Enormous pots filled to the brim with rice. Trays of steaming hot rolls, burning to the touch. Plates piled high with pancakes and butter, dripping with syrup and raspberry jam. Large bowls of pasta, barely pulling apart with all the cheese that held them together like glue.
Marisol had cooked them all, time and time again. Flipping through her ancient recipe books, she sometimes tried something new; of course, she never struck entirely true to the recipe, always adding a smidge more of this and a smidge less of that, but still. Everyone liked the constant feel of her cooking though, so she didn’t do it often.
She fanned a hand over her face as tears rolled over her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away and finished up the last slice of the onions before sliding them into the pan. The onions beginning to fry, coupled with the tomato sauce settling into the pasta in the pot made the kitchen smell heavenly. Marisol twirled, her skirt swishing through her legs as she moved to mix the pasta a little, humming under her breath. In a little under ten minutes, her husband would return from work and for the first time all day, her son would emerge from his bedroom to eat dinner. It would be the family’s only interaction for the day, just the way it was every day. She sprinkled salt over the onions and moved them in the pan. A satisfying sizzle brought a smile to her lips.
Just as the pasta was about ready, the doorbell rang. Marisol wiped her hands on her apron and walked to the front door. She opened it and inhaled the smell that came with her husband every time he came home- cigarette smoke and the cologne he wore to try and cover it up. He wrapped his arms around her in an embrace, and she allowed herself to be there for a moment. Safe and loved. She patted his shoulder and ran her fingers through his gelled hair.
“Let’s go sweetheart, before dinner gets cold,” she said. He smiled at her, eyes wrinkling at the corners.
Marisol went to plate the pasta. Two large dishes for them and one small plate for herself. She hadn’t had much of an appetite lately. She turned off the stove and took off her apron to hang it in the corner.
“Eric! Dinner time, my love.”
She distantly heard a grumble in response.
As everyone sat at the table together eating in silence, Marisol cleared her throat.
“How were your days?”
“Fine,” Eric mumbled.
“Well, my day was great. I got that promotion I was telling you guys about,” her husband declared, spinning more spaghetti onto his fork.
“Damian! That’s great, I’m so happy for you. I think a celebration is in order.”
“Took the words out of my mouth. How about we go for pizza tomorrow? That place where you can watch them cook it. What do you think Eric?”
Eric’s eyes lit up and he looked up from his plate.
Marisol smiled too. Or at least she tried to. She ate the rest of her plate without trying to start more conversation and got up to start on the dishes, trying to use the sink as noise to cover up the slow but steady cracking of her heart.
Eric came in through the back door, backpack slung over one shoulder.
“Mom!” he called, peeking through the kitchen where indeed Marisol was preparing some quinoa to sit for later.
“Love! How was your day?”
“Fine. I have a potluck for my club tomorrow at school. Do you think you could bake me something?”
“Oh!I-Of course! What would you like?” Marisol tried to hide her smile. It was his subtle way of saying her baking was better than store-bought, and even though he would never admit it to her, she still acknowledged it.
Eric was already nearing his bedroom.
“Whatever! Just something chocolate.”
Oh, she was going to make something chocolate alright. The best chocolate dessert that the club had ever seen.
Damian walked in one night early from work, slamming the door behind him. He’d opened the door on his own with the spare key. Marisol frowned as she wiped her flour covered hands on her apron. She’d been working all day making homemade dough so she could make them pizza.
“Sweetheart? What is it? Why are you home so early?”
He shrugged off his suit jacket and flung it haphazardly over the couch, rubbing his hands over his face.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Is dinner almost ready?”
She walked over to him and tried to ease the tension from his shoulders. He softened at her touch. Marisol inhaled deeply. Cigarettes ashes back to her nose, completely unhidden this time.
“I have to talk to you about something.”
“Okay, dear. Try and relax a bit.” She kissed his forehead, her own scent of vanilla and olive oil wafting into his nose. He took a deep breath and held her to him for a moment before letting him go.”
As she sprinkled mozzarella on the tomato sauce she’d blended by herself, she heard heavy footsteps enter the kitchen. She didn’t need to turn around to know it was her husband. She busied herself with the perfect placement of toppings as he cleared his throat.
“What’s troubling you, love?”
“I had to come home early today because…well, there isn’t a light way to put it. I’ve been fired.”
Marisol didn’t even flinch. She placed another mushroom down on the pizza.
“I’d…I’d broken company rules.”
“Mm? Try this dear.” She turned around with a spoonful of the tomato sauce in one hand and the other underneath it to prevent anything from dripping onto the kitchen’s pristine flooring. brought it closer to his mouth, which he reluctantly opened wide enough to accept the spoon. He swallowed the sauce and Marisol turned back around to put finishing touches on the pizza and place it in the oven.
“What was it you were saying? About your job?”
He sighed deeply, rubbing the back of his neck.
“I was caught. With….With a coworker.”
“That’s too bad, isn’t it.”
“That you were caught.”
Marisol watched as Eric climbed the steps of his dorm building, friends already at his shoulder and shoving him affectionately as they walked together. She drove away with shaky hands and only made it to the end of the street before she had to pullover.
She sobbed into the wheel openly, not an onion in sight to blame.
She let the warmth of the oven wash over her face for a moment before pulling out the tray of cookies and pushing it closed with her foot. Old love music filled the kitchen as she worked, and she absentmindedly hummed along.
The doorbell rang. Marisol wiped her wrinkly hands on her apron and walked slowly to the door.
Eric stood at the door, a beautiful woman by his side with a child at her hip. She was smiling ear to ear while Eric had a pained look on his own almost-smiling face.
“Eric! My love. Come here.” She embraced her one and only son and breathed deep into his shoulder. He had a scent not unlike his own father- smoke and cologne. She ushered the couple inside and told them to sit as she brought out the cookies.
“Oh, mom, you shouldn’t have, really.”
“But I wanted to, dear. I wanted to.”