Cooking Lessons – A Drama Short Story by Molly Jenkinson – Reedsy Prompts
“That’s it petal, just push down a smidge more and it should cut right the way through it.”
Mam’s standing above me as I’m trying to hack through the biggest potato the world’s ever seen. I’m sweating bullets at this point but she’s having none of it.
“Can’t you just do it, Mam?”
I’m absolutely knackered. I’ve been stabbing at this thing for (no joke) fifteen minutes but she just will not take it off me.
I’m not sure why this isn’t working ‘cos usually when I’m doing stuff wrong, she’ll tell me she’ll just do it herself in that mardy voice she puts on when she thinks I’m being daft.
Right now, though she’s getting on like she’s had a complete personality transplant, the way she’s talking to me. ‘Petal,’ for a start. She’s not called me that since primary school.
“Well done, doll!” She laughs and beams at me so wide that I can see the two gold fillings on her back teeth.
Thank God I’ve managed to get to the other side of the mega potato though.
“Right. Next step,” she says, “What does it say on the paper?”
Christ. Looks like I’m not getting out of helping with the whole meal then. I never even said I wanted to learn to cook so I’ve no idea where she’s pulled this from.
I reach over the bowl of limp potatoes and slide the recipe over to our end of the dining table.
“Erm. It’s saying to chop and… dice the onions and then, simmer them over a low heat.”
Not sure what the hell dice means but I’m not about to look like an idiot and ask.
“Pass us the big knife then love.” She says.
I get up on the step stool and pull a knife out the wooden block behind the kettle. Weird. The big knife must be in the dishwasher.
I’ve decided I don’t care if she’s acting mental. At least she’s being nice.
She’s looking at me like I’m meant to go all Ratatouille on this onion but I’ve genuinely not a clue where to start. Pretty sure I’ve seen her take this weird layer of paper off before she cuts it up normally. Yeah. I’m just gonna start with that.
Ew. There’s a horrible slimy layer underneath it that feels like when you’ve wiped your nose with the same tissue too many times.
“Has it gone off?” I ask.
She looks at me all sour and puts her damp hair up in a bobble.
“No, it’s meant to be like that. Come on, love, get a shift on, I’d like to eat sometime this month.”
Guess I’m just slicing straight into this bad boy then. I’m just gonna cut it up exactly like the potato. It’s basically the same thing. Same shape, anyway. Mam’s busy trying to find the meatballs in the back of the freezer (they’ve all rolled out of the packet ‘cos someone ((Big Daz)) didn’t put the cling film on properly when they put it back) so I’m really going mental with the onion while her back’s turned. I’ve managed to hack it into big chunks like the potato, but they don’t look much like dice to me yet. Maybe if I cut them into really small cubes they’ll look better.
Right. Sorted. Looks fine to me.
“Christ, be careful! You’re going to slice your finger off doing it like that!” she shouts.
I can tell she’s regretting doing this now but she’s the one that was insisting that I need to learn how to cook and that now’s as good a time as any. I would say that as soon as I get home from school is the worst possible time to do anything.
“Don’t stress, it’s fine.” I push the pile of onions towards her, holding up my unmaimed fingers as proof of just how fine everything is.
She’s doing that sort of pale smile that Our Elaine calls Mam’s stretchy smile. ‘Cos it sort of stretches her lips out to where you can’t really see them anymore. That’s usually how I know she’s really about to lose it with me. God. I hope Our Elaine gets let out of netball early. At least then there’ll be two of us to boss around.
Mam’s banging around in the stuff drawer looking for matches now. She’s not gonna find them though ‘cos I gave the last pack to Liam Miller’s lad when he came knockin’ on askin’ if we had any spare cigs.
Oh God. I’ll blame it on Our Elaine if she really gets up my arse about it.
She slams the stuff drawer so hard I can hear next door’s cabinets rocking against the shared wall.
“Go and get Daz’s lighter out his jeans pocket, will you?” she says.
Thank God for Big Daz and his filthy habits.
“Where are they?” I ask.
“Just get them will you, Soph, Christ’s sake.”
She’s gritting her teeth now but she’s still smiling. She looks as if she’s about to burst a blood vessel the way she’s grabbing onto the counter. She’s scaring me a bit now actually, she’s not normally this intense about stuff.
I fast walk into the hallway. Daz’s jeans are crumpled up near the top of the stairs for some reason. Weird. He’s usually such a freak about his stuff being in the right place.
