Fish in Tomato Sauce

– Amanda Saint

Trudy sighs as the spoon fractures the top of her boiled egg and she jabs it into the crack that appears. Quickly pushes away the thought that she wishes it were a cleaver going through Hugh’s head instead. His bald pate is gleaming in the sunshine that’s pouring through the restaurant window. The brightness dazzles her and when she looks back down at her plate it’s just a dancing, dark blob. Saliva fills her mouth as the aroma of the extra salty crispy bacon surrounds her; at the thought of the sausages that will soon be oozing comforting, oily fat to every corner of her mouth; and the thick slices of the soft yet crusty, still warm, bread slathered in real butter that she could easily eat a whole loaf of.

Thank God the hotel provides some normal breakfast food as well as the traditional Norwegian stuff. She can’t look at that. It’s all very strange and makes her stomach turn. I mean, why the hell would you eat fish in tomato sauce for breakfast?

‘So what shall we do today?’ she says in her best aren’t we happy and having loads of fun voice. ‘It’s great to see the sunshine, isn’t it?’

She’d known all along that Norway would be a rubbish place for a holiday. But Hugh wanted to come so here they are. OK, it is beautiful with the snowy mountains and the fjords, she’ll give him that, but it’s been cloudy all the time so they haven’t even seen the Northern Lights, it’s bloody freezing, and the food is awful. There’d even been reindeer on the menu in the restaurant they went to last night. Disgusting. But the worse thing of all is that it gets dark really early and light really late. It’s in the dark that Trudy finds it hardest to pretend that everything’s alright.

She knocks a slice of bread from her plate onto the floor as she picks up her knife and fork. Despite the pang of regret she feels at its loss she keeps her eyes fixed on her sausages. There’s no way she’s going to bend down in front of everyone to pick the bread up. They’d been the only ones in the restaurant at breakfast yesterday but now it’s packed with Japanese tourists. All of them thin. She’d felt them all looking at her as she’d loaded her tray at the buffet. Wanting to see how much the fat lady eats. Well, she hadn’t disappointed them.

She looks over at Hugh. Watches him chew his mouthful of muesli and yoghurt fifteen times, swallow, then sip his water, twice. He has a process for all the food he eats. A mental list of how many times everything needs to be chewed and how much water should be drunk with it for ‘optimum digestive performance’. What happened to him? He never used to be like this. But then she never used to be like this either. All she seems to do now is eat and watch TV.  Never goes near a mirror if she can help it.

When she’d stood looking at the wedding photo they kept on the mantelpiece just before they’d set off on this holiday, she couldn’t recognise those young people anymore. Where had they gone? When they’d got married in 1970, they’d both been just eighteen and full of ideals and hope for their lives together. They’d had no idea then that their pearl wedding anniversary would coincide with the new millennium; or that Hugh would end up working with computers and would have such a busy time making sure that everything didn’t crash as the clocks turned to January 1st that he wouldn’t make it to the shops to buy an anniversary gift. No idea either that she wouldn’t be able to carry babies to full term, no matter how many times she tried. That it would just be the two of them. Forever.

‘So, what do you want to do then?’ Trudy says again. Why doesn’t he ever answer the first time she asks him something?

While she’s waiting for his reply, Trudy prays there won’t be more walking. Yesterday he’d insisted they walk across the very long, steep bridge joining Tromso to the mainland. It was really windy, traffic fumes got caught in her throat from the buses hurtling by and, as far as she was concerned, it was a completely pointless exercise. They’d just turned around and walked back as soon as they’d got to the other side.

‘There are some four thousand year old rock carvings I’d like to see.’ Hugh dabs at the corner of his mouth with the serviette even though there’s nothing there. Then he starts the whole chewing, water sipping process again with his next teaspoonful of muesli.

‘That sounds lovely, darling.’ A trickle of sweat runs down Trudy’s left temple as she chews on her third slice of bacon. She wipes it away with her sleeve before Hugh sees. Bloody hell, is going to make her go rock climbing now? Considering this holiday was supposed to be a celebration and, in Trudy’s mind at least, a chance for them to ‘reconnect’, an expression she’d got from watching re-runs of Trisha on Gold, Hugh didn’t really seem too interested in what she might like to do.

A Japanese man wearing an ‘80s style shell suit sits down at their table, nodding and smiling at them as he does. Hugh stiffens and although he gives a taut smile back Trudy knows he doesn’t like it. She looks at their new table partner. He’s eating a big bowl of that disgusting black stuff – fish eggs, the waitress had told her when Trudy had asked on the first morning of their holiday. Watching him tuck into it so heartily makes her queasy enough to lay down her knife and fork and push her plate away.

Hugh smirks. ‘Aren’t you eating that?’

‘No, I’m full. More tea?’ Trudy pours it then stares out of the window so she doesn’t have to see the fish eggs or Hugh’s smug face. The sun sparkling on the snow and ice reminds her of the icing she’d used to cover the Christmas cakes she baked last month. Hugh hates icing.

‘It is very beautiful here, yes?’ The Japanese man says.

Trudy looks round, not really expecting him to be talking to her as most people don’t, but he meets her eyes, smiles.

She smiles back. ‘It is, very.’ But then she can’t think of anything else to say. She doesn’t speak to anyone much anymore and seems to have lost the art of conversation. When she gets home she’s definitely going to make some changes. She’s still young, only forty-eight, it’s not too late.

While they drink their tea the Japanese tourists file out and get on a coach. The man sitting at their table gives a small bow to Trudy as he gets up and follows them out.  Silence fills the deserted restaurant.  Trudy rediscovers her appetite and finishes the three slices of bread still lying on her plate, using them to mop up the egg yolk smeared across it.

Ten minutes later they’re heading back to their cabin when Trudy suddenly veers off towards the frozen bay. Her furry boots sink deep into the snow that covers the path down to the sandy beach. When she steps onto the sand it crunches underneath her feet like shells.

‘Let’s skate on the ice, Hughie.’ She can still be spontaneous.

‘I don’t think so. We haven’t got skates and it’s probably dangerous.’ He sticks his hands in his jacket pocket and turns away.

‘Oh, come on, live a little. It’ll be fine.’ Even as she’s saying it Trudy is stepping out onto the frozen sea. She tries to glide her feet but the grips on her boots stop her so she has to shuffle along instead.

‘Come on. Don’t be a stick in the snow!’ Trudy says, turning back to face Hugh.

But he’s walking away. She doesn’t know why she bothers.

‘Hughie,’ Trudy calls.

He turns towards her. ‘Just come on, will you!’ His shout drowns the sound of the first crack.

 

Amanda Saint

Amanda Saint grew up on the outskirts of London in a town where everyone always seemed to be going somewhere else. Now she’s a nomad and has lived in many different places in the UK, including London, Exmoor, Brighton, the Lake District, and on a canal narrow boat. She also lived in New Zealand for three years and having an Australian adventure for 2015. A magazine features writer by day, her love is for fiction and her short stories have appeared in various places. Amanda’s first novel is out on submission to agents and her second one is in progress. Find her at her blog on Twitter and on Facebook.