the first supper

(Iris nearly killed a cyclist, Soren, who then turned up in the next bed to hers in hospital. In return for Soren’s forgiveness, Iris found herself agreeing to live – and inflict on her family – an ethical life from now on. She has just had her first trip to the organic shop, which produced a lot of carrots and cheese, and little else. And she still hasn’t told the family: Malcolm her husband, Molly and Ted her children. And it’s supper time)

She pulled a casserole out of the oven. Malcolm hadn’t moved. He was still staring at her. Possibly, by now, glaring. ‘Have you been back to that woman in the hospital?’
‘Which woman? Watch out, this is hot.’ Iris banged past him, wielding the casserole like a riot shield, and set it down on the table. Ted waited eagerly for her to remove the lid, then slumped down his seat. ‘Mum, I don’t want this, I want what we had last night.’
‘No you don’t, darling, this is much nicer, you’ll see. Anyhow, you can’t have junk every night’
‘Why not, Jack does.’
‘And look at all his behavioural issues. Look it’s lovely and crispy on top, and there are…’
Molly slid into her chair, twiddling a strand of inky hair round her ear. ‘What is that? It looks like shit. Anyway, I don’t care, I need to lose weight.’
Iris was beginning to feel beleaguered. ‘Suit yourself.’
‘What, so I do need to lose weight? Dad, she’s saying I’m fat! No wonder I’m suicidal. I’ll just have some strawberries.’
Ted stopped arranging his carrots in three-four-three formation. ‘Strawberries, can I have strawberries too Mum, why can she have them and not me?’
‘There aren’t any strawberries Ted darling, the strawberries had flown a very, very long way from America, and so they had jet lag and they were feeling very ill and they wouldn’t have tasted nice at all.’
Malcolm put down his untouched forkful. ‘Funny that, I was in Sainsbury’s picking up a sandwich for my lunch and they had great piles of Spanish strawberries right by the door. I’d have brought you home some if I’d…’
‘It’s quite all right Malcolm, in any case strawberries are full of water, which makes them much more prone to suck up heavy metal residues, and you wouldn’t want Ted to eat mercury with his…’
‘The earth is full of metals. What d’you think the Cairngorms are made of, Edinburgh rock?’
‘AS I WAS SAYING, from now on, everything we eat is going to be local, so we can really be excited when the first raspberries arrive, or the first apricots, and then not get bored by eating them all year round, won’t that be nice?’
‘I never get bored of strawberries Mum, do I Dad?’
Molly shoved back her chair and made a dramatic dash for the cupboard. ‘WHERE’S MY FUCKING PINEAPPLE?’
‘What pineapple? Do come back to the table Molly, how can we teach Ted to sit properly if you keep jumping up like a …’
‘MY PINEAPPLE with the papayin in it, the fucking enzyme that I need to remember all the stuff I need to remember to pass my exams. That dried pineapple! Where is it?’

She banged the cupboard door, glared at Iris, burst into tears and dashed out of the room. Malcolm looked at her untouched plate and Ted’s and pushed back his chair. ‘How about I pop round for some fish and chips, eh Ted? Give your poor Mum a break until she’s a bit better?’
‘I’m FINE! And if any of you’d bothered to try it, you’d find out it’s perfectly nice. Just eat it. Please!’

Iris suddenly felt very alone. She took a deep breath, spiked a carrot on Ted’s fork, and held it up to his mouth. ‘Do you know, Ted, the farmer who grows these carrots has a son exactly the same age as you, and he’s really into Chelsea too, and they live in a lovely place with hedgehogs in the barn, where we can go and visit to see all the vegetables growing if you like. And these carrots have a family tree, just like on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, that they can follow right back for six hundred years, imagine…’
‘How can they Mum, they’d have to have names like Joe Carrot and Lord Carrot, carrots don’t have names.’
‘And d’you know, Iris, call me weird if you like, but if I’m going to be eating something, I’d as soon not have a mental image of its bereaved family staring up at me from the empty plate’.

But Malcolm had eaten his up, and was reaching over for Molly’s plate. Iris was still trying to get Ted to taste it. ‘Look Ted, your Dad likes it and you know how fussy he is. Just try this lovely crispy cheesy bit, it’s called Dorset Headwallop, and the sheep come from a lovely place in the country, and they stay with their mums all their life, not like the poor baby cows who get taken away from their Mums when they’re littler than you, even.’
‘In cow years littler?’
‘In cow years. And in this shop I went to today, there’s a picture of the sheep, right by the counter. You can come with me next time, and see. Open up.’

Hypnotised by the stream of babble, Ted opened his mouth, and she shoved the fork in. Iris watched as Ted’s face registered an unfamiliar taste. And wrinkled. And cleared. ‘It’s nice!’
‘There. What did I tell you? Next time I hope you’ll try it before making such a fuss.’

Buoyed by this minor victory, Iris decided the moment was now. As Malcolm cleared the plates and Ted set off for his evening communion with Goalie Greats on YouTube, Iris headed him off at the kitchen door and called up the stairs, ‘Molly! Serotonin fix!.

Then she turned to her wary family, with the smile she usually reserved for telling clients that once again, by some unfortunate accident, they seemed to have earned enough to owe several thousand pounds in tax, but not enough to pay it. ‘Before you all disappear, I thought tonight, instead of all going off to separate corners of the house to microwave our brains, how about we spend a nice evening together?’

Molly appeared in the doorway. ‘I hope you realise I’m only here because it’s not humanly possible to memorise the periodic table of the elements with absolutely zero fuel intake. Did you say there was chocolate?’   

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