Authors: Gill Davy-Bowker
They arrived home and Mel unpacked the shopping, looking at the eclectic mix of ready meals, bits of fish, frozen prawns, gin, tonic, milk and bread that she seemed to have taken with her from the supermarket ordeal. She wasn't sure what she was going to do with any of it. Her brain was in complete meltdown, so she put everything in the fridge and poured them all some squash.
âLet's sit in the garden,' she suggested. It was one-thirty but everything would have to wait.
âYay!' agreed the children and as good as gold, they went out into the garden and sat on their swings, while Mel sat at the bottom of the slide.
It was so hot that she couldn't stay outside for long and she brought the children in to cover them liberally with sunscreen. She found some sunhats and they went out again to play, with Mel safe in the knowledge that she had followed all the care in the sun instructions that any good mother should. It was now two o'clock. She would have to leave for the City at four-thirty. Right â what was she going to make for this soirÃ©e? She looked at the shopping in the fridge. So she had, let's see â¦ packs of garlic prawns; extra prawns; garlic bulbs; some broccoli; carrots; onions; gin; tonic and ice cream. What on earth was she going to make with that lot? She'd gone out with the watch words âFrench' and âprawns' in mind, hoping to come up with some inspiration during the shopping trip, but the trip had been so traumatic that she had only remembered the basic essence of the thing. Onions and garlic equalled French and she had prawns.
Brilliant. There was no way she was going to any shop again today. She had plenty of wine and bottles of beer but she had to come up with something decent for a meal for Brian's boss, surely. It was then that she noticed the disaster area which pre cake-incineration night was known as the kitchen. There was still a sooty pall about the place and the oven was rank and smoky-black when she opened it. That was it. Either she couldn't pick the blokes up from work or she couldn't tidy up and cook. Something had to give. She phoned Alan, who seemed rather miffed that she was giving him such an ultimatum. She reminded him that it would have been a lot easier for all concerned if he hadn't launched this plan on her last minute. What was she â¦ a bloody miracle worker? Alan preferred that she picked them up because he couldn't face travelling on public transport in this weather. So that was that. She was all out of inspiration and, at most, could only make a cosmetic attempt at cleaning the kitchen. She would have to light the house in a haze of candles; spray the entire smelly area with air freshener; get takeaways and try to ensure that the boss was guided away from the kitchen. She toyed with the idea of roping off the area
âstately home open to the public', but there was no time and it would only look suspicious. She looked through the Yellow Pages and found a French restaurant which might be able to help her out. So she would pop around there and order something from the menu, then come home and try to tidy the kitchen; make herself presentable; and go to pick up the men. Simple! Except that each of these jobs, especially the one involving making herself presentable, would take longer than she had. Oh well, onwards and upwards, she supposed.
âAmy! Michael! Come in. We've got to go in the car!'
âNo Mummy! We don't want to go now â¦ please?'
Although they'd lived in the area for six years, the neighbours were about as neighbourly as rattlesnakes and she knew that it would be pointless to ask either side to babysit. She remembered
a story she had heard about someone dying and rotting into the wall and floor of one house on this very road. It was only when the flies were pasted over the insides of the windows like something from
The Amityville Horror
, that neighbours noticed they hadn't seen anyone come in or out of the house for months. When the authorities broke down the door, the stench was overwhelming and the poor man was like soup infiltrating the wall and dripping through the floorboards. Yes, it wasn't the sort of place where community spirit reigned; it was the sort of place where you would be reported for stalking if you said âHello' at the gate. The children would have to come to the restaurant. So she picked one up under each arm, kicking and screaming and tied them down to their car seats in the back with not just a little difficulty.
At three-thirty Mel left Alphonse's Restaurant with plated meals for three.
âThank you so much, Alphonse! You have saved my life!'
âIt was a pleasure,' he answered in his Glaswegian French accent. âI am so glad I could return a favour!'
She had first met Alphonse when she was nursing his mother after she had fractured her hip. His mother spoke only French and had been rather frightened in hospital. Mel had racked her brains for the last vestiges of school French and had brought her English/French dictionary to help her out when her memory failed her. Madame Le Page had been so relieved to make a friend that she introduced her to all her family as they visited. Alphonse, as eldest son, was particularly grateful for Mel's translation services.
âAny time I can help you â¦' he'd promised â¦ and cometh the time cometh the man â¦ Thank goodness!
She placed the covered plates in the foot well of the front passenger seat, packing them so that they couldn't move and spill. Then she placed the slightly more docile children in the car seat restraints.
