Short Story

The Making of Meredith

It was in the supermarket that Meredith first thought of suicide; somewhere between the Spray and Wipe and the dehydrated pasta sauce. She just knew she'd rather not be there, listening to "Fascination" yet again over the PA system, or the notice about red-hot specials in the deli. Besides, David had just dropped a bottle of tomato sauce and they were calling for "Service 20, mop and bucket."

         Oh, to be somewhere else. Up there, looking down, like the statue of Christ in La Dolce Vita, dangling under a helicopter, heading for heaven.

         "Can we have Rice Bubbles, Coco Pops, Honey Smacks, and Froot Loops?"

         It's not what I expected Motherhood to be. Those dear little cheruby things in hospital nurseries, all scrubbed and pink, when you get them home, they take over. They go from 2 a.m. feeds to 2 a.m. curfews. Overnight.

         The chant in her ears was picked up by one inside her head as the pets reminded her, Whiskas, Snappy Tom, Lucky Dog, Pal!

         By the time she reached the checkout, the trolley was almost overflowing, coffee grains trickled from the packet, tomatoes lay pureed at the bottom, the snack boxes were half-empty.

         "Taking it with you?" asked the girl.

         Meredith looked at the home delivery ahead of her - fifty bags. "Looks like it."

         "Be with you in a moment, love."

         Love? Do I look that old?

         What's this? she asked David.

         "Mango and pine tropic delite."

         "Figures." She could remember Puffed Wheats but not Nutri-Grain, Special K, or Froot Loops? And where did the Maltesers, Jaffas, Fantales and Kool Mints come from? Was this her trolley? The goods had stopped shunting along the conveyer belt.

         "Would you mind fast-forwarding, please?"

         "Good one, jungle woman," said David.

          She picked up the EFTPOS handpiece. Wait! it told her. And wait, she did.

         "Sorry, the computers are down."

         Other shoppers glared at her as if she were to blame.

         Finally, the bags were in the trolley and the Japanese packer, keen to practice English, beamed, "Have a nice weather!"

         Meredith remembered the pouring rain outside, wipers slurping across the windscreen, but nodded anyway, "Thanks."

         David charged the trolley to the lift and pressed the DOWN button. "Going up!" chanted the occupants. When it stopped, he barged forward, ramming the trolley into passengers and closing the doors on her skirt.

         "Told you we'd fit."

         She sighed and tugged at her skirt, hearing the fabric rip.

"Blast!"

         Suicide. Probably Service 13.

         By the time the doors opened at the carpark, her hem was hanging, the flagon of orange juice had leaked over the African violet, which had toppled into an ooze of ice-cream and the packet of Maltesers was empty.

         She drove to the exit and fed in the parking ticket.

         "Look, you're meant to pay on the fourth floor," said the machine. Curtly, she thought.

         "Fourth floor?"

         "That's what I said, lady."

         "All right. I heard you."

         "Well, don't hold the other cars up."

         "Sorry, I didn't know."
         "I did," said David.

         "Why didn't you tell me?"

         "I didn't know you didn't know."

         She was getting a headache. "Give me that ticket."
         "Want me to take it?"

         "No. I want to give them a piece of my mind."

         "Don't be too generous."

         As she got out of the car, horns tooted.

         "Hey! What's the hold up?"

         "Has the machine broken down?"
         She avoided looking at the other drivers as she dashed across to the fire escape, sprinting up the stairs two at a time. She turned the first door handle. Locked.

         That's ridiculous. She tried another. Locked. And a third. More cars would be lining up.

         What will happen if I'm trapped? Everyone will go home and the security guard won't know I'm here and Richard and the kids will be hungry and the pets will be sharpening their claws on each other. Whiskas, Snappy Tom, Lucky Dog, Pal.

         She banged her fist on the door. "Open up!"

         It burst inwards suddenly and she fell into a group of sales assistants, white-faced, in black clothes.

         "Is Madam all right?" asked the floorwalker.

         "NO! What's this about the fourth floor?"

         The floorwalker frowned. "Nothing I'm aware of. It comes after the third, Madam."      

         She marched over to the pay window.

         By the time she drove home, it had stopped raining.       

         Suicide. Something fast and painless. Cars? No, they can hurt others. Unless I drive into the garage wall. But that wouldn't do, there's the lawnmower and the kids' bikes, and Richard's work bench. He doesn't use it but he'd be furious if I left bricks and rubble and mangled bits everywhere.   

         "Do you often talk to yourself?" said David.

         Poison's tricky, slashing my wrists too messy. Hanging? Impossible with 8ft ceilings and inset light fittings. As for the oven, it's electric and I'd never fit into the microwave. 

         She pulled into the driveway and they began to unload. The dog dragged her by her torn skirt towards the kitchen, while a cat kamikazied out of the jacaranda and another twined itself around her legs and upended her. "Would you mind?" she handed the keys to David.

