I'm the squash soup. Chopped up and muddled, glowing orange here on the
sofa. The soup itself bubbles for real on the stove. But I'm angry, so
its simmering seems like a gaping mouth. The soup froths. Me, on the
You need to relax, I tell myself. I can feel my blood pressure rising
as the chestnuts soak, drowning over there in the bucket, their little
wrists slashed this morning before the plunge. The frosted cake poses
on its classy stand, apart from us, smug, like the dog atop the couch
curled into a tiny dachsund ball, sleeping like the world is fine. The
cake is the dog. The dog is in the cake stand. The dog snorts as if to
confirm the unreliability of me as a narrator. He makes a quick circle
and re-positions himself into the same spot: snoring.
The rolls are tiny breasts, many breasts, too many probably, on the
cooling rack. Perky like my breasts maybe were once, but that was a
long time ago, and it isn't time for nostalgia right this second as I
fume on the couch and the fire rages in the wood-burning stove. The
fire is the concept of this story, the backdrop. It will be the
constant until I have to get up and stubbornly poke it to keep it
I've never liked phones. Or my sister Katie, who called this morning to
quietly and without much remorse cancel our Thanksgiving plans.
"Isn't working," she said.
"What isn't working," I said. "The car? Your souffle?"
"I never said I was bringing a souffle," Katie said.
"It's just a figure of speech," I said. "Souffles not working."
Katie exhaled deeply, like she was smoking a cigarette, and maybe she
was. What do I know? "The entire idea of the meal isn't working,
Martha," she said. "Dad is gone, you know. I just want to start my own
"Like today?" I said. "Because it's a little late, don't you think,
Kate? I mean I've produced some serious food here, and mom is planning
to come over, and she's been weepy anyway and now, today you're
deciding you'd like to diverge from this already strange situation and
create your own creepy ritual?"
"Look," Katie said with that nasal twang she gets when she's uppity. "I
clearly don't have to explain this to you. Isn't working. I said that.
I'm going to go and figure some stuff out. Going now. Bye." And with
that she hung up.
The soup simmers. The fire rages. The cake snorts. The chocolate tart
is not yet made. The wine on the counter, the good wine, is patient.
The dinner will be lonely. Mom and me. A widow and a stubborn single
woman with a tiny dachsund. I can't bear to tell my mom that Katie
doesn't like her.
Fuck family. Fuck love.
So I don't. I won't. I make the tart, and it looks luscious, nearly
velvety and so close to lust I think I might French kiss it. I change
clothes, put on something nice, nicer than I ever put on for family
things—a silk shirt with earrings. Mom arrives, and she's
smiling, really trying hard. I give her a big bear hug, a sloppy kiss.
The dog barks joyously. She has brought stuffing and gravy, a dog treat
and little homemade nametags that she cross-stitched for each place
I've set the table for three, because I am both a coward and a loser.
She props each precious nametag at each place setting. We open the
wine, and it forgives us for taking so long.
Before I serve, an idea comes to me. It descends like honey spreading
across the counter; it's that sweet. I pull out some albums from the
living room shelves, take out 2 photographs, do some cutting. I tape a
photo of my sister to one chairback, a photo of my dad on the other.
We're now an awkward table of four with only one missing nametag, like
it should be. I add a place setting.
Mom sits down, a little confused at first, expecting Katie to walk in
carrying some weird vegetarian food in tones of gray or brown. But when
she sees the photo, she nods and says, "I always liked that dress on
Kate. It brings out the green in her eyes, don't you think?"
Mom and I toast to everyone, including the dog. We wait for the
dénouement of the story. We breathe deep all the food
aromas. Too much food for us, we know. But still. We eat it all.
Sherrie Flick's most recent book is RECONSIDERING HAPPINESS, a novel (University of Nebraska Press).
She lives in Pittsburgh.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Katie Inglis.
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