“Sophie!” Mam shouts from the kitchen. “You don’t need to go all the way up the stairs to get a lighter that’s in the hallway, do you? Hurry up!”
Don’t have time to solve this mystery right now. I don’t want a hiding from Mam.
I fish the lighter out Big Daz’s scruffy pocket and run back to the kitchen. Mam’s clattering pans about and shoving drawers in and out like she’s getting paid for it.
“Soph?” She puts all her pans down and turns round to face me. “Do you know how to light the hob, petal?”
She’s still got her stretchy smile on. Only now there’s sad in her eyes, not frustration. Christ. I really hope Our Elaine gets back soon. She’s better at talking than me when Mam gets like this.
I’m also crossing my fingers that Big Daz doesn’t get back from work before Elaine comes home ‘cos Mam’s been mega fumin’ at him recently. Elaine says she knows why but she gets on like I’m too young to understand when I ask her what’s been goin’ on. I reckon’ that means she doesn’t actually know though.
“I think so, Mam.” I flick the lighter up and down four times before it finally sets the hob going.
“Right. Olive oil.” Mam’s voice is shaking now. I think she might be crying? “Chop chop Soph, you’ve got to learn to stand on your own two feet ‘cos I won’t be around forever you know.”
What’s she talking about? I’m properly scared now. She never normally gets like this in the day.
I grab the olive oil and start pouring. “Mam? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine Soph! Why wouldn’t I be fine?” she snaps. She holds her fingers up like I did before. I think she’s trying to make me laugh so I force out an anxious giggle.
“Onions.” She points towards the pan and then turns her back to me. I shove them into the pan and the oil spits in my face so much that I almost go flying off my step stool.
I get down and wipe my face on a tea-towel whilst Mam isn’t looking still. I don’t want her to think I’ve done it wrong ‘cos that’ll make her angry mental instead of sad mental.
She’s holding onto the counter so hard her fingertips are turning white, and her shoulders are shaking up and down like she’s shrugging a coat off.
The way she whips her head round it’s like she’s forgot I was there.
The stretchy smile is gone now, and her eyes are massive and red.
Normally, when Elaine or Big Daz are in, they send me upstairs at this point ‘cos they don’t want me to see Mam going soft.
It’s probably fine. It’s not like she’s gonna hurt me. It’s just Mam but soft.
“Let’s eat what we’ve got, eh! I’m ravenous!” she says.
What we’ve got is four dry potatoes and some hard onions. But I don’t want her to get even more soft so I’m just gonna get on like I agree with her.
She grabs the hot pan off the hob and neatly pours the oily onions into four little piles on the dining room table.
Right. Guess we’re not doing plates then.
She’s pointing at me to put the potatoes with the onions but when I go to do it, she slaps my hand away.
“Sophie! For Christ’s sake!” she snaps. “Put them at the side, not on top. We’re not heathens.”
I really hope Our Elaine gets home soon. I’d even take Big Daz at this point. I just don’t want to be alone with her anymore.
She sits down in front of one of the mush piles and pats the seat next to her.
I’m really scared now. I’ve never seen her this bad.
“Now you can cook! You’ll be right as rain on your own. I mean, it really would have been better to teach Our Elaine but she’s God knows where…”
I’m not even sure she’s talking to me at this point. She’s not looking at me. She’s getting on like she’s telling the chopping board all about our cooking lesson.
Her head snaps up.
“Sophie!” There’s tears in her eyes again now. “I don’t want you to think less of me.”
“What do you mean, Mam?” My eyes are watering, and the back of my throat is stinging like it does when I eat a Toxic Waste.
I go and sit next to her.
I can hear my heart beating in my ears. “It’s all fine. Let’s just eat our tea, yeah?” I tell her.
She can’t say daft things if her mouth’s full.
She grabs my face and stares at me with the red eyes. “Fine.” She sighs. I don’t know how she’s doing it but she’s crying without moving her face.
I’m so scared.
Mam’s pushing the mush around in different directions with her pinkie fingers now, making different shapes on the dining table.
I can hear someone unlocking the door.
“Sorry I’m late back, Miss James didn’t let us out ‘till quarter past!” Elaine is shouting from the porch. “I’m just gonna have a quick shower, I’m sweating bollocks!”
As soon as she starts up the stairs Mam stops pushing her potato pile around and slams her hands down on the table.
“Elaine! Come down, Mam needs you for something!” I shout. The way we’re sat means I’m in the corner next to the lamp so I can’t get past Mam to get to the stairs. I really hope Our Elaine can hear me. I can’t stand this much longer.
