Jelly didn’t set. Don’t know why. Baby upset, gone shops to buy ready made. Why am I a bad cook?
Jelly didn’t set. Don’t know why. Baby upset, gone shops to buy ready made. Why am I a bad cook?
The witch took her favourite cook book out and began turning the heavy yellow pages. She wasn’t sure what to make, something to poison the neighbourhood kids or a light snack for herself?
‘Ah, mashed monster stew!’ she crackled, ‘that’s perfect for this stormy night!’
(Inspired from; https://first50.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/the-cookbook/ with thanks).
I hated being all by myself at home. It was too quiet and there never seemed to be anything to do. Most people would like that, I guess. They’d see it as a chance to do those odd jobs or hobbies or watch TV which they couldn’t do when parents and kids were around. Yes, I could do all that, but I didn’t feel in the mood for any of it.
Maybe it was the lack of motivation? The pressure that I must do something! I had the space, the time, the chances, so yes, I must do some kind of activity which I couldn’t do other wise.
Nothing was coming to my mind though. I listened to the ticking of the kitchen clock, the dripping of the rain outside and the cat purring around my legs. I put the TV on, but only for background noise and just to hear voices so I wouldn’t be lonely.
I wondered if this was how it was when you got old and housebound. Would I just watch TV all day and doze? Would I reflect on my past and wonder what the rest of my future would be like?
I hope I’d lived a good past.
The cat jumped up and snuggled into my lap. We’re not friends, but with my parents gone for a few days, she was attention seeking. I petted her and listened to her purring more loudly.
I’ve have to get a cat when I was old and stuck inside. It would have to be a nice cat though. One who’d sit in my lap all the time and not be so wild. An indoor cat. Maybe, one of those with a really long coat and bright blue eyes. I hope I’ll be able to brush it though….
I channel flicked, but didn’t find anything worth watching. A nagging voice in my head told me to do something. ANYTHING!
Picking the cat up, I placed her on the floor. Disgruntled, she looked at me then trotted off. I went into the kitchen, though I was hungry and began looking around. Finally, I decided to do some baking.
I wasn’t that good to be honest, but at least it would kill time until the evening. Then there’d be soaps on and quiz shows and murder mystery dramas. I could get snacks and chill out, maybe the cat would come to me again?
I pulled one of my favourite cooking books off the shelf and flipped through it. What could I make? Something simple, easy and tasty. Cake? Cupcakes? Yes, that would do…chocolate cupcakes!
I set to work and found my mind better now it had something to focus on.
As the crunch echoed in her ears, she felt like autumn had really arrived. The sweet, crisp taste of apple and hard toffee mixed on her tongue and filled her with a bliss that seemed unbeatable. She swallowed and had to hold back her moan of pleasure. This was almost as good as pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice latte. It was the essence of autumn wrapped up.
The humans glanced out of the cage as the aliens passed. Unlike the Earth zoos in which the animals had been behind metal and glass, the last humans were behind an almost clear force field. Nor where they roaming though fields and trees, they had ‘mock’ houses and large gardens styled on what was known to be how the last earthlings lived in.
There were twelve of them all together. An old woman, who would smile and wave at the aliens from a rocking chair. Three children who would play in the gardens and staring questionably back. A baby, who was a fascinated by all, but not when he was crying. The rest were young and middle-aged men and women who lived a quiet life which to them was all they had ever known.
The humans were given enrichment and the aliens watched them in wonder. The children were given toys – stuffed fabric in animal shapes, puzzle games and wooden blocks. The adults were given art supplies, cooking equipment and exercise machines. The keepers wanted them to live as naturally as possible and enjoyed researching old earth pass times.
Today, the last humans had received a mixture of instruments and music players. The adults showed little interested, but the children enjoyed ringing the bells and blowing the trumpets. Finally though, the oldest man took up a guitar and began playing it. The others gathered around and soon form their own band.
The aliens were delighted. Humans were deeply mysterious after all.
It started to rain whilst she waited for the bus. Bridget watched it falling against the windows of the large bus station. She could see some of the reflections of the people around her too, but she was not paying attention anymore. A podcast was playing from her large headphones and she was caught up in that.
