by Yannick Pas
n ice-cold glass of Chardonnay
When John Hollison announced one dismal afternoon that there were guests coming round and that he intended on cooking for everyone, his wife let out a deep sigh and poured herself another glass of Chardonnay. Jane Hollison did not like her husband’s cooking. Nobody liked her husband’s cooking, though Hollison was completely unaware of this, as nobody had told him, and so naturally he thought he was brilliant.
When they had guests round, Jane usually tried to persuade him to order a takeaway or to dine out for the evening so as to spare their companions the embarrassment of having to compliment the culinary disaster they would inevitably consume. But tonight their guests were of high profile, and Hollison was adamant about putting on a show.
Hollison looked like a cook when he was cooking, and also cooked like a cook, but the end product was always incredibly underwhelming, and more often than not as banal and tasteless as the man who had prepared it. Jane couldn’t quite put her finger on it, as she had stood in the kitchen on numerous evenings and observed her husband as he cooked, and he seemed to do no wrong. He followed each recipe meticulously, making precise measurements for every ingredient to ensure the perfect balance of flavour, and seasoned the food carefully and attentively. And yet, when the meal was complete, it would still taste bland. The man seemed simply to be cursed with mundanity. And so, as with her sex life, which she described to her friends as “like fucking an asthmatic tortoise that has been scooped out of its shell and heavily sedated”, Jane Hollison would often go elsewhere to enjoy the pleasures of taste, dining out with her girlfriends several times a week, and usually on her husband’s expense. This also provided her with the luxury of not being around Hollison whom, over their twenty-three years of marriage, she had gradually grown to despise. His every action seemed to send a chilling sensation that lay in some inescapable purgatory between loathing and pity down her spine as she observed the countless acts of awkward foolery that he managed without fail to undertake almost every day of the year. Sometimes, these nights in which she managed to wriggle free from their town house and escape to her dinner plans would overlap with a rendezvous she had arranged with a younger male companion who could fulfil her increasingly outlandish sexual desires, and so Hollison would stay up past midnight on some occasions to open the door for a wife who smelt of another cook’s food, and of another man’s cologne.
‘What do you think honey?’ called Hollison from the kitchen. ‘Shall I do the coq au vin or the crab linguine? I could run down to Tancredi’s and pick up some fresh pasta and herbs.’
Does it matter? Jane wanted desperately to retort from the adjoining living room, opting instead to swirl aimlessly around its glass the pale white wine that had not a glimmer of hope of reaching room temperature before it was guzzled down with a vicious yet charmingly feminine slurp. She observed closely the glass in her hand, admiring its long stem and the angular shape of the bowl. A work of pure craftsmanship was the thought that managed to scramble its way out of her woozy head. She looked around the various regions of the living room, admiring the many items that her husband’s income had afforded her. The Malian wood carvings perched atop the mantelpiece, remnants of a holiday from a time where their marriage had meant something, where there had existed an identifiable trace of love and meaningfulness to their companionship, were items of obvious admiration. The crystal chandelier that hung above the dining table like a shimmering cocoon, shedding sparkles of light across the bamboo wallpaper, left the same impression on her. So too did the lamps, Italian sofas, dining table, and rugs. They were all things that passed her by unnoticed throughout the sluggish unfolding of the day, until she had consumed enough of her sunset elixir to conjure up associations of warmth and pleasure.
She caught sight of her reflection in the window that looked down upon the lamplit street, and allowed her gaze to wander over the rolling valleys of her body, its curves and crevices. She let a brief smile break forth from within herself as she realised that though she was approaching fifty and an oncoming audience with dementia (genetics, to Jane, were everything), she still had it. It, in this case, was the reason why men stole glances at her in the street or in the aisles of the supermarket when she ran errands while tightly encased in her designer yoga pants. Or it was the way the probably-Polish waiter at Pizza Express had watched her hungrily from the observational safety of the kitchen. Most importantly, it was the way his body had at first stiffened and then ignited once he was passed by Jane, following the end of her lunch date with a group of cackling girlfriends, a slip of paper containing the digits necessary for contacting her to arrange a night of passion.
Do you think I look good in this, honey?’ Hollison asked his wife, emerging like some curious eel from the bedroom and sliding with suspicious fluidity into a near-pirouette as he exhibited his brand-new plum-coloured polo top.
