Frittata For Dinner

Submitted into Contest #31 in response to: Write a short story about someone cooking dinner.... view prompt



When he put his key in the frosted lock of the apartment door, Bernie took in the aroma of coffee brewing which his wife would manage to make too bitter. He drew one last breath of the frigid air. Looking back through the slats lining the narrow corridor, past his door Bernie saw the subtle glow of the setting sun. It beamed at him between the naked arms of the trees rimming the complex. He swung his head into the dimly lit kitchen and let his eyes grow accustomed to the indoor lighting. 

“Bernie, what’re you doing sneaking around here scaring me half to death? She paused to stick a cigarette in her mouth. “What’d you think, you’re a detective now?” The cavernous voice of his wife came deep from her belly, over her chest and through her glossed purple lips. The words swayed on her tongue teetering alongside her lipstick ringed cigarette. She took a sip of her steaming black coffee using a corner of her mouth. Then she looked at him as if his presence annoyed her. 

“Good evening,” Bernie said. He looked down at her.  How can she, drink coffee with a cigarette in her mouth?  “Please, put that out. I thought we had an agreement?” He snorted in disgust.

Alisha rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry, I'm not going to light my stogie.” She snatched her lighter and stuffed it in her bra. “I’m about to go, so don’t start lecturing me,” she said angrily. “And yes, I’m going to read the pamphlets you gave me about quitting.”

“Hello and good to see you too, Alisha.” Bernie bent to kiss her. Then jerked upright and turned on the evening news adjusting the TV that sat on a shelf above Alisha’s head. He stopped himself from fantasizing about the TV falling.

Alisha sucked her teeth. “Just wish you’d leave me alone about my issues. I don’t bother you about your addiction to country music and sports.”

Bernie stared at her and shook his head.

She opened the paper Bernie laid on the table, turning to the horoscope section. “Before I forget,” she said, “your sister Missy called my phone and left a message for you to call her. She said she’s been trying to get hold of you and your Mama.” Alisha looked up from the paper with a scowl. “I think it had to do with the news story our nosy neighbor Darla, woke me up about this morning. It sounds like something real bad happened to your sister’s stepson. Timothy is his name, right?” 

Bernie nodded. Better be careful not to let worry show on my face. The gentle countenance of his older sister walked into his mind beckoning him to call—he waved her off for when they could be alone.  

“Uh-huh. Thanks for the message,” Bernie said. He crooked his long frame to take off his snow-caked boots. The burnt smell hit him as he walked towards the stove. A pot of overcooked rice and a pan of greasy fried pork chops greeted him through the smoky haze in the tiny room. 

“I would’ve had something for you, but we don’t have much and the girls need to eat when they get home. You know Gina got that new job up at the hairdresser’s on 35th and Debbie is finishing her degree at Empire Technical School on 27th.” Her voice was gruff. But a smile book-ended her words while she gazed at the oil-covered light fixture suspended above the wooden table, she sat. 

Bernie looked at her and shook his head again. He opened the fridge and retrieved the full carton of organic eggs and several other items he’d purchased the day before.  As he whipped up dinner for himself, he wondered, perhaps, I’m seeing things wrong as the girl’s stepfather. Nevertheless, from each angle, he examined the situation it always came back to him for exactly what it was. The truth was the girls were twenty-four and twenty-two. Gina as the oldest was on her tenth career choice. He had lost track at one point until he got the bill for the latest training facility she’d dropped out of. The last job she had, landed her a brief stint in jail for cashing bad checks at the credit union where she worked as a clerk. As for Debbie, by using the term degree was truly an overrated term for what was a high school diploma. 

“Did you hear what I said?” Alisha pursed her lips.

Bernie glanced at his wife. “Uh-huh, I’m listening.”  His focus shifted to the replays from the Buck’s game from the night before, then the incoming text he received from Missy. He looked at his phone. It was true. Tim didn’t survive the shooting. Lord, Tim is dead. His knees buckled. Stomach churned. Thought about what this was doing to his sister and his brother in law Ralph. Poor Missy, she’s always the strong one in everyone’s eyes. But he knew better.

Bernie flipped to the news. He concentrated on the news clip of reporters interviewing his sister and her husband. They looked like poster children for mixed-race couples. There they stood tears in their eyes —classy and handsome together. The Murphy’s, hands clasped, hearts heavy, yet knit as one solid piece of contentment. Several boys in blue stood behind them stone-faced. 

Alisha put a hand to her chest. “Lord.” She kept looking between her husband and the tv. “That Missy and Ralph?”

“Ya,” Bernie said.

“Looks like, Tim didn’t survive.” Alisha shook her head so hard she had to readjust her wig. “What is this world coming to? The man is coming home from church and they shoot him down in the street like a dog?”

Bernie bit his lip. “Terrible tragedy.”

“I’m so sorry,” Alisha said as she watched the set. “It reminds me of the day they were shooting in front of the training center where Debbie was going last month. This could’ve been our child. I’m glad none of our kids are caught up in any kind of mess. Matter of fact, Debbie is making good grades too.” 

He stared at his wife as she continued to ramble then refocused on the TV. His face grew warm. What? Her choice of topics considering what was happening was a jab to the gut. She’s still finding a way to talk about these grown women when my family is falling apart. It’s harder to come home. Not that this is any kind of home. It’s not the home I had when…It doesn’t make sense thinking about the past anyway. This is my current situation, for now. 

“Bernie,” Alisha said. “Are you even listening to me?” 

