Will Tesco still deliver? She thinks this while her fingers sting through the freezer on a numb hunt for anything to make a passable meal. She pulls out half bags of green beans and roast potatoes, throws the packets on the kitchen counter, then runs her stinging hands under the hot tap. They heat from corpse cold to living. She tries not to let that idea linger.
The importance of improvising. She should jot that down. Yes, there’s a magazine article that could come from this situation, a “top five tips” kind of deal. It reminds her for a moment of others who must be struggling right now. Not totally alone, and all that. Will editors still be checking their inboxes?
She thinks this while filling the kettle. While measuring out potatoes for four people, then putting three of these back in the bag.
They sit at the kitchen table.
“Is there anything else?” asks the youngest child.
“No that’s… No! Wait! There’s biscuits in the cupboard,” she says, remembering the glorious full packet of chocolate digestives she found in her earlier rummage. For the first time in a fortnight she has done something right. She could mention this in her article too, how little treats let them forget how the world has collapsed, is collapsing further still.
She washes three dishes, squeezing the last of the green liquid into the bowl. Will the washing up liquid factory still be running?
She tries to imagine what that place looks like. Pewter machines streaming bubbles out of long thin nozzles, with laughing workers popping stray ones that float their way. Rainbow overalls. An inflatable slide, also rainbow coloured.
This is what only having children for company is already doing to my mind, she thinks. She makes a mental note to Google washing up liquid factory next time she’s at the library.
Will the library computers still be plugged in? Will anyone be there to help her if she can’t find those farmyard picture books the kids like?
She scrubs the soiled sponge hard at the oven tray where potato has stuck in a burnt yellow streak.
She hears his voice, You should do it this way…. and for a moment it’s as if…
As much as she tries to stop it, the article starts to form in her head in his tone.
She listens instead to the children shriek and giggle in the lounge, as if nothing is different. And how stupid to have absentmindedly passed them the full pack of biscuits! There’ll be none left. It could have lasted them for weeks. She leans her weight through the sponge onto the baking tray and scrapes it fiercely, but it won’t budge.
Caroline Butterwick is a writer based in Staffordshire. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including the Guardian and Mslexia. Her website is carolinebutterwick.com and she’s on Twitter @CButterwick.