Wednesday, 1 October 2014

"But, it was a little different tonight. There was a feeling of autumn coming to last a million years."

Ray Bradbury

In 2011 I wrote a piece of flash fiction called Pumpkin Soup, a story about a a woman cooking her dad's favourite dish on the day of his funeral. In October 2012, my dad passed away without warning. I never cooked soup for my dad, but reading that piece of flash fiction back now, I find I am that woman. It's funny how things work out.

I love autumn, I adore Halloween and the folklore that goes with it. I love making autumnal perfumes. I love the misty mornings and pitch-black nights. I used to love October, but now, almost two years on from losing Dad, I just see this month as one long wait. A wait to see how I'll feel on October 27th. Will I cry? Will I have nightmares? Will my family be okay? Will we want to be together or should we try to treat it as a normal day? Last year, the first year, we were together and it wasn't so bad. This year...I don't know. Two years is a long time. For everyone else, the world has moved on and there are no emotional scabs to pick at. Me, I feel like I'll be holding my breath for the next four weeks, counting down to November when I can say, "okay. We made it."

There are distractions, of course. Kyle and I are moving house next Friday and since we've made next to no progress on packing so far, this weekend should be pretty hectic. And being in a new house, making it your own, learning how it smells and sounds and feels, that's all fun. There are stories waiting to be written, perfumes to be sent to people. There is normal life and it doesn't stop whether I want it to or not. So there are distractions.

Whether they will be good enough, I don't know. I slow down in the winter anyway. I'm rather prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, and that impacts my writing and my energy levels. Since I'm already waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind where I planned to be on all my writing projects this year, I need to find a way to avoid that. I don't want to get to the end of 2014 and not see any changes from the end of 2013.

And honestly I think part of the solution, for me, is the word permission. Give myself permission to feel shitty if that's how I feel. Give myself permission to write badly, or not at all, or on something other than my "set" projects if that's where the mood takes me. Give myself permission to not think about publication or making other people happy or being productive if I can't find the energy.

Usually when I allow myself those things, I'm a happier, more productive person anyway (at least outside the office). And it probably should be obvious advice to give to yourself, but like Alice, I give myself very good advice and very seldom follow it.

Anyway. I don't intend to be maudlin and weird all through the month, but since I found it, and because it made me kinda smile-cry, I thought I'd share that piece of flash fiction.

Pumpkin Soup

It was Dad’s favourite. Every time he came over, it would be his first question. No, okay. Third question. First – how’s my baby girl? Second – that husband of yours looking after you? Third – you made your old dad some pumpkin soup?

                I stare out the kitchen window at the orchard behind our little cottage. The leaves are all golden and russet, pretty but dying. The sky is slate-grey and the wind chases those dying leaves across the dying grass in an endless tumble. It’s sort of poetic. I chop as I stare, making a rough pile of onion to join the crushed garlic and roasted pumpkin sitting on my sideboard. A neat row of spice jars sit on the windowsill: curry powder, coriander, cayenne pepper. It’s the curry powder, I’d tell Dad. That’s the secret ingredient.

                When I was little, I loved autumn best of all. The smells and colours, the food Mum made. Great hearty stews and casseroles, loaded with root vegetables and followed by indulgent desserts, laden with cream or custard. I loved walking the dogs with Dad while Mum cooked and baked. We had two spaniels, mad as hatters, and I’d throw handfuls of leaves for them and laugh joyously when they jumped and twisted in the air, snapping at the leaves. Dad would find chestnuts and we’d race home to roast them. And by then Mum would have finished her lamb casserole or her beef stew, and we’d eat great steaming bowlfuls of it at the big kitchen table, mopping up the juice with thick slices of homemade bread.
                I finish my chopping and drop a too-large dollop of butter in a saucepan, heating it gently. My mind isn’t really on the soup, but it’s Dad’s favourite, so there’s no question that I will make it today. When the butter is melted, a golden puddle in my shining saucepan, I toss in the garlic and onions, the rich, deep smells filling the kitchen immediately. It’s not a home without the smell of cooking, Mum always says, and I agree. Tom married me for my cooking, I’m sure of it, as I’m sure Dad married Mum for hers.

                While I soften my onions and garlic, I hum tunelessly, still fixated on the view through the window. Rain clouds are pulling in slowly, scudding through the sky a heavy black mass. My eyes sting and I tell myself it’s the onions. Somewhere in the house, I hear one of our dogs bark and I think of those two mad spaniels from my childhood. Jester and Sparky are terriers, endlessly fun and delightful, but I miss those spaniels and their pink lolling tongues, their wide doggy grins. I miss my autumn walks with Dad.

                I throw in the spices and the pan sizzles. My eyes start to water, but I can still pretend it’s the onions. There’s nobody here to ask, anyway. Tom is upstairs with the kids and Mum won’t be here for another hour or so.

                Dad always found an excuse to visit me at the weekends. As if he needed one! But weekends are my true cooking time, when I spend all day pottering round the kitchen making fruit pies and jam, and big batches of soup. Why are you making bloody chicken broth? he’d grumble. You know the pumpkin’s my favourite.

                In goes the pumpkin and my tears slide down my cheeks. Sometimes I’d vary the recipe. Add in honey for him, or fresh chilies. Each time he’d declare it was the best version ever and wrap me in a bear hug like I was still a little girl, and I’d squeal and laugh like I was still a little girl too.

                Rain splatters on the window pane as I simmer my soup, as if Nature is crying with me. I wish it was spring. It doesn’t seem fair that Dad is missing this autumn, not when it’s so perfect. He never minded the rain, would walk the dogs through every storm. Little water never hurt anyone, did it now? he’d scold me when I moaned about the weather. I always went with him, rain or shine, 
because I loved his love for the autumn, and I loved watching the dogs chase each other through every mud puddle with unbounded glee.

                I drop my wooden spoon and scrub the tears from my eyes. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry today, that I’d celebrate Dad, not mourn him. That was why I was making the soup, after all. Mum is making an apple crumble, and we’ll cook a great, minty lamb casserole later, all Dad’s favourites. We’ll crack open a good bottle of Port by the fire after dinner and toast to his memory. That is what we have promised.

                There are footsteps behind me, accompanied by the clack of quick little claws on the stone tiles. Tom slips his arms around me and Jester sits by my feet, waiting for scraps. I can’t imagine he’d like onions or cayenne pepper, but he looks so hopeful I have to smile.

                “Smells good, love,” Tom says. “Your dad would be happy.”

                “Are the kids okay?” I can’t talk about pumpkin soup. Making it is hard enough.

                “They’re alright. They’ll be better when it’s over. We all will.”

                I nod as if this is true but I don’t fully believe it. I will sit in the kitchen, long after the kids are asleep and Tom and Mum have gone to bed, and the fire is just burning embers in the hearth, and I will inhale the aromas of spice and pumpkin soup lingering here, and I will wait for Dad to come home, to ask me how I am and how Tom is treating me and where the soup is.

                I will say goodbye to him today. But I will never stop expecting him to be here.


  1. I finished reading your story with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

    Big gentle hugs for you, Nome.