He tore his eyes from the screen. “I can’t believe you’d ask that; I’m always listening to you.” And what good does that ever do? The last time he’d listened and expressed his escalating concerns about Debbie’s bizarre, behavior and Gina’s tendency toward the darker side of the law Alisha had gotten in his face and cussed him out for two whole hours. Told him he didn’t know what it was to be a parent. That’d hurt. He still felt the sting of her words. Changed something between them ever since. Even in summer, spring and fall it was always winter between them.

“Listen, Bern, I know this is bad timing and all but it’s big Berta’s birthday and we planned this a while back,” she said licking her lips. “I’m going to be gone till late tonight. Me and my girls going to the casino and then out to a rib joint for the Friday dinner specials they got. If you get any more news about your family, I’ll just come home.” Alisha slithered her tongue over her nicotine-stained teeth and stood up without waiting for a reply. 

Bernie stared at her, his mouth slack. He measured her words, his lips forming a straight line of disapproval.

“Anyway, if I get to drinking too much, cause’ I’m in the mood to get my drink on, especially with all this killing, I might just stay at one of my girls’ house. That okay with you?”  

“Uh-huh,” Bernie said. He gritted his teeth. Gripped the cheese grater and grated far more cheese than he needed. “Don’t know why you bother asking me permission to do anything.  You do what you want, with who you want, anyway.” 

Bernie stood. Looked at Alisha—a long hard look, where contention simmered and yielded giving way to a certain resignation. He swayed as if considering a hard thing; looking as though he wanted to consume his wife whole in a lover’s embrace. He swayed looking as though he couldn’t wait for her to leave. Alisha was only a few inches from him. But Bernie felt like they were 200 miles apart. He reached to preheat the oven to 425° then grabbed a ceramic bowl and a cast-iron skillet out the cupboard and melted 2 tbsp. of butter. He knew without her saying it that by girls, this time she meant one of the five women with which she often socialized. Now that’s a stagnant group bonded and united through gambling, and their government jobs at the local social security office. Bernie centered the bowl then cracked and whipped up four eggs, two egg whites and a ¼ cup of heavy cream into a foamy yellow puff.

“All right,” she said. “I suppose that’s settled then.” Alisha sighed. “I’ll keep you posted, Bernie.”

No, you won’t. You’ll forget to call. Then you show up the next day filled with your long list of excuses. “Okay, I’ll visit my mother tonight then,” Bernie said. Wondering why he bothered to share this detail about a woman his wife cared little about. He stifled a yawn while pouring the mix into the butter bubbling in the skillet. Bernie worked the concoction accompanied by smoked Gouda, sea salt, white pepper, chopped garlic cloves, mushrooms, shallots, and bell peppers.  He popped the skillet in the oven for his frittata to finish cooking and set the timer. Alisha sniffed the air pausing as if she would sit down again. Instead, she closed the paper, grabbed her purse and struggled to push her swollen feet into the red patent leather pumps she had waiting by the door. 

“What about the children? You plan to spend time with them?” She asked. Her voice muffled by her first attempt to squeeze into the white fur coat she’d acquired at Goodwill recently.

He wondered why she never wore the real fur he’d purchased for her last winter from Boston Store. Bernie didn’t bother to remind her that her daughters weren’t children instead, he shrugged his wide shoulders. “No problem Alisha, they’re always welcome to come if they want to. They just have to remember that they can’t smoke or swear in my mother’s home.” Bernie spoke as he bent over the kitchen counter with his right elbow propped by the sink waiting for the oven’s timer to sound. 

“Whatever,” she said. Her eyes rolled around in her head so fast she looked like she was already drunk. “Your momma got them rules up there like she’s, oh, so holy. You just need to remember who your family is. That’s me and those girls.” When Alisha was finished speaking, she rolled her eyes again and smoothed the brunette wig perched on her head. 

Bernie watched her. For a minute with the sun hitting her face just right capturing the golden embers in her eyes—she almost looked pretty. It was how she’d looked when they met at Ebenezer Baptist Church a few years ago. Right after the accident. A time that he’d decided he needed Jesus to get through what’d almost killed him. But instead, he’d gotten himself married. I should’ve just stuck with Jesus. 

His pastor probably wouldn’t recognize Alisha even if she sat on the front pew. After they got married, she quit the choir. Then she stopped attending church. What’d his mama say? That’s right—Alisha got what she came for at church and it sure wasn’t the good Lord.  He wondered how things had progressed from a few church socials to marriage for three years. The unfathomable details escaped him. 

Alisha strutted forward tipping toward him. Bernie’s pulse accelerated, he tensed. I bet she does know something. She brutalized his mouth with a peck. “Guess I got to steal my sugar nowadays.” She said in a rare moment of joviality. 

They traded stares. Bernie knew her play on words was an inquiry as to why he hadn’t touched her in over a month. 

Looking out the window through the lace curtains Bernie watched the red basketball-sized sun, disappear below the rim of trees, before answering. “Just working hard these days and—” The timer cut him off in the middle of his lie. He pulled out a perfectly crisped frittata and sliced a steaming hunk onto a plate before setting the skillet on the stove. Anger fueled his hunger. Bernie ate his dinner while standing. Forkfuls of egg made him feel full but still empty.

Alisha stood back peering at him through eyes that were now hazel slits. “Home is where you need to be putting all your overtime.” She moved just as fast as she spoke. Agilely gliding over the linoleum on stilettos. She grabbed her belongings including an overnight duffel bag. 

Looking over her shoulder she said, “Bernie, I’m truly sorry about what’s happened with your family. Please call me if you need me.” Alisha strut through the door.

‘Please call me if you need me;’ are you serious or just that evil Alisha? He noticed she didn’t bother to lock up because she knew he would. He clutched his chest as he bolted the door. Something burned inside. It could be the frittata. Yes, that’d do it for sure.

February 29, 2020 23:49

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