The traffic was good for a change and she arrived home
at three-fifty. She placed the meals in the fridge to be warmed in the microwave later and shut the kitchen door on the mess. There was now only time to wash the sweat and grime off and make an attempt at looking respectable.
Oh! Where were the children!? â¦ Eek! â¦ They're still in the car!
She dashed out and plonked them, grizzling, on the sofa and put the TV on.
At four-thirty they were leaving the house and setting off to pick up Alan and boss from the City. The children whined and moaned all the way as she drove like a cabbie, negotiating back streets and short cuts. She mentally patted herself on the back as she arrived at Ponsonby Tosser Bank bang on six o'clock. She took the bedraggled, urchin-like children into the huge marbled foyer and waited for her spouse.
Hurrah! Everything had gone according to plan for a change!
Her passengers came down in the lift and they all went out to the car. It was slightly difficult fitting everyone in, even though it was a people carrier. She had to do a rather embarrassing amount of opening the boot, crawling in on hands and knees, grappling for levers and breaking her nails to erect the back seats. Luckily, the two men seemed too preoccupied to notice when her skirt got rucked up, almost displaying her pants! But of course, Amy noticed, âHa ha, Mummy! I can see your knickers! I can see your knickers!' So, of course, then everyone else did. She just hoped she hadn't been walking around with her skirt stuck in her pants when she arrived at the bank! Oh my God! The amount of CCTV cameras there should provide enough views to keep security entertained for a week.
âStop it!' she scolded herself. âYou don't even know that any such thing happened!'
âWhat, love?' asked Alan.
âOh â¦ nothing â¦ you know me â¦ just talking to myself again.'
As they drove home, Mel suddenly realised that she hadn't fed the children, the cat or the dog. The cat at least, could go out through his catflap, but â¦ Oh God! the dog hadn't been out all day! His bladder wasn't well controlled at the best of times! She hadn't even noticed where the pets had been when she left the house. They could have had a dirty protest anywhere in the house. The cat had been known to relieve himself in the most inappropriate places despite having free access to the outside world when he was miffed about something. She sighed.
âMummy!' called Michael. âI'm hungry and I need to go for a wee!'
âSo do I!' piped up Amy.
There was no denying it, she had been negligent. The children hadn't been allowed to attend to their basic functions for nearly two hours and they'd hardly eaten a thing since their lunch of sandwiches. It was no good â¦ she would have to stop at a pub or a cafÃ© or something for them to go to the loo. Easier said than done during rush hour in London.
âAnyway Kelly, I don't know what they were talking about because you know I haven't a clue about finance. I mean, Alan works in a bank is all I know.'
Kelly and Mel were in Kelly's back garden, drinking Pimm's and being civilised whilst their children played in the paddling pool with large quantities of inflatable animals and water pistols. Several dolls lay face down with at least one limb missing, bobbing about in the water.
âSo what did you do when you found Iggy bloated on the floor surrounded by prawns and poo? Where was Ozzie?'
âOzzie had gone off in disgust. I think he had scratched open the prawn bag and had something to do with pushing it off the work top onto the floor. Then, knowing Ozzie, he had his fill and disappeared out of the cat flap, leaving Iggy to take all the blame.'
When Mel and entourage had entered the house the evening before, she had been relieved to see that the animals had been shut in the already nasty kitchen. Gesturing for everyone to sit in the living room, Mel had bravely gone into the kitchen alone. Nothing could have prepared her for the scene of devastation which met her eyes. There were prawns and swirls of animal poo everywhere and Iggy Pop was hiding under the table with his head under his paws. He was all puffed up and letting out the most disgusting farts. Poor Iggy couldn't even look Mel in the eye. His ears were all swollen and his eyes were half closed. He looked like a Zeppelin. She called Alan through. âPooergh!' observed Alan as he closed the door behind him. âWhat's been going on in here? It looks like something from
âFeel Iggy's ears! Do you think he's having an anaphylactic reaction? We'd better get the vet.'
Alan called the vet whilst Mel gave drinks to his boss and the children, excused herself and made an attempt to sort out the worst of the mess. Iggy looked mournfully out of his eye slits and whimpered and farted to himself.
And so it was that she gave the children beans on toast and left them with Alan and his boss while she took Iggy the Puff Dog to the vet. Poor Iggy could never have prawns again. It was her own stupid fault for leaving ready meals and bags of prawns out on the worktop when she had gone to pick Alan up. The dog had some injections and started to deflate. Soon he was allowed home.
