It seemed like an innocent pan of sausages.
They lay in their bath of oil, which I had lovingly poured for them not knowing that they are principally made of fat and need no help to be thoroughly greasy. Tom was unblocking the sink beside me. The spirit of Nigella hung in the air as we divvied up the roasted squash and brown rice, fragrant with rosemary and olive oil from our very own piece of land. Nevertheless, the sausages had a plot to ruin the sumptuous potential of our lunch.
When the oil spat, I felt prickles of stinging heat on both cheeks and rushed to the bathroom to douse them in cold water (not easy; your nose gets in the way). But it felt like such a minor splattering that I daubed myself in aloe vera and carried on tending those treacherous bangers until they were suitably charred.
It was only upon sitting down at the table to eat that I saw myself in the mirror. Under the tight, dried sheen of aloe gel, my face was a war zone: two huge red patches had appeared on either cheek, irregular shapes like embryonic continents. The shock immediately set in; I crumpled tearfully, horrified at the way I looked – like a battered, abused wife, a burns victim. These phrases stung me worse than my skin did.
Having burned by bulging belly against a pot of boiling potatoes only a few weeks ago, the image of red, blistered skin and purplish scars began to penetrate my imaginary vision of myself. That scar, stamped like a postmark across the last pregnancy’s stretch marks, now faded to a kind of criss-crossing zebra pattern that sparkles in certain lights, is – according to Tom – in the shape of a pair of lips, as though someone with an extraordinarily large face had kissed my bump. Although it felt nothing like a loving gesture to me.
There is something horribly violent about being burned, whether or not there is an aggressor to blame for it. Upon seeing my scalded face I felt as though I had been attacked; never mind that it was by a frying pan of sausages clearly incapable of malicious intentions.
Still, there was something amusing about my new appearance, though I couldn’t see it for a couple of hours, until the redness had subsided under the packet of frozen peas I held awkwardly against my face. I looked like a myopic geisha who had skipped the powder and rubbed round, dolly-like circles of rouge onto her cheeks in a haphazard fashion. While I was trying to imagine how I’d hide the red marks the next day, or if I could even face going into town, this geisha would be happily making a clown of herself, believing it to be beauty.
So with lipstick marks on my belly and smudges of rouge on my cheeks, all courtesy of the kitchen, I am somewhat thrown by the meaning of it all. Could it be a coded message from the all-wise Ground of Being that the pursuit of superficial beauty brings nothing but pain? That pain and beauty are both merely expressions of the same mortal, fleeting realm, which we are so prone to put all our hopes in? Or that my brain is too addled with progesterone and I should just stay out of the kitchen?
Next time I’ll be cooking in a welding mask.