         "Sure, Wonderwoman." He opened the door, dumped the bags on the table and his mother in a chair.

         "Name your poison, parent, arsenic or cyanide?"
         "Cyanide. It leaves you looking peaceful. I'd like that."
         "One cyanide coming up."

         "Hi Mut!" James, her other son, emerged from a warm chair in front of a warmer television set. "What's up?"
         "Service 13."
         "Change?" he yawned.
         "Permanent, I hope."

         The animals had formed themselves into a back-up group in a corner of the kitchen. 

         Dine, Whiskas, Snappy Tom, Chow,

         Good-0's, Meaty Bites, Lucky Dog, Wow!

         The dog grabbed the microphone from the cats and began crooning, I ain't nothing but a hound dog,

              But I could be your PAL.

         Wah wah wah, wailed the cats.

         "Feed them, please!" shrieked Meredith.

         "Okay," said James. "This okay?"

         "No! It's rump steak."
         Rump steak!  chorused the animals.

         "Sorry beasts, it's tins."

         Rats!  muttered the animals.

         Meredith drank her coffee as she unpacked.

         "I remember crumpets, but not these croissants and mini-pizzas. Are you sure they're ours?"
         "Look, it's okay." David winked at James.

         The animals had eaten half their meals and were playing musical bowls when the door burst open.

         "Help! I'm going out tonight and haven't the faintest idea what to wear!"

         "Good afternoon, Emily," said Meredith.

         "Mother dear, come!" she grabbed Meredith and dragged her into her bedroom. "What about this skirt?" 

         "Where are you going?"

         "Don't know."
         "Then that's fine."
         "But what if it's casual?"
         "Jeans."
         "Aren't they too casual?"
         Meredith needed more coffee. "Are you here for dinner?"
         "No idea. We may go out, then again we may not. I won't know till we decide."
         "And when might that be?"
         "When they ring."
         "Who?"
         "Sophie, Annabel, and Brad."
         "So, do I cook dinner or not?"

         "May as well. I never eat much and I can always buy something."
         "You mean chocolate."

         "How can you say that! I hardly touch chocolate. Much."

         Meredith rose wearily. "I know. You're just a phantom nibbler." 

         "You can't go yet," Emily wailed, "you haven't said what to wear."

         "Ask me when you know where you're going."
         "Oh, you're no help at all."

         Service 13,  Meredith gritted her teeth and poured herself another coffee, as Billy Joel blasted out over the stereo, Pressure.

         "Turn that down!" she shouted.

         "Sorry Mut," said James. "I thought you liked pressure."

         "Wrong. I'm merely addicted to it."

         Emily took herself off to Meredith's room. "How come you've got nice clothes, and I've got awful ones?"

         "Simple. I wave a magic wand and all my rags turn into ballgowns."

         "Can I wear your frontless, backless, sideless dress?"
         "Well. . ."
         "Why not? You've always got some excuse."
         "It's winter."

         "So?"

         "Won't you be cold?"

         "Oh, you're so pedantic."

         The clicking of hangers continued. "I know! I'll wear jeans and one of your jumpers. You've ruined all mine. They always shrink or stretch when you wash them."
         "Perverse things!"

         "Oh, very droll."

         Meredith began preparing a sauce for dinner. She allowed enough for five, timing everything to be ready when Richard walked in the door at precisely 6.57, expecting to eat at 7.00. 

         At 6.58 he rang. "I've been held up. Leaving in half an hour. Don't start dinner, yet."

         "I already have. Why didn't you tell me?"
         "I just did."

         She replaced the receiver and removed one steak.

         The phone rang again.

         "I'll get it! Hello," cooed Emily. Minutes later she called out, "Don't cook for me."

         "Terrific!" Meredith removed another steak.

         "When's dinner?" asked the boys. "We're ravenous."

         "You couldn't be. You've stuffed yourselves ever since I got home."
         "If we're lucky, maybe we can find a packet of dog biscuits, James."  

         "There's a packet of dates," said Meredith.

         James eyes lit up, "Gee! You mean, Use Bys?"

         "Oh, we couldn't eat them," said David. "They're stoned."

         Meredith poured herself a gin and tonic.

         "Can I borrow this?" Emily rushed in holding a jacket, "and this shirt and these earrings?"

         "Sure? You okay for bra, knickers, hat, gloves, handbag and shoes?"
         "Don't be so paranoid."

         Meredith turned off the dinner and reached for her glass.

         Emily inspected herself in the mirror. "Oh, I am gross."
         "Size 8?"

         "No, seriously, I am obese."

         "I thought I was the acclaimed Cellulite Queen."

         Emily was finally ready and dashed out slamming the door behind her. "Bye!"

         It was then that Meredith noticed the dog leaning on its elbow, a paw cupped to its ear. She got down on her knees to see a trail of ants, moving away from the bowl with a lump of PAL hoisted onto their shoulders, like native bearers.

