A rather tasty short story for you today, but with a bit of an aftertaste.
It was inspired by a couple of different things. One of my daughters and her husband instituted ‘Curry and Beer Night’ every Friday in their house and I always liked the idea. The other part of the inspiration came from learning of someone whose wife left him, leaving him, not only alone, but with thousands of pounds worth of debt. But, there, I don’t want to give too much away…
Curry and Beer Night
Turmeric-bright splatterings still decorate the kitchen wall, serving Dave as a reminder that he’s no saint. When his mother-in-law tearfully tells him how wonderful he is, the way he cares for Sharon, his eyes wander to the stain and he silently disowns the praise.
He came in that night, having worked late yet again. The house was cold and empty. No light burned to cheer him, no voice called out in welcome. There was a note this time. That was something. A ‘Post-it’ stuck to a packaged meal. ‘Out with girls. Don’t wait up.”
Dave closed his eyes, letting the weariness and disappointment pass over him. Microwave curry again: the taste of loneliness. It had been when he was a student, and it was now. He had hoped that marriage would change the flavour. When he vowed to be with Sharon for better or worse, he hadn’t bargained on Chicken Madras being part of the ‘worse’.
Curry ‘n’ Beer night: the weekly treat. Before he married, he’d go to the pub with his mates after work every Friday, celebrating the week’s end with a few beers followed by a visit to their favourite Indian restaurant.
He’d had the offer tonight.
“You comin’ down the pub, Dave?” Gary had asked.
“Working late,” he’d replied, with a shake of the head.
“Sucker! Honeymoon over, is it? Not rushin’ home t’ Sharon, then?” Gary had never married, liked to pretend by choice, and sneered at the idea of domestic bliss. He’d been making the same ‘honeymoon over’ crack for seven years now. That and his, “Need the money, d’ye? Patter o’ tiny feet, maybe?” accompanied by an insensitive, ‘knowing’ wink. “Friday! Curry ‘n’ Beer night! Bring the wife! We’re not prejudiced!”
That’s how he’d met Sharon. Gary had managed to persuade a group of girls from the office to join them: promises of good food, good beer and good company. The plan had failed to provide a wife for Gary, or even a girlfriend, but it had worked for Dave. He and Sharon had gravitated to a quiet corner of the bar and spent the evening flirting outrageously with one another. She became a regular Curry ‘n’ Beer night member and, when they got married, had instituted the cosier version: the two of them curled up together on the sofa with a good film, a few cans and a home-made beef curry.
The tradition now persisted in almost unrecognisable form; the sentiment had not survived the miscarriage at all. Dave wasn’t sure their marriage had either. They still lived under the same roof, if that constituted a marriage. Shared joy had turned to private grief and neither of them seemed able to help the other.
He’d wanted children, felt he had a lot to give, could see himself the kind of dad who’d bath the baby, change the baby: a ‘hands on’ dad, a caring dad. Dave sighed, pushing the pain back to the shadows, wondered if he’d ever have a chance at pushing a buggy.
Instead, he pushed his hands through his hair and braced himself to ‘cook’ his meal.
Curry ‘n’ Beer night: cardboard illustrations promising undelivered succulence and drinking alone: the ghost of what might have been.
Slipping the outer sleeve off, reading the instructions, piercing the film lid, all accomplished with a sigh; slamming the door of the microwave, punching the buttons, more of a growl. He should’ve gone with Gary and the boys. Could’ve had a decent curry, a proper curry, instead of the muck he’d thrown in the oven.
The mechanical hum reverberated through his chest, whirred in his head, building on disappointment till it became frustration; frustration, till it became anger. She could’ve told him this morning. She could’ve let him know he’d be on his own again.
Snatching up the cardboard sleeve, he twisted it roughly in his hands and stuffed it in the bucket.
And that was when the explosion started to build inside him.
No attempt made to hide them.
New jeans, a new top.
He dug further.
Boots. Leather boots. Expensive. Paid for by credit card.
He upturned the bucket onto the table, rooting through wet teabags and empty tins, mouldy cheese and milk cartons, snatching at scraps of paper. Tossing them aside till he found what he sought.
What else had she bought this time?
How much overtime did he hold, crumpled in his hand?
He swept the rubbish from the kitchen table with his arm, the angry movement sending the mess across the floor.
He kicked a chair after it as he lurched through to the living room. The unit drawer was where they kept the paperwork needed to run a household; to control its budget. The furious force he used to open it brought it all the way out, sending its contents fluttering around him. Credit card statements, store card statements: she hadn’t even tried to keep them from his scrutiny. Hundreds, thousands of pounds set out in columns of threes and fours, marching to the tally at the bottom of each page.
With a bellow of pain and rage, he threw them from him and stumbled back to the kitchen.
The plate she had set out for his meal he hurled at the wall, fragments of pottery flying where they would.
Tearing open the door of the microwave oven, he grabbed the hot, plastic dish from its depths and hurled the hated curry after the plate.
And, as it hit the wall, like a bright, fragrant, messy explosion, the volcano inside him spluttered the last of its vitriol.