Something’s really up with Mam’s eyes. She looks exactly like Liam Miller’s dog did before it tore up that rabbit.
She stands up so fast she sends her chair flying into the lamp.
Oh God. There’s glass bits all over the floor now but she doesn’t seem to care ‘cos she’s just run straight through them all to get to the stairs.
“Elaine!” she’s screaming now. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone sound like this.
“What?” Elaine’s shouting back down to her now, she sounds like she’s panicking a bit.
Then she screams. Elaine this time, not Mam. I can tell it’s Elaine ‘cos she used to scream right loud like that whenever Georgie from next door would bring his pet snake out its cage.
This scream is different though. She sounds as if a hundred pet snakes have just crawled out from out the bathroom walls and bit her right in the face.
I can hear Mam running up the stairs to Elaine, but I can’t go anywhere ‘cos there’s a million shards of glass in the way.
I reckon I can reach the tea-towel drawer from here. I think if I put them all out on top of each other like a red carpet it won’t wreck my feet.
I wonder how fuming Big Daz would be if I called him at work.
I hop onto my tea towel carpet and jump straight back off into the hallway.
Got away with that, I think.
Oh God. What the hell is going on?
Elaine is in absolute hysterics, but I can’t hear a thing she’s saying ‘cos she’s crying too much.
I’m in the hall now. In my head I’m running but whenever I take a step it feels like I’ve got super glue on the bottom of my socks.
Now I’ve finally made it to the bottom of the stairs I can hear Mam talking. She’s stopped screaming now and she’s pleading with Elaine about something in this really creepy sounding crackly whisper.
“Elaine. I love you, petal! I love you all. Please!” she says.
The super glue sticks me down to the bottom of the stairs. Whatever’s in the bathroom is the reason I wasn’t allowed to get changed out my uniform when I got home from school.
I’ve never ever heard Elaine like this. She’s usually so grown up about everything but right now she sounds about five years old. You can’t sound like that if you’re just being daft. Something’s really wrong.
I don’t know what to do. I can’t tell if calling Big Daz will make it worse or not. I also can’t remember if they reconnected the house phone after Mam wouldn’t pay that man who came round from BT who she thought was a scammer.
I need to know what’s happening before I even think about trying to call anyone.
I’m just gonna do it in bursts. I think that’ll make it easier.
Right. That’s ten steps done.
Then the last three.
I shove Big Daz’s jeans out the way and stand at the top of the landing. Mam and Elaine are all the way at the other end of the hallway next to the bathroom.
Elaine’s sitting rocking herself back and forwards outside the bathroom door and Mam’s stood over her just staring at her. She’s doing that mental silent cry that you only normally see in films.
I can see it now.
I’m right close to the bathroom an’ I can see it now.
It’s Big Daz.
He’s sat up but he looks kind of floppy. One of his arms is hanging over the bath and the other one is behind his back. He doesn’t have any jeans on, and the Big Knife is sat on the floor next to him. There’s blood on everything.
I look at Mam and then back at Daz and then back at Mam again.
I think I’m gonna be sick.
“Sophie!” Elaine jumps up and wraps her arms around my head.
“Don’t look Soph. Don’t look. Don’t look.” She says into my hair.
Oh God. I can hear myself screaming but it doesn’t feel like it’s me doing it. I feel like I’m watching myself from out of my body. I watch as I vomit all over Elaine’s shoulder and down her back.
She’s shaking me now, saying we have to leave. That we’re not safe here and we have to get out the house. Mam’s just been staring at us, crying motionlessly.
She can’t have done this. Does she not feel anything? Why isn’t her face moving? How has she just watched me chop up that potato knowing Big Daz was up here dead this whole time? When did she kill him? Was he already dead when I got home?
I want to ask her, but I can’t move my mouth. I can’t seem to move anything.
Elaine stops shaking me now and throws me over her shoulder. She walks us both as fast as she can to the end of the landing but before she reaches the top of the stairs Mam’s sprints to block the top of the stairs.
She’s holding the Big Knife.
Elaine screams again and throws me down on the landing behind her.
“Mam! Look at me, please! You’re not well! We don’t blame you, Mam! We all saw how he treated you!” Elaine’s practically screaming this in her face, but Mam just walks straight past her and stands at the very top of the stairs.
When she finally speaks, she doesn’t turn to face us.
“At least you won’t go hungry” she says.
She holds the knife pointy side up and lets her knees go floppy all the way down to the bottom of the stairs.