Content warning: miscarriage/abortion, mental illness and ableism
Eggs, potatoes, onions, spices, oil, tomatoes, ham. Cheese: optional.
Eggs, potatoes, onions … eggs.
It’s a long list. Miranda can remember the first three items but not the rest. She copies from her ‘Meals for One’ cookbook onto the notepad, making sure to write in quite large letters so it will be legible in the shop. Last week she didn’t do this, and when she stood in front of the supermarket aisles with a page of scribble, it was no good. No good at all.
She starts looking. Loads of cupboards, too many. The first is full of plates, all the same. The second is much more interesting. There’s a strange silver bowl covered in tiny holes, like rain and sprinkles and Blackpool.
On the beach, she kissed a man, and the waves, the waves, the wind and sand in her eyes.
The bowl’s so cold, she moves on to cupboard number three. Jackpot! Potatoes and onions are in the same place – the big drawer underneath the knives and forks. It takes four minutes to distinguish potatoes from the other veg. There are so many different kinds she has to check the list for broccoli or carrots.
No broccoli. No carrots.
It’s boring and she’s tired and aching.
The silver bowl with holes and the man she kissed.
She takes the potatoes and onions and places them on the table next to the list. She places a large tick against their names, so that later on she’ll be clear about what to buy. But should she cross the items out altogether? If she deletes, she won’t have to spend ages considering in the shop, but then again, if she leaves them, she can use the list to show Mum. Too many decisions, it’s too many, and anyway she can’t show Mum. Not until visiting time.
Miranda sits on the tall, pink, plastic chair. Only a few ticks of a lamb’s tail. ‘I’ll just tick.’
Tick-tock-tick-tock … Because potatoes and onions were fairly easy to find, she goes back to the big drawer and hunts for the other items. Perhaps everything will be here?
‘Come to Momma!’
If she can find them quickly and get to the shop, she should be able to rush back and spend a lot of time getting ready.
Cheap thrills and da-da-da-da-daa!
The silver bowl, the kiss, Mum in the care home now.
She sits again but tick-tock-tick-tock.
It takes another ten minutes, two minutes longer than her time guide for keeping calm. After the eight-minute threshold, sprinkles and memories start coming through the holes in the bowl.
She got told off for kissing the man thirty years ago.
All she wants is to kiss again, but there are eggs and potatoes and too many things. Wants, wanted, will want. All the wanting. Too much for one crappy kitchen.
‘No sodding tomatoes!’ she shouts. It doesn’t matter, there’s nobody in her flat to hear. ‘Why isn’t there?’
The leaking sprinkles turn into rage or anger – but who cares? Is there any difference?
It’s boring and she’s cold and tired. Fuck’s sake. On the beach that day, she had so much energy she could have climbed to the moon.
By the time the index finger on her right hand makes circles on her left palm, Miranda’s shoulders are starting to slip down past the point of no return. On some days, this can take a long time.
Today, there’s a very good reason to concentrate. She has a juicy carrot and an incentive. It’s enough to start writing again: lipstick, eyeshadow, perfume. She thinks about perfumes and cost – her budget for the meal is a tenner.
She wanted the man on the beach too, but police and chasing and Mum crying. It was only a ripped skirt.
She sits on the plastic chair and strokes its bold edges.
She crosses out eye shadow but underlines perfume and lipstick.
Finding the items is taking up a lot of energy, so a cup of tea might be a good idea. As she opens the fridge, Miranda hits the jackpot again because there, right in front, are tomatoes and ham. ‘Mamma Mia!’
She yanks them out and plops them onto the table next to the list, where she notices there’s only three items left to find, three items with no tick.
Eggs, spices, oil.
She makes the tea because she’s thirsty, and dehydration would not be good for the forthcoming events of the day. Not very good at all.
Eggs, spices, oil.
She knows not to leave the fridge door open. Wasting the world’s resources is something she often worries about, and that includes leaving on lights and hair straighteners. As she pushes the fridge door shut, she sees the empty plastic box with little pods like space beds.
‘Fuck.’ She writes eggs on the list, which is looking – not long, but more complicated than she would have liked. Fuck, like the man on the beach.
Eggs, perfume, lipstick.
She cannot look away from the deleted eyeshadow.
She has no sodding clue where oil and spices are. What are spices? Does she like spices? Will it interfere with her new perfume?
There was The Spice Girls and dancing in the club.
You can’t make an omelette without all the ingredients, so she resumes her search. On the window ledge a few small jars of dust are arranged. Paprika, chili, salt and pepper. Pepper is labelled as spice. She snatches it up and onto the table it goes: thank you very much.