Exhausted, he pressed his head against the cool tiles of the kitchen wall and wept.
As lumps of rubbery chicken slithered down the wall in a sluggish stream of sauce, he took a pack of beers from the fridge and settled himself on the sofa for the evening, the television blaring, unheeded, as he drank himself to sleep.
When Sharon came home, her first wave of revulsion was caused by the stink of his sweat and his belly’s exhalations. “Pig!” she muttered, opening the window. She had unzipped her new leather boots and slipped tired feet out of them in the hall, so, when she stepped back, her feet found the sticky, wet patch of beer-soaked carpet beside the couch. “Slob!” she sneered.
She turned off the blank television, her nose wrinkling in disgust at the stickiness of the remote control and the puddle of beer in which it sat. She picked up the upturned glass and headed for the dishwasher.
Turning on the kitchen light, shock threw her back from the aftermath of his eruption. Her bright, modern kitchen smelled like a curry-house, and looked like the alley behind it. All that was missing were the marauding cats.
Not intending to waken him, she had hoped to slip upstairs and have the luxury of the empty bed, but her involuntary exclamation and the light from the kitchen roused him.
“What on earth?” she saw the price tags and receipts among the rubbish and swung round to register the paperwork strewn over the living room floor. “Oh!”
Dave struggled against the grogginess of beer and sleep, covering his eyes against the light.
Sharon gathered her dismay into a tight defensive ball and threw it aside with a defiant toss of her head, deciding that the mess was his and he could clean it up in the morning. She headed for the door.
Looking at his watch, noting it was well past midnight, he demanded to know where she’d been.
“Friends!” As she walked back through the living room, she slipped her arms out of the soft leather jacket that had been delivered this morning.
He grabbed it from her as she went by the couch.
“Where did you…? This is new!” He smelled it. “It’s leather!”
He flung it to the floor. “How much did that sting me?”
“Nothing yet. I got it from the catalogue.”
“Good, ‘cos it’s going back!”
Set to argue the point with him, she stood, legs apart, hands on hips, rebellion blazing in her brown eyes.
“Look at you!” he spat. “All that make-up! You look like a tart!” His eyes swept over her: long, brown hair flowing freely round her shoulders; tight jeans; low-cut, tight-fitting top. “Tart!” he repeated with a sneer.
“I’m fed up with you telling me what I can wear and what I can’t wear! Where I can go and where I can’t go!”
“So, who’ve you been with, eh?” And he rose from the couch, grabbing her arm, twisting it behind her.
“Stop it!” she said, frightened now. “You’re hurting me!”
“I’ll break that sweet little neck of yours,” he said, the menace in his voice carried to her face on his foul breath. “It’s not enough that you bankrupt me with all this rubbish,” he said, pulling at her clothes. “You want to cheat on me too, do you, slut?”
“No, Dave, honestly. I haven’t! I’ve been with the girls. Ask them. Please, Dave. You’re hurting me.”
Suddenly, he released her and sat down on the sofa again, his head bent, hands covering his face. “Look what you’ve brought me to!” He shook his head. “I’ve never hurt you before. Have I?” He looked up, his eyes filled with remorse. “Have I ever hit you?”
She backed away, lifting her jacket from the floor, shaking her head. “I’m no good for you, Dave,” she told him. “You should let me go.”
“Go?” He was on his feet again, anger reigniting. “Where? Where d’you want to go? To your boyfriend?”
She shook her head. “No, Dave. You’re wrong! There’s no-one else!”
“No? Why all this then?” His gesture took in the make-up, the clothes. “Not for me. You know I don’t like all this trash.” Disgust retched in his voice. “Cheap! It makes you look cheap.” He laughed. “That’s funny, that is! Don’t you think that’s funny? It makes you look cheap. You’ve run up debts of, what? Ten thousand? Twelve thousand grand? And you look cheap. Don’t you think that’s funny?”
Sharon was edging towards the door.
“You’ve ruined me. You’ve driven me to the edge of reason, and now you think you can walk out on me?” He stepped between her and the door. “You’re right. I should let you go,” he said. “But I’m not going to. I married you. In front of a church-load of people, I married you, and you belong to me.” He leant into her space. “You are not going to humiliate me in front of all those people,” he hissed. “You are going to stay here and learn to be a decent wife. A proper wife.”
Tears were flowing unhindered down Sharon’s face.
“No more gallivanting.” He took the jacket from her hands. “No more shopping.” He snatched up her handbag. “No more new clothes.” He threw the jacket across the room. “Children! We’re going to have children, and you’re going to cook and clean and care for us like a proper wife. Right?”
With a last gasp of bravado, Sharon straightened her back, tossed back her head and looked him in the eye. “No! I’m not some clockwork doll you can dress up how you like, then wind me up and make me dance to your tune. I am not your slave. Neither are you going to turn me into your mother. You will not imprison me in this house.” And she pushed him with all the strength she could muster and caught him off-balance.
