She stared at the wallpaper for many hours, alone at the dining table, thinking, whilst doing her homework. She imagined snakes traversing it, and thought that would be appropriate. She sometimes contemplated adding them in with her crayons but wisely decided not to. She disliked the wallpaper because it symbolised things she disliked about life here.
The wallpaper was a glum grey, mottled, with repeats of exotic flowers deeply etched into it. If you had some particular reason to look at it up-close, you could make out that there were colours. Dots of red, smudged pinks and maybe purple lines had once defined the design. Now it just looked monochrome. Monotone. Monotonous, like the grubby routines of life in the pub. The dirt of many years made your eyes blend it all into mousy shades of drab. There was that poem in school about guttering, choking, drowning; the gas here was grey, beery breath and cigarette smoke. It seeped into everything and would probably drown them all.
The wallpaper did have a couple of advantages, however. The first advantage was that it was handy for Art. The Art Teacher was prone to setting random unrelated homeworks after the Monday I’m-Talking-Now lecture about how to use a pencil which rendered Art joyless. And for Homework, your topic is The Dockside/ Factories / The Train/At the Office. Nothing remotely accessible in these topics, as there were few resources to inspire or copy in the pub. No-one was prepared to take her to the library (in fact, it was discouraged because it was too much fuss and what about the fines?) so the wallpaper came in handy.
This week’s topic was The Jungle, which was a bit better. A perfect use for the insane flowers on the wallpaper which could be traced with greaseproof paper and a soft pencil, then replicated. Next, the addition of a few of the larger snakes from her imagination. Then draw around the outline of some Swiss Cheese Plant leaves from the dining room, and you had a psychedelic early seventies trip of a jungle. It was going to be an imaginative rendition, full of colour, style and just a hint of threat. The flowers looked noxious.
She planned to do Jungle in the lull after Sunday Lunch when whatever fight between her parents had died down, when her father had gone downstairs to the pub TV room to sleep it off, her mother had gone to bed to prepare for a night out at Bingo. With only religious programmes on the telly, she could have the lounge and the big table to herself, in relative peace.
But Sunday lunch was a ritual and a flash point so you had to tread carefully. It was a race between her father and mother to see whether he could get drunk first or she could get the lunch on the table. For the child, it was a test of nerve to stay to the end. Otherwise, you didn’t get lunch.
It had to be roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, every week without fail, because your father won’t eat anything else. The mother perpetuated this myth. She was a slave to his every whim. But the dad never ate much of anything at all because he was too sloshed; he sometimes helped himself to the leftovers, cold out of the fridge, when the pub was dark and silent and lonely and he thought his daughter could not see.
This Sunday, her father arrived at the dining table early, because he wanted the Sunday papers back from his child. She was combing The News of the World for new rude words, which was the best part of Sundays. He was drunk, and struggled to speak coherently, but the table was laid, so he sat down.
In came the mother carrying plates loaded with Yorkshire puddings. So far, so good. Gravy ladled out. Silent eating and a bit of slurping. Yorkshires first, like they do up North. Then the main event of meat and three veg. At which point it started.
The father complained about the food. Something about tepid slop and pigs’ swill. There was some truth in this. The mother annihilated vegetables to the point where the child begged to eat her carrots raw. She turned cauliflower into puree before cauliflower puree was a thing, by boiling it to a pulp. Swedes and carrots were mixed and thoroughly mashed. Marrowfat peas, unidentifiable as individuals, were cooked to grey mush. Fair point dad.
And his wife hissed Well you shan’t have any of it then. If you don’t like it, I won’t allow you to eat it, you drunkard, as she ran off to the other side of the room clutching his full plate like a tennis trophy, daring her husband to come at her.
He rose from the chair and said You stupid woman. You’re a witch and a bitch. You don’t know how to cook. Bloody cremated beef and baby-food vegetables.
And the mother launched the whole plate of food, full force right at him, propelling it like a discus.
He ducked. The plate hit the wall with a crack and a squelch. It adhered to the wallpaper just above head height. And slid down, slowly. Meat, peas, cauliflower the lot. Rivulets of gravy led the way.
And so, this was the second advantage of the wallpaper: it hid gravy stains very effectively.
Jungle got a B minus. The Art teacher’s comment read: Lacks realism.
|Publication date:||1st March 2022|
|Primary Genre||Shorter Reads|