‘Of course, darling, you look good in anything,’ replied Jane with a sardonic air, secretly harbouring thoughts, however, that the only thing he’d ever look good in would be an urn.
‘You really think so? It’s not too tight, is it?’
‘Not at all darling; I think it perfectly complements your wonderful figure,’ Jane lied over the rim of her folded magazine, ascending her gaze for a moment to scowl at her husband’s bulging midriff and the scrotum-like neck that held aloft his inexcusable, deep-sea face. Christ, how she had come to loathe the sight of that man and his goblin stoop.
Hollison, completely unaware of his wife’s simmering disgust, planted a soft and feeble kiss upon her cheek and returned into the neon glow of the kitchen. He set upon slicing up the carrots whilst humming a lofty tune, clearly pleased with his most recent online purchase
Within a matter of seconds, he had succeeded in slicing through approximately one-third of the width of his forefinger, yelping like a pup in the process as he observed with initial disbelief the blood pulse out of the victim digit, and frantically wrapped a few sheets of kitchen paper around the wound as he panicked and cursed his way over to the sink and the medicine cabinet there above. As he watched the blood run down the plughole and noticed the crimson splatters on his cherished new top, he was almost certain he could make out, over the dull screech of the gushing water, the sound of Jane in the other room sipping her Chardonnay with renewed vigour.
After he turned to dispose of the bloody kitchen paper and slipped on a small smudge of his own blood that lay upon the marble tiles, he could not help but notice the amused expression that had manifested itself across his wife’s face as he sailed briefly through the air and landed with a hard thud onto the kitchen floor.
‘Having one of those days are you, darling?’ Jane shouted from the other room, making no attempt to hide the enormous, sadistic smirk that had spread across her face.
‘Must be,’ Hollison muttered dejectedly, rubbing the spot on his backside that he had damaged in the fall, while attempting to conceal his humiliation. Deep down though he resigned himself to the undeniable and often unbearable realisation that he wasn’t just having one of those days; he was having one of those lifetimes.
Hollison as a young man had ricocheted his way through life until he eventually came to rest at a modestly sized and reasonably respected luxury yachting magazine based in Fitzrovia. Having had no experience in maritime matters, he had relied on his charming obsession with the nautical novels of the 19th and 20th centuries, on the words of Conrad and Melville, those two Gods of his imagination, and had eventually extracted from their pages enough seafaring knowledge to be able to use with confidence words such as “bulwark” or “cringle”. His adolescent fixation with the sea paid off over the four years that followed, and Hollison soon found himself as editor of the Caribbean & The Americas section of the magazine, which rewarded him quite handsomely and provided him and Jane with much opportunity for wonderful expeditions around the globe.
Life as an editor of a yachting mag, however, was not precisely what Hollison had in mind for his existence. No, what Hollison really wanted was to write those novels of which he had worshipped in his youth, and he soon realised that total fulfilment would never be achieved in this life until he had managed to cause a literary tempest with at least one of his brilliant ideas. In his spare hours, he had set to work on countless projects dealing with a multitude of delightful characters, such as heroic sailors or redeemed pirates, though none of these schemes of his had ever come fully into fruition, and were often aborted before they even had time to make out the narrow dimensions and slippery texture of their creative womb. As the years progressed and his marriage began to reveal its fractures, his resignation to failure and the withering of his lust for novelistic fame had turned Hollison into a phantom silhouette of a man who wandered the world absentmindedly. Nowadays, on the dwindling occasions where he managed to get behind the keyboard on a Sunday afternoon, it would result only in him farting out the odd paragraph or two before deleting them a week later and returning once more to the dismal starting line that had become his artistic tomb.
Two hours after the incident by the sink, Hollison was leaning over the railings of their balcony that peered over the front of the house, having left a pot of boeuf bourguignon to bubble away in the kitchen as he tapped and tested his wounded finger. Jane, meanwhile, had retired to the bedroom to get some sleep and shake off the effects of the alcohol in time for the arrival of their guests, whereupon she intended to revive precisely the same effects over the course of the evening.
