“Officials are calling it an industrial accident, and so far no casualties have been reported..”
I SAT DEVOURING the local news as well as my lunch, words lost through the noise of squelching, of mastication on my chicken sub, spilling bits of salad and mayo on the varnished grain kitchen table.
“According to eye-witness reports “a luminous fog” was seen spreading from the wreckage that for miles around…”
Chewing, I thought about the incident two miles away, glad I slept with the window shut.
Bang! The side door opened. Mum was home early from nursery.
Without a hello, she walked to a cupboard, opened the doors and dumped a huge 5kg bag of penne pasta on the counter big enough to feed an Italian village.
Pulling a bottom tier drawer out, she lifted a silver pan out with the lid. I’d never seen it used before, the lid large enough to be used as a shield.
Tap on, she began filling the pot, then dumped it loudly on the biggest hob.
“Do we have guests coming over?” I asked, hoping not, eyes back on the TV.
Click, click. Gas ignited, turned up high. I could tell by the roar of the flame.
“No. Do you want lunch?”
My half eaten sub was clearly visible. She sounded weird, slow, as if she’d just woken up from anaesthetic.
“I’m hungry too,” she said.
I screwed up my face and focused on the news, a map on-screen showing the likely path of the leak. I stopped eating, food halfway to destination mouth, dropping it onto the wrapper – our house was right in the middle, near the epicentre.
The reporter returned to screen, still wearing a mask, but now it was more worrying. They’d manouvered to get the train wreckage in the background. About half a mile away, hobby-sized freight wagons lay littered near the track in careless patterns.
I heard pasta cascading into the pan, the lid jammed on top. Turning, I watched as Mum raided the fridge for fresh tomatoes and three family size packs of mince.
Why would she lie? We clearly were having people over. I wrinkled my nose, grimacing, and returned to Bad News, the unofficial name for all news channels, coinciding with an ad break.
Chopping commenced; steel on wood. Soon it was clear what – my eyes feeling the diluted sting of onions. How many? It looked like she had chopped an entire bag, diced white piled high.
She carried the board to the pasta pan and swept the onion in.
I became concerned at that point but figured it must be some new method she’d seen on the cooking channels.
Looking at my sub, onions invading my nostrils now as well, my appetite vanished, replaced by an unsettling feeling I couldn’t place.
Chop, chop, chop, chop! – louder, more aggressive. Twisting I saw the tomatoes reduced to a pulpy mess. Mum looked over mid cut, smiling the most unnatural smile, the biggest knife of the kitchen chopping blindly as she maintained eye contact.
“Oh!” she said, looking down.
I nearly fell out my chair, my veins running cold in total horror, my face wider, mouth open.
“Silly me!” She smiled, eyes and voice emotionless, raising her right hand up, covered in tomato seeds and blood that poured out from where the index finger used to be. “There it is!” She picked the still pink finger up and walked over to the pot, placing it into the aggressive bubbling water.
By this stage my voice was gone. I’d managed to stand up on weak legs, eyeing the door. I wanted to puke, I wanted this all to be an elaborate hoax, I wanted to someone to run in with cameras.
Blood still oozing for the stump, Mum was scraping the tomatoes into the pan. She turned and said,”Won’t be long now,” dead eyed, grinning manically.
About to make a run for it, I saw a shadow fill the doorway. It was Dad! What a relief.
He opened the door looked at me, paid no heed and went to Mum who was pulling out jars of sauce – every one – from the cupboards onto the counter.
He lifted the lid off the pot, took a sniff, then noticed the packs of mince. “I’m so very, very hungry.” Using a knife from the rack he took overzealous stabs at the plastic seal, then threw the knife in the sink, clattering steel on steel.
Tearing the plastic away with both hands he grabbed a handful of mince and began shoving it in his face, chewing like a wild animal as Mum watched on, still smiling, still bleeding.
Noticing me as if for the first time while I inched towards the door, heart on loudspeaker, he stopped chewing. “Do you want some?” He proffered his fist of mince in my direction. Slowly I shook my head, the rest of my body doing it involuntarily already.
The next sound was the door slamming behind me, my socked-feet pounding down the drive and along the road towards the high street. I slowed down, puffing and panting, close to retching, feeling like I’d just hallucinated. After two more miles on the way to my pals house, I noticed my fear melt away, replaced by an overpowering need: I too felt hungry. I could eat a horse. In fact, there was one in the field I was walking past…