Suddenly she remembers the olive oil! Mum always likes a lot on salad but Miranda doesn’t. It’s in a huge carton with potential for spillages. It’s kept in the washing machine room.
Mum only sits still now. Big scary eyes. Did she drink too much oil? Is that why her brain went south? She needs a good pinch.
Miranda’s ready, and in a very good mood. So far everything has gone well! Mum’ll be pleased. The achievements include copying a recipe and – more exciting – a decision to buy lipstick and perfume!
All this leads to a few stomach flutters of anticipation about this afternoon.
After putting on her coat, she rewrites eyeshadow and then sets off.
On the walk to the supermarket, she’s plagued by worries about the afternoon. To some extent, a potential new lipstick eases this discomfort, as does ticking off the landmarks of the journey.
It’s a short walk encompassing three kinds of pavement and a crossing with traffic lights. The number 67 bus and the tram follow this route.
Why is the red door open? The red door is never open.
Mum hardly ever used to sit down.
Open legs, slutty slut.
Fuck. Miranda has to stop at the red door because it’s open. She has no eggs for the omelette, needs new lipstick for the afternoon, but now her plans are screwed because she has to stop. The red door is never open.
The red door is a gate into the garden of number 55 Penistone Road. It’s always closed. Always. It needs to be closed before she can go on.
She looks up and down the street. Cars zoom by and a number 67 bus approaches. No people. The landmarks in the direction of home can easily be seen from this point – lamppost, garden gnome. By turning in the opposite direction, the going away landmarks are also visible. Pizza place, hairdresser, bus stop and tram cables.
Except for the red door, all is okay.
The red door is always closed. Keep your hand on your h’penny.
‘Stand up straight!’ she says loudly, not quite a shout. Closing the red door would be easy. It would not be against the law. It would make everything a lot easier. Making circles on her palm is enough to prevent the need to shout swear words.
Briskly, she closes the red door and continues on with her journey to the shop, heart hammering. Twice she looks behind to check if anyone is following to reprimand her.
She must stop for the tram cables, as always. The complicated network is far too interesting to ignore. Up above, wires crisscross and converge because it’s a junction. Trams go into the depo and also come out, on their way to the town centre. Beneath the rubber casing, wiring sends electronic messages to some centre point of knowledge. Miranda would really love to visit that centre, but not today because she needs the eggs and the lipstick.
Not tonight, Josephine.
With difficulty, she walks away from the junction and on towards the shop, looming now at the far end of the street. Near enough to know she’s going to make it! Two weeks ago, a lorry had broken down, making it impossible for pedestrians to make their journeys. A man dressed in bright yellow had tried to explain she needed to cross to the other side. Needed to cross to the other side and Mum needed to go in the care home, need is a bloody fuck. It did not go well. It did not go well at all. You can stick your need up your arse.
But today there’s nothing to prevent Miranda from buying the eggs and the lipstick. Buying the eggs will enable her to make the omelette and the lipstick will help her get ready for the afternoon.
The makeup aisle is gorgeous. She wants to stay there a long time. Rows of colours are arranged into shades and numbers, little brushes, palettes and tubes, planets and seas and rolling in the hay. Thankfully, nobody has messed up the categories or left rows empty. People can be such bastards.
She can’t choose between Dancing Crimson or Bewitching Scarlet. Dancing is dark red, almost purple, Bewitching is more of a girly pink. She can be both. Can’t she? Whichever she chooses, she won’t have to dance or bewitch because the words are only marketing.
She might though. She might bewitch like the man on the beach and then tee-hee-hee.
It’s not an easy decision. Miranda wants both. It’s all she wants. If she buys both, she’ll be very happy. Mum would want that. To help decide, she finds the list and is shocked to see she also needs eggs, eyeshadow and perfume with a question mark. Bloody hell! She remembers the afternoon and the time, tick-tock.
Both. Yeah. She makes a decision to buy both lipsticks, although she won’t be able to wear them both this afternoon. Will she?
Genius idea and the silver sprinkles spinning – she could wear Bewitch on the top lip and Dancing on the bottom but not her bottom arse.
Both. There’s no time to look at eyeshadow and perfume, and anyway, those things no longer matter because she has two lipsticks.
She places the precious lipsticks carefully, so they don’t fall through the holes in the basket. Things have fallen out before and it wasn’t very good. No good at all. Falling out like the baby did, and then where did it go?
Woosh. Gone. Baby all gone. Eggs.
Once she gets the eggs, she’ll pay using the money Sheila Helpsout put in her purse. Then she can put her purchases in her bag and leave. The walk home will take fifteen minutes. Miranda will be able to make the omelette and try out the lipsticks. There’ll be lots of time. No need to think about the baby and shoulders down.
