Sunday evening. After a day of doing nothing, exhausted by the rant of a middle of the night call, I am suddenly doing one hundred things at once. Walking around carrying my tablet so I can carry on reading while I pick up after myself. Watching a documentary called The Great Disconnect. Standing at the fridge bewildered by what it holds and eventually choosing a jar of sun dried tomatoes and a block of parmesan.
I have been cooking again. Lighting the dark, cold kitchen with candles and standing at the stove for a while each evening. Reading Nigel Slater and falling back into the way I used to cook, the way, long ago, I used to eat. Fresh ingredients I buy because they look delicious, ripe, tempting. Fashioning from them whatever alchemy their combination suggest. Eating as if it were an act of grace.
Tonight a risotto. Once upon a time, just a week or two before my Mum died, a man showed me how to make risotto. We had spent the afternoon together and from the cupboards in his exquisitely decorated flat he pulled onions, rice, herbs, parmesan and then stood stirring the rice as he taught me about the patience risotto asks of all of us, the music he liked, the details of the work he had recently retired from, memories from a childhood spent in the town I too, grew up in. He was a huge bear of a man, ten years older than me and I remember thinking, as the rice swelled and swam in the endless cups of stock he poured in to it, that he was magnificent. Later as we sat eating, he put down his fork, and looked me straight in the eye, and asked me if I was happy. And I didn’t know if he meant in that very moment, or in life in general, but I knew that the answer to either question was yes. Yes I was. And forever after, risotto, creamy, cheesy, peppery risotto has spelled happiness.
And so tonight I summoned that happiness all over again. I lit my candles and defrosted a jar of my own chicken stock. And then I read as I stirred. Walked in and out of the kitchen, pausing and starting a documentary about our failure now to connect in meaningful ways with others. Running through the living room to fetch socks, clutching at breasts spiky with hormones as I dash up the stairs as fast as the little kangaroo pouch that is my stomach, will allow, worrying that my rice will stage a rebellion if I am not there to stir as I was taught. Dwelling as I go on the other lesson that same man taught me, as I pointed to that little kangaroo pouch of a stomach in something akin to the personal revulsion that has long haunted me, while he laughed and said, oh but why do you mind it so much? Why, he said again, smothering me in stubbly kisses, do you mind it so much? And for a while I didn’t. For a while I forgot to mind.
In my risotto pan tonight there was magic. Rice suddenly gloriously sticky, fragrant, cheesy, heavenly. I carry my heart-shaped bowl back into the living room and sit in my space, balancing my cushion on my knee, my bowl under my chin. The documentary now over and the last episode of Big Little Lies on because I am rather in love with Nicole Kidman for all the things she is that I am not. It struck me recently that I do not so much watch television as study it, learning still, how to be a woman, in the same way I have always made studies out of my friends. stashing in my mind what she has in her fridge and the way she makes her bed. Seeing in most woman a sort of containment I do not possess, when so much of me, so many emotions, so much flesh gently bulging, will not be contained. Trying to teach myself to do what they do, to mask how raw my flesh is. How close to the skin I keep the kind of truths other women do not tell, in veins just waiting to spill the burden of wanting too much, feeling too much, seeing too much, saying too much.
I wonder if they know. If they experience me as a student to be taught? Gently guided? If they field my questions and feel frustration at my failure to understand what I can only presume are unwritten laws about everything from how to keep your hair neat, to how to maintain a life-long relationship. How to have homes that feel like showhouses and nurture children who instinctively know how they too can be contained so as not to scare the horses. How to be.
And then more of my downsizing. The urgency no longer quite what it was now I do not have to move immediately, so that I can take my time, make mindful, careful decisions, work through collections of items, dividing them, choosing and discarding, and storing them inside the kind of minimally dedicated storage solutions I might once have scoffed at. Tonight it is wires I am rooting through like so much spaghetti. Trying to decide what is for what, whether they still do what they should, whether I still own the gadgets each one belongs to, before bundling then up and storing them in green boxes I label as if I were cataloguing them for a museum. Apple wires, android wires, headphones, USB cables, who knows what wires. And I am irrationally proud of it all. As if by organising a drawer full of wires I have popped inside my own head and given form to chaos. As if there might be an award to be collected for she with the most organised cables! For I am she: winner of first prize if you please!
Now, then. More of a wonderful book. Green pyjamas and pink socks. Incense burning. A terracotta bowl full of tangerine segments. A huge bunch of daffodils I found on my doorstep, wrapped in paper and tied up with string, but as always without a label, now nodding gratefully in a collection of vases. The cat walking across the back of a sofa and coming to a stop behind me, pressing his silly head in to my neck and settling there, while I go through a box full of photographs and talk to my boy on the phone, as he walks home from work and apologises for the drama of the night before.
A day well spent then. A sort of settling. Relief almost. A huge pink pashmina I think I may have owned for at least thirty years wrapped around me old-lady style. A bowl full of memories and a sudden fierce determination to know happiness like that all over again. Even if I need a committee of beautiful women to gather me up and teach me how.