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Lasagne for One

Emily Gaywood-James

"While a meal she had made lay uneaten in our freezer, a part of her was still here, still home."

Haunting flash fiction by Brick Lane-shortlisted author Emily Gaywood-James.

I was 83 the first time I cooked for myself. Don’t laugh, I know it’s ridiculous. The truth is, Edie cooked all my meals, unless we were going out to a restaurant or a dinner party or something. If she had gone out with friends, or to a monthly meeting of the village council, I’d usually just heat up a can of tomato soup.

I didn’t need to know how to cook, I suppose that was my reasoning. It sounds so old-fashioned, doesn’t it? Lola, my granddaughter, would say that I was profiting from the patriarchy, or something like that. She’d be right, of course, but it was just the way things were, in those days.

Edie was sharp as a knife, right up until she breathed her last. She remembered every recipe her mother had taught her, and  knew by heart the ingredients she would need for our daughter’s favourite cakes. That was my undoing, really. She didn’t need recipe books, so we didn’t have any. When she died, I didn’t know where to begin. I would imagine her looking down at me standing in the kitchen, completely helpless, and I knew she’d be having a good laugh at her hopeless old other half. Well, you’re never too old to learn, that’s what I told myself.

"Edie was sharp as a knife, right up until she breathed her last."

I started slowly. I took the bus to a neighbouring town and checked cookery books out of the local library, starting with those aimed at students, as I decided that, octogenarian widowers aside, they would probably be the most clueless in the kitchen. I told the librarian they were for my granddaughter, off to university, not that she asked. Anyway, Lola is a vegetarian, if you can believe it, and seems to live on something called tofu, so I’m sure she’s much more advanced than I am in the culinary arts.

I left Edie’s apron hanging from the hook on the back of the kitchen door. It made me feel like it wasn’t quite real, like one morning I’d be woken by the whistling of the kettle or the smell of bacon sizzling on the stove. Sometimes I pictured her wearing it, standing at the counter making a trifle, telling me off for swiping amaretti biscuits before she’d had the chance to soak them in sherry. I bought a packet of the biscuits, but they didn’t taste the same.

I was digging through the freezer a couple of weeks into my culinary journey when I found it. I was hoping to find a long-forgotten box of fish fingers that would excuse me from that evening’s cooking. Instead I pulled out a Tupperware, labelled in her neat handwriting: ‘lasagne for one.’ I gazed at the container, contemplating heating it up, but after a moment I slid it back into the drawer. While a meal she had made lay uneaten in our freezer, a part of her was still here, still home.

I stood up, knees creaking, and crossed the kitchen. From the top shelf of the cupboard, I pulled down a dusty can of Heinz Tomato Soup.

Based in London, Emily is a talented author who creates imaginative and compelling narratives, that reveal a profound interest in the human psyche.

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