It was pretty late for the children by the time she returned home and so as she got them to bed, Alan heated up the meals.
She was so glad the ordeal was over and she could now just chill out in Kelly's garden. Kelly had a faraway look in her eyes.
âI don't know what Rob's been up to recently either. He's coming home really late and I'm fed up. I'm sure it's affecting the children too, because they always seem to be messing around with things that explode and stuff.'
âMatilda's fine though, isn't she? What do you think Rob is up to?'
âI wish I knew.'
With that there was an almighty bang as Matilda let off a shaken-up fizzy drink.
âLet's go somewhere tomorrow?' Mel suggested this tentatively because she wasn't sure that Kelly would want to accompany them on another jaunt after the last experience. But to her surprise she agreed that perhaps they could all go to Kew Gardens.
Mel looked about her kitchen. The ruins needed more than a quick wash and brush up. If only she hadn't even attempted being a domestic goddess. Baking cakes with the children was an obvious highway to nothing. She might as well have been attempting to rationally explore the possibilities of nuclear disarmament with North Korea. Her kitchen would need a complete overhaul and nothing less. The ceiling was patched with black â¦ especially over the oven â¦ and the walls were an interesting mingling of browns, yellows and greys. There were bits of the original wall colour left intact where she had pulled off the desiccated cake mix strings. It was like some sort of weird tie dye experiment. All she could do was make the most of it until she knew what Alan's bonus was and then they could replace the entire thing. It was driving her mad, leaving sooty marks on her hands every time she opened a drawer or cupboard. She was never going to attempt Domestic Goddessdom again. It was just as well that Iggy had deflected the attention from her attempt at appearing a perfect cook and hostess last night because at least the possibility of giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a beagle with a very long nose had focussed everyone away from the cooking and the fact that the plates had an unmissable Cafe Alphonse logo all over them. The men had seemed so preoccupied with talking gobbledegook about hedge funds, Wall Street and McGregor's Bank or some such thing, that they were oblivious to everything, including Amy's spider show. The atmosphere had been dripping with tension but she had no idea why. She ate her dinner and drank a couple of glasses of wine and then left the men to it. She then went down and drank some more in front of the television. Why was there so much crap on telly now that there was such a huge choice of channels to watch? All that was on offer were old films, repeats and reality TV shows. In the end she'd just vegged out, only to be awakened by Alan when he returned from dropping the boss (whose name was Phil by the way) home.
There had been very little discussion between man and wife, but it seemed that at least Alan had cleaned up and washed up before coming up to bed himself. Iggy Pop and Ozzie were none the worse for wear anyway and Iggy had happily thrown himself into the pond in the park when Mel had taken him out for his constitutional. Michael's Barbie dolls were full of water and their hair was beyond redemption, but at least they were all there to tell the tale. She decided to ring Alan at work to see what he thought about looking at kitchens and then she took the children to a really nice local shop which did the most gorgeous bespoke designs. She really must have a Belfast sink, even if it wasn't environmentally friendly. She also really, really needed an American double door fridge. âI'd like it in pink to be honest,' she told the delighted salesman who replied that, âYes, of course, Madam. It can be designed and fitted to your desired specification.'
He could obviously smell the promise of the banker's bonus and crept and wheedled his way around Mel all over the shop. It was so nice not to be regarded as a charity case nurse these days. She no longer had to present her nursing union card to get piddling little discounts in DIY stores. Now she could pick anything she wanted and get fanned with peacock feathers into the bargain. They were even lovely and understanding when Amy tried to juice Michael's hand in the bespoke juicer apparatus. So she ordered the entire kitchen and the fitting of it, paid for it on the card and even arranged for work to start the next day before she remembered the proposed trip to Kew Gardens. Oh well, she thought, I'm sure Kelly won't be too worried about that â¦ She was probably just being polite anyway.
âOh,' said Kelly. âWe were looking forward to that! Can we come over to yours instead then?'
âIt won't be very nice â¦ They'll be drilling and throwing things in skips. There'll be dust everywhere.'
Good grief! How bad could it be for her at the moment?
âRobert's filled the house with boxes full of fizzy drink products and furry animal marketing suits. He comes home late at night, puts some strange animal suit on and curls up in the corner, I don't know what's going on with him at the moment. He's always been “creative” as you know (she meant weird) but I think he's really lost the plot now. He sings all the songs for the adverts for his bloody drinks for the last fifty years in a continuous loop. Do you think they're corporate brainwashing them over there or what? I think it would feel healthier for the children and me in the middle of your building site than it does living with a curled up autistic wombat!' She started to sob.
