The Imaginary Cabbage Stew

Submitted into Contest #103 in response to: Write about a character looking for a sign.... view prompt

12 comments

American Latinx Contemporary

C: ‘Are you asking about the impact the accidente had on the family? Well, there’s no family to speak of anymore, to start with. But I just want to scream: be yourself no matter what, you know. God, when I first came to this town, I had no idea, I had to reuse my lashes twenty times, that’s how poor I was, I reattached them until the residue glue was too heavy to keep my eyelids open. I had to ride to auditions on a bike, in the heat, can you imagine?

‘And I saw him across the bar one night and boom, ten years later, some late-night arguments, and a child that might even be a result of making good on one of those, I find him dangling off the chandelier like some kind of freaky pendulum, dancing to his own kind of music. It was a puto Murano, too, the chandelier that is. Sorry, I get tan emotional talking about it. Twenty, maybe thirty K, and I almost gave it to charity afterwards. It had a thousand Swarovski crystals and hand-blown glass daisies all over. It was cute, I tell you. But you know what, instead of just getting rid of it, I put it towards settling one of the lawsuits that cropped up right after his suicide, like some ugly hounds that got the whiff of the stale corpse. I thought paying the hyenas in blood diamonds could be a good omen for the future.’

A: ‘How much litigation was there in the end?’

C: ‘Nothing ever got to court, although it threatened permanently. Loomed over us. I don’t like courts, they always feel so stuffy and so cold at the same time. Difficult to decide what to wear.

‘In the end, they took the stable, largely under-appraised at first, as they were hoping to stain my more fancy handbags their greasy fingers as well. But I had an independent surveyor tell them to fuck off.

‘When I walked into the stable one last time, the sun was seeping in and the smell of must mixed with crap attacked my nostrils. Luckily, I didn’t have my Laboutins on, but I was still looking down to avoid stepping into anything unladylike. And then, I saw this strange, Chinese-ish sign on the floor, or maybe Japanese, who can tell. I snapped a picture of it, and I said to my lawyer: hey, maybe this could be a sign we should fight this thing out in court rather than settle, and for a long billable minute, he said nothing, and then: no, it doesn’t. And after another long pause: I’ll send the documents to sign off tomorrow.

‘And that was it. My son asked me after that, you know: mummy, where are all the borbies? He’s going through that funny phase right now where he invents names for things. And so I said: there are no horses, my love. There are no horses left.

‘Gosh, and right after that, we had that episode with the psychic. She practically invited herself in, I’d go so far as to say she almost forced her way into the house. She had credentials, alright. She’s worked some big names, on the list of A, although I’m not going to drop names because that’s simply… tosco. Cómo se dice en inglés, uncouth. Suffice it to say she had an aura both otherworldly and wealthy about her. I mean, those beads around her neck looked like real opals, each and every single one of them.

‘I let her in, why not. Tad on the expensive side, she was, but I thought my husband wouldn’t mind if I dipped into the honey pot now that he was pushing up the Murano daisies. It turned out, of course, that the pot had been emptied by a very hungry, angry bear, but you know that already, don’t you. Your investigative limbs have combed through our pockets and drawers and underfloor safes I didn’t even know about.

‘Either way, the psychic. At that point, I was desperate for a sign, for some sort of an answer, and if not, I certainly felt the karma of our house needed to be cleansed. Especially around the chandelier, because by then, I hadn’t taken if off yet. The psychic started writhing and I could see the rapid movement of her eyes underneath her lids and I thought: hey, here’s a sign, I bet he’ll start channeling right through her any second now. And sure enough, her voice got lower. Maybe not so low that it didn’t sound like it belonged to a woman anymore, but low.

‘He told me through her he just had to do it. The crippling debt, the constant phone calls, the black unmarked vans passing at night, it got too much for him, he said. I mean, he didn’t use those words, but a mention of finances was made and I inferred the rest, really.’

A: ‘But what did the psychic actually say?’

C: ‘Who can remember now? They talk a lot, and the powers that be over them change course mid-sentence so often I had to scramble a little to make sense of it all. She kept bringing up some mother, I don’t know who that could have been. She kept asking: is this right, mother? And then, she’d jerk so violently I got worried — she was sat on a couch I was planning to offer up next in case yet another lawsuit came my way. She claimed the stable had put an end to litigation, and she commended me for that smart move. Throw that negative energy right back at their greedy paws, she told me.’

A: ‘How do you support yourself now? You haven’t done a big production in a while.’

C: ‘You know what they say in the business… The bigger the role, the fatter the wad; the taller the heel, the closer to god. But as you might imagine, words travel on their own invisible grapevines, and with the acting jobs drying up, I had to downgrade to granny heels, really, no taller than three inches. I’m thinking of going flat altogether to be honest, that hip mum look. Start a trend or something.

‘I do have a book deal, though. They want me to re-examine my marriage in light of what had happened to my husband. They suggested I dig deep, see if I can think of any potential abuse, but I stood firm on that. I won’t have his name dragged through the dirt, even if he did leave me with a black hole of a bank account that sucked my entire life in, even if he did get rowdy when drunk and sometimes, I had to wear long sleeves in the L.A. heat for a few days.

‘I will say this though, the book’s quite picante for a widow story. I didn’t want for it to sound like I’m playing the world’s tiniest violin. I’m a survivor, you know. My ghost writer seems to understand that. He’s very spirited, too, and he has a similar gap between his front teeth to my husband’s. I remember seeing it and having this feeling that it was a good sign. A sign this cooperation was a match made in heaven, and my husband wanted it to happen. It’s like his invisible finger had touched that man’s mouth and parted his teeth like Noah or something, with the seas.’

A: ‘You mean Moses?’

