The evening passed with little conversation, Christina chopped the onions and breathed the scent deeply as they caramelised in the pan. Her worries often drifted away on the steam and the comforting smell of the garlic and butter. Good food was life, that was what she learned in the long summers in grandma’s kitchen. The back door was never closed, and immediately without the nooks and crannies and borders full of herbs ushered their healing scents inside on the warm breeze. Beyond the frilly, green heads of young carrots played on the same wind, as it leapt like a nymph breathing life into the tomatoes, the pumpkins, the peas and the beans, stacked tall on rickety supports or spreading like curled twine along the earth.
Wide eyed and wide mouthed she had played in grandmas kitchen and garden as a child, a stack of her Enid Blyton books by the solid fuel stove for the chillier nights where she would sit on a stool and wait for grandma to finish scrubbing the heavy bottomed copper pots. As a teenager she remembered protesting the evacuation to the countryside, and the idea of helping in the garden or stirring sauces in the kitchen but when she arrived the warmth of the stove crept into her bones and she would feel home. As a teenager she would lay in the tall grass, reading, with the sun on her face inhaling the fresh air, the dew trapped in the smaller plants, tangled lower in the grass.
Where was that girl in the woman she had become? The girl who had really seen the world around her and felt connected to it? Felt part of the earth between her toes and part of the air in her lungs?
The acrid smell of burning snapped her back, not just the onions but the cheap plastic spatula melting in contact with the hot pan.
Ricky would smell it too, and he’d know she’d been away with the fairies again or having one of her ‘episodes’ as he liked to call it in his condescending way. She poured the burnt mixture in the bin and methodically pulled out a couple of big potatoes, the planned chicken casserole was going to become chicken and baked potatoes.
‘If he doesn’t like it’ she thought ‘he can make himself something.’
Half an hour later they sat in front of the TV, plates on their laps, the mindless clapping of the studio audience on some game show or another permeating every corner of the room. The food finished, Christina got up to take out the plates
‘Wait’ said Ricky, gently grabbing her arm.
‘What hun? Let me just put these plates in the kitchen’
‘No Christina please, just sit down, this is important’
‘Here we go’ she thought but eased herself silently and stiffly back onto the sofa, putting the stacked plates on the floor with a little clatter.
‘Why don’t you ever talk about your family?’ What happened to them? Something is wrong with you, I know it is and I don’t know if you know anymore about what it is than I do but your burning up all the time, and either sleeping or distracted, its like your on another planet. I’m sorry to do this to you, I know you want me to just leave the subject alone but I need to know what’s wrong with you and it’s either me or something I don’t know about. Is there a history of illness in your family? Is that why none of them are around?’
She sat, shock and anger coursed through her, her arms tense and trembling. How dare he? How dare he ask questions when all along, right from the very beginning she had made it perfectly clear that the subject of family was forbidden, off limits and that was final. Then she lifted her furious eyes and red face and the onslaught of harsh words she was about the let forth was halted in its tracks. That same familiar flash of concern darting around his big, brown eyes and she felt her posture soften, her shoulders drop, the fighting stance leave her.
A pause, a breath, a moment where he thought she was about to open up.
‘There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s just a cold that I can’t shake, I need to give up smoking, I’m fine.’
And in trying to convince him, she convinced herself. In one fluid motion she rose from her seat, scooping up the plates and was through the kitchen door before she could hear him throwing himself dejectedly back onto the sofa and turning up the volume of the TV to annoy her.