Laurie’s Cottage Pie

Laurie was standing half-naked in front of the bathroom mirror, blow-drying her hair.

Her son Vincent was making noises.

“Mum! MUM!”

He pulled at Laurie’s underwear so that she accidentally hit her head with the blowdryer. The string of her underwear slapped hard against her hip.

“For God’s sake, Vince! Watch it!”

There was no way to keep her blood pressure low these days. When Vincent was born, she knew that she had literally shortened her life by ten years.

She looked at his pouty face.

“What’s the matter?” she said.

“I want breakfast!”

“I told you to get your cereal yourself! And you know where the milk is, don’t you?”

“My mate from school said it was in your boobies.”

She looked at him, speechless.

“I spilled it…the bottle’s empty…”

She took a deep breath, stared at herself in the mirror and wondered where her own personal universe had gone. When reality hit, she realised that it had never been there in the first place. It wouldn’t hurt to start exercising again or get a facial.

“I’m HUNGRY!”

She looked down at him again.

“Go clean up that mess before I make you lick it all up!”

Vincent began to sob. She took another deep breath, counted to four and covered the mirror with her towel.

There was some UHT-milk in the cupboard, which she had bought if they would run out of milk. She would only have a fruit salad in the morning and fresh orange juice. Vincent didn’t like fruits. There was no morning where he wouldn’t have his Coco Pops.

“You’re going to become a fatty one day, do you know that?” she said.

Vincent didn’t answer. Kids never listen.

“A fatty…” she repeated.

Should she take two pills of sedatives before work?

“I don’t wanna go to school today,” he said.

“You’re not even old enough for school; stop whining!”

“I don’t like the other kids. They don’t like me either.”

“Should I be surprised…?”

The school bus had arrived. Laurie was amazed that Vincent had put his coat and shoes on by himself without her telling him.

“Bye, mum…”

“Have a nice day.”

As she was about to wash up, she noticed that Vincent had not touched his bowl of Coco Pops. The milk had turned to chocolate.

“What a weirdo…”

She poured it down the sink.

 

Laurie’s chief editor Mr. Golding had a crush on her. Nobody had noticed so far, but she had a sixth sense for things like that. He was in his early forties and still fit-looking. The keto diet kept him in shape and the regular exercises and hikes in the mountains. She couldn’t believe that there was fourteen years difference between them. Despite his charisma and sex appeal, he still seemed intimidating. No woman even dared to look at him. A rumour had it that he was divorced.

“Miss Laurie!” Mr. Golding said at his office door.

Laurie looked nervously around her. The suspicious glances of her co-workers hinted for her to get up. A couple of women were giggling behind her back.

Going into Mr. Golding’s office was like attending a job interview.

“Take a seat, please.”

She clasped her hands tightly and put them on the table. Her palms began to sweat.

“Anything I can do for you, sir?”

“We need to talk about your latest article…”

Her right leg started to shake.

“Anything wrong?” she said.

“Yes, well, I take the blame because I didn’t cross-read it before publication…”

He looked at her hands.

“Laurie, your fingers are turning blue!”

She placed her hands on her lap, and the right leg stopped shaking.

“Sorry…what was it?”

Mr. Golding recollected his thoughts, and then he smiled.

“You’re a wonderful writer, Laurie. But you seem to forget that our publication is informative, which means we’re objective.”

She nodded.

“We don’t question. It’s not like you’re asking yourself here, but you’re asking our reader! We don’t take these risks. We can argue about rhetoric or philosophy, but that question you posed was inappropriate…”

Laurie remained quiet. Mr. Golding bit his lower lip and raised an eyebrow at her, waiting for a response.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about, right?” he said.

“No,” she answered. “The me that writes and the me that’s sitting right here in front of you are two different persons.”

He raised his eyebrow higher, and for a moment, it looked like he was biting his own lip off. 

Eventually, he smiled. You could tell that he rarely smiled–the uneven, shy wrinkles around his mouth and the little traces of crow’s feet etching around his eyes. Her leg began to shake again.

He held up the magazine’s latest issue and read:

“The abortion statistics of 2009 depict a decrease among teenage girls, which, over the last decade, is a sign of improvement. However, if juxtaposed with the abortion increase among young female adults, the percentage has reached up to 27,3%. International women enter the country to receive treatment.”

He paused and looked at her.

He continues, “almost 50% of the young female adults are with partners, and less than 26% are single women. As a result of these statistics, one may ask whether these women’s love lives are filled with doubt and disappointment?”

“Yes, I wrote that,” she said.

“Now, you remember?”

She nodded eagerly, sitting stiffly in her chair.

“Seriously, Laurie.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Don’t get me wrong; I like your open-mindedness. You’re quite liberal.”

“Listen, Mr. Gol…”

“It’s Ethan,” he corrected.

“Um, listen, I’m not a liberal, conservative or anything. Sorry, I wasn’t careful with my word choice. I thought rhetorical questions hit a soft spot.”

“And we don’t do that.”

He got off his chair and walked away from the desk.

“You are right; I’m dealing with two different Lauries here,” he said.

She avoided his eyes.

“You remember when you came all the way from Belfast for your interview because the phone was too informal?” he said.

“Yes.” 

That was over three years ago when she had applied to be a researcher in a different department. She came to London as a young Catholic woman who was pregnant and ready to start a new life.

“You threw up on the supervisor’s desk,” he said.

“And then you gave me the job. Why?”

Ethan put his hands in his pockets and smiled at the magazine.

“I like watching women make big decisions,” he said.

“Well, I’m sorry for the mishap; it won’t happen again.”

