‘Natalie?’ Erica’s call came from the hallway.
Keep calm, she told herself. She looked down at the knife in her hand, then to the blood-smeared floor, then to the mess on the table in front of her.
Just keep very, very calm.
‘Nat, where are you?’ Erica’s voice was closer accompanied by high-heeled footsteps.
Natalie’s eyes darted around the kitchen frantically looking for an escape, but she knew she couldn’t leave. Not with this mess. Erica would know. She always knew everything.
The footsteps stopped.
Natalie felt the sweat gather on her forehead.
‘Nat, are you in the…?’ The footsteps set off again at a fast pace, heading right towards Natalie.
Stay calm, for heaven’s sake, stay calm.
Erica appeared in the doorway, a look of utter horror on her face. Natalie tried to hide the knife behind her back, but her limbs would not obey her mind. The knife stayed mid-air.
Erica swallowed visibly. ‘Natalie, we talked about this.’
‘I know,’ was all Natalie could squeeze through her tight throat.
‘You promised.’ It was almost a plea from Erica.
‘Put the knife down,’ Erica’s tone was firm, but a concerning crease settled in her face. ‘Do as I say, put the knife down and step away from the…eh…’ Her voice trailed off.
‘N-no.’ Natalie drew the knife to her chest.
‘No one has to get hurt this time. You remember what happened the last time? When you promised that this,’ Erica waved a hand at the chaotic space, ‘would not happen again.’
‘I can’t help it!’ Natalie felt tears well up in her eyes. ‘I have to do this. I have to learn or else-’
‘There is no ‘or else’!’ Erica’s voice rose an octave higher.
‘Mommy?’ A small voice shattered the tension in the room. It came from the living room.
Erica’s head spun to the hallway behind her and then back to the still-paralysed Natalie.
‘Do you want her to see you like this?’ she asked.
She was angry now, Natalie could see. Now that little Miné came into the picture Erica was all mother bear.
How ironic, it was Natalie’s child.
‘Do you want your daughter to see you like this?’ Erica repeated, taking a step forward.
Natalie shrunk back.
‘What kind of mother am I if I can’t do this?’ She held the knife determinedly.
‘You’re only hurting the people you love by doing this.’ Erica took another step closer. ‘I told you whenever these urges came over you, all you needed to do was ask me, ask me and I will help you.’
‘Mommy, where are you?’
‘Oh no,’ she breathed. The knife slipped from her grip to the kitchen floor.
Erica practically bounded across the table, pushing aside the overturned milk carton, the spice rack, the sack of flour, and bottle of vinegar.
The latter fell to the floor, breaking on impact and spilling across the tiles.
‘Why do you insist on doing this?’ Erica demanded, ripping the apron off Natalie while simultaneously kicking the knife beneath the kitchen counter. ‘You even got sugar in your hair and what is that?’ she asked lifting her foot.
Her heel was covered in egg, one of the five casualties stranded around their feet.
‘How do you drop five eggs?’
‘I saw Nigella do this trick-’ Natalie heaved dry sobs.
‘You were watching the cooking channel? I put a password on that.’
‘I can’t help it!’
‘Did you ever see Nigella hack a chicken in her kitchen? That’s what the axe and chopping block is for in the backyard!’
‘I had to cut it open carefully to remove the stomach to prevent the poison from spreading through the rest of the body.’
‘I couldn’t chop its head off!’ Natalie started to cry. ‘I wanted a more humane approach.’
‘So you poisoned it?’ Erica grabbed the nearest rag and started wiping the blood off the table, wall, and counter.
‘Hendry said the chicken wouldn’t feel a thing, like it was going to sleep, and it would be fast.’
‘Hendry helped you?’
‘And then when I started to cut I realised I didn’t know where the stomach was,’ Natalie continued through the tears, ignoring Erica completely. ‘And then there was so much blood, and then-’
‘Sweet sister,’ Erica seemed close to strangling Natalie, ‘why didn’t you just buy an already dead, plucked and poison-free chicken?’
‘I live on a farm, I can’t buy a chicken when I have two dozen running around for the purpose of being eaten!’
‘You can’t cook either, but you insist on doing that as well!’
‘Mommy why are you crying?’ Miné stood at the kitchen entrance. Her stuffed bunny’s ears were hanging on the floor as she held him upside down in her left hand. Her right hand’s forefinger was stuck in her nose, digging up a storm.
‘Don’t pick your nose, Miné,’ Erica said, snapping into action. She tossed the bloodied rag into the sink and made her way to the four-year-old. ‘Mommy is busy, go and play for a while until she joins you.’
‘But why is Mommy crying?’ The little girl tried to look past Erica’s looming form that was blocking her view from her mother.
‘Mommy is not crying she’s just busy.’ Erica shot a look in Natalie’s direction which dried up every last bit of moist in her eyes.