When the bus pulled up and she was first on, flashing her ticket and going to the back. Sitting down, she put her feet up the chair opposite and looked out if the window. She ignored anyone else getting on and though a few people shot her dirty looks, no one disturbed her. The ride home was quiet for late afternoon and by Bridget’s phone clock rush hour was still off for a little while.
She almost missed her stop, she was that caught up in the story telling podcast. She stood up, hitting a bell as she went and caught herself from behind thrown forward as the bus slammed to a halt. She thanked the diver and got off. The rain hit her unprotected hair and began soaking into the cotton jacket that she had luckily remembered to thrown before she went out.
She crossed the busy main road and hurried down the side street opposite. Terraced houses that had been built of the late nineteen hundreds cotton mill workers sat on both sides of the street. Most of the brick work and window frames looked new, but the houses were still weighed down in history and owl like in their wisdom.
Bridget’s feet came to a stop and she looked to the side. Her house with its white gate and white door loomed over her. It had always been home, but lately it had felt more like a prison. Bridget opened the gate and walked up the pathway. She opened her bag to dig for her keys, regretting not doing that on the bus.
Finding them, she let herself into the house. Standing in the tiny hallway, which had just enough room for a small coat rack on the wall, Bridget took her coat, shoes and headphones off. Then stepping into a medium size living room, which looked cosy and welcoming, she listened. The boiler was ticking in the background and the sink in the bathroom upstairs was still dripping, but there were no other sounds.
Letting go of a breath, Bridget carrying all her things walked down the living room. She stopped at the bottom of the staircase which divided the living room and kitchen up. She listened again, but hearing nothing else, went up. At the top, she turned to the left and went into her bedroom. She closed the door, locking the latch down before dumping her stuff the bed.
Quickly, she put her shoes on the floor and hung her jacket on the back of the door. Taking her notebook from her bag, she placed it on her desk and went to the window. Looking out of the raindrop covered glass, she could see the small empty back garden with its grey flagstone floor. Over the tall wood board fence, she could just make out the alleyway where she and her older sister had often played at jungle explorers and other games in the thick scrub like land.
Bridget pressed her warm forehead to the cold, damp glass and closed her eyes. She thought about her sister, imagining Briony as she now forever would be; a twelve year old girl on the cusp of being a teenager, laughing as she sat in a tree. She had been wearing a bright blue dress with a white frill edging, a matching sunhat with a long ribbon, white shoes and socks. It had been one of her Sunday best outfits. They had been playing in the church graveyard, sent there whilst mother had been taking to the vicar after the service. It had been a game of hide and seek which was Briony’s favourite and best game. Bridget had been looking for an age before she had heard giggling and looked up the yew tree.
She still could remember her sister’s smiling face then how it had turned to one of shock horror. A piercing scream echoed around the graveyard then a sudden silence.
Bridget stepped back from the window and looked at the marks she had left on the glass. Sighing, she went and sat at her desk, not sure why she had suddenly began thinking about her long dead older sister again. Opening her laptop, she slide over her notebook and whilst waiting for the home screen to load up, flipped through the notebooks pages. Stopping at the one she had been writing at the train station, Bridget looked at her notes.
They seemed good. With the descriptions of the couple at the table then the couple she had seen meeting up afterwards, being well detailed and useful for writing a story about. Calling up a blank page on the screen, Bridget began writing everything. The sound of the rain falling and her typing on the keyboard filled the house.
It was the sound of the front door opening and closing that made Bridget stop. She listened and heard footsteps in the living room then the kitchen, which was underneath her. There come rustling, cupboards opening, the sink tap then the TV coming on. Bridget pressed her lips together and looked at her screen. She had moved on from writing up her notes and was in the middle of making a story around the first couple.
She saved her work and closed her laptop down, even though a part of her did not want to. She got up, only now noticing how dark it was getting. She drew her curtains against the still raining sky and went to the door. She felt for the latch and opened the door. The hallway was cast into darkness, but at the bottom of the stairs was a pool of light.
Bridget headed down and into the living room. She stopped on the edge and saw her mother sprawled across the sofa watching TV. The news was on, but her mother did not really seem to be watching it. She was wearing her works uniform; a dark blue pinafore, a matching t-shirt underneath and black trousers. Her flat shoes were lying on the floor beside her black socked feet.
‘Hi, mum. Everything okay?’ Bridget asked.
‘Not really, but never mind….You had a good day, sweetie?’
