Queer as Folk: a collection of short reads
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(an excerpt from What’s for Dinner?)
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
Dorothy Parker 1893- 1967 (attributed)
Janice wasn’t concentrating on the conversation round the table in the coffee bar. Then Alison said something that struck home.
“Don’t you just get tired of planning meals all the time?” she said. “Don’t you just get absolutely sick to death of wondering what to do for dinner?”
The four women, all retired, met every other Saturday for shopping. At Alison’s outburst Roz tittered in her usual non-committal way. In a discussion Roz changed sides like the wind. Diana smiled and said something comforting, the way she always did to diffuse strong feeling. But Alison’s question had ignited a fire in Janice.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “There are times when I’d be happy to fry an egg sandwich, or something, but if I did, I’d feel . . .”
“Guilty?” Alison said.
Janice felt her face grow hot. An upsurge of indignation twisted her insides. She didn’t want to be comforted by Diana’s soothing words. She didn’t want to sit on the fence, avoiding difficult subjects like Roz. Janice wanted to let it all out.
“I’m sixty three,” she said. “I’ve been planning meals for forty years, and to be honest, I’ve had enough.”
Roz took a bite of her toasted sandwich. Diana sipped her hot chocolate. People streamed in and out of the coffee bar. The door opened and closed with a clunking sound. The cappuccino machine hissed. Roz munched. Diana sipped.
Alison said, “So, what are you going to do about it?”
They were all three staring at her. The coffee bar and its customers, its noises and smells faded into a blurred background like a scene in a movie. Three faces were in sharp focus waiting for her reply. Alison had started it but, somehow, it had become Janice’s responsibility to find an answer.
She said, “I’m going to take some time out.”
She fried egg sandwiches that evening for supper. Her husband looked down at his plate and back up again at Janice.
“Could I have some bacon with that?” he said.
“Yes, Stephen,” she said. “You know where it is.”
And she stayed at the table while Stephen went to the fridge for the bacon. By the time he’d grilled it his egg was cold and he complained.
Janice said, “What a shame.”
On Sunday Stephen went for his hour’s cycle ride and brought back the paper. He sat in the conservatory reading for another hour then had a half hour on the phone with his brother in Scotland. At twelve thirty he wandered into the kitchen.
“Enjoy your morning?” Janice said, peering over the top of a novel.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“I’m reading a book.”
“Yes, I can see that.”
“So, why did you ask? Did you really mean to say what am I not doing, Stephen?”
She saw him looking at the oven which was silent and cold.
“What’s for dinner?” he said.
Janice put down her book and looked him square in the eyes.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“But I’m feeling a bit hungry.”
“Help yourself, darling. I don’t fancy a big roast dinner today.” And she buried her nose in her
It took him till Thursday to ask her what was the matter.
It wasn’t a comfortable settlement. Janice and Stephen had to address things they hadn’t talked about for years: boredom and the frequency of it; money and the shortage of it; sex and the lack of it.
Janice said, “We’ve got out of the habit of talking to each other, Stephen. Since we retired, we bumble about.”
“Bumble about?” he said. “I don’t bumble.”
“But you do. And so do I. You do your thing. I do mine. We don’t do anything together any more. I don’t want to spend the rest of our lives bumbling.”
On Friday Janice filled in a form for senior citizens’ reduced prices at the cinema and Stephen agreed to go see a film once a month. On Saturday she got out a cookery book and Stephen chose a new recipe to try. He went to buy the ingredients while Janice did the ironing. On Sunday Janice got out her bike and rode with him. By the time Monday rolled around they’d run out of things to talk
about. Tuesday was an effort and Wednesday was a strain.
“This is not working, is it?” Janice said.
Stephen scratched his head and looked shame-faced.
“Not really,” he said. “I think I was happier before.”