C: ‘Yes, Moses. Sorry. This country is so full of religions I struggle to remember all the stories. I was brought up Catholic, but we had very limited access to the Bible, to be honest. I don’t mean to sound like an ungrateful person, my mother already tells me que no tengo ni vergüenza ni respeto, that I have no shame or respect for my roots. Not true, I speak Spanish all the time.

‘Anyway, we’re finalising the last chapters and shooting the cover soon. They’re recommending I wear a turtleneck in the photos, but I feel like that sends a certain message. Like I’ve retreated into myself and hardened. I haven’t. I will say this over and over again, I’m a survivor, and I’m still here and I’m still soft.

A: ‘Can you think of any change in your husband’s behaviour before the accident?’

C: ‘Yes, one. It’s been on my mind a lot. He had this tiny fridge in his office where he kept the energy drinks so he wouldn’t have to trek downstairs to get one every time. I forgot about it altogether until one day, it started overhumming and I went in to have a look. You know what I found? Rotting, leaking cucumbers. What did he need them for? Did he ever eat cucumbers just like that, like other people enjoy bananas? I’d never seen him do that. One more post on the fence between us. Goes to show you never know a person truly.

‘It smelled iridescent in there, like cabbage stew. You know how it appears unbearable at first, and then, the nose finds some variation, some notes of garlic and pepper and lamb, and you start to salivate. Heart not a servant, as my mamá used to say — her side of the family are Polish Jews. They settled in Mexico a few generations back, you see, before the big war.

‘And so, I got a real, almost pregnant-like craving for that stew, and I just knew it had to be a sign. I couldn’t shake off how much the cucumber was disguising himself as cabbage, sorry, I mean itself. Old Spanish habits die hard, and cucumber is male in my language, el pepino, how else though, with that dubious shape.

‘So I cooked one the same afternoon, and my son, bless him, freaked out, thinking I was going to make him eat it in some demented ritual. That crazy I am not. I had our chef prepare some miso-glazed salmon instead, while I stirred the pot endlessly.

‘I didn’t know what I was expecting. Perhaps that he’d speak to me through the progression of smells, that somehow a memory would rise from my muddled mind like steam from the brownish concoction I was preparing. It was a shame to throw it away, so I asked our chef if he knew where to donate it, like a diner for poor people, but he gave me a funny look.

‘I think this may be the only thing I can think of, a change in behaviour. Other than that, he seemed perfectly himself.’

A: ‘Thank you, and thank you for today. Very informative.’

C: ‘I do hope I helped. I just want to say, he clearly couldn’t beat the demons. And he’d carried those for long before the moment our eyes locked in on each other in that bar, all those years ago.’

A: ‘Demons, huh? Dreary business.’

C: ‘Absolutely.’

A: ‘We’ll be sure to give you a ring if we have any more questions, Mrs Collins.’

C: ‘Please do. And by the way, I’ve gone back to Cruz now. Did you know cruz means cross in English? It’s pretty funny when you think about it, and I suppose... I suppose we each have to carry our own, after all.’

July 22, 2021 17:14

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12 comments

K. Antonio
21:06 Jul 24, 2021

THIS! Had "The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" vibes written all over it, except in this case your character isn't getting married 7 times, well we hope not. I really enjoyed how the story is structured like an interview (almost like a gossip magazine or news article). The details were nice, the use to Spanish words too. I liked how the main character has her own identity and how with the end of her marriage she is retrieving it. It actually kind of reminded me of some sort of Mexican soap opera, it was funny, mysterious and even a bit exag...

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Nina Chyll
09:14 Jul 27, 2021

You DO read a lot. Dayum. Thank you very much for the kind words. I've been having mishaps with cucumbers recently seeing as my fridge is slightly out of order (too much information, I know), and they must have worked their way into the story somehow. I'm so glad I got a laugh or two out of you!

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Charlie Murphy
17:14 Jul 27, 2021

Great story! I loved it!

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Nina Chyll
08:51 Jul 28, 2021

Thank you!

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H L Mc Quaid
10:25 Jul 27, 2021

Delightfully macabre...pushing up Murano daisies. And very-well written, revealing snippets of the past as piece together what (might) be going. I liked it very much. Mucho, mucho. ;)

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Nina Chyll
08:52 Jul 28, 2021

Thank you. I'm trying to be a little lighter in the stories, although it's a mixed bag!

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Shea West
21:01 Jul 26, 2021

Nina, I absolutely loved the hell out of this story! The weaving of Spanish words and phrases through her dialogue and the storytelling was so much like a Telenovela I was all in after the first paragraph. I picture this woman smoking a mentholated cigarette in super fancy clothes and overly gaudy jewelry. The interview style flow of the story gave your story an added punch. I loved it!

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Nina Chyll
09:16 Jul 27, 2021

Thank you so much! I like what you're picturing. Not sure whether smoking is passé or not these days anymore, but she does sound like one of those characters who can just twist reality to fit their own personal vision of it.

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01:59 Jul 23, 2021

Hahaha Nina I absolutely loved the voice you used in this piece, this made me laugh out loud!!! Regluing eyelashes, so funny!!! Nice work! Two minor typos to fix 'tan emotional' to tad and suffice it to say.

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Nina Chyll
07:15 Jul 23, 2021

Thank you so much! And thanks for catching the two things out. 'Tan' was actually in Spanish, too, but the italics have somehow escaped me, so cheers for noticing.

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Keya Jadav
18:24 Sep 16, 2021

I love it! The pace and descriptions go hand in hand intertwined with wicked humour like the 'eyelash escapade'. The way of narration and plot structure is really appreciable. Nice Work!

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Noelle C. Lee
18:23 Jul 29, 2021

I was envisioning so many people that I've known throughout my life. Totally relatable character. Enjoyed the cleverness...

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