Before she is bogged down in domestic details, she likes to think. But she is irritated. She had started to think about rhythms, rhythms of life, in life and then she started to wonder about Wednesdays. ‘Whacky Wednesdays’ her family have come to call them. Her cooking isn’t bad, or at least it wouldn’t be if she wasn’t trying to cater for so many different tastes: two who don’t like spicy things, one who doesn’t like cottage pie but likes mince and tatties, one who loves cottage pie but doesn’t like mince and tatties, one who only likes shop-bought cottage pie because it’s delicious, one who doesn’t like rice, one who only eats vegetables under protest and one who doesn’t really notice very much at all. The dog likes all of these things, in fact, he has only ever been seen to reject two things: orange juice and lettuce. Amanda, herself, is not fussy. Her Scottish roots have endowed her with the power to make soup out of an elastic band if necessary (although the occasion hasn’t arisen yet) and she indulges herself at lunch times eating healthy homemade soups and big piles of fruit. So why are Wednesdays so bad? Amanda has no idea. Maybe this midweek madness is just a reaction to the routine of the first half of the week . Maybe it’s because there’s usually a roast on Sunday, revisited in another form on Monday, pizzas on Tuesday because she’s always out at ballet and that Wednesday is the first time in the week she actually has to think about what’s for dinner. It seems to be a rude interruption to the flow of sameness.
She’s annoyed with herself for thinking about dinners when she was trying to grab five minutes for herself but it was the rhythm thing and Wednesdays and sometimes you just can’t control what comes into your head. Last week, there had been pork loin fillet and aside from the usual jokes about where this particular cut of pig comes from, they had all approached their plates with the fear they had been accustomed to on Whacky Wednesdays. But it had been good. She had put it in some foil, sprinkled it with sage, some chopped onions and some dried apricots, folded the edges to make a parcel and cooked it in the oven. It had been delicious. Really. They had all liked it. Obviously, she had removed the apricots from one portion, only put one on another, no onions on either of those, and three apricots on the third which were more of a gesture than a serious expectation that they would be eaten, more juice on one plate than the other because he likes gravy and only a spoonful of rice on the last one (which also wouldn’t get eaten but then you can’t please everybody). So it was a success. They made nervous jokes about how maybe Whacky Wednesday would slip silently to another day or that it was building up to one enormous occasion to be unleashed on them when they were least expecting it. Such was their faith in Amanda’s cooking. But they needn’t have worried. Yesterday evening, relieved at having found the perfect Wednesday recipe, she had decided to do the pork again. Except that there hadn’t been any loin fillets on offer in the supermarket that Monday so she had decided to use loin chops. This is the problem with supermarkets, they’re like drug dealers. They get you hooked on something by selling it cheap, then put the price up. She bought the chops instead because after all, they should taste the same. Amanda had learned to tell from the angle they wielded their knives and forks just how the meal was going to go; the greater the angle between cutler and plate, the less engaged with consumption the diner was. She’d put the same ingredients in with the chops, the onions, the sage, the apricots. Her youngest said he had a tummy ache and left the table (in the case of younger children, replace the word ‘angle’ with ‘distance’), the next one would only swallow it with gulps of milk and on the promise of a crème caramel, the next was holding his fork almost vertically saying that he wasn’t actually that hungry and her husband had given up saying ‘I don’t really think that the apricots go’; this was particularly bad as he rarely made specific comments and usually went without lunch and was probably extremely hungry. Amanda’s eldest son was away at university and probably eating beans. She had wished she was with him.
How was it possible to get something so wrong when she was so sure that she had replicated the previous week’s success? The moment when she created that perfect dish had been savoured, devoured and lost forever. So it wasn’t rhythm at all, it was the luck of the moment, having the exactly right ingredients and the right people with the right frame of mind to appreciate what was put before them. No fat, no bones, just the meat of it. It didn’t matter to them that the ingredients were the same, they couldn’t be told. So what was the point in worrying? They would never get that dish again and she would continue with Whacky Wednesdays. Hoorah for Whacky Wednesdays!
So now it was seven o’clock in the morning and here she was drinking tea and feeling a bit smug. She’d moved from being irritated about having her creative thoughts interrupted by the droning of domesticity and she had solved her problem. The black cloud was beginning to disperse. She went upstairs to have another shower and just stood there under its torrential downpour for half an hour. She ignored the calls for breakfast from the other side of the door (or whatever it was they were saying because she really couldn’t hear them) and stayed until every last drop of hot water had beaten down on her shoulders. She didn’t wash, she didn’t shave her legs or underarms, she just stood. Unlike the shower downstairs which worked on an electric element and heated the water on demand, the upstairs one relied on a tank for its supply. It would be some time before there was any more hot water available. Shame. She’d just been in the right place at the right time to appreciate it.