         "Meals-on-legs?" 

         Seems like it,  said the dog. 

         Hi ho, hi ho! It's off to work we go,  sang the moving line.

         Walt Disney?

         "Yes, Snow White."
         "Meredith! What are  you doing?" Richard had walked in and found her upended on the floor. 

         "Checking for ants."
         "Grim?"
         "No, Walt Disney."

         "Pardon?"

         "Never mind."

         "Look, I don't want much dinner, I lunched out."

         "Why didn't you say so?" Meredith removed another steak.

         "Well, it was only sandwiches, so I'm still a bit peckish."

         She returned the steak to the griller.

         Halfway through the meal he said carefully, "I don't mean to complain, but this steak's overdone."
         Meredith considered her plate and the distance between them but decided that she might miss and hit the curtains. Instead, she just shrugged. "Probably." From then on she lost track of the conversation, allowing it to float above her like a harmless weather balloon.

         "I think I'll go to bed," she announced.

         "Good idea. Things will look better in the morning," said Richard.

         "If I don't get up."

         "Now, you're being melodramatic."

         "Service 13," she muttered.
         "What did you say?"
         "Oh, nothing.

         "But you'll miss tonight's episode of Washing Up!" said David.

         She took hold of the back of her chair and thought of smashing it over his head, but then remembered how much they cost to fix.

         Barely had her head touched the pillow than she drifted off to sleep murmuring, What would they do without me?

         They'd manage!  announced the PA.

         She dreamt she was running down the aisles of an endless supermarket, but she'd forgotten her shopping list and all the shelves looked the same, stacked only with Our Brand. But behind each label lurked other brands, in disguise, just to confuse her. It was some sort of brain teaser, to match the labels to brands to measure her IQ. And nowhere could she find the cyanide. Service 13 in ten minutes  announced the PA.

         In the middle of the night she was woken by the roar of deafening music. The whole house throbbed. She staggered out of bed and followed the sound out to the kitchen.

         The dog was there, wagging its tail. Sorry. But I did try and stop them.

         "What on earth's going on?"

         The kitchen had been transformed into a full-on gig. Arc lights zapped the walls, full on strobes stalked the ceiling, giant spots lit up circles on the floor. The dog was peering at a seething mass of ants, that were screaming and yelling, waving their legs and antennae in time to the music. Millions of gleaming black bodies pulsating, gyrating to amplififers that blasted forth S-Express, Black is Black.

         "Is this Acid House?"

         They say they're a new group. They call themselves Formic Acid.

         "Figures. But why do they have to use my  kitchen? HOW THE HELL DO YOU EXPECT ANYONE TO SLEEP?" she shouted.

         There was sudden silence as the music stopped and millions of tiny heads looked up at her.

         "You realise it's after midnight? Would it be too much to ask you to turn your amplifiers down?"

         A muttered rumbling undulated over the floor, but the volume was lowered.

         "That's better," said Meredith, "now maybe the rest of us can sleep."

         She went into the bathroom. There must be something I can take. Mogadon? Expired in 1987. Serapax?  No, '85 . Valium, 1981. Dammit! Doesn't anyone keep these up to date? How can a body OD on Dettol and mouthwash?

         She went back to bed. I suppose I could tie a plastic bag over my head or sit in the car with the exhaust blocked but then someone would be sure to tap on the window saying, There's a phone call for you from Guide Dogs for the Blind. They're selling bathtowels.

         She staggered out to breakfast to find them all talking at once. They look like seals at feeding time,  she thought. "I think I'll get fish for dinner," she told them.

         "But I'm having fish for lunch."  

         "I only like smoked salmon." 

         "I've decided to become a vegetarian."  

         "I hate fish."

         "I know, why don't we have prawn cutlets and fish pieces when I have the office staff for Christmas drinks?"   

         "Who said anything about Christmas drinks?"

         "I'm sure I told you. Didn't I?"

         If this is a pretend job, I'm glad I don't have a real one.

         When they'd all gone, Meredith sat down with a cup of coffee. Where did I go wrong?  She'd read somewhere that women want weddings, but don't want to be wives. But her wedding was a disaster, complete with pouring rain, limp flowers, soggy dresses, frayed tempers, not to mention, wet speeches. Ever since, she'd been drying out.

         Maybe it's not too late. She showered and dressed and then went out for the day. She sat in the car waiting for the lights to change, thinking, Perhaps I'll come home and find them all dead, lined up in front of the fridge, trying to figure out how to open it.

         That night at 6.57, Richard came home to find no dinner and the kids waiting. "Where's Meredith?"

         "She left this note," said Emily.

         In looking back over my life, I realise I must have gone wrong somewhere. Sometime after university, I expect. So I've gone back to start again. There's a supermarket up the road.                     Meredith.

© Vashti Farrer

© Vashti Farrer 2017

Australian Author

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Sydney, Australia