Thursday 11 April 2019

Grandma in the Kitchen

by Sarah Bilaney

vegetable smoothie

Mary walked into the kitchen; shoulders squared as if she was about to confront someone rather than cook an evening meal. She slammed the door, demonstratively. 
How dare they! They should have told her first. After all, she was Lilly’s Mother. She was the future grandmother. Lilly should have told her first. It was cruel that Lilly firstly confided in Mary’s mother. Mary remembered knowing look that had passed between her own mother and her own child. Why did Lilly seem to prefer her grandmother to mother? Lilly had even told her father before telling Mary. 
Yes, after she heard she had responded with an acerbic observation, something that she knew would make her shudder with shame later. 
Lilly had arrived in the afternoon looking radiant.
‘Mum, I’m pregnant at last. I’ve been longing for a child and Michael’s as happy as me. Please be pleased for me.’
Mary responded quickly.
‘Oh Lilly, just after your career’s beginning to take off. To think of the sacrifices I, or rather we’ve made to pay for your university. And now, well! Are you sure you want the bother of a child? you don’t know how much work they are! Sleepless nights, and the loss of all independence. Look at me, I didn’t go as far in my profession as my childless colleagues.’
When she saw how her daughter’s face crumpled in response, Mary had muttered something about needing to cook, and left abruptly.
            Now she was in the kitchen, her kingdom. Before her lay gleaming marble surfaces, black and shiny, the sink, the refrigerator and the dishwasher all made of stainless steel, all set between cupboards of a pale shimmering wood. A variety of kitchen appliances were scattered on top of the work surface. Her kitchen had been built up over years. Every birthday, every Christmas her husband had added to it, new pots, new appliances and even, one year a completely new kitchen. Perfect gifts for a dedicated hobby cook, though recently she had begun to wish that he would give her something frivolous like a scarf or jewellery or a bottle of perfume. In her present mood her kitchen felt like a place of servitude. 
She felt angry and her anger spilled over into resentment. They, her family, were outside enjoying themselves, relaxing on this delightful September evening, while she was entombed in the kitchen cooking. She started to chop onions, their sickle shaped slitters glancing off a sharp blade and giving off a sweaty odour. The smell elicited the unpleasant memory of her son returning from school terrified and smelling of fear. She heated oil and added mustard seeds that started to explode; their popping sound matched her bursting, raging heart. She poured herself a glass of wine, a very dry red wine, its dryness made the inside of her mouth feel fuzzy, its tart taste fitted her tart mood. After finishing the glass quickly, and she poured herself another drink. She added the onions to the pan; they sizzled and hissed in response to the hot oil, the sound mirrored blistering anger. 
Her daughter was pregnant and Mary was to become a grandmother. The very thought made her feel old, made her feel that she was being relegated to the camp of the ancient, the timeworn, and that her life was speeding away.  She remembered the words of an old pop song, “I hope I die before I get old”. Mary did not want to die; she just did not want to get old. Mary’s thoughts drifted to reminiscences of being a petted and spoilt daughter to a revered wife and mother. She was unsure as to her role as a grandmother, though she felt it would marginalize her. Mary remembered her own grandmother, a stern lady whose iron-grey hair matched her iron-grey persona. When Mary was young, her family visited to this ogre with trepidation, the whole family seemed afraid of her grandma. With time, Mary’s grandmother lost her role as family matriarch, grandma became a sad confused old lady, a nuisance. Now, with impending grand-motherhood, Mary saw such a future unfurling before her.
            Usually Mary’s daughter helped with cooking. But those bitter, biting comments had pushed her daughter away. Now alone, Mary felt even more exploited. She added some thin slices of potatoes to her hissing onions and blasting mustard seeds. Hot fat droplets flew into the air above the pan, almost burning Mary’s hands. While the potatoes were turning brown, she prepared the rest of the meal. She removed some sirloin steak from the fridge and cut some garlic. The caustic smell of garlic fitted her caustic mood and the metallic smell of blood from the meat made her think of war. She cut carrots, podded peas, placed the potatoes mix in a hot oven, and then she was ready. Finally, with just the vegetables to boil and the steak to fry, she could go and sit down. But first she filled a small bowls with olives, pickled onions and the salty pistachio nuts her daughter loved.
It was the time to join the rest of the family. Carrying her tray of peace offerings, she moved towards her well-tended garden. Her family were sitting at the end of the lawn enjoying a late summer’s evening. Soft voices drifted toward her, her husband’s deep base voice was joined by the lighter younger tone of her son-in-law and then her daughter’s fluttering fluty interjections. Mary’s mother was silent. She could not hear their words, just their cadences. She then felt bitterly paranoid; perhaps they were discussing her reaction to their news, negatively. She startled a black bird that screamed and scolded. Thorns from a rose bush snagged her sleeve, but Mary moved forward to make herself visible and smiled. The party before her looked tense. Her husband looked up, he seemed puzzled by her, her son-in looked angry, but her daughter, who was sitting on a bench, patted the place beside her invitingly and Mary sat beside her daughter, subdued. 

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