Food For Thought
It’s time for change in this sensitive complete story by Emma Canning.
An emotional story by Emma Canning
I want this meal to be a thank you to my family and friends, who have been so supportive. But I also have something to tell them . . .
I’VE invited my close family and friends round for dinner tonight, because there’s something important that I have to tell them. I’m going to be cooking for my two daughters, my sister-in-law, Grace, my pal, Frank, and his wife, Stella. They’re marvellous people and all very dear to me, and I’m so terribly afraid that my announcement is going to upset them. Yet I simply can’t put it off any longer.
I’ve been living alone since my beloved wife, Celia, passed away over six months ago. Our marriage was a happy one: 40 years, two daughters, grandchildren, countless pets and a solid home. We had other important things, too – security, laughter, comfort, and that rare and precious connection that inexplicably brings two people’s thoughts completely in tune.
Oh, Celia and I could read each other’s minds with just a smile and a flash of our eyes. She had beautiful eyes, my Celia – the colour of coffee.
I turn now to the kitchen window and pick up an antique silver-framed photograph from the sill. It shows the two of us smiling and holding hands outside a restaurant in Paris. Frank took it three years ago – we shared so many delightful holidays with Frank and Stella.
Frank is my closest friend and I have always been honest with him, just as I’ve always been honest with my daughters, Zoe and Justine, and with Grace, too. And I’ve told myself that it is time to be truthful with them again tonight.
My legs are suddenly trembling. I pull one of the high kitchen stools towards me, sit down and take several deep breaths.
I loved Celia so much, and so did everyone who will be arriving this evening.
That’s what makes tonight so much more diff icult. Telling them all how I feel isn’t going be easy. They have been wonderful since I lost Celia, but they don’t really understand. Why should they? Grief doesn’t always follow the same pattern for everyone. We all have to work through it at our own pace.
Tonight I need to explain a few things, and the hardest thing of all will be telling them about Beverley, a lady my age, who I’ve met on the internet. I retired from my work as an optician several years ago, and Celia had retired, too. We didn’t often use the internet at home, but recently it’s been a welcome diversion during the long hours I’ve been spending alone.
THERE are still chores to be done, so I get slowly to my feet, take the red tea towel from its hook and f inish the last of the drying up, then wipe the kitchen worktops one more time. I’ve taken such pains over tonight. I’ve spent all afternoon making preparations in the hope that serving up a good meal will soften the blow a little.
I take a deep breath and place one hand on my stomach, trying to quell the little flutterings of anxiety inside me. My heart aches for my daughters. They might be grown up, but I’m still their father: reliable, loving, consistent, and for ever holding the hand of their adored mother.
How will they react to the news that I’ve already removed their mother’s clothes from our wardrobe? That I’ve begun a clear-out of the house, and thrown away so many of the things she liked to keep? And what will they think of the realisation that my contact with Beverley has brought?
They’ll all be here soon. I stoop to peer through the little glass oven door, and one of my knees cracks painfully. The pie is turning golden; the potatoes and vegetables seem to be sizzling away nicely. Stella insisted on bringing desserts, so I didn’t need to make those.
It’s time to set the table. I lay out knives, forks and spoons, and then unpack the new place mats I bought in town yesterday.
I’m pleased with the way the table looks, with its sunny orange mats and shining cutlery, but it needs a centrepiece. I meant to buy flowers while I was in town and for a moment I’m plunged into despair, because I wanted everything to look exactly right. Then I recall a dried flower arrangement that Justine made at college more than 15 years ago. I hurry to fetch it from her old bedroom, and it f its the bill perfectly.
I take off my glasses, wipe the lenses with a clean handkerchief and then head to the bedroom to change into my smart navy shirt. On the way down I take one last look in all the rooms, checking that the house is tidy. Yes, it is. I’m ready. Ten minutes later my daughters arrive. “Dad, how are you?” they both murmur. “Hello, Zoe, love. Justine, darling – I’m glad you could make it.” I hug them, holding each one just a little longer than necessary.
Grace arrives next, followed by Frank and Stella. They all look towards the big oak dining-table, neatly laid for
six, and seem impressed.
“Thank you all so much for coming. Take a seat,” I tell them. “Dinner’s almost ready.”
Justine sniffs the air and smiles.
“It smells lovely, Dad. I’ll give you a hand with it, shall I?”
She doesn’t wait for an answer, and so together we begin serving the meal.
My hands are shaking. Here goes.
THE food seems to be going down well. “Lovely stuff, Jim,” Frank says, helping himself to a second slice of pie.
There is a chorus of agreement.
“Thank you,” I say quietly. “I’m doing my best.”
There are sympathetic nods. Zoe, sitting beside me, pats my hand.
This is my chance, so I take a deep breath and begin.
“I’ve been going through the house recently, throwing out junk . . .”
“It’s still early days, Dad,” Zoe whispers. “Justine and I can help you with that.”
“I know, but I want to do it myself.” I plough desperately on. “And your mother’s clothes – I’ve sorted them out, too.”
“What?” Both girls look shocked.
“I’ve not thrown any away,” I add hurriedly. “They’re in the spare room.”
Everyone is looking quizzically at me. I am more grateful to them than I can say, but I must keep going – tell them why I really asked them here.
“There’s something else,” I say with diff iculty. “Something I need to tell you all.”
I falter, and Zoe gives my hand another encouraging pat. “What is it, Dad?” “The thing is . . . Well, you see, the thing is, there’s this woman, Beverley, who I’ve been talking to on the internet recently –” Zoe gasps. “Dad, you’ve met someone else? Already?” Justine cries.
Frank, ever the peacemaker, chips in hurriedly.
“Give your father a chance to explain, Justine. It’s his life and he’s –” “No!” I stand up, appalled. I look around at them – all these truly amazing, supportive people who, during recent months, have devoted so many hours of their own busy lives to looking after me. They’ve cleaned and cooked and washed and ironed; they’ve trooped in with soups and casseroles and cottage pies, or they’ve invited me to their homes for meals, after which I’ve come back here to sit alone, in a house that is mine and Celia’s.
I sink down into the chair, elbows on the table, hands hiding my face.
“Jim, dear.” Grace rises from her seat and steps towards me, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder. “What exactly are you telling us?”
“I’m sorry,” I say, my face still half-covered. “I’m making such a mess of this, but I really just want to thank you all. And what I’m trying to tell you is that I will always be grateful to you for helping me, but now I need you to stop. I need to keep busy – cleaning, ironing, whatever it takes. And I must cook my own meals, too.”
There’s a tiny chuckle from Frank.
“Is that what this is all about, Jim?” he says, waving his hand over the table. “Showing us that you can cook?” I nod, embarrassed. “I’ve been learning from a chef on the internet. Beverley’s Kitchen, the website’s called. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, but she gives very good advice – that pie is one of her recipes.” “Oh, Dad,” Zoe whispers. She and Justine are both smiling through their tears as they each take one of my hands.
I put an arm round each of my girls. We all miss Celia so much, and yet I am incredibly lucky to have had a happy marriage and two beautiful daughters, both of whom are now married with children of their own. I know that their support will prove invaluable as I slowly come to terms with being alone in the house.
And right now it’s still our house, but perhaps one day it will begin to feel like mine. It’s something I wouldn’t have thought possible, but as I look around and see everyone gazing softly at me, I know that tonight I’ve moved one tiny step closer.