‘I’m not crying, Honey, Mommy’s just cooking.’
Erica’s shoulders turned to stone. She turned around slowly, her face the spitting image of murder.
‘But Mommy, you’re not allowed to cook.’
‘She’s right,’ Erica said through clenched teeth. ‘You would think Mommy would set an example of doing what she’s told and following the rules for her daughter.’
‘This is my kitchen,’ Natalie said defensively.
The smoke alarm cut Erica off before she could reply. Everyone turned to the oven where a steady stream of smoke was piling out.
Erica swore. In two leaps she was at the oven, wretched the door open and started waving the smoke towards the kitchen window with a baking tray.
‘I forbade you from using the oven,’ she said through coughs and flapping arms.
‘The cake was going to be for you.’
‘Why would I want a cake?’
‘Why wouldn’t you want a cake, Aunty Erka?’
Natalie burst out laughing at her daughter’s retort. Miné started laughing as well.
‘Stop it both of you,’ Erica ordered still waving the smoke out. ‘Miné, if you laugh you are condoning your mother’s irresponsible behaviour.’
Miné suddenly stopped and glanced at the hallway.
‘Daddy’s home!’ she squealed and ran out of the room.
‘Good, you can explain this to your husband,’ Erica sighed and slumped down on a chair next to Natalie.
‘You’re so hard on me.’ Natalie loosened her hair. She could feel the sugar crystals on her scalp.
‘You can’t cook Natalie and it’s dangerous when you try.’ Erica sighed again. ‘Just let me do it. It’s less stress and less mess. I mean look at this place, it looks like someone had a pillow fight in here.’
‘Yeah,’ Natalie said, dusting some of the chicken feathers off the counter. ‘Maybe I should have asked Hendry to take care of the chicken.’
‘Maybe,’ Erica snorted. ‘Now leave so that I can clean and cook.’
‘I can clean,’ Natalie said getting up.
‘Sorry, but remember what happened last time?’ Erica’s look was almost apologetic. ‘We don’t want a repeat of the flammable-detergent incident.’
Natalie glanced at the cupboard below the sink. The blackened wood was testament to her poor cleaning abilities.
With one last look at her older sister, Natalie left the kitchen in a wake of feathers, flour, and fractured pride.
‘Is the cake okay?’ Erica asked Natalie, handing Miné her second slice of the large, moist chocolate cake.
Is the cake good? Natalie thought.
They were all sitting at the dining room table and, after polishing Erica’s carefully prepared dinner, was busy demolishing the mountain of a cake she had made for desert.
The afternoon’s kitchen incident was seemingly forgotten as everyone stuffed their faces with Erica’s dishes, but Natalie was still sullen.
Erica looked at Natalie expectantly.
Is the cake good?
It was divine. It was the most delectable, delightful piece of sweetness wrapped in heavenly textures she had ever tasted. This is a piece of cake they would write poems or sing ballads about. Natalie wouldn’t be surprised if this very cake incited world peace.
But instead she only mumbled, ‘It’s okay. Frosting’s a bit much.’
‘Uhs cake uhs a best!’ Miné’s cheeks resembled that of a hamster. She had cake in one hand and a fork in the other which she swung around like a sceptre as she spoke.
‘Miné, don’t talk with your mouth full,’ Erica warned.
Natalie propped her elbow on the table and stuffed her cheeks with cake too, purposefully looking the other way from Erica.
She felt her husband’s hand on her knee. He gave her a comforting smile and squeezed her leg.
Natalie gave a small smile.
‘Later’ her husband mouthed and she nodded.
‘Nat, talk to your child,’ Erica said exasperated.
Natalie looked to Miné. The little girl had cake in both hands now and was halfway out of her chair onto the table.
‘I-am-the-cake-king!’ she said smiling a mouth full of chocolate-stained teeth.
‘Queen, Honey, you’re a queen. Only boys are kings,’ Natalie said.
‘I-am-the-chocolate-king!’ Miné continued, not skipping a beat.
Natalie shrugged at Erica, ‘I tried.’
‘How many children do you have, Malik?’ Erica asked Natalie’s husband.
Malik laughed. ‘I ask myself that sometimes.’
Erica rolled her eyes and started to clear the table. Malik kissed Natalie on the cheek before getting up to help Erica.
‘Hey, Miné,’ Natalie whispered when they had left.
‘I-am-the-chocolate-king!’ Miné said climbing onto the table.
‘Hey, Chocolate King,’ Natalie tugged on her daughter’s arm. ‘Did you see what Auntie Erica changed the cooking channel’s password to?’
‘Four, four, six, two, se-ven,’ Miné sang the numbers, nodding her head in time with the rhythm.
‘That’s my girl,’ Natalie kissed Miné’s ear.