When the Soufflé Exploded

The night had begun badly. In fact, most nights that end up with the protagonist in jail you suspect started badly. But maybe all this badness had actually been accumulating for a couple of weeks. What had ended up with a brawl in the 6th row of a London theatre had begun with something very simple, a soufflé. Or maybe the soufflé was less of a beginning? More like the straw that broke the camel’s back? Yes, she thought, what tonight was, was the culmination of years of self-loathing and her bad choices in boyfriends.

She had studied law at university, because she had this grand idea that she was going to be important and do important things, and everyone would look up to her and talk about how important she was to the world. But she didn’t really like studying law, more than that she didn’t even want to be a lawyer. She didn’t like them, she didn’t like the way they were steadfast in their opinion. Because usually the opinion was someone else’s. How does someone do that? Pretend to believe someone? Pretend to believe that they’re right. Of course she could have been a solicitor, but the same idea applied, she just didn’t have to get up in front of people and argue her non-opinion as much. Even working as a legal secretary or something just filled her with loathing and dread. So, when she left university she had found a nice job at a publishing firm. She’d worked her way up and she was quite content with it. But there was a part of her that still wanted to be taken very seriously. She wanted people to look at her and admire her importance. She had pondered going back into law, to show people exactly how smart and important she could be. But after the wine wore off she would remind herself of how much she disliked it and the idea was shelved again. This led to her boyfriend troubles.

You see, because she wanted to be taken seriously and thought of as very important she often took up with very important men. It made her feel important by association. And people would admire how she’d snagged such a smart, rich, handsome etc. doctor or lawyer. In fact, they were usually lawyers. She felt the ongoing need to prove how good she could have been as a lawyer. And she proved this by going out with these men and pretending to know what they knew. She would meet his friends and pretend to know certain things about the law and politics. As long as they thought she was important, she felt important. And that was enough for her. Until she suddenly became very exhausted and annoyed with all of these men. She, herself, admitted that she would ensnare them with a personality other than her own. Then when their arrogance and bullshit grew too much for her, she would revert to type, and they would suddenly find her vapid and annoying. Which, in turn, made her feel worthless, and then she’d move on to the next important man to make herself feel important again. But she’d finally got sick of it. Almost 2 weeks ago to the day.

He had been one of her slightly more annoying boyfriends. He liked to talk loudly about all the places he had visited, the articles he had read in The Times, and the restaurants he had been to. She did her best to keep up appearances, and show that she was just as  experienced and smart as him. After a particularly expensive week of restaurant hopping, he had made some derisory reference to her, in fact, poor kitchen skills. To put him in his place she boasted of cookery lessons she had taken, a lie, and was in fact planning on cooking for him. She was pleased that he was delighted and even a little dumbfounded by this. And a few days later she had taken a day off work to make him a dinner that would have him, eating his words? She had smiled smugly and banked this joke for later on.

But later on would never come. Because she didn’t really know how to cook. She certainly didn’t know how to cook the recipes in front of her. Meat was pretty straight forward, but soufflés were something else entirely. But she’d seen people do it on tv and was convinced she could do it with a couple of tries. Four tries later, the kitchen work surfaces were all sticky with egg whites, and a soufflé mix had yet to make it to the oven. She raced to the shops to buy more eggs, more than she needed. And by the time he had arrived at 6pm there was burnt Chateaubriand and various attempts at chocolate soufflés to serve. She didn’t imagine she was going to get away with it, but she didn’t imagine the teasing and the laughing. She didn’t imagine that, when he finally calmed down, he would not console her but start dictating exactly how one makes a soufflé. He was so full of arrogance, so full of his own self-worth, and so full of absolute bullshit. So she exploded.