âOh, OK then. If you feel like that, of course you can come over.'
She didn't need asking twice. They were in the garden with picnics and Thermoses before Mel could say âknife' the next day.
âHe was worse than ever last night, Mel! He was doing that bizarre dance from the advert for “Plonko” they had in the seventies when he came home, before he'd even got in through the door. I'm sure the neighbours were looking at me strangely today!'
Mel was at a loss as to what to say and her lack of speech was luckily hidden beneath the barrage of screaming, fighting children. Amy had brought down most of her cuddly insects and was threatening Ivan and Michael with them. Matilda wanted some salt to see if she could try and implode the slugs on the garden path.
Mel looked at the scene dreamily. âThey'll be back in school in a couple of days. It's their last term before getting into Year 4. Can you believe it?'
âWe've still got the babies though.'
But even Michael and Ivan would be starting Year 1 that September and Mel felt it would change her entire world. Maybe she'd go back to work?
âWhat'll you do when Ivan goes to school fulltime?'
Kelly ignored the question. Mel resolved that they should make the most of the time. Go camping perhaps? A few adventure parks â¦ that sort of thing. Alan had showed very little interest in talking about a holiday this year. She'd have to bring the subject up or it would be too late to book anywhere. Just then, there was a ding dong on the doorbell heralding the arrival of the kitchen workmen.
Mel filled saucepans, kettles and Thermoses so they could cope while the water was switched off. At least with money, she could command their complete concentration on her kitchen only, so it would take half the time it normally took.
âYou won't know we're 'ere,' they said. âWe'll be gone before you know it!'
They'd even brought their own portable loo, which they erected in the front garden.
âWhat the hell's going on?' shouted Alan. âThere's a loo in the front garden!'
âIt's for the builders â they're doing the kitchen, remember?'
âNo, I don't remember. I'd remember if you'd said that there would be no kitchen in the house and a loo in the garden when I got home. But strangely, Mel, this bit of information appears to have passed me by! What are we eating tonight?'
âFish and chips. Over there â¦ pop them in the microwave.'
âIs that what you've been feeding the kids too? Or is it burgers again! It's no wonder they're going loopy, Mel! Honestly!'
âOi!' Mel shouted. âActually sweetie, I did tell you about the kitchen. I phoned you at work and you said that it sounded like a good idea. “Go ahead, Mel,” you said. Also, the children are fed very well, thank you very much, and it's no thanks to you because you're never here! You're always
too busy swanning off on some jolly with your work chums and rolling in at all hours of the night, to say nothing of your jaunts abroad when I'm left as usual like a piece of baggage back here. I think I must sound like some irritating droning mosquito creature or something. I tell you everything and you never remember! I must just sound like this, “Ner ner ner ner buzz buzz ner bloody ner”!'
âOh for goodness sake! I'm going out!'
âTypical, yes â¦ you just do the grown up thing and walk out without sorting anything out. Brilliant. I'm going to throw your bloody fish and chips in the pond then, OK!'
As she stormed off down the garden, soggy fish and chip paper parcel in hand, Iggy and Ozzie suddenly perked up and Iggy drooled all over the floor.
âOn second thoughts,' she screeched at Alan down the garden path, âyour dinner will be in the dog and cat. It's too good for you and the other pond life!'
Alan was wandering up the road with his head down and hands thrust into his pockets.
âMummy! Why are you shouting?' called Michael from upstairs.
âDon't worry, darling. Go back to bed. It's just Daddy being deaf again.' She went upstairs and tucked Amy and Michael back into their beds.
âAre you going to divorce Daddy? Isobel and Jonathon's parents just got divorced and they've got two bedrooms each and twice as many toys!'
Ever the optimist was Amy â¦ seeing the glass half full instead of half empty.
âWhat's a divorce, Mummy?' enquired Michael, who unbeknown to Mel had been standing by Amy's doorway, listening.
âSometimes mummies and daddies don't love each other any more but they still love their children. So they can decide they don't want to stay together but they still love and see
their children just as much.' Oh my God! Mel thought. I sound like something out of
Kramer vs. Kramer
âAre you getting divorced then, Mummy?' asked Amy.
âNoooo!' cried Michael.
âNo,' reassured Mel. âCourse we're not getting a divorce.'