It was Sunday morning after a night out on the razzle. The sun streamed through the bedroom window. Matt shielded his eyes and rubbed his forehead. He had an almighty hangover. He peered at the alarm clock, it was nearly eleven. Alice must be downstairs already.
He stood for a long time under the shower, to see if he could wash it all away. He put on a clean tee-shirt and a pair of knee-length shorts. He smothered himself in aftershave, which was startlingly invigorating on his freshly shaved skin, and wandered downstairs.
‘Morning,’ she said breezily, looking up from her bowl of muesli scattered with slices of fresh fruit.
‘Morning,’ he said back.
‘Coffee’s made, ‘she said.
‘Great,’ he replied, pouring himself a cup. Black and strong, just how he liked it.
Meanwhile, he really fancied a proper, no holds barred fry-up. Hit the hangover where it hurts.
This was no longer possible. She had decided to turn vegan three months ago. Consequently there were moments, like now, when he felt really hard done by. He had never been any good at making changes. It was too much effort, something in him simply revolted. But, in the name of love, for her that is, he had agreed to give up just about everything, except fish and eggs.
She had promised him he was under no pressure. He could go on eating whatever he liked. She said. Secretly he was quite enjoying it. Greasy foods had started making him feel a bit sick occasionally. And cheese. That’s the sign of an overloaded liver, she had said. How did she know all this stuff? he wondered.
‘Think I’ll have a boiled egg this morning,’ he said.
‘Yeah, sure,’ she said, speaking, for some unknown reason in a mock American accent, whilst continuing to pore over the newspaper laid out on the table before her, ‘just bear in mind they grind up male chicks live in great big grinders in the egg factories.’
His heart sank. He made a snap decision to say nothing for the moment. This was unusually easy, maybe his aching head was distracting him. He stood at the fridge with the door open, enjoying the cool air wafting from it. He was feeling disturbed. He took out the incriminating egg box. Maybe he would have two.
He pondered the fate of male chicks.
‘Why do they do that?’ he said, dejectedly.
‘They don’t lay eggs so they’re useless,’ she replied.
‘But couldn’t they kill them later and make them chicken?’
‘Well, I can see how that’s a sooo much better option,’ she said sarcastically, ‘but maybe you need to ask them?’ She upturned the tone of the end of her sentence, annoyingly.
‘Grind them live,’ he said despondently.
‘Uh huh,’ she said. ‘All the little fluffy cheeping chick-chicks sliding down a spiral chute together, wheeeee… a bit like at the funfair, and then they end up going down a big black grinding hole with nasty sharp teeth.’
‘Oh for heaven’s sake,’ he said, hopelessly.
‘Don’t shoot the messenger,’ she said tartly. ‘It’s your choice in the end.’
He got a saucepan out and put in enough water to cover the eggs. A drop of vinegar to stop them cracking. He slid the eggs gently into the bubbling water and flicked the timer on.
‘I hate this damn stupid world,’ he said finally.
‘Probably not as much as the little baby-boy chicks hate it.’
He stood staring at the eggs wobbling gently in the boiling water.
The timer pinged. He put the eggs into the art-deco egg cups they had bought some years ago, and which were now pretty much redundant. He made marmite on toast and cut it into soldiers.
He thought about his mum as he did so. He thought about being a kid again. When all the animals lived happily together at the farmyard, and the transition from live animal to fried chicken or grilled beef-burger was a mysterious process shrouded in charm and goodwill. A process that hadn’t ever been clarified then, and which he’d never thought about since.
‘Eat it up,’ his mother used to say, ‘it’s good for you.’
‘Eat it up, there are thousands of children dying of starvation all over the world. You’re the lucky one, don’t waste it.’
He sat at the kitchen table diagonally opposite Alice, who remained immersed in the paper.
He decapitated the eggs, giving them a sharp thwack with the side of his spoon. He gazed at the gooey yellow eyeball yolks. They stared straight back at him accusatorily. He had managed to cook them perfectly for once. Despite the panicked squeaking of baby chicks ringing in his ears.
He added a dash of salt, and dipped in his first soldier. Having got this far, he just wanted one thing, and one thing only; for it to taste so wonderful, so ecstatically delicious, that it would all be worth it. Even though he knew it wasn’t worth it. He knew that. He bloody well knew it.
He lifted the soldier to his mouth and managed to dribble some yellow yolk on his clean, white summer tee-shirt.
Shit, he thought. Now I’ll have to change before we go out. They were heading for the coast, it was such a lovely day.
‘You’ve got some on your chin too,’ she said, looking up from the newspaper and pointing at her own chin.
Her look said it all. You’re such a slob. Such a big kid. Grow up.
‘So what,’ he said. He regretted it the minute he’d said it.
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘So nothing. You’ve got egg on your face, that’s all.’
He dipped in another marmite soldier.
In silence, he ate his way through both eggs, wondering to himself if he would ever eat eggs again.
‘What I wish,’ he said, looking across at Alice, ‘is that it was possible to unknow things. Sometimes.’
‘Me too,’ said Alice, looking up from her paper. ‘Me too.’
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