She began her explosion by offering him the left over egg whites and asking him to make her a soufflé if he knew so much about it. He looked at her blank faced, backing up from his earlier thoughts. She then proceeded to give him a blow-by-blow breakdown of her day. Then she went further back into their relationship, then in to the problems with him as an individual, then the problems in her own sense of self that had brought her to this point. I know, it all sounds a little too restrained, but she’s the protagonist and she wants me to write her this way. Long story shot, she sent him out of her flat in a hail of swear words, in a voice that reminded her of her mother’s. She had collapsed on the kitchen floor and allowed herself to breakdown for 40 odd minutes. When she came to she satiated herself with the very expensive bottles of wine she had bought, and the bars of chocolate that hadn’t made it into one of the many scrambled egg chocolate soufflés. The next day she had arisen with a hangover and a painful neck. Her doctor had diagnosed stupidity and a poor self-worth. She had whiplash, either from too much whisking or from the particularly fast and jerky car trip to the supermarket in search of eggs. Luckily, the doctor was also a friend of hers and, after fixing a particularly embarrassing cervical collar around her neck, gave her a doctor’s note for a few days off work and took her out for dinner.

In the 2 weeks since ‘the event’ she had spent some time thinking about herself and the kind of men she dated. She would like me to inform you that she didn’t just get drunk and make idle proclamations about change, she really put a lot of thought into it. She googled psychologists and everything. But change hadn’t really happened. She had, only a few days ago, been chatted up in a bar by some bore, a banker, and had gone out to dinner with him. She had imagined that she could prove to him that she was in fact as smart as he was. She had asked him to come tonight, but he had said that it wasn’t his sort of thing. Musicals, that is. She had, for some ungodly reason, bought tickets to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical about the Profumo Affair. She, like always, had got tickets as soon as they had come out, because she wanted to give the impression that she was cool and ahead of the game when it came to this sort of thing. But the reviews had been awful, and she was not looking forward to it. She had an extra ticket, of course she did, she couldn’t go anywhere by herself. She had planned on taking her now ex-boyfriend. Instead, she had given the ticket to a friend who came along with the understanding that if it was crap they could leave at the interval.

So, the night had begun with her and her friend sitting down in the 6th row, hoping not to be disappointed. That was until the lady sitting behind her had expressed an issue. The lady it seemed was less than impressed with her view being obstructed by a cervical collar. She was still wearing it, had to, in fact. The night she had taken it off she’d gotten drunk and stupid and injured again. The lady behind her was not impressed, and proceeded to tell her companion how annoyed she was, in a not so quiet whisper. The lady, at no point, asked politely if she could take it off, no, she just whispered and sighed through the entire first act. When the interval came she rose and turned to face the lady, a grimacing woman in her early 40s, a bit WI but not nearly as nice enough. As she turned away the lady announced, to her companion, “some people, they have absolutely no consideration for others”. The anger that had been brewing throughout the first act, over the past 2 weeks, through much of her adult life, finally rushed into her face and out of her mouth. “Who the hell are you?” she announced, far to loudly “to assume that I’m the kind of person who has no concern for others. I! Am wearing a collar to support my injured neck. And if I did, in fact! Take it off! I would still be taking up exactly as much room in your vision as I would, had I kept it on!”. She was getting louder, the lady looked stunned but ready for a fight. “And frankly, I’m annoyed as fuck, with people like you thinking they can tell others what to do! And instead of having the balls to confront people, you piss about under your breath, making the REST OF US FEEL LIKE STUPID TWATS!”. It hadn’t taken long before everyone was staring, and only a few moments more before the lady decided to give her own high-minded response about “language”, “you, young people”, “no respect!”. But it barely touched the sides. She was angry and out for a fight. ” For fuck’s sake!” she had retorted. The cervical collar came off and before she knew it she had flung it at the woman. “There you go! You fucking happy now”. The crowd had watched in awe as the two women began to argue, full force, over the top of one another. In the end she had decided to face the lady head on and had begun to climb over the row of seats to where she stood in the aisle.

She agreed, in hindsight, that a lot of what she had done could be seen as a sign of aggression. And they were right to call the police, who were right to take her away, and arrest her. But what she had done felt right to. She felt like it was a small victory. She had defeated someone, or something she didn’t like. She had been herself, and proved herself, and not pretended. She didn’t know why but she was really not to fussed about being in a jail cell. The police had been kind and given her a cup of tea. She laid down on her side, on the surprisingly comfortable bed, and stared ahead of her. She was in fact, very pleased with herself. She smiled, and very contentedly, fell asleep.

Keywords: The Profumo Affair, egg whites, a cervical collar. Provided by Rachel Rawlings.

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