Monday, Gina stood in her kitchen, the large oblong of the window swallowed her up. Poised against the counter, and backlit by the sky above her garden. The silver birch waited attentive along the fence, as she herself was attending to dinner.
Her hands exhibited scales and bumps; the same as the Maris Pipers lined up on the wood chopping block. She was juggling pans which simmered and boiled: like a conductor attending to each orchestrated part of a larger piece. On the right, the sultry sight of singed brown onions, frying upon the hob. To her left, a bowl of chopped tomatoes ready for use. Cheddar cheese and fresh chives sat on the counter, all waiting for her husband Adrian to return home for dinner.
Tuesday, and Whitney Houston played on the radio. Gina swung her hips to I Wanna Dance With Somebody whilst nursing a lemon curd. The sour sting of the lemon gave her immense joy, a feeling of delight and of energy: the fruit that bites back.
Remember, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Her mother had told her, when she used to seat her and her two sisters down at the table; one by one they’d take turns with the silver cutlery. She had imagined reaching into the open gut of a man, aiming for his heart.
Gina was raised in a small farmhouse near to where she resided now. Going far away from the place she was born had never appealed to her: it seemed unnecessary, disruptive.
‘Why does Robert never have to help with the table?’ She used to ask about her brother.
Robert is a busy boy, was always her mother’s answer.
Gina was childless, she had never expected anyone but herself to lay the table.
Wednesday: She sliced aubergine and carrots, pepper and tomatoes. These long, slender pieces of colour were laid sideways for roasting. She drizzled them in oil, placed them in the oven, and set a timer. This domestic space was her own sphere—in the form of a rectangle with varnished surfaces.
Upstairs, the bed was white and sterile, the sheets stretched taught like the animal hyde of a canvas. Adrian left early for work every morning, and she made the bed how she liked it: minimal, with two pink pillows on top. On Adrian’s side his reading glasses, two thick books, a pen knife and a yellowing shaving cream resided: the brutish miscellany of manhood. Upon Gina’s was nothing. She kept her possessions away in the drawer of her bedside table.
The house was clean and polished, but Adrian’s things oozed over each room like treacle. Dark hair in the bathroom sink, in the shower, on the pink pillows. Brown gardening gloves upon the polished dining table. His boots, the ones he forced his feet into every morning when he left the house, left a shadow of grit upon the floor—which Gina brushed away every time. It was always back the next day. She thought to herself how she would like to buy a shoe rack.
She moved across the metal skirting board which marked the end of the kitchen, where the dining room then jutted off to the left. This border was diplomatic. She carried dinner across this line. She escorted trays from the kitchen to the dining room, from the wings to centre stage. Sometimes she had dress rehearsals and prepared a crust she’d never made before at lunch time, trialling it herself. She experimented with casseroles: would courgette make a good replacement for beetroot? What about parsley instead of coriander?
Thursday. Adrian ate with vigour. His hands worked in complete synchronisation—a well practiced motion—to hack at his meat. He cut as though working through rope knots, not the tender lamb she had prepared for him. His grunting was punctuated by the dark dot of mint sauce which resided at the corner of his lip.
For dessert was blackberries upon a dark chocolate tart. Gina prepared it in the morning, melting 90% dark chocolate, watching the black sheen swirl inside the bowl. She relished rich flavour: the deep gravity of it. Extracting the essence of life.
‘Bit bitter,’ Adrian remarked upon biting into the tart.
Gina’s lips straightened into a puckered line.
Friday, and she retired from the pragmatics of housewifery. She lay in bed, reading Jane Austen after responding to emails. She had spent the morning painting her nails, plucking her brows and moisturising her pale legs: the replenishing of self which was neglected when there was cream to be whipped and eggs to be separated. She was soft, oily almost, and preened; her hair was wrapped in curlers and pulled tight upon her head. The bedroom was quiet and tasteless.
The fish and chip shop pamphlet on the bedside table read: ‘Quick order, call us’. It was a beacon in crude graphics, glossy in its certainty.
Her phone lit up with a text from Adrian. She put down her Austen, to read, ‘Hey darling, do you fancy a roast? x’
When Adrian asked if she wanted a roast, Gina knew he wanted a roast. She wrote a shopping list.
Later that evening, they gathered to eat. Gina’s fringe was damp from kitchen steam, her mauve lipstick bled into the edges of her lips. Her clothes carried the scent of seasonings. Finally, she sat down for the day.
Adrian was opposite her on the table. He was cloaked with the mystery of his work life. He disappeared out into the world, into industry, into networks; the yawning mechanisms of the machine. His eyes were narrow and focussed, fork in one hand, knife in the other. ‘Any gravy G?’
‘Oh gosh, I’m so sorry I forgot!’
‘I’m not fussed about the gravy myself, honestly.’
Adrian didn’t say anything, only waited.
‘Right, well I’ll just go and grab some. Won’t be a minute.’ She rose, and meandered around the wall into the kitchen.
She was alone now. Gina switched on the kettle, waiting impatiently for it to reach a boil. It was the newest model, she had invested in smoother and quicker use; yet it seemed to be endless, this process.
Click. The kettle water had reached a crescendo, boiling angry as though trying to escape. She scattered gravy granules at the bottom of the ceramic dish, sweating as the hot water rained down in a channel from kettle to bowl. Steam rose, along with a noxious choking smell. Thick, pungent gravy. She took a tea spoon to mix it and taste the ratio. The brown sludge was hot, and stuck at the back of her throat.
‘Mmm, delicious’ Adrian inhaled and smelt the air around him. He had materialised in the doorway behind her, impatient for his dinner. His brown boot stepped slowly across the metallic line, and into the kitchen.
– Emily Black