Without labels on any of the food in the freezer, no-one could tell what anything was!
It won’t take long,” Isobel declared. Stephen peered into the open freezer, looking reluctant. “Well eat them all in the end, love,” he said. “They’re all delicious — I can promise you that” “But you don’t know what they are, sweetheart.” The freezer was packed with food. Some of it was recognizable — peas; a bag of sweetcorn a box of fish fingers beneath a plastic container.
But the rest was a mystery to Isobel, and she suspected it was a mystery to her husband, too. Stephen, nine years older than her, had retired early. Isobel worked as a college librarian — a job she loved. The result was that Stephen had been chief cook and housekeeper for some time.
Although she rarely looked in the freezer, Isobel began to notice the unlabelled items after their son moved out. Mark had been a boomerang child, but finally, at twenty-four, he had rented his own flat. “I’d got used to cooking for three,” Stephen said now as an icy polythene bag fell out on to the floor. “Then it was two. I ended up with constant leftovers.” “Well, today’s the day for casting your mind back.” Isobel waved a roll of sticky labels at him. “This is definitely meat,” Stephen said, running a finger along the frosty side of a transparent box. “But what kind? Stew?”
“Lamb. No, more likely beef. Possibly venison, if it’s from autumn.” Isobel sighed. “We’re going to catalog the freezer,” she said, kneeling beside him. Isobel was been, cataloguer. She had been on many courses at the Librarian’s Institute and got irritable when the public library failed to use the Dewey Decimal system accurately. “This book is clearly art history,” she would say, “not art collections. One look at the index will tell you that. And I found a book about Italian architecture cataloged with the travel guides!” Stephen opened a freezer drawer and shut it again. “Haven’t you got your tea date with the girls later?” “There’s ages yet.” She pulled a small tub out. “What’s this?” “Um.” He looked inside. “Smooth, golden brown. I bet it’s that French onion soup. I liquidized it so it would freeze better.” “Would it not have been easier in the long run to label it?” Isobel asked. “We can microwave it for lunch.” The onion soup turned out to be caramel sauce.
“I remember!” Stephen exclaimed. “1 couldn’t bear to throw it away.” They found some vanilla ice cream to go with the sauce, but it was actually a leftover mashed potato. Lentil bolognese turned out to be mango pulp. “The mango was going to go off,” Stephen explained.
Isobel shook her head. “Imagine my library, organized like this,” she said. “‘Where’s Pathology, Mrs. Foster? I don’t know — I didn’t label it.'” “I thought I’d remember,” Stephen said. He held up a pale bag. “Sausage meat,” he said, “or possibly risotto. Listen, your girlfriends won’t wait before ordering that cake.” “They texted me to come at three-thirty,” Isobel replied. “This?” “Chocolate pudding. No, gravy. Look, we’ve all got some disorganization traits. You, for instance —” “You’re trying to divert me,” she snapped. Isobel was deep in the sniffing of green items when Stephen said, “It’s five past three, darling.” “1 only have to get to the Willow Cafe.” “Which takes time. You know you don’t have a great concept of time.” “Not true.” But eventually, Isobel relented. “I’ll have to change,” she said. “I’m covered in dirty ice.” Stephen looked at the clock and sighed. “I’ll need to drive you.” He was always nagging about time.
It was exactly three-thirty when Stephen braked in front of the cafe. “Nobody’s here yet,” Isobel grumbled, looking in through its plate-glass window. A smile was spreading across Stephen’s face. “Did you say three-thirty?” he asked. “Yes.” Isobel got out her phone. All three of them texted me. “I’ll wait for them. You can get off home and continue with the cataloguing of the freezer. You have to get organised.” She looked around. “I must say, I’m surprised they’relate.
They all tell me I’m the one with tardiness issues, which is not true.” “Isn’t it?” Stephen chuckled. “I think I’ll stay.” “They’ll be here in a sec.” “I’m not sure they will,” he replied. “I think they’ll be here at four o’clock.” She waved her phone in front of his face. “Look — half-past three.” “That’s the time they’ve decided to give you, sweetheart, because you are always at least a half-hour behind. If they say three-thirty, they can hope to see you around four.” “That’s silly.” “I do it, too.” “Do what?” “Mark’s flat-warming? It began at seven-thirty, so I told you seven.” Isobel snorted. “I’m always at work on time.” “I propel you out of the house to catch the only bus that hour.” Stephen put the radio on, and they listened to some country music until Rachel and Lila came strolling along the road. Isobel saw them wave to Mei Ling, coming the other way. “OK,” Isobel said quietly. “Maybe you’re right. Sorry about the freezer thing.” “Oh, the freezer’s a mess,” Stephen admitted. She kissed him and climbed out.
Enjoy your tea and cake,” he called. “Enjoy your …” Isobel grinned. “Whatever you can find for a snack.” “It’ll be a nice surprise,” he said. “Whatever it is.”