Food For Thought

It’s time for change in this sen­si­tive com­plete story by Emma Can­ning.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

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.

The End.

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