As he moved to the side to steady himself against the doorpost, she ducked under his arm, grabbed the keys from the hall table and bolted out the front door. Her unshod feet slipping on the grass, she ran across the garden, unlocking the car as she went. Wrenching open the door, she jumped inside, started the engine and had reversed half-way down the drive by the time he reached the car.
His fist banging on the window made her jump.
Her wet foot slipped on the accelerator.
The car coughed and lurched but she caught the pedals before the engine stalled.
Pressing her foot down hard, she swung the car down the driveway and round into the road.
Into the neighbours’ car, parked behind her.
With no seatbelt on, the bump threw her forward, hitting her head on the windscreen.
Dave grabbed at the passenger door.
She threw the gear stick into first and stamped on the accelerator.
Just as the car leapt forward, she remembered the hired skip parked beside their driveway, ready for the rubble of next-door’s renovations. But she had lost all control now, could do nothing about it.
Her car charged into the hulking, rusted, metal wall.
“Oh, my, she looks so pretty!” Evelyn exclaimed. “You do so well, looking after her,” she added, her eyes misting with tears. “Always keep her so nice.” She straightened the lacy collar of Sharon’s blouse. “I wish we didn’t live so far away.”
“Come on now, Evelyn. Don’t get all maudlin again. We were having such a nice time.”
“Yes, yes. I know. It’s just so hard seeing my wee girl like this. Does she still not remember anything?”
Dave shook his head. “Nothing from before the accident.”
“Nothing at all?”
“They don’t think so,” he shrugged. “Though it’s difficult to be sure since she doesn’t speak: can’t tell us.”
“Oh, I wish there was something I could do.”
“I know, Evelyn, I know. That’s why I asked you to bring the photograph albums. See if anything from her childhood jogs her memory.”
“What about her appetite? Is she eating yet?”
“Not much. A little at a time. I’m making curry tonight. Friday: Curry ‘n’ Beer night. She used to like a curry. Thought it might help her remember. You know, familiar foods, familiar things. I’ve got a film out too. I’ll cosy up on the couch with her, like we used to,” he shrugged. “Who knows? Something might…”
His mother-in-law nodded. “No progress with the walking?”
Dave stroked the handle of the wheelchair and sighed as he shook his head.
“I don’t know how you cope,” Evelyn told him. “She’s like a doll. You have to choose her clothes, wash her face, dress her.” she shook her head. “Everything. She can’t go out or come in without you. My poor girl. Totally dependent. Like I said, I just don’t know how you cope.” She patted his arm and smiled at him, gratitude and admiration in her eyes. “Thank you.” Tears gathered in her voice. “You’re a saint, I tell you. A saint!”
Dave glanced into the kitchen where he knew without seeing it, that there was a bright, yellow, Turmeric stain on the wall.
And now, as a special reward for you for reading my story, while you’re chewing it over, I’ll give you a recipe for Chicken Madras. It’s not my recipe: you can breathe a sigh of relief. I have many talents, but my children will line up to be first to tell you I’m not a great cook. My lovely, loyal husband would disagree with them, but, there, he still loves me after forty-six years of marriage, bless him!
This Chicken Madras Recipe is based on a Gordon Ramsey recipe which has been adapted slightly for a spicier palette and the ingredient quantities as listed are enough to make 4 portions.
Chicken Madras Ingredients:
- 4 chicken breasts, one per person!
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 2cm block of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped – Depends how much garlic you like. Personally I don’t like it to be over-powering
- Sea salt and black pepper
- 400g ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 300ml water
- 1 tsp garam masala
- Coriander leaves, to garnish
The following spices can be varied to your own personal taste, but if this is your first time with this recipe, then I’d suggest the following:
- 2–4 red chillies, finely chopped – You can de-seed if you prefer, but this will make it not as spicy
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1–3 tsp (or more!) hot chilli powder, to taste – Adding more or less will vary the hotness
- 6–8 curry leaves
- Juice of half a lemon or lime (you can use vinegar here instead, but not both)
Preparing the Chicken Madras Curry
Cut the chicken into strips or cubes and put aside. Heat the oil and add the onions and cook until they start to soften which will be about 5 or 6 mins. Once the onions have started to brown add the chillies, the garlic and the ginger and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Then add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, curry leaves and chilli powder and leave to cook for a further minute or so.
In that time, season the chicken you set aside earlier with the salt and pepper and add to the pan and cook stirring the pan until the chicken begins to go golden brown all over.
At this stage you’ll want to add the water and the chopped tomatoes and then bring to boil. Once the pan is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pan stirring ever so often. Let it simmer for about 30 minutes and add more water as needed if it begins to stick or the sauce becomes too dry – remember to stir well if you do need to add water. At the end of the 30 mins, stir in the garam masala and leave uncovered for another 10 mins, again taking care not to let it dry out.
When the cooking’s finished and you’re ready to serve the chicken madras, garnish it with some coriander leaves (not the stalk!) and I usually have it with rice or a Garlic and Coriander Naan bread, although it’s equally as good with chips(!), a jacket potato or even and this is controversial…in a large Yorkshire Pudding!
For more fabulous curry recipes visit http://currydemon.com/