Miranda has no fucking clue where the egg aisle is and this is very stressful. Not as much as the baby. She walks briskly up and down the aisles. Left-right-left-right … people pushing, buggies and kids everywhere. Why don’t the shop owners label eggs at the entrance? Stupid fucking arseholes.
She sees a shop worker and decides to approach. This won’t be easy. ‘Stand up straight!’
She has to put the basket on the floor. Her hands are sweaty. She marches to the worker and asks him without looking, ‘Excuse me, please, where are the eggs, please?’
‘Just there, love.’ He points to the adjacent row. ‘Don’t forget your basket. You left it up there on the floor.’
Oh my god! Miranda rushes back for the basket with the lipsticks but she’s almost done. Triumphantly she makes her way to where the worker pointed.
It says eggs, in large letters. A label says EGGS, yes, and the shelf is right there but it is empty of eggs. There are absolutely no eggs, not one. On the floor is a mop and bucket and a sign saying WET BE CAREFUL.
Silver bowl – potatoes – tomatoes – lipstick – kissing and they called it sex – lights – lights – fucked up – no good – slutty – waster – loser.
It was there and then it wasn’t.
‘No eggs!’ Miranda shouts. ‘No eggs – no eggs – no eggs!’
She shouts some more, and more. It pours out a tornado tsunami and sprinkles of herself. Not much left after the baby.
The worker is pulling her arm. ‘Sorry, miss, I forgot. We’re waiting for the eggs. We had an accident.’
‘No fucking eggs!’
She can’t stop it. They took the baby, her baby, took it forever and ever.
Overtakes. The rage overtakes and then she punches out and someone pushes her and lays on top. They don’t bring back her baby. The basket overturned. Dancing Crimson rolls away under the shelves, into the dust with the baby.
Forever is a long time but it never leaves her head.
The police lady, Barb, hands her a cuppa tea. The tea in the station is always good. They know to add sugar and lots of milk. She might even be offered a biscuit, like last time, or even a mini-meal like the time with the punching.
‘Here you go, Miranda. They run out of eggs?’
So tired. Miranda shakes her head wearily. All burnt out, burnt out to the ground. ‘I wanted to make an omelette. For my date. He’s called Simon and he likes cars and trains. I met him at the centre. It’s our first date, but I won’t have another baby.’
There won’t be any date now because she didn’t get the eggs and time has run out. Dancing Crimson is probably still under the shelves and God only knows where the baby is. Miranda has fucked up. Miranda always fucks up. Miranda will always fuck up. She can’t cook an omelette and Mum has lost her brain.
‘You’re not allowed back in the shop. Not for a while. Okay? I’ll go and talk to the manager, he’ll come round in a few weeks. Just don’t go back, love, not until I tell you. I’ll take you home.’
‘Okay.’ It doesn’t matter now. Nothing does. ‘I want my baby.’ The words don’t come out right.
‘Oh, love. Here.’
Barb hands something over. You can’t always take gifts because of danger, like fireworks that time. It’s Dancing Crimson, still shiny and new. Brilliant and beautiful, a shooting star in a dark day. The baby’s gone but Dancing Crimson is here in her hand. One day it will slip through her fingers like everyone else even though it feels solid.
‘Thought you’d want it,’ Barb says.
It’s not enough.
‘But I didn’t pay.’
It never will be. Not all the lipsticks in the world will bring the baby back. Tiny fingers all wrinkled up, waiting to be loved.
‘Yes?’ Barb says.
In the sun, Dancing Crimson looks like crystals and diamonds. She isn’t going to say yes, she isn’t.
‘I didn’t pay.’
‘Fuck that. I paid. A little prezzie. I knew you’d want it,’ Barb says.
Miranda’s hand wobbles up and down like Mum’s, all shaken up with silver sprinkles and the open door. No eggs. There are no open doors, not anymore. ‘Thank you.’
‘If we get a rush on, you can still do it, Miranda! We can make the date. Then you can tell your mum all about it. Eh?’
No eggs, no mum, no baby, open door, too much life left, stretching on and on and on.
‘Oh, love. Fuck eggs. I bet Simon doesn’t even like eggs. Plus they give you bad breath.’ Barb breathes forward in Miranda’s face and laughs. “And farts. You don’t want him going home farting, do you?”
Miranda laughs too, thinking of farting at dates.
‘I’ll make sarnies while you doll yourself up. It’ll be fine, my love. We’ll make you look gorgeous. Eh?’ Barb squeezes her hand like Mum used to, before they took her away. ‘What do you say?’