Bridget nodded, ‘I’ll get the kettle,’ she said and went into the kitchen.
As she crossed the plastic covered floor, Bridget could only think about how tried her mother looked. Perhaps, she had always looked so, but she could not remember. She made two cups of tea and on handing her mum’s a cup, went and sat in the armchair opposite the TV. Silently they watched the news and drink.
‘What’s for dinner?’ Bridget finally broken in.
‘I don’t know…fish fingers?’ Her mother answered, sleepy.
Bridget rolled her eyes, but decided not to remind her mother that was twenty six now and not eight. Instead, she collected the cups and went in the kitchen to look. However, there wasn’t much in. Sighing, she decided they were going to have fish fingers, chips and peas. Getting everything together, she started cooking.
Afterwards, Bridget made an excuse about being tried and went to bed. Her mother mumbled a good night and settled on the sofa to watch a murder mystery series. Lingering for a few seconds, Bridget wanted to say something about her older sister, but decided not to. Making her mother think back to that time was just asking for trouble and it was not like they could bring her back anyway.
Bridget went to her bedroom and sat at her desk. She opened her curtains and looked out into the night. The rain was still tapping against the window in a soft comforting way. Letting the curtain fall back, she decided not to go on her laptop, but to get into bed. Laying down, she tried to read an anthology of short stories she had started some months back, but she could not concentrate.
Turning off the lights, she lay in the darkness, watching the shadows settling on the wall. Pulling up the duvet, she rolled over and looked up at the ceiling.
‘Briony? Are you there?’ Bridget whispered.
To Be Continued…
After a bad day her only cure was to make cake. There was something she drew from the measuring and mixing of ingredients; a calming, homely sense that she could never put her fingers on. Afterwards when the cake was in oven, she curled on the sofa, licking the bowl and spoon. Memories of being little sat in her grandmother’s kitchen and eating the cake batter filled her. She had never known her grandmother not to be baking something. The timer went off and she hurried to take the cake out of the oven. The warm smell of vanilla of hugged her and she felt better already.
‘Mummy? How can I get a star in this jar?’
I glanced down at my eight year old daughter. She had come to my side, holding a large jam jar in both hands and frowning into it. I stopped chopping vegetables for the pasta sauce and turned to her.
‘A star?’ I questioned.
She nodded once and clutching the jar tighter to her chest, looked up at me.
‘It’s for Nana’s birthday,’ she explained.
‘Oh…Well, you know catching a star is very hard. You can only see them at night and you need a really long fishing rod, a net and maybe some rope,’ I told her.
She stared up at me with big blue eyes framed with loose yellow curls that had escaped her ponytail. She pouted, becoming confused, but I could also she that she was trying to work out if I was lying or not.
‘Perhaps. Instead of a real star we could just make some?’ I suggested.
‘I’ll show you after dinner. Here, let me put that somewhere safe for you….’
I reached to take the jar from her, but she shook her head and started walking off.
‘Be careful!’ I called after her.
She mumbled something and walked out of the kitchen.
I listened for a few moments as her voice drifted back from the living room where her dad and baby brother were watching cartoons. She seemed to be telling him what I had just said. Shaking my head, I got back to making dinner, but my thoughts were really on how to create a star that would satisfy her.
Afterwards, I gathered some craft supplies and found an old box of Christmas white fairy lights. Bringing everything into the living room, I presented my ideas to her and though she seemed a little uncertain, within two hours we had created some stars in a jar.
‘Do you think Nana will like it?’ I asked as I tucked my daughter into bed at last.
She looked at the jar which was now on her bedside. The fairy lights glowed softly inside it, casting light on to the danging paper stars attached to the lid. It did like very effective.
‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘and you were right mummy. That was a lot easier then catching a real star. Though I do wish we could have given it ago.’
‘Maybe, we could try tomorrow? Good night,’ I whispered.
Today seemed like a day when everything should have been perfect. The sun was blazing in one of those too blue romantic skies and there was a playfully teasing warm breeze. The urge to just get outside and soak it all in consumed me.
And that was when everything went wrong. I feel out of the bed, bashing my knees on the harsh carpet and after shaking that off, I slipped in the shower. My legs now red and slightly bruised, I ended up putting on crop jeans instead of my new sexy mini skirt. Taming my wild curling brown hair into an up do that some how made it looked like I didn’t care, followed.