In front of Hollison HQ was a small park surrounded on all sides by rows of terraced houses. As he peered through the autumnal gloom, Hollison caught a glimpse of some hooded individual stepping out of the mist like some hellish incarnation sent forth to oversee the distribution of evil. He followed the figure with his eyes until it had turned a corner and disappeared once again into the bleak mist. A murderer at large, Hollison speculated. He could then make out through the light drizzle the familiar maniac-shuffle of their neighbour Albert in the park. A once-joyous Frenchman with glacier eyes and a countryside chortle, Albert had submerged himself into a life of secluded madness since the glorious August evening that his wife was sent somersaulting over a speeding van round the corner from Piccadilly. Albert could now be glimpsed intermittently throughout the day, meandering through the park whilst dispersing muffled ramblings amongst the plants and pigeons, a maddened husk of his former self.
While the Hollisons’ balcony provided a marvellous point from which to look out over their neighbourhood and the quotidian dramas that happened therein, making use of it was something Hollison tried to do as seldom as possible unless he desperately needed a lungful of fresh air, which as it happens was the reason he was there at this particular moment following the trauma his ego had experienced in the kitchen. This is because whenever he stepped out onto his balcony, Hollison was overcome with a blissful tranquillity that was soon followed and replaced by a barrage of completely rational thoughts that burned through the clouded veil of his often-delusional mind. Of course, he would never be a successful and famous writer. Why bother keeping up the charade? Not only was it statistically improbable that this would ever happen, but Hollison also held a lingering suspicion in the shadowy depths of his mind that he just wasn’t any good. He knew that the people in his life, be they family or colleagues, did not take him seriously and saw him as a figure worthy of vicious mockery and patronising scorn. Whenever he stood out on his wonderful balcony that was attached to his luxurious, enviable house, he knew with reignited clarity that his wife was unfaithful and wished him harm, that she had perhaps even gone as far as conducting passionless affairs with some of his most trusted allies as a means of filling her days with empty lust and getting one over on him. He suspected that Douglas “Chip” Aspinall, the Glaswegian heir of a fish and chip empire and the guest he was hosting tonight, was one of these people, and that this dear friend of his ridiculed him from behind his back. Indeed, it was only when he stepped out into the exposed nightmare of his balcony that Hollison knew for certain that his life was a disaster.
Most of the time, after experiencing these eruptions of unsettling cognition, when he feared that even his own brain was conspiring against him, Hollison would vow to do something about it, to break free from those chains of ridicule and step up and assert himself as a man of the world. On every previous occasion however, he had managed only several paces once back indoors before his dear wife fired some seemingly uncalled-for and derogative comment (her tongue had a habit of loosening more and more as the Chardonnays kept on rolling) in his direction from the sofa, her fortress of Italian leather, and Hollison would once again slump and sag inside his skin and walk quietly away with a defeated mumble. Today, however, Hollison had decided that enough was enough, and he was adamant that it was time for the foundations of his revolution to be built.
Returning inside from the balcony, Hollison felt a familiar rumble from his body that often signified the need for an immediate evacuation of his bowels. As he shut the door to the outer world, he could feel already Jane’s eyes trained on him like a sniper’s scope (her snooze had been a brief one), and he had not moved more than a yard across the living room before she loosened the safety mechanism of her tongue and fired.
‘You were out there for so long that I thought you’d finally succumbed to Alzheimer’s and gotten lost on your own balcony,’ Jane half-slurred with a sinister smirk. ‘And why on earth are you walking so strangely?’ she said, frowning at Hollison as he tottered like a goose towards the bathroom.
‘Because, darling, I am in desperate need of a shit, and I suspect it shall be a rather large one,’ Hollison retorted as he exited the living room, allowing a triumphant smile to manifest itself upon his face as he caught in the periphery of his vision a look of disgust emerge on that of his wife’s who, while conceivably repelled by the subject matter of Hollison’s response, was also unaccustomed to an attitude of such blunt forwardness from her husband.
Hollison’s smile followed him all the way onto his flushable throne. It was a small victory, but it was a start.
About the author
Yannick Pas is an aspiring writer from Kent, UK, and a firm advocate of pushing boundaries in fiction.
He is half-Dutch, half-Welsh, was born in Hamburg, Germany, and given a French name.
For simplicity, he tends to refer to himself as British.