Stood at the stove, cooking spaghetti. I’m poking at it ponderously with a wooden spoon and giving it occasional swirls around the water. Small globs of olive oil float on the surface like Lily pads. Simon & Garfunkel do their best to drown out the white noise of extractor fan and bubbling pan.
I can’t cook spaghetti, let alone eat it, without being transported back to a traumatic scene from my childhood. Strong emotions, not dulled by the passage of time, run through these veins of pasta. It’s like something out of a Murakami novel.
The traumatic event? I shall explain. Prepare to enter a mysterious world of deceit, corruption, and belated revenge.
I was sat at the kitchen table with my mother and sister. I must have been six or seven. A vulnerable child with a bowl haircut and chubby red cheeks. My sister, Emma, and I were eating spaghetti Bolognese.
As was customary when eating messy food, I was wearing an immaculate white t-shirt. I used to enjoy testing the validity of those washing detergent adverts that claim to restore a child’s clothes to pristine condition after said child has rolled around in filth for an hour.
I ploughed my way through the giant portion on my plate, smugly using the classic Twirl-With-A-Fork technique. It was a new skill that I’d recently mastered and it took my spaghetti consumption (and detergent investigation) to new heights.
When done, I glanced over at Emma’s plate. A sizable chunk was left there. Perhaps it was going spare?
As if on cue, Emma placed her fork down, leaned back and declared she was full. The natural assumption was that I - ‘Henry Hoover’ - would polish off the leftovers, so without much delay her plate was ferried over to me. I swapped our cutlery and tucked in to another helping of spaghetti.
Finished for the second time, I sat back and patted my belly and my mum passed a square of kitchen roll for me to wipe my tomatoey face on. I glanced down at my t-shirt. Not bad. Persil, let’s see what you’ve got.
I noticed Emma was observing me with a slight twinkle in her eye, like a benevolent god who could suddenly decide to smite her younger brother down at any moment. And boy was she about to smite me.
Casually, almost indifferently, she pulled her shoulders back and placed her hands on the edge of the table, indicating she had an announcement to make.
“You know,” she said, “I put that spaghetti in my mouth and then spat it out. And you’ve just eaten it.”
I blinked, trying to process what she’d just said. She what? Surely not.
I pictured her doing it and then me eating the remnants. My breath left me. Everything started to go dark. I wheeled round to my mother, seeking her protection, but she merely took a deep breath and closed her eyes, anticipating the inevitable chaos. My world was collapsing, the walls crumbling. The contamination! The humiliation! Oh, the defilement of good food!
And then everything went blank.
I’m not sure what happened next. There’s an empty space in my memory, a glitch on the hard drive. Maybe I threw the kitchen table over (unlikely) and ran to my room. Maybe I started crying (more likely) and begged for it not to be true. I may have fainted (even more likely). Or perhaps I just sat in shock, whilst Emma giggled to herself and endured a telling off.
The thing is, surely my mum would’ve seen Emma spit it out? I was absorbed by my own spaghetti but she’d been sitting at the table with us, monitoring our progress and the state of my t-shirt. So either it was all just a cruel lie or my mother was an accomplice to this barbaric crime. Family, eh?
Whether it’s true or not, and regardless of who was involved, I’ve never looked at spaghetti the same way.
I ruefully prod at the bubbling pan in front of me now. I just can’t fathom why she did it. Pure evil? Like the time she made me watch Silence of the Lambs.
I click off the hob and carry the pan to the sink and empty the contents into a colander. Slimy spaghetti tumbles out and the gloopy liquid slips away down the plughole.
Or was it merely an act of charitable recycling? Having decided, rather abruptly, that she didn’t want the spaghetti in her mouth, did she think I might want it, lest it go to waste? Siblings do share bath water and hand-me-down clothes, after all. But not half-masticated pasta, surely?
Emma, if you’re reading this, feel free to explain. And on an unrelated note, I hope you enjoy the delicious home-made cake I’ve sent you in the post.