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Culinary Skills

It’s the little things that get to you, believe it or not – the everyday irritations that send you over the edge. The way he blows his nose then examines the contents of his handkerchief. Cleans his ears with his keys. Dissects every piece of food on his plate. I’m certain many women reading this will recognise these unsavory characteristics. I could have put up with them – it was the constant complaints about my cooking that really did it.

I loathe cooking. Earlier in my life, for most of my previous marriage, I had actually enjoyed it. Well, my first spouse was appreciative of my efforts, not that I valued it at the time. But not this one, number two - the one I abandoned number one for. Oh no! Nothing I served him was ever good enough. I can’t count the times he’d shove his plate across the table, his heavy features all screwed up like an infant’s snarling that he couldn’t eat such ‘shit’. It didn’t matter how long I’d toiled over the oven, how much effort had gone into the preparation and cooking of a meal, it was never good enough. As he got older, so his pallet became more sensitive. He developed a digestive condition, which provided him with even more ammunition for reproach.

Initially we managed to come to a compromise. As we were both working full time, we agreed to eat our meals in the work’s canteen. That meant I only had to cook at weekends. Sometimes I’d make an effort, do a roast dinner, but the gravy was never thick enough, the Yorkshire pudding usually like leather etc, etc; soon we ate out most weekends.

What about his cooking, you may ask? Well, in the early days, when he worked part time, he did most of the cooking, and was no mean cook. The fact that an incompetent such as I had taught him most of his culinary skills was never acknowledged. And when he cooked, I always complimented him even when the meal was substandard. But once he began working full time, that was it. No more cooking for him – except the odd fry-up when we went camping. Not much more for me either – we both ate at work. Our poor son had to put up with school dinners.

Then came the dreaded day when I learned that my diabetes, probably made worse by my inappropriate diet of takeouts, had led to a heart condition. I had no option but to take ill health retirement. So there I was, a career girl of 25 years, stuck at home, battling to make a new life. And of course, having to prepare my own meals. At first, this wasn’t a problem. I cooked all the things I was supposed to eat: fresh vegetables, pasta, stir frys, that sort of thing. He continued to eat at work, so the only time for dispute was at weekends.

I’d about got myself sorted when he was made redundant. Which meant he was at home every day. Which spelt the end to my well balanced existence – and the beginning of the purgatory which brought me here, to this place…

I didn’t mind ending my new-found friendships, abandoning the book I’d been writing. I didn’t mind spending time in his company, watching him hack down every tree in the garden, rip rooms to pieces - demolishing the entire house around me. But I did mind the fact that once again I was in the cooking role. Although we were both at home, I with shaky health, he refused to cook. And I had no choice – I had to eat, as I was now insulin dependent.

I tried at first, I really did. I spent hours planning meals, reading cookery books, watching endless cookery programmes. But as time went by, I swear, he used his criticism of my efforts as a weapon against me. He refused to eat any of the things I was supposed to have, so once again, my diet deteriorated, as it was stressful enough cooking one meal, let alone two separate ones.

It wasn’t worth arguing about so I just soldiered on, then sat and ate as he turned his mouth down with predictable regularity, “ Yuck, there’s not enough salt in this, there’s too much spice in that….this cabbage is undercooked.”I learned to live with it – and to ignore it most of the time. But that wasn’t good enough for him, oh no. He couldn’t resist the slightest opportunity to belittle me in public and did so on the rare occasions we had guests for dinner. It was the last of these events that sealed the fates of us both.

Our fifteen year old son had invited six friends for tea, a terrifying prospect. For hours, I slaved in an effort to produce something palatable. I chose a Naked Chef recipe for home-made beef-burgers. I also decided to make a steamed sponge treacle pudding, as well as salads, fried new potatoes, and wedges. I didn’t want to show my son up with my bad cooking. It was a disaster- as usual my husband refused to help with anything. So, I overcooked the pudding, which turned out hard and dry, the beef-burgers didn’t have enough onion in them, and two of the kids left them on the edges of their plates. I felt so humiliated, and then, of course, the ultimate torment - he had to add his pernicious remarks. “Yuck, this custard is lumpy…this pudding is as hard as a rock. Heh! Heh! Hey lads -these beef-burgers would make good bowling balls.” On and on he went, and something inside me snapped.

I went into our bedroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. I saw a decaying, thin-lipped crone staring back; mottled skin and blue-mouthed. I helped myself to a hearty puff of angina spray. This is what I’d become! Was this was my future, until inevitably, I dropped, probably over the cooker. Unless I took the law into my own hands, I was going to end up dead. Could he be doing it on purpose? Was he after the insurance money? I was convinced - it was him or me. And it wasn’t going to be me. They say the instinct of self-preservation is a fundamental part of the human condition, and I can assure, you, it most certainly is. I’d always thought of myself as a civilized individual, well educated, rational and reasonable. It goes to show how wrong we can be about ourselves. I had become a cornered beast, about to go on the attack before my life was destroyed.

I was beyond the employment of cunning. I was so angry, so downtrodden, that I foolishly didn’t take the precautions I now realize could have saved me from my present incarceration. I just waited until he came to bed, until he slept, and then I drew a whopping great dose of insulin into my syringe. I would have loved to plunge it into his eye, his throat, so that he experienced some measure of the pain he’d inflicted on me over the years, but I was merciful. I merely injected him in the upper thigh. To my horror, he awoke.

“What was that?” he snarled. My heart thundering dangerously, I cringed away. He was still a large man and strong, and I was frightened of him. Luckily, the insulin was fast acting and he only managed to prop himself up on one arm before his eyes began to glaze over. “What have you done?” he rasped.

“I’ve just given you your last meal,” I hissed.’I hope you enjoy it.”

I can still feel the hatred in his eyes burning into mine as he lost consciousness. I even felt a glimmer of compassion for an instance. There was still time for me to save him - a dose of glucose would have done the trick. There was still time for me to save myself – but I was saving myself, I argued, it was him or me. I sat there beside him and when he continued to breathe, I injected him again, and again – until finally, he was quiet. Then I rang the police.

My solicitor is pleading self-defense, says I’m an abused woman. She says I may not get much of a sentence – that I’m an example to others. And believe it or not, my health is so much better, here, in prison. I never have to cook and they provide me with a suitable diet. And I’ve started writing again. One of the Sunday magazines has offered me a small fortune for my story. When I look back at what’s happened, I truly have no regrets - I was merely protecting myself. I’m going to be quite well off when I get out. So guess what? I’m going to employ a chef – male of course. That way, I’ll never have to worry about my culinary skills again.