This week’s short story comes from a prompt I was given on Twitter by Benedict Martin: “Why is it every time I buy ground beef, it goes bad?” A tough prompt this week! Let me know if I’ve lived up to the challenge.
Jack plonked a bag of shopping onto the kitchen counter as his wife struggled behind him. She was carrying six overloaded bags to his single measly one.
“Oh God,” he cried when he finally noticed how laden she was. “Why didn’t you say something?” He rushed to her aid, relieving her of the bags just as she rounded the kitchen door. She ground her teeth in breathless frustration and her eyes crossed as she watched a trickle of sweat run down the bridge of her nose. She blew the hair from her eyes as she watched him dump the bags on the floor in front of her. Jack looked guilty. He hadn’t intended to be rude, he just hadn’t paid attention. He opened the fridge and started moving things around to make room for the fresh food.
“I did say something,” Sheila replied through gritted teeth. “Ten minutes ago. But you were off in your own bloody world as usual! What’s that?” She saw him frowning at the package in his hands.
“It’s the mince,” he replied. “It’s grey.” He was right, it was a grey that matched that of his ashen face and that concerned him (quite rightly so too, for who in the world would want grey minced beef?). He didn’t notice Sheila roll her eyes at him. Jack was quite good at that – not noticing. He tore his attention away from the beef long enough to look up at her. “I’m sorry for not helping love, I really am.” And he really was. She smiled.
“It’s okay, the exercise will do me good anyway.” She began to burrow through the bags as he did the same to their cupboards. It was the way they always did it, after their Saturday afternoon trip to the supermarket. After a few moments, Jack stopped and stared into space, as though questioning the universe. In some ways, that’s exactly what he was doing.
“Why is it that every time I buy ground beef, it goes bad?” he asked, running his hand through his tousled hair as he looked at the greying beef in front of him. His cupboard-rummaging was seemingly completely lost to him now.
“You know why, Jack,” his ever-patient wife sighed. “Why do you have to ask that same question every time we buy some? And it’s minced beef, Jack. Not ground beef. Minced beef.”
“What’s the difference?” He was prodding at the beef with a fork he had dug out from the cutlery draw. In his head, he was pretending to be a forensic scientist, working on a special case to find the hidden bacteria on the body of flesh. In reality, he was prodding minced beef with a fork whilst simultaneously exhausting his poor wife.
“Well, we’re…oh, never mind.” They had had the same discussion every Saturday since they had been married. Sheila lugged the remaining groceries around the kitchen, putting tins in cupboards and peas in the freezer, whilst wondering why peas always seem to get stuck in the frost along the sides. It was something she wondered often, especially when digging out the pea-escapees from the bottom drawer. They were both, it seems, engaged with random food-related matters. It’s just that Jack was significantly more vocal – Sheila rarely mentioned her concern over the peascapees, as she has fondly named them.
“I’m serious love! You never take me seriously about this but it’s important. Look at it – look at this minced beef! It’s grey already!” His eyes drooped and his chin tensed. He was genuinely concerned about this issue. The beef simply shouldn’t be bad so soon. I’ve got to get these lab reports back too…he thought, before remembering that he isn’t actually a scientist. If he was a scientist, he might already have an answer to the question of why his minced beef always goes bad.
“Aren’t you going to help?” She turned to him wide-eyed, her arms out with a tin of baked beans in one hand and a flailing, empty carrier bag in the other. “You know what you’re supposed to be doing! And it’s not pretending to be a forensic scientist!”
“I’m not…er…How did you know I was pretending to be a forensic scientist?” The sudden red tinge of his cheeks made her soften and smile.
“Because that’s what you always do. You’re a silly beggar. Now come on, help me, please! I’m tired. I want to go and sit down. You know how it goes – you clear out the fridge and the cupboards of any crap we didn’t get around to eating and I’ll put the shopping away. Okay?” She dearly loved her husband but she couldn’t deny that his silly games tired her.
“Okay,” he said, looking a tad forlorn. He pulled a soggy, brown lettuce from the back of the fridge. He held it at arms-length and dropped it into the bin, pulling a disgusted face as he went. The lettuce drip, drip, dripped all the way there. “We really ought to stop spending money on food we won’t eat. There are lots of starving people in the world, you know?” Sheila groaned.
“I think I prefer the scientist game to the lectures,” she said into the shopping bag as she ferreted through the contents with a frown.
“Great!” Jack’s grin suggested that perhaps he might have known that all along. “So Jones,” he said with a deepened (and of course, more dramatic) voice. “Why does the minced beef go bad every time I buy it?” Sheila sighed as she prepared to play along.
“Well, the lab reports are pretty conclusive Sir. The minced beef goes bad every time you buy it because you never bloody cook it!”