I am stood in the archway that separates the dinning-kitchen from the living room, looking at the calendar that is attached to the side of the wall unit. The number twenty-seven is haloed in black ink that resembles a loose ball of string. The accompanying picture for August features The Rehearsal by Degas, my favourite artist. The image demonstrates the harmony of colours and fluid movements that remind me of my childhood longing to be a ballet dancer, but I grew too tall.
I walk barefoot on the cold, grey slate floor to the modest, pine dinning-kitchen that offers natural light through the open window and double patio doors. I know pine is passé but I always wanted an antique-stained pine kitchen like Grandma’s; she used to say it made a house a home. The slight breeze invites scents from lavender and rosemary in their metallic planters that shine like lighthouses on the window sill. A bee hovers momentarily, then moves between the two playing ping-pong, undecided as to which is the better flora.
For a moment the cool air, against my bare legs, takes me back five years to a time when the draft in the hall used to bother me. With every degree drop in temperature the socks got thicker and the layered clothes made me look like a Michelin man; I was thin and susceptible then, unlike my fuller self today. It is always the cold chill that brings forth memories of needles, burning veins, lethargy and soft sympathetic voices. The memories cling to my skin like silk kaftans blowing in the breeze. I involuntarily shudder, shaking off the reverie.
It is Thursday and my family and I usually eat toad-in-the-hole with garden peas and thick, onion gravy, but today is a special day that calls for a new recipe. Brian has taken our nine year old son Carl and our twelve year old daughter Molly out for the day at my request, so that I can have some ‘me’ time.
I go and sit at the dinning table on one of four chairs, each with a different pastel-coloured cushion, an idea I told my husband Brian, would bring a touch of individuality to our home. He said it was mildly eccentric. The table is bare but for the heavy, food-stained cooking bible that lays like Pandora’s Box waiting to be opened. Flicking through the pages I come across a postcard sized finger painting that Molly had created on her first day at nursery. I mark the page with the picture at the meal I’m going to prepare later in the day; Pot Roast Pork with juniper and rosemary. In the mean time I’ll enjoy a cup of tea and two mantecadas that Carl and I made yesterday. We are both love cooking and Brian often comes home from work to find us cooing, like pigeons over the T.V chef’s new creations.
In the warm, cream and coffee-toned living room, I sit with my swollen legs up on the brown leather sofa, welcoming its coolness against my hot, tender skin. Crumbs from the melt-in-the-mouth Spanish biscuits, flake off like snow, avalanching down my undulating breasts, which are cushioned within a canary yellow vest. The tea is hot so I place it on a green, oak leaf-shaped coaster and read another chapter from Nature Girl, a gift from Molly for my thirty-eighth birthday last month. Molly is about to hit her teens and I worry the growing distance between us will become cavernous with her fluctuating hormones. I hope she’ll be able to cope when I leave tomorrow.
I’m suddenly overcome with lethargy and my eyes flicker like strobe lights as I fight the urge to sleep.
In my dream the colourful paint pot summers day gives way to a monochrome blue-grey. I have an overwhelming urge to go to the attic and leave the everyday noises of the humming washing machine, dripping taps and the Disney Channel that masks the raging sounds of the wind. My legs feel heavy as I climb the two flights of stairs and the monotonous, dull drudge fades and melts into a different sound that builds up with each step, reaching its crescendo in the attic. The roar is earthly and human born from anguish. Shutting my eyes, my senses picture a beast of vast proportions, all mouth and voice, producing hellish vocals, drawing me up like a puppet to its master.
The window I was meant to shut earlier in the day is struggling between opening and shutting. The harrowing resonance burns deep in my chest from the beast outside, that sucks at the window and pulls me up as I grab the handle. On the street below, few people are out on foot. Those that are walk stooped into the wind like Lowry’s matchstick people. They walk with short shuffles on the treadmill-like pavement, with hands on hats and coats bellowing out like super hero capes. I decide to close the window, to shut the noise out of my mind, but the letter flies out. I launch myself into the wind, which throws me about like a surfer riding a tsunami. Then comes the wipe out and I land on the neighbour’s shag-pile lawn.
I expect to wake in hospital with tubes and wires poking out from here and there; bright lights and soft whispering voices, but I see nothing. I hear music though, becoming louder with each note; an up tempo piano piece that I recognise as The Entertainer.
I wake from the dream to hear my mobile phone ringing. It’s Brian letting me know that they’d be home in an hour and a half; my cue to prepare the last supper.
‘My God, Christine that sounds so final calling it the last supper,’ he’d said, that morning.
‘It’s a joke. We are allowed a laugh you know.’
‘Sorry darling, you know what I’m like. I’ll have to get more chairs in then.’
‘There’s only going to be the four of us, Brian.’
‘So Jesus and his merry men aren’t invited then?’
We both hugged and laughed about that.
Straightening my headscarf, I head for the kitchen corner cupboard and take out the old, white colander with the broken handle where I keep some of the smaller vegetables. Taking out a garlic bulb in its white, crispy jacket I remove a couple of cloves in their red-pink shirts to reveal a milky-white, oily inner body with its warm healthy odour. Once sliced, I place them into slits in the pork. I then improvise a pestle and mortar by using a small pan and the end of the rolling pin and crush the juniper berries.
‘Is the rolling pin the pestle or the mortar? I can’t remember.’
The peppery, sweet pine aroma of the juniper and the bittersweet earthly element from the rosemary is reminiscent of the wet woodland walks in Scotland, when cousin Helen and I would run up the hills after Jack, Grandma’s terrier, singing like the von Trapp’s.
My brown eyes smart as I put the diced red onion into the pot. Adding the balsamic vinegar causes a sharp, warm smoke to fill the air enhancing the vaporous tear gas effect. The Campo Viejo creates the red wine gravy that has the appearance of liquorice but with the scent of ripe fruit and vanilla.
After forty minutes I turn the pork and the aroma permeates the room. I inhale slowly and deeply, enjoying the uplifting sensation flowing through my protruding veins. Shortly afterwards a burning pain squeezes my stomach like hands wringing a wet swimming costume. Luckily it isn’t ‘that’ pain just my body telling me I need nourishment.
I just finish setting the table when the brood arrive all full of talk about their day. The smell of the food excites them all as they eagerly sit at the table for their meal.
‘Tell me, what have you been up to?’
‘We got you a going away present,’ says Carl.
‘Hey, dope that was meant to be a surprise,’ says Molly, annoyed with her brother.
‘Let’s all calm down, we don’t want to spoil the end of the day,’ says Brian, as he reaches a hand out to me.
Carl tells me they’ve bought me a comfy pair of pyjamas from Mark’s and Spencer and a toilet bag with goodies picked out by Molly. I blew them both a kiss which they catch in the hands and put to their lips, smiling in return.
Despite my hunger pangs I eat very little. Everyone carries on as normal as I retreat for a leisurely soak, with an extravagant dollop of lavender bath mousse. Before getting in I look at the letter sent ten days ago, requesting me to be admitted on to the Darlington Breast Care Ward, for surgery the following day.
I pull off my headscarf letting it drop in the sink and rub my hands over my stubbly hair, smiling at my reflection.