#3. Write a short story about someone cooking dinner.
Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes
By Heather Ann Martinez
The phone rang while I was peeling the potatoes. It was a solicitor asking for someone named David. It was not you. I thought you would have called by now asking me about what I was making for dinner. The phone chimed. It was a text message regarding our overdue mortgage payment. I filled the stockpot with warm water and a dash of salt and set it over the open fire on the stove. I peeled another potato and looked at my phone. I wished it would ring but the silence was deafening. You said you would call or text when you got back from Seattle. You said you would come home for dinner.
The water boiled. I placed the potatoes in the stockpot and watched them soak in the bubbles. I turned down the heat ever so slightly. You always reminded me not to let anything over boil on this old stove. You said it had a mind of its own. I think you forgot that the stove was not alone in having a mind of its own. I pulled the ground pork and the ground lamb out of the fridge. The fridge hissed. I slammed the door. Don’t fail me now. You were going to look at the fridge. I couldn’t remember if you wanted meatloaf or burgers or stew. I decided to make meatloaf like I did on our third date.
When the phone rang again, I let it go to voicemail. It was someone asking for donations for a charity. I chopped an onion and garlic clove and started to cry. Didn’t they know we didn’t have a dime to give? We gave everything we had to save her. I mixed the ground pork and ground lamb and blessed them in their union. I sprinkled the onions and garlic pieces over them. I hoped they would be happy together.
Our friends always hoped we would be happy together. They thought we were such a good fit for one another in college. We were ambitious and competitive with one another. Then we had a child and I could no longer compete. I forfeit all of our dreams to raise our beautiful girl. You grew distant. You always felt awkward around her. You never knew what to say when she showed you her nail polish or the beaded necklaces she strung together. She always drew you pictures you would tuck away in a drawer. When she died, you never talked about her. It was as if your heart stopped when the doctor told us her heart stopped, because her heart never fully developed.
I put the meatloaf in the oven and started to make the gravy. You never liked pepper or much else in your meatloaf. I put everything I liked in the gravy so you could decide how much you wanted. You could decide how much you wanted this house, the garden tomatoes, grandpa’s old Chevy and the piles of bills sitting by the front door with your name on them. You left me out of it. You left me to sit in the hospital, by her grave and sleeping in her bed. I was just to tag along for the ride. I was just to watch you climb the corporate ladder and fall. I was there when you didn’t get the promotion and I was there when they let you go. I was there when they said you were too emotionally unstable. You burst into tears whenever anyone mentioned their daughter’s ballet recital or school dance.
An hour passed. The meatloaf was done. The potatoes had cooked through. I added the butter, the milk and a tablespoon of yogurt and mashed the potatoes. I pulled out some parsley and placed a couple of sprigs on the cutting board. I began cutting them into fine pieces. I caught myself staring at the phone. I even checked it to see if I somehow missed a call. I called my mother. I called your mother. I called your best friend from college. No one had heard from you in a week or longer. You promised me you would be home for dinner. You promised me you would not call with some excuse. I knew you did not want to be here in this house after she died. You did not want to be here in this kitchen remembering how our little girl used to twirl around us as we would talk about the mounting bills and endless loans. We failed to sing with her. She would wrap her fingers at the edge of my skirt and ask me to sing the chorus with her. I did once or twice. I smiled at her while you reminded me we were drowning. You weren’t just talking about what we owed. We were sinking into a void. You followed every job lead. You would do well for a while and something would happen. Something always happened.
You’d get distracted. How many times did a hospital chaplain call me? How many times did the ER doctor tell me you nearly died in one car accident after another? You said you fell asleep at the wheel. You said the other driver came out of nowhere. You’d remember listening to her tell you about preschool. You’d remember placing a bandage on her knee after she fell on the driveway chasing a lightening bug. You’d forget you were driving. You’d forget you were the only one in the car.
Within a few minutes, I set the meatloaf and mashed potatoes on the table. I set the gravy in a separate dish next to them. I tossed a salad and sliced a few pieces of French bread from the corner bakery. I placed our plates on the table. I set your fork directly across from mine. People used to make fun of us for being left-handed and lining up our silverware directly across from one another when we went out to eat. You used to hold my right hand and eat with your left. I used to think I was lucky I met you. I was honored when you asked me to spend the rest of my days with you.
The doorbell rang. The doorbell? No one ever stops by without calling first. I opened the door without looking. You stood in front of me mumbling about how you lost your house key. You bent down to grab your suitcase and saw the meatloaf and mashed potatoes on the table. You heard the fridge hiss and took a long look at the stove. I helped you take off your trench coat and you looked at me. Tears stained your eyes and the collar of your shirt. You began to tell me your interview in Seattle went well and we could expect to move there in a month. Our next adventure. You then sat at the table, served me and then yourself. You took my right hand in yours and began talking about our little girl.