I felt the need yesterday to write a new story that did not involve Fairy Queens and Irish shenanigans… WIP. And I was also chopping onions for lunch. I must state at this point that this is a work of fiction and my own husband chops his own onions, does not have halitosis and is generous in the extreme…….
Onions by Sally Cronin
Olivia chopped the onion carefully, avoiding the cut on her knuckles from yesterday’s little escapade. She hated cutting onions, having tried every trick in the book to stop herself crying copiously onto the culprits in question. She had popped the handle of a silver spoon in her mouth and clenched it with her teeth, worn her son’s snorkelling mask, cut the onions under water in the sink, and had even frozen them for 20 minutes before attacking them with a very sharp knife. Which is why she now sported a large blue plaster on her ring finger; evidence of its well-honed cutting edge.
You might ask why, with all this discomfort and mutilation, not to mention such an abundance of tears, she continued to cut onions every day. After all, the supermarket had fresh pre-cut onions, and two types of frozen sliced onions, white and red. The answer to this question was currently watching the television in the other room, feet up on the table and awaiting the tray laden with his dinner; and another beer to wash it down with.
She had been married to Gerald for twenty years, and he ventured rarely into the kitchen; except to sometimes dump his tray on the counter, and make a derogatory comment about the lack of flavour. He maintained that his role was to bring in the money that paid the bills, and everything else to do with household management was her department. His only stipulation was that he had to have a fresh onion every day, chopped and neatly piled on the side of his dinner plate, for him to enjoy between mouthfuls. He had read once that this addition to your daily diet staved off every living disease known to man, and he would not be budged. On the one occasion Olivia had bought pre-chopped onions and put them on the side of the plate, he noticed the regularity of the chop and was wise to her ploy in seconds. He then berated her for paying double the price of a whole onion and being too lazy to prepare it for him. The sight of her red eyes and plaster decorated fingers did little to move him, except to comment that she should stop snivelling.
Unfortunately, there was one disease that a fresh onion enhanced rather than prevented and that was halitosis. Gerald was afflicted with this withering condition, and for the entire twenty years of their marriage, Olivia had desperately tried to counteract the effects by buying extra minty toothpaste, putting a pack of polo mints in his lunch box, and trying to track down a source of odourless onions. This was not conducive to romance and added more black marks for her inability to attend to her duties as expected!
You might of course wonder why Olivia was still chopping onions for Gerald after twenty years when it was combined with his misogynistic behaviour. When they had first met, he had been all charm itself, and before she could say that she was not that sort of girl, she became pregnant. He had begrudgingly done the right thing, and apart from their son Peter, they had gone onto to have a beautiful daughter she had named Jennifer. Olivia did not consider herself without blame at being caught up in a loveless marriage. But she loved her children beyond belief and would have walked through fire for them both. And, despite Gerald’s antiquated approach to a wife’s duties, he had been a reasonable, if at times an overly strict father and good provider. She had no money of her own to fall back on, except what she might save from the sparse housekeeping she was allotted. Gerald who managed all the finances, also refused to allow her to go out to work when the children went to school. Her hands were tied but she comforted herself that at least they all had a roof over their heads and food on the table.
But things were different now. Peter had joined the army at eighteen, and after two years had just been posted to Germany where he was happily sampling an active social life. Jennifer had left home last week for college up in Manchester, and was living in a very comfortable student’s hostel. Olivia’s hand stopped its downward movement with the knife and she contemplated its gleaming blade.
The next day, Olivia popped into the newsagents on the corner and picked up one of the national advertising papers for cars, houses and jobs. She had read a copy in the hairdresser a few weeks back, and knew that there were positions for live-in housekeepers all over the country. She had noticed that there were some vacancies not too far from where her daughter would be studying for the next three years. Rather than take the paper home and have its presence questioned, she went around to her best friend Beryl’s, sharing her plan before placing some long-distance calls on her telephone.
With three interviews set up, Olivia contacted her daughter in Manchester and said that she was coming up for a visit to check on how she was settling in. Gerald had yet to dock any money from her weekly housekeeping because of the reduction in mouths to feed, and with a bit of scrimping, she had sufficient for her train fare. She also retrieved the little she had squirreled away over the last few years from the housekeeping; enough to pay for a cheap bed and breakfast for a couple of weeks.
Gerald argued against her trip of course, and was insistent that he was not going to cook his own dinners for the two nights she told him she would be away. He said the girl would be back down in a few weeks anyway at half term, and didn’t know what all the fuss was about.
He flounced into the living room; telling her over his shoulder that he was not going to fork out for the trip so she could think again. He went off to work in the morning, still in a strop, and told her he wanted extra onion that night with his dinner. She watched him go down the path before heading upstairs to unearth her battered suitcase from under the bed. She opened it to double check its contents. It held her smartest clothes, two pairs of good shoes and underwear and night clothes. Not much to show for twenty years she reflected, but she reached out and touched the photographs of her children; the most important items she had packed.
Olivia went around to Gerald’s side of the bed and opened the drawer in his bedside table. She pushed her hand to the back and found his sock containing his winnings. She had known about his stash for some time, knowing that the contents would fluctuate depending on how the horses had run. He had won on Saturday, celebrating with a few pints down the pub and rolling home drunk as a lord. As she liberated two hundred pounds from the sock, she found some satisfaction that he was contributing to her escape plan after all.
With one last glance around the house that still reeked from last night’s onions, Olivia, two days shy of her fortieth birthday, slammed the front door and got into the taxi waiting in the street. At the station she boarded the train for Manchester, and as they got under way, handed over a precious three pounds for a cup of tea and a shortcake biscuit. She smiled at her reflection in the window of the carriage as it sped towards her freedom. Tonight she would explain everything to her daughter and hope that she would understand.
Her son had made his weekly call to her last night before Gerard was due home. Taking a deep breath she had told him what she was about to do. She had cried a little as he spoke his words of encouragement, ending the call with ‘Why did you wait so long mum… I couldn’t wait to get out’.
Anyway, no more tears and no more bloody onions. And she laughed to herself visualising Gerald’s face when he deigned to enter the cold and unlit kitchen to find out what the hell she was up to. Only to find a freshly peeled onion pinned to the chopping board, with a very sharp knife right through the middle of it.
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