Last year I was given a brief, to write a short story. There was a possibility of me working on a larger project, but recession struck, so the project apparently didn’t move forward. There are a few things I’d leave unchanged about the story when I rewrite it, but I decided to share it in the form it was first written.
My Footballer’s Life
Frankly, I don’t like summer holidays. Being a female writer, I compare myself to the Premier League. Different teams compete in me all year round: a “Woman”, a “Wife”, a “Lover”, a “Friend”, a “Mother”, and a “Writer”. And I feel particularly vulnerable in August when the “Mother” team soars at the top of the League table, while the “Writer” is on the verge of a total relegation, and the “Lover” is having serious problems with management!
The truth is that I feel less confident having kids at home all day. It’s like my entire League is taken for a World Cup where it has to compete against the teams “Tommy”, “Jenny”, “Neighbour’s Kids”, and a few more, who know no rules of the game. I lack the order, the planning because, once August has come, we all suddenly realise just how tired we are after a school year, and the Lord of Misrule appears out of the blue. Or, in case with the team “Tommy”, the Lord of Misrule appears every morning in the doorway, half-asleep – even if this is well after 10 o’clock. And even then he’s too tired to eat the full breakfast.
We always try to take children to the events, but we do it throughout the year, so August is no different. “Friend” and “Mother” teams usually clash on these occasions, and usually draw.
The only thing that I truly enjoy about this month is family cooking. I think it’s when my “Woman” team shines modestly. During the school year cooking tends to be seasonal (like, we cook all together for Easter and Christmas, as well as birthdays and anniversaries). Then there are Sunday roasts. But during the week it’s either me or Richard who cook. The kids do the table, they help to dry the dishes, but we spare them from cooking.
Not in August. One of the biggest problems for me was that my parents allowed me to study more than to learn the “female” stuff, like cooking. I taught myself to cook when I went to the uni, but now this late blossoming probably affects my Premier League competition. Anyway, I’m adamant the kids learn this earlier than I did.
Today for tea we had salmon with pasta, and this awesome dish: broccoli with chilli peppers and garlic. You can serve broccoli on bread, but it can be a side dish, too. For this, you need one broccoli, 2 chillies, 3 garlic teeth, some olive oil, a herring fillet, and black ground pepper. You first dissect broccoli into florets, and put them in the salted boiling water. Once the water is boiling again, you turn the fire off. In the meantime, you heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in the big frying pan (or wok, which is even better), and throw the thinly cut garlic in it.
I remember frying garlic for the first time many years ago, and I let it burn. At the time I was renting a room in an old couple’s house, and the husband had an extremely sensitive nose. He claimed he suffered from a severe migraine following my garlic escapade. I must admit the smell of the burning garlic is enough to fight off the Dracula. In my case, it was enough to make the old man become extremely irritating. Luckily for everyone, this happened in October when I was already dating Richard, and in early December I moved out from the old couple’s house and moved in with him. I made sure I never burned garlic in our house.
So, after the garlic turned gold, you add thinly cut chillies and the herring fillet. Keep the fire under the pan very low. The recipe suggested adding anchovies OR herring, so through experimenting I chose herring. Once herring dissolves in oil, add broccoli florets, some black pepper, and half a ladle of the water in which broccoli was boiled. You don’t need to get rid of this water – you can still cook pasta in it. Broccoli then needs to be cooked in the frying pan for about 5-10 min: just enough to get your pasta ready.
The first time we made this dish, Tommy cut one chilli and then scratched his nose before he washed his hands. Good job you didn’t touch your eyes, I said to him. For the rest of the evening he’d do short voyages to the kitchen, to apply some cold water to his burning nose tip.
Jenny was cutting peppers today, so Tommy told her to wash her hands before touching her face. “Well, I’m not that stupid”, she replied, and I could feel Tommy shutting up.
– Jenny, don’t call your brother stupid, it’s not nice.
– But mum, he touched his face last week…
– Well, yes, and that’s why he tells you now. He doesn’t want you to suffer. I’d thank him if I were you.
Jenny doesn’t like being told off (who does?!) but I heard her whispering “thank you” to Tommy. He shrugged his shoulders and didn’t reply.
After tea “Mother” vs. “Wife” match begins. We sit outside, if the weather is good, or inside if it’s raining, but invariably I am torn between Richard and kids. I don’t count “Richard” as a competing team: the poor guy is the crowd, and he’s got to please too many players with his cheers. So, as the “Mother”, I have to learn new manoeuvres all the time, while the “Wife” is anxious to win and to get her crowd’s attention. It usually happens anyway, when the World Cup teams retreat to bed, and Richard and I stay downstairs. I know he understands that I am doing more job than any of the footballers out there, although no-one will ever pay me as much money. Thankfully, we both realise there are things money can’t buy – like the butterflies in your stomach when your man gently buries his nose in your neck…
Copyright © Julia Shuvalova 2008.
The image is courtesy of Nicky Reynolds.