Here's what happened. Prepare to feel better about yourself.
|Awkward pause before story begins. I can't believe I'm telling you.|
For a week, I'd been on a no-carbs diet, eating lean meat and salad, salad and lean meat, lean meat, lean salad, and lean meat salad.
That evening, I sat with my husband and ate lean salad and lean meat again, only he had salad, half a cow, and a pile of potatoes higher than a crack den. I tried to look happy, forking in my lettuce, but I was expecting to have lost three stone in my first week, and disappointment made me miserable.
We had a meeting to go to. 'I'm going on my bike,' he said, as we washed up.
'I'll go on the bus,' I said, 'and meet you there.'
We often travel independently like this, because he likes to get exercise, and I .... and I ... anyway, on with the story.
'You'll be early,' he said. 'Don't arrive early. It doesn't start until 7.45.'
'I'll find something to do,' I said. 'I'll sit on a bench and read. It's a nice evening.'
I got off the bus at 7.30.
The bus stop was outside a fish and chip shop.
The first humiliation of the night was that two girls from school appeared behind me in the queue, giggling as the assistant packed up a large portion of chips for me with more carbs than a paddy field. 'Salt and vinegar?' he said, as if to say, 'If I have enough supplies, that is, to cover this lot. I may need to ring the Cash and Carry in the morning.'
I wandered along the road, looking for a place to stand and scoff my chips. I was unwilling to do so anywhere those girls - or anyone else from school - or any other human - or thin, snide cat - might pass me. There's no elegant way to eat three hundred and ninety fat chips with your fingers, especially when they're so hot that you're going, 'Hoo hoo, huh huh huh' like a steam train but still stuffing them in as though you'd been told you had ninety seconds to live.
I then realised I was on the road my husband would cycle along in the next five minutes.
Near the house where the meeting was, alongside the road I stood on, is a spinney, a small wood. I strolled into it, as though keen to study wildlife, and checked over my shoulder that no one was watching. But a curtain twitched in a row of houses opposite. I must have looked suspicious clutching my paper-wrapped parcel, as though I were about to bury a small body. Or part of one.
I ate the chips while standing in a clearing. It had rained, so all the logs I could have sat on were wet, and I didn't want a muddy bottom as well as burning shame. I hoped no one else would walk through: a man with a couple of dogs, perhaps, or two teenagers hoping to grope each other in peace against a tree and not expecting to find a middle-aged plump woman feasting in secret.
The chips tasted good, but I prefer them laced with ketchup than with guilt. And it was nearly 7.45, so I didn't have time to eat them all. But there always is tragedy in comedy.
The next challenge: to find a bin. No way was I going to say at the house, 'I've just eaten three hundred chips. Can I put the remaining ninety in your kitchen bin?'
But the only bins I could see were at the ends of long drives so that people in their living rooms would have seen me coming down the path.
My conscience wouldn't let me dump the package over a wall into someone's garden. There were too many potential observers behind too many suburban curtains and blinds. And I didn't need to add littering to my list of offences.
Approaching the house, I saw other people arriving, climbing out of cars. One waved 'Hi!' My husband arrived, too, on his bike. I still clutched the package. What to do? I stopped, turned my back so no one could see, opened up my handbag, and stuffed the package into it, screwing it up as tightly as I could, and squeezing it in between my diary and purse.
I couldn't do the zip up on the bag.
Inside the house, trapped in my own subterfuge, I left my open handbag in a corner of the hall, and over it I draped my jacket in case the chip smell emerged. There's a dog in this particular family home. I spent a worried evening in the living room during the meeting, hoping I wasn't about to be exposed as a chip addict by a terrier, nosing at my bag like a Customs and Excise hound.
'Would you like a lift home, Fran?' a man said after the meeting.
'No, no, I'll be fine walking,' I said. And I would have walked the whole 50 minutes back, there being no evening buses, to avoid being in his car with my aromatic contraband. But he insisted.
He didn't say to me, 'Why are you clutching the edges of your handbag together as though stopping blood from an artery?' as he drove me home. But I'm sure he wondered.
As I got out of his car, my husband appeared on his bike, home before me. Damn. Now I couldn't get my illicit package into our garden bin before he saw.
In the end, I dropped it into a neighbour's bin, emptied that morning by the council. The package made a big 'DOOM' sound as it hit the bottom. I hated doing it ('Darling, did you by any chance put half a packet of chips into our bin? ... Are you sure?') but I knew I would hate more admitting that I had consumed a bag of chips the size of the Americas when I was meant to be on a lean meat salad salad lean meat diet.
I avoided looking at any curtains as I ditched the evidence, in case I saw twitching. Was someone saying, 'Why is Fran putting something in the Brown family's bin? Isn't that what alcoholics do?' 'Maybe she's just dumped a load of English essays, dear, like people do with double glazing leaflets when they don't want to deliver them.'
The next day, my husband said, 'Do you have any tissues in your handbag? Can I look?'
I leaped up from the sofa so fast to get them for him that he must have thought, 'I haven't seen her move like that since the man with the Indian takeaway knocked at the door in February.'
But I couldn't take the risk. My handbag still smelled like the inside of a pickle jar.