For years – more than 20 – I cooked for the family. Five of us. More or less everything we ate, until the children went to school and had lunch there. My husband used to eat out on expenses during the day and when travelling on business (supposedly). And from time to time in the early years, before the money ran out and before we hated the sight of one another, we had date nights. But really, 9 times out of ten, I cooked. And we had people over a lot, so I would find myself catering for a dozen. I thought I enjoyed it. Looking back, maybe not. But what else could I do?
At weekends and during the holidays, three meals a day – four, if you included the two sittings. When the children were small they ate early: pasta, fish fingers, sausages, broccoli, peas and carrots. We grown-ups ate later. And later. And later. As my husband was ‘only’ keeping me waiting, he’d stay and do a bit more work. And so on.
And then I got fed up. I was sick and tired of making two meals. The thinking, the shopping, the clearing up. Twice. So boring. Don’t get me wrong, I had help. Still. I announced that henceforth there would be only one sitting for dinner. And although it was lovely for us all to meet up in the evenings and sit together and talk about our days before I went up with the children and read them their bedtime stories, there were times when I missed cooking stuff that was spicy, or contained mushrooms, or whatever (to please my husband, even though the two of us could barely speak to one another by then). Instead I made things like stews and lasagnes – big ones. Big family. Big portions. Mummy always feeding us.
Then my husband packed his bags and fucked off one day while we were all out. And so we were four. And I couldn’t cook. Couldn’t eat. Barely managed to put beans on toast in front of them for a while. My mother came round from time to time with casseroles and the like, for me to shove in the oven. Gradually I got back into it, and of course with the children growing, I could be a little more experimental. But I wasn’t really. I was still depressed, and also, I was penniless and unprepared to take risks: I needed to get calories into them as cheaply as possible. There was a lot of pasta. And also a lot of packets of cheap biscuits, I’m afraid to say.
My younger daughter had not spoken to her dad for a couple of years. But she was very unhappy, and the atmosphere was horrible. She decided to spend some time with him over the summer holidays when she was 15. She never came back. By that time, her big sister had gone to university. For much of the time, it was just me and my son, after the lodgers left.
I moved house with my son. Our new home came with a big fridge and a big freezer, and they tended to be full. I couldn’t be bothered to make roasts and lasagne for just the two of us, but I did cook every night. As we were gearing up for my son to go to uni, I encouraged him to do more of the cooking, and I admit that in the last few weeks, when my evenings and weekends have been completely taken up with work on my book, he has tended to do a lot of the food preparation, though the planning and shopping still fell to me.
Today is my first day of living alone. I knew he was moving out today. I had to leave for work early. I went in and woke him to say goodbye. I gave him a kiss. Tried not to cry. He was sleepy and barely lifted his head. During the day, while I was miles away at work, he packed his things and when I came home he was gone. He’s a neat, tidy and helpful boy. Yet when I came home to an empty house, there was a plate and a few mugs left out, crumbs on the wooden board. Some pairs of pants and socks left by the washing machine, his slippers at the foot of the stairs. I haven’t dared to look in his room. Whatever I see will upset me: if he’s left stuff or if he’s cleared stuff out. Either way.
I found some grub in the fridge and heated it up for my dinner. The fridge is half empty, and much of what is in there should really be thrown out. Including the fish I ate, a week past its sell-by date. Seemed fine to me. I looked at the fruit bowl, the enormous fruit bowl that was always full. Full still, but the apples (mostly harvested from our garden) and other fruits are starting to shrivel. I realised that I do not need to refill it. Or the fridge. It was not only a habit, but a point of pride, that I always had flowers in the kitchen, and a brimming fruit bowl. I do not have to buy things to feed anybody but myself. What do I like to eat? I don’t know any more. I have a lot of pears, and some ancient cheese. Maybe tomorrow I will have that. I don’t really like pears, but my son didn’t eat them. I wonder what I will buy the next time I go to the shops.
Now that I only have myself to please.