Breakfast was another episode; the crumbly remains of cereal at the bottom of the box, gone off milk and a dirty spoon. Abandoning that, I got a breakfast snack bar and a glass of water and went outside in the garden. Hot yellow light poured over me, making me feel better. I sat on a very abandoned and lonely looking wooden deck chair in the middle of the lawn. Which thankfully, didn’t collapse on me, but groaned so much like my old great grandma, that I give up on it as soon as I had finished and went back inside.
Having no plans for this Sunday and caught by the unexpected weather, I decided to see who’d be up for a garden party. That was like my fourth fail of the morning. I selected a few people on my phone and sent them texts then whilst waiting excitedly, went through my friend lists online. I typed a few messages to people, a couple of friends I’d not seen in ages, an old ex, who I was still sort of in connect with, my hairdresser….Okay, that was an accident, but still, it didn’t matter.
Phone still in hand, I called up the note page and began listing things I’d need to do and buy. My mind hummed with this picture of a classy Sunday evening party. The men all around the small bbq, drinking beer and eyeing up the cooking food. The women clinking flute wine glasses, helping to bring out the salad and bread. The table! A huge wooden bench with a nice patterned cloth and center piece of flowers in a vase.
My phone beeped a texted and I picked it up. My ex had replied. Sorry, got a date tonight. My heart fluttered then sank. A date?
With who? I texted back without even thinking.
You don’t know her. Meet online.
The words burned before me. I placed my phone down and wondered if it was too early to have a little drink. Shaking that idea away, I got another glass of water instead and thought about seeing if any of my neighbors were interested in coming over. Of course, I’d need to go and see them about borrowing some chairs anyway.
Getting up, I noticed my black cat pad into the room back from his night time escapades. He meowed then jumped on the sunny window sill and watched the birds darting about the tree. Ignoring him too, I went into the hallway and slipped on my shoes. Going out, I tripped on the door frame and windmilled outside. Somehow steadying myself, I looked back trying to figure out what had happened.
Toeing the door frame, I pulled the door to and called on my first neighbor on the right. Rattling the gate, I saw her car was missing and wondered if she had taken her kids somewhere. Knocking on the door, my mind cast back and I wondered if a newly singled mother of three kids would want to come to my garden party. I hadn’t really tallied kids in….
No one answered the door. Turning, a tried the door next down, feeling more gigged as the whole street knew that a party loving girl lived there. I rang the door bell and waited. And waited. Finally, a bleary eyed, heavily beard and very naked man opened the door.
‘Is Connie in?’ I asked, trying to look around him or anywhere else for that matter.
‘In the shower.’
‘Well…er…I’m having a small party later and I was wondering if I could borrow some garden chairs? I’ll call back later.’
I backed up, waved a little and scampered off.
With my cheeks still red, I made my way down the other side of the street with little luck. Going back home, I checked my phone and found a few people had replied with yes and two more had said they couldn’t make it. More notice next time, please. One had even added.
Pulling a face, I decided to go out and get some food. That would surely clear my head of Mr. Naked Beard Face. Grabbing my things, I head out and jump in my little car. It takes a few moments for the engine to start up, but then I’m off and stuck in traffic.
Staring out of the windscreen, I look at the long line of cars facing both ways. What’s happened? Some kind of emergency? Knowing, I’ll probably never know, I join the queue and make it twenty minutes to a normally five minute drive. The supermarket car park is packed too. Nabbing a space, which turns out to be a mother and baby, I jump out and hurry in before anyone notices my lack of child.
Cooling fans greet me with their whirling breeze and after collecting a trolley, I’m off in a mad cyclone of people and food. Did everyone decided to suddenly come here? I grit my teeth at a screaming child and snatch up some chicken wings from under an old man’s nose. I throw in some burgers, sausages, chicken kebabs – which there’s never enough to go around of. Then I get some chicken drumsticks before remembering a vegan is coming. Sighing, I wonder into the fruit and veg and select a few things. How come a picky eater decided to come? What can I offer her?
I get some rice and a few other things, then hit the party section. They don’t have any pretty cloth table covers, but there’s plates and cups and cutlery. Loading those in, I avoid some chatting mothers, who are letting their kids play with balls in the toy section and make my way to the drinks. There’s too much choice. But I get some white wine and red, some mixers and some beer. Did I asked people to bring stuff?
