Here's the third and final section!
Things That Lead To The Other World
It had been so long since I’d set the table, I couldn’t remember what went there, which side to put the knife on and whatnot. I know that I’d learned the rules from my mother, but what you don’t practice, you forget.
The grocery store took about twice as long as it might for anyone else, what with me stoned out of my mind, having to hit most of the aisles two or three times to make sure I had everything. There was so much to remember! I don’t know how people manage to do this every single night. I hold open the cookbook with a geode and do my best to layer everything like it says. Anyone can follow a recipe, my mother used to say. My father liked to laugh and wink at Josh about never having to endure the horrors of cooking. Josh had other horrors to endure from my father.
I’m glad the lasagna only takes one dish. That simplifies things. By the time everything is in the oven, Josh walks in the door.
“How’d it go?” I ask.
“Like it does every year. Boring,” he says, grabbing the television remote and throwing down his book bag.
Somehow I doubt the students reacted to him the way they did last year or the years before, back when his face wasn’t messed up in such a particular way. If it was bad, he’s not saying. I don’t blame him. What’s to tell? He teaches at the kind of school where the students are too polite to ask what happened or yell, Hey, Mr. Anderson, you’re fucked up. He works in the suburbs; I work in the city. I help manage peoples’ most private matters -- questions of pregnancy, disease, money, desperation. He grades junior year term themes on e.e. cummings and Saul Bellow. And yet, we’re both together every night, the perfect couple if perfection means understanding the past and avoiding a future.
As for the lasagna, the bottom is soggy and the top brittle. I forgot to put tinfoil over it Josh informs me when it becomes clear that neither of us has the ability to choke it down. The pasta had been cooked too much and not enough, and that there was nothing to salvage because the layers could not be separated. I had watched it cook and didn’t think anything was wrong.
“Should we go out?” I ask. I play with my napkin that I had shaped into a perfect triangle before dinner started.
“Where would we go?” Josh looks tired, especially around his eyes which are red-rimmed. He’s consented to a nice dinner and like any man dragged along in a woman’s plan, the charm of it has hit a limit.
“I’m sick of everything we know.” I cannot think of one place that Josh would find agreeable so I try a new tactic. “There’s lots of stuff we haven’t tried.”
“I don’t have the energy for something new,” Josh says. He goes to the fridge for another beer.
This debate could go on for way too long. Exhaustion from my day wash over me, both from
getting the pills and taking them. The grease had congealed around the edges of my plate, the lettuce swam in vinegar. Nothing turned out right except for the dessert I bought at the Cheesecake Shoppe, a place that specializes in cheesecakes that taste like other desserts -- key lime pie, tiramisu, German chocolate cake. I am in sway to the miniatures, getting a tiny bit of everything, perfect pieces of what served whole would seem too rich. Josh puts his knife across his plate and walks to the television with one of the cakes in a napkin. It reminds me of party food so I bring out a bottle of cheap champagne and pour a glass. I offer Josh some, thinking he’ll stick to what he always drinks, but he surprises me by putting out his juice glass and accepting what I have to offer.
“We should make a toast,” I say. I sit on the chair adjacent to the couch and hold out my glass. Josh clinks it and swallows hard.
“You didn’t say anything,” I say.
“It’s a silent toast. You can do that.” He turns his attention to the television, a show where a man gives out roses to woman vying for his affection. All that need unpacked in front of millions of viewers, those girls squeezed into tight black dresses, not one seeming any different than another, generic in their want, hoping to be picked by someone they don’t even know makes me want to take another pill. Josh and I sit in silence, not comfortable or uncomfortable, just the way he wants things tonight. I can give him that kindness.
We always like to imagine we have decisions, usually when things have gone wrong and the only real choice is to walk away, no matter how much energy and time we have spent, no matter how badly we want it to be otherwise. Why did I still want Kevin? He had been married nearly as long as I had been alive. I wanted to know if he and his wife spoke about me or if I was buried in their marriage, a stone they visited every now and then to remind them of what we have to give up to keep order. When I think of them, I imagine them having dinner, everything set out on the table within easy reach, no one going hungry enough to consider devouring each other to stay alive.
For years, I had served what my mother had spent hours making, perfect in every way, all the mistakes given to me and Josh to eat before whatever party she was throwing. We’d make ourselves sick on her mistakes, not because she made so many, but because there were so few things acceptable to her for public presentation. She had a recipe that I loved, sandwich meat cut so that it was transparent, spread with a layer of cream cheese and rolled layer by layer until it was a log. Then she’d cut up the tiny log into perfect circles called burning bushes. She’d perform the first step long before there was a party and freeze them. Before they thawed entirely, she’d cut them up so they’d stay intact. The timing was not as easy as it sounds but she paid attention to the details she could control. There’s something to admire if I could bring myself to it.
While Josh stole sips off drinks people had set down or abandoned entirely for newer concoctions, I’d go around offering everyone a burning bush, people taking them out of hunger or kindness until each last one was gone, the empty tray only important for what it once held and what it might hold again after it had been scoured of the remnants anyone had been careless enough to leave behind. The reflective tray mirrored my face back to me. Distorted and smeared as that reflection was, I’d inevitably look, thinking, that’s me, before disappearing back into the kitchen for more treats to offer whoever was still there.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I've found that I can't do serious writing without stirring up a mild depression." Norman Mailer
Drinking essay collection suggestion: The Bitch in the House edited by Cathi Hanauer
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Happy The Sopranos night!