Joy of Cooking
By Emma Deutsch-
Marty watched Julie and Julia tonight (for the nth time; it was her comfort movie) and so she simply had to get back into the kitchen. Last week she ate microwavable chili every night for dinner, but this week would be different. She took her worn and dog-eared copy of Joy of Cooking off the shelf and opened it to a random page. Eyes closed, Marty pointed her finger, wished for something good, and opened her eyes.
Okay - boring. That one didn’t count.
She turned to a new page and pointed again. Rhubarb relish. Now we’re talking!
Of course, it was 11 PM on a Sunday, so anywhere Marty could buy rhubarb was long closed. Tomorrow morning, farmer’s market, Marty thought. And she microwaved some chili.
Marty woke up with a start that night, only to burp up some black beans into her cupped hands. Marty shuddered and stumbled to her bathroom, doing a thorough hand-face-mouth wash. She suddenly felt awake (it was the cold water) and paced around her apartment, looking at how the streetlights made shadowy reflections of the window panes on her bare white walls. She drank some orange juice from the carton (which tasted gross because of her minty toothpaste mouth). She drank some more. Then she called Cal.
He picked up with a meek, slightly hungover “Hullo?” Marty was surprised that he was awake, and then less so when she glanced at the oven clock. 3:43 AM in Boston meant almost 10:00 in Zurich.
“Hi baby!! Did you have a good sleep? Guess what was on TV last night - a GREAT Family Feud rerun…..you know the one with the twins?” Marty babbled for a few minutes in a voice shrill enough to mask her lack of sleep.
“What?” Cal asked. “Marty, are you high? Why are you calling me right now?”
This one stumped Marty. “To say good morning?”
“I told you to stop calling me.”
“You did? When??”
“After we broke up, dude. 6 months ago.”
Marty hung up the phone and tossed her head so hard her nose almost flew off her face. Okay, back to bed.
For the rest of the night, Marty’s bed shook like it was under train tracks. Which, for all she knew, it was.
Marty slept, despite the shaking, well past noon. So she was too late to pick up rhubarb from the farmer’s market. She had also missed her deadline for an article on how to know if your dog’s wound is infected. But, Marty figured, anyone dumb enough to read an article on dog wounds from Tips4ModernWxmen.com shouldn’t have a pet at all.
Marty hummed as she fed her cat, Wilbur (who was actually just a sock monkey in a baby’s stroller) but Marty loved him anyway. Wilbur ate leftovers, mostly, supplemented with some spare fish food Marty had from a few years ago. She used to have beta fish, but one ate the other and then died from overconsumption.
Marty had a lot to do, even without making rhubarb relish or working. She wrote her to-do list on a scrap piece of paper (her electricity bill): sweep, mop, scrub the toilet bowl, grocery shop, jazzercise.
Marty started with the end of the list, working up a sweat in front of her VHS player. By dinnertime, she had flown through the list, stopping only to scribble down a poem in between cleaning and heading to the ShopRite down the street.
The poem read:
An eggshell carpet
Slices the soles of my feet
To Marty’s surprise, the ShopRite had a few stalks of rhubarb on a desolate shelf next to the mist-covered broccoli. Marty bought all the rhubarb that was there, as well as what people usually need: onions, eggs, bread, milk, apples, coffee.
At home, Marty heard a phone ringing. “Oh, that must be mine!” Marty had forgotten for a moment that she lived alone.
Caller ID said the call was from Kathleen Finkel. Great, Marty thought. Mom. She picked up.
“HELLO MARCELLA! WHAT’S NEW IN THE CITY?”
“Mom, you’re screaming.”
“WHAT? DEAR, I CAN’T HEAR YOU. YOU NEED TO SPEAK UP.”
“I’M GOOD, MOM. HOW ARE YOU?”
“Oh, lovely. I can hear your voice now. I’m alright.”
“Good, Mom. Glad to hear i—”
“But my back has been acting up again since it started raining. And your father’s been on a rampage ever since he found out the liberals are trying to get rid of Dave Chappelle.”
“Yup, sounds about right.”
“Is it raining where you are, Marcella? It’s been raining for weeks so I’ve made about 5 pies waiting for it to end. You have to try the new corn pie recipe I’ve been working on!”
Marty sighed. There was no way it was raining in Phoenix.
“Hey, can I call you back later? I think Drew is coming over later and I’ve got to get ready.”
“Who’s Drew, hon….your boyfriend?! I haven’t met a boyfriend of yours in about 10 years, Mar! I think it’s about time. Invite him over for dinner some time, why don’t you.”
Marty wondered how her mom thought they could share a casual dinner when they lived across the country from each other.
“Okay Mom, I’ll think about it. Love you, bye!”
Marty hung up the phone before her mother could ask any more questions. Of course, Drew wasn’t her boyfriend, and Marty’s mother knew that - she had known Drew since he introduced himself to their family at college orientation. Marty’s dad couldn’t get past his faded pink T-shirt, and her mother had shrugged Drew off as grungy and sullen, despite his bubbly introduction (“Hi y’all, do you mind adopting me for the day? My folks couldn’t make it out here.”) But Marty, perhaps as an adolescent way of disobeying her parents, became enamored with Drew and the two had been inseparable ever since.
