By Ashleigh Cattermole-Crump
Ma always said it was because she liked potatoes, but I figured out pretty quickly that it was because that’s all that we had left by the end of the week. It became our Sunday night meal. Every week, ma would try and create something delicious from the stark naked potatoes, the curly peels sitting in a dirty pile on the top of the scraps bin. One week it would be the last of the bacon and a dishevelled green onion, the next a mixture of spices remaining in the worn canisters and some fennel that grew just past the letterbox. I never liked it when there was rosemary, it made the bottom of the bowl sandy and thick.
Whenever dad was around he’d lavish the house with plenty of fruit, fill the coldstore with meat and hide a secret stash of sweets for me and my brothers. We would sit around the clunky wooden table and mismatched chairs and ma would put on her favourite blue dress and set serving platters of food for everyone. We would laugh, believing that this time we could all be happy and things would go back to normal. But then they would fight. Over money, his drinking, the state the house was in. And we would wake up the next morning to an empty table and ma’s frown lines etched even deeper into her leathered skin.
One particular Sunday, dad was nowhere to be found. He ‘travelled for work’, ma would tell us when we were kids. Sebastian and I, being the oldest, were instructed to spend the afternoon collecting kindling for the fire. The woodshed was empty save for a few splinters that fell from the last load. We pulled a half-rusted toboggan up what seemed to our little legs to be a treacherous mountain. It took us hours to load it up with branches and hack as much as we could from the trees that remained standing after the mining companies razed most of them to build roads. After this excursion, ma’s potato soup, with a slight tang of lemon and some smoked fish from the neighbours, was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. Mopping up the last of it with a slice of coal-range bread that tasted ever so slightly of iron, I remember ma watching us eat. She sat instead with a glass of stale brandy, the squint on her face I realized later was trying to hold in the tears.
The Sunday soup tradition continued even when ma began work at the local department store. She would bring home beautiful silk scarves, fur lined gloves, proper shoes that kept the snow out. Our cupboards were full, we’d eat meats and fruit and the strange pastries the Hungarian bakery sold. No matter what, we always had potato soup on Sundays.
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Ashleigh is a writer, mother, toy librarian, tattoo enthusiast and chocolate expert from Christchurch New Zealand. She enjoys writing short stories and is currently dipping her toe into the flash fiction waters.