He nodded. 

She got up to leave, but before laying her hand on the handle, she said,

“Do you like cottage pie?”

 

The teacher called Laurie and said that Vincent had fainted after lunchtime because he didn’t eat anything.

“Why didn’t you eat the sandwich I made for you?”

“I didn’t want it.”

“Do you wanna mess up your circulation even more?”

“No.”

“You’re driving me crazy!”

She let go of his hand while walking towards her car. The veins in her temples were throbbing hard. She took a deep breath.

“I don’t want to become a fatty, mum. Stu is a fatty. Other kids pick on him. I pick on him, too. I don’t want others to pick on me.”

“I don’t believe this. Do you have to take everything I say so seriously?”

He looked at her like a clueless child who didn’t understand what the whole world was about.

Wait, he was a child.

“Get in the car.”

 

When changing Vincent’s bedsheets, she noticed that his room looked very dull. There were a couple of mini soldiers lying around on the floor and some racing cars. She meant to buy some framed artwork but never did. His duvet cover had little spiral patterns on it, instead of cartoon rockets and green spacemen. His night lamp was second hand. Then she remembered that he had asked for a star projector. He had also asked for a telescope for Christmas, but instead, she had bought him Brother Grimm’s fairy tales, which she’d never bothered reading to him.

Ethan popped into her head, and she left Vincent’s room almost instantly.

“Damn, I haven’t made cottage pie in ages!”

She remembered her ex’s mother used to be proud of her cottage pie.

“What is it?” Vincent asked.

“Minced beef, sausages, potatoes… Good, everything’s here.”

“Is it tasty?”

She was glad that Ethan had accepted her invitation. The divorce was clearly finalized.

“Damn, I have no sweet corn…”

“I’m allergic, mum!”

So that was why she never bought sweet corn. Vincent had a terrible stomach-ache after eating a corn-on-a-cob at a fair.

“Would you mind having pasta instead, tonight? I mean, it’s your favourite.”

“No! I want to try the cottage pie!”

Take a deep breath, she thought. Vincent followed his mother around the kitchen, watching her prepare food he had never tried before.

“You’d better behave later.”

“Who’s coming?”

She rolled her eyes.

“It’s mummy’s boss.”

“Can I help you cook?”

“No, thanks. Go and have some orange juice.”

She made him drink a glass of freshly pressed orange juice every day, but he instead grabbed a Pepsi.

“No sugared drinks! They will definitely make you fat! Get a glass of juice!”

“I don’t want to be a fatty–my head is fat.”

“Yeah, your head is enormous,” she said, remembering his birth and those painful stitches.

While Laurie was mixing up some thick gravy, Vincent climbed up the stool to open the cupboard, but all the glasses were on the top shelf. He tiptoed to reach one, but his small hand failed to grasp the glass, so it slipped and broke on the kitchen counter, where the minced beef was.

Laurie almost choked to the sound of breaking glass and even made sure her ears weren’t bleeding. When she turned around, she saw Vincent standing helplessly on the stool. Then she looked at the broken glass pieces in her well-prepared minced beef, which she had already removed from the cling wrap.

“I have no time to buy new mince,” she said, her voice shaking.

“I’m sorry, mum.”

Laurie screamed and threw the wooden spoon against the kitchen window.

On the outside, it probably looked like blood had been spilled. The gravy began to draw a line down the window slowly.

“I’ve had enough of your fucking foolishness!”

Still stiff on the stool, he looked at her with huge eyes.

“Can’t you do anything right?!”

He lowered his head and looked like someone who was about to leap off a cliff.

“I’m talking to you, goddammit! Is your big head that heavy? Did you know my vagina needed stitches when you were born?! Do you hear me?”

It was like talking to a ghost or something.

“Talk to me…FINNEGAN VINCENT!”

He looked up and shouted, “DON’T CALL ME BY DAD’S NAME!”

There was a lot of anger in his eyes. When he jumped off the stool, she shivered.

He ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs. There were no tears.

Something dawned on her that moment and made her dizzy. The dizziness came from not breathing. It wasn’t until she put her hand on the hot stove that she remembered to breathe.

“Fuck!”

The crying began in an instant, and her body was no longer able to keep her upright. She leaned against the cupboard and pressed her knees against her chest. The broken glass on the floor reminded her of her last argument with Finn. Next, she saw herself in the hospital giving birth to Vincent. Finn never came to see him or her. Tears continued rolling down her cheeks. It took her a while to see that Vincent was watching her from the bottom of the stairs. He came and kneeled in front of her with a breadbox in his hands. He opened it to show her a piece of cake.

“I’m sorry, mum.”

She sobbed uncontrollably.

“Stop crying, please.”

She took deep breaths and wiped away her tears with her sleeve.

“What is that?” he said and grabbed her hand. “You’re hurt.”

“No, it’s nothing.”

He stuck his finger into the cream and rubbed it on her burned hand. She began to cry and laugh at the same time.

“It’s Stu’s birthday today. He gave us all cake. He thinks he can make friends. “

“You should make friends with him,” she said.

He shrugged his shoulders and then placed the cherry in Laurie’s mouth.

“There is your fruit,” he said.

She touched his face gently.

“Watch the cream, mum.”

He wiped the cream off his face.

“I’m so sorry, Vince…”

“It’s ok. It’s just cream…”

Ethan was standing by the kitchen door, smiling at them with a bottle of wine.

“There’s only one Laurie in the world after all…” he said.

 

 

By P-chan (written on 31st Dec 2009, revised 2016)

For all mothers who first considered abortion

(Thank you, Weezer, for the inspiration.)

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