Speaking of uncomfortable, Marty’s stomach was starting to grumble at a volume that would be awkward if anyone else could hear it. She glanced at the stack of groceries she hadn’t yet put away. But the kitchen was so far, and there was so much else Marty could do besides domestic bullshit tonight! She called for a pizza with extra cheese and olives.
Half an hour to 45 minutes later (at least that’s how long the girl on the phone had said it would be), Marty sat munching on her first slice’s crust with her boots on the table. Someone banged on her door, three loud knocks followed by a perky smattering of fingers on wood.
It must be Drew, Marty thought, but she had lied to her mom on the phone. She didn’t know he was actually going to make an appearance tonight. It was a pleasant surprise, though, like the one you get when you reach for an apple in a fruit bowl and find out it’s a peach.
“It’s open!” Marty yelled.
Drew collapsed through the door, flailed off a soaking wet puffer coat followed by a rather chic bathrobe, and executed a perfect somersault across the kitchen floor.
“Hi doll!” Drew flicked a hand through his age-appropriate Jim Morrison hair. “It smells like shit in here...have you been cooking?”
“Yeah…” Marty laughed a dreamy little laugh and gestured towards the other half of the pizza for Drew to have.
He sat down and started picking olives off of a slice. “Wanna hear what’s been going on at work?”
Marty stood up to wash the pile of spoons in her sink. She had to do something while Drew was over to keep herself occupied.
God, Drew thought, I hate it when she’s in a mood like this.
“Fine,” Drew sighed, and then launched into some long sentences that Marty didn’t care to comprehend. Drew was an accountant, which didn’t match any part of his personality except for the fact that he was, deep down, super boring.
Drew knew Marty hadn’t been listening for the past few minutes. He was talking about office gossip, for God’s sake! She’s so far gone she can’t even listen to the most interesting stuff in my life.
He cut off his story about how Trish from HR is pregnant but doesn’t know the father and waited for Marty to clue into the silence.
She turned around after the spoons were dried and put away, and started at the sight of Drew. He wondered if she had forgotten he was there.
“Wanna go out tonight? I think it’s karaoke night at Fuzzbar…could be fun”
Marty shrugged. Then she thought for a second, about how Drew probably thought she needed to get out of the house (little did he know, she went outside today!) She didn’t want him to think she was a shut-in. “Okay. Let’s do it. Do you think I should change?”
Drew stared at Marty’s outfit - gray sweatpants with holes peppering the ankles, puke-colored green sweater, and the chunkiest boots he had ever seen. “Maybe just your pants?” He knew subtlety was key when Marty was acting freaky.
And as they walked to the bar, planning what song to sing (“Love is a Battlefield” or “Barracuda”?), swaddled in coats, arm in arm, Marty realized she felt better. That’s funny, she thought, I hadn’t realized I felt bad in the first place!
Drew, of course, was feeling crappier than he had all day, but he hoped tonight he would find someone more interesting to talk to than catatonic Marty.
Several drinks and three different screechy versions of Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel like a Woman” later, Marty stood in an alley and watched a stream of chamomile tea-colored liquid flow down her black stockinged leg.
Marty had to call Cal. She absolutely had to, and even if she wanted to, she couldn’t stop herself (especially not with several tequila shots ricocheting around her body). As soon as she heard him grunt hello, she started unloading.
“Calum, I know this is annoying and you don’t want to talk anymore. But Drew just left with some ugly bearded guy and there’s no one left for me here.” When did she start sobbing? “Could I fly to you?? There’s no one here for me.”
She expected Cal to hang up, but he didn’t. “You can’t fly here. And you don’t have no one. Drew loves you, he’s just doing something else right now! You’re fine. Go to sleep.”
“Stop treating me like I’m crazy, Cal!! I feel crazy for calling and for kissing that chick last fall and for never saying I love you...I’m sorry I’m so crazy. I’m sorry.”
“M, you’re not crazy. You are hauntingly normal.”
Marty let her phone slide out of her hand onto the piss-covered concrete. Cal was right, of course. He knew her better than anyone, or at least he used to. So she must be normal. What a relief! She stumbled back home, in need of some good drunk food. Maybe she could throw together some nachos.
The nacho ingredients were sparse, Marty found, after fumbling with her key in the door and realizing she left her wallet at the bar. Oh well, that was a job for tomorrow. She stared at the rhubarb in her fridge until her eyes went fuzzy. It was starting to wilt. She squinted at the rhubarb relish recipe open on the counter. Cool for 3 hours?! No way. There must be something else she could do with it. So Marty sauteed the rhubarb in a pan with every seasoning she could think of (cinnamon, nutmeg, a dash of cayenne, half a jar of strawberry preserves). And she ate it all, right out of the pan. It didn’t taste too bad, she thought, but who knows if it was actually good. Marty got in bed without brushing her teeth, so she could taste the cinnamon for longer.
Before she fell into a drunken coma, Marty made a resolution. She decided to settle down and stop writing and hopefully carry a baby one day. At least that was the plan. She decided to get to work on finding a beef wellington recipe to master for her future husband. She just needed to buy a bottle of Worcestershire sauce in the morning.
Emma Deutsch is an undergraduate student (for now) from the East Coast. She studies Art History and Visual Culture, and hopes that her burst of fiction writing will stick around for a while. Her work focuses on food, queerness, and the feeling of nothing making sense.