The Smell Of Mushroom Stroganoff by Katy Ward

Fiction

Little black books are for City boys and D-list celebrities. Not supermarket assistant managers with chronic irritable bowel syndrome.

But, after you’ve hit your 30s and done the rounds on Tinder, you need to start keeping records.

 

29 MAY

DAISY

“Those bitches who were always mummy and daddy’s favourite”

Don’t need to be Freud to diagnose those family issues. Still, her family can’t be more fucked-up than mine

 

11 JULY

HELENA

“Anyone who refuses to give up their seat to pregnant women on the tube”

Nice manners. Too soon to ask her to nanna’s birthday lunch?

 

29 JULY

CAROLINE

“What the fuck type of question is that?”

Couldn’t get the bill soon enough. Cracking tits, though

 

1 AUGUST

YVONNE

“The trick would be to be as random as possible. The first person to get off the next bus you see?”

Seems like she’s thought about this before. And in so much depth!! Suppose I did ask

 

“What’s got you so engrossed?”, Vanessa asks as she edges into the open plan kitchen-cum-living room. She’d preyed it­ would be empty so she could microwave her mushroom stroganoff in peace and avoid small talk with the new housemate.

“Always a dodgy sign when the person you’re living with slams his laptop shut as soon as you walk in.” Her attempt at a joke.

She didn’t really care what he was reading, of course. You’re never genuinely interested in the strangers you happen to be living with thanks to necessity. And Gumtree.

“Promise you won’t laugh.” His attempt at flirtation.

“You can trust me.” She glances at the microwave clock, conscious Love Island starts in five minutes.

“It’s my online Tinder diary. You know, dating records.”

“Very organised.” Shame he can’t apply those organisational skills to paying his rent on time, she thinks. “So, what information do you record? Age? Job? Marks out of 10?”, she asks, masking her indifference with playful teasing.

“Nothing so pedestrian,” he says, almost disdainful. “In my twenties, I tried to be Mr Sensitive on dates, but all girls seem to want is banter.”

Ninety seconds until mushroom stroganoff.

“Now, I try to put my own twist on dating banter. I want to be the quirky guy girls tell their friends about.”

“And, how do you do that?” Her interest at its lowest point.

“After a few drinks, I put on my best flirty smile and ask, ‘you into role play?’”

The garlicy smell of stroganoff from the microwaves now making her mildly nauseating.

“Then, I look into her eyes and whisper: ‘Imagine you had to go on a killing spree. If you didn’t, the world would end. How would you choose who to kill?’”

Something potentially sinister feels hollow, especially over the hum of the microwave. They’re both embarrassed by the anti-climax. It’s more awkward than the silence after a disappointing sexual encounter.

He tries to inject some life into the conversation, but his words sound ridiculous even to him. “They aren’t allowed anyone from their personal lives. That’d be too easy,” he says.

“If she looks shocked, I tell her it’s just for bants. I usually wink or something. I don’t want girls to think I’m a psycho.”

Christ, I need to start interviewing new housemates properly, she thinks.

“It’s the perfect way to get to know a girl: you can find out how she thinks and if she’s got a sense of humour.”

“It’s really just something to break up the monotony of trying to meet someone,” unsure whether he’s attempting to convince Vanessa or himself.

She suddenly can’t decide if she finds him repulsive or sympathetic. Maybe there’s an insatiable loneliness behind the lacklustre bravado: she imagines herself discovering him in the bath one Tuesday afternoon, wrists slit.

At least he tries to meet someone, she supposes. She sits alone in her room every night.

“Take last night: I went to Pizza Express with this girl, Hardip. She told me she’d bump off men who refuse to pay maintenance for their kids,” he said, voice flat.

“Tells me she’s either got daddy issues or she’s one of those women who ‘forgets’ to mention her own children in her profile. You need to watch out for those secret single mums.”

The microwave pings. She makes a mental note to stick a Post-It on his bedroom door about the overdue rent. She can’t stand asking awkward questions face-to-face.

Biography
Katy Ward is a freelance journalist from Hull. Her work has appeared in The Metro, The Overtake and Independent Voices. She has a BA in English from Oxford University and a postgraduate diploma from City University. Follow her on Twitter

Image via Unsplash.

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