I pull out my phone and check. Nope. Listing everyone up again, I send messages to that request and go to the tills.
‘Having a party?’ the depressed teenage girl behind the desk asks me.
‘Just a small one,’ I reply.
‘Looks like everyone else is too….’
‘The weather’s nice,’ I blurt and began packing.
‘I guess so…’
She fixes me with dark, having-seen-too-much eyes and scans my items. I hurry away, still feeling her gaze on me. I load the car and get in, having clocked someone waiting for my parking space crawling up. It’s too hot inside, so I opened the windows then sit off. Arriving home again, my cat is still on the window sill and if it wasn’t for his gently breathing, he’d be mistaken for being dead.
Getting sorted and ferrying everything from car to kitchen. I go into the living room and pick him up. He’s still alive and he gives me that look of oh my god did you just awake me? What are you thinking? What do you want? He tries to claw at me, but I carry him into the kitchen and place him outside. He sits looking rejected before trotting off.
I spend the rest of the day preparing and answering any messages that come through. Finally, everything is ready to go and someone knocks on the door. I hurry to answer it and find my neighbor Connie and Mr Naked Beard Face waiting for me.
‘Hi. Ken said you needed some chairs?’ Connie opens with.
I nodded, ‘I’m having a garden party.’
‘I could only spare four,’ she said pointing them out.
Ken is stood next to the stack of them, avoiding my eyes. Clearly he remembers what happened this morning.
‘That’s fine. Do you want to come in?’ I ask.
‘Sure, but we can’t stay long….’
I welcome them in and Connie directs Ken into the back garden.
A few moments later, some else arrives and the flow of people keeps coming. In my head, I begin to count and something tells me I didn’t invite this many…Wait, do I even know that guy with the Bon Jovi t-shirt?
I stare, trying to figure him out then someone taps me on the elbow and asks about food. As normal, some of the men have taken it upon themselves to show off their inner caveman and have got the bbq under way. It doesn’t take long to direct people to things then I’m back trying to find out more about my Bon Jovi fan interloper.
Checking all the rooms, I bump into Mr. Naked Beard Face coming out of the bathroom.
‘Sorry,’ I mumble.
‘About this morning…’ he starts.
‘No, it’s fine,’ I wave him away and check the bedrooms. No sign of interloper.
Out in the garden again the smell of smoking and cooking food hits me. I nibble at a muffin, eyeing my guests. Laughed rings in my ears and I turn to spot my hairdresser with Mr. B J Fan. Hurrying over, I butt into their conversation and get introduced to him as her boyfriend. Mystery solved.
Letting it go, I enjoy myself. The evening glows on and even though I didn’t get the picture perfect garden party I wanted, it seems to be going okay. Then of course the real partying breaks out and everyone seems to get drunk too fast. Loud music pours out my CD player, like a big finger pointing out the source of all noises. People sing and yell, someone starts throwing drinks about, there’s a queue for the bathroom. Midnight rocks up on the clock face and somehow I’m not drunk enough to come back to my senses and kick everyone out.
On the doorstep, Mr. Naked Beard Face, AKA Ken, turns to face me as Connie wobbles down the street clutching half a bottle of wine.
‘I’m sorry about this morning. I just got up and I didn’t think…’ he says.
‘It’s fine. It happens. You should go and help her,’ I nod over at Connie, who seems to have dropped her keys and is swearing loudly.
He stares at me, unsure about it then he turns and goes over to help her. I shoo the rest of the people out as taxis pull up and others do car shares with what I hope are sober drivers. I close the door and lean on it. My house smell of smoke, beer and sweaty bodies on a hot summer’s night.
I go into the living room, avoiding the mess and sink down onto the sofa. Someone has left their jacket on the arm chair and there’s a split cup of something pooling on the window sill. I shut my eyes. I drifted then the cat wakes me with a paw to my face. Hugging him, I take him upstairs and collapse on the bed, my dreams strangely full of necked beard men.
There was just something comforting about coming home after a holiday and eating their favorite food despite everything else they had eaten whilst they had been traveling.
A man with dyslexia writing about this and that and everything else!
Crimson's prose, poems and photos
Grab a cup of coffee, and have a seat...