Just a quickie to get back into writing on a regular basis. Enjoy!
Thursday night I did what I did every Thursday night, I went to the store, bought groceries and headed over to Linda’s house to cook dinner. At seven o’clock I pulled into the driveway behind Linda’s car. Was there ever a time she wasn’t home? No, that would require her to walk in through the front door and pass by the kitchen. I would have seen her. I’m positive I would have seen her.
I’m not a cook by profession or even by hobby. I hardly cook for myself even, but every Thursday night I cook at Linda’s house. I’m not even sure how we came to the agreement that I cook every Thursday night, but I had been doing it for such a long time I suppose it didn’t matter to me.
But back to the cooking, I’m not a cook. I’m not a chef. I cook decently, but with no great flair or gusto, nothing signature that could even define the blandest of chain restaurants. No special spices, no third world seasoning, just a print out of a recipe from the internet.
Linda did have beautiful china which in a way elevated the meal from the pedestrian to the better than average. In a way it’s no better than taking two mass produced t-shirts and putting a famous logo on one of them; the same shirt at two radically different prices. After ten washings the color noticeable faded on both of them. To me, it didn’t matter how the food was served but Linda liked it on the good china and on the good china it went.
I unlocked the front door with my key and entered the house carrying the sack of groceries. From the front door I crossed the unassuming living room and headed into the bright white of the kitchen. The paper bag crumpled as I laid it on the counter. After a few seconds it settled in place and didn’t move. I stood silent like this till I heard the sound of water splashing from down the hall. She was in the bathtub. This was true most of the time, though occasionally I could hear the TV. playing from her bedroom and even once heard her talking on the phone.
Either way, it didn’t matter what she was doing right now. I needed to cook.
Like I said before I’m not a cook, but there are few recipes I haven’t been able to make at least a passable attempt. The least anyone can say is that they’re not hungry anymore after eating one of my meals.
Before unloading the groceries, I set the oven to preheat to 400 degrees and pulled a baking sheet out of the cupboard. The oven would take about ten minutes to preheat to the desired temperature during which time I would prepare the food to be cooked. My recipe that night was stuffed baked tomatoes. It was a new recipe for Linda and one I myself hadn’t made before when I found it on the internet. I had cooked it for myself the last two nights attempting to devise the most efficient way to prepare it and while I thought I still needed to try one more time, Thursday is always Thursday and comes the same day each week.
While the oven preheated I removed the groceries from the bag and placed them on the counter. Whole mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, a small container of bread crumbs, a whole red pepper, a package of peeled garlic cloves and of course, tomatoes, vine-ripened. I knew Linda didn’t have a garlic press so I had brought my own. I crushed four cloves of garlic on a cutting board before dicing the mushrooms. Then, I cut the top off the red pepper, scooped out its innards and rinsed it out with water from the faucet. I left the water running while I chopped up the red pepper first by cutting it into round slices and then mincing those. I saved the hardest part for last, hollowing out the tomatoes. I’d made this recipe twice at home in order to get it right on Thursday and the first time I’d tried scooping out a tomato the spoon slid through the skin on the bottom. Once you break the skin the tomato is useless for stuffing. I suppose an expert would know of some way to save the tomato for the meal, but I had no clue. Actually, I’m not even sure if it was useless. Maybe it could be used, but since I was new to the whole tomato scooping lifestyle I wasn’t sure. To me a tomato with a hole in the bottom is unsuitable for stuffing. Makes sense, right?
I sliced the tops off the tomatoes creating a flat portion about an inch and a half wide. Standing over the sink I slowly began to cut through the flesh about an eight of an inch from the skin around the circumference trying to separate the bulk from the sides. After going around once, I went around again three more times moving deeper and deeper till I hit bottom. With a very delicate maneuver I slid the spoon underneath the tomato’s innards disconnecting the last remaining flesh from the shell. I removed the spoon and shook the tomato upside down in the sink till the insides feel out. I rinsed the shell under the faucet and placed the hollowed out tomato on the counter, then did the second one. I shoved the remains into the drain and turned on the garbage disposal. With that taken care of I got out a frying pan, poured in a liberal amount of olive oil and turned on the gas range high. I don’t really like hanging out over a hot stove top so I prefer to sauté hot and quick. After a minute the oil was ready and I scrapped the garlic, mushrooms and pepper into the pan. Oil popped and fizzed as the food hit and I stirred quickly to prevent anything from burning. While I did this I sprinkled some basil, rosemary and cumin into the frying pan. The smell of the cooking vegetables and spices quickly filled the house and I grew a little hungry myself.
The buzzer on the oven beeped and I removed the pan from the range and turned it off. I sprinkled in some bread crumbs to add consistency to the vegetables. As I stirred the bread crumbs the vegetable turned from just an assortment of different things and became a thick homogenous mixture. In quick order, I filled the tomato shells half way with the mixture, added the mozzarella and ricotta and then topped off with what remained in the pan. I placed the tomatoes on the baking pan, put them in the hot oven and set the timer for twenty minutes.
Before cleaning up, I pulled out a pack of cigarettes and smoked one. I drank some water. My head was feeling a little light and I put the cigarette out after only smoking half of it. I started to clean up but the lightness in my head didn’t abate but seemed to grow stronger. I searched my pocket for my cell phone and texted a short message to a friend: 8PM.
While the tomatoes cooked I cleaned up the kitchen counter, put the reusable food back into the grocery and trash in the waste basket underneath the sink. After seeing the kitchen was spotless I set the small dining room table for two using the good china from Linda’s display hutch. By the time I finished the tomatoes were done. I turned off the oven and using an oven mitt I removed the baking sheet. The tomatoes smelled delicious. I walked them over to the table and placed one on each plate.
Before I left I placed the frying pan and the baking sheet in the dish washer. With one last glance at the table setting, I loudly cleared my throat and headed out the front door. My head swirled as I opened the front door. Just before I closed it I heard the bathroom door open inside the house.
The dizzy spells started about a year before. The dizzy spells would come in waves and after a few days I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. During those days it took all the strength and will power I could muster to just drink a glass of water and munch on a few saltines. After a day or two I would feel well enough to head back to work if they hadn’t hit on a weekend or go to the store or a movie if on the weekend. Once every two to three weeks these dizzy spells would cause my life to come to a complete halt. I never went to the doctor because I would feel alright after a few days, and if something was seriously wrong I honestly didn’t want to know about it. I just wanted my life to continue on its uninteresting thread mainly because I had no idea what to do with it.
I assume I had some sort of brain tumor and would just collapse someday and never get back up.
“You’re low on blood you idiot.”
“I’m what? Do I know you?”
“Sure ya do.”
The phone rang about four months previous and I was greeted with that statement about blood before I could even say hello.
“Low on blood? What do you mean,” I said to the unknown caller.
“What do you think it means? You have no blood in your system.”
“No blood in my system? Are you implying I’m a vampire?”
“No you idiot, you’re just low on blood. You need a transfusion.”
“I need a, who is this?”
Even as I asked I placed the voice as a friend of mine I hadn’t seen nor spoken too in over ten years. We’d been tight as friends and as far as I knew held no secrets from the other, but then one day he was gone and I hadn’t heard from him since.
“That’s right it’s me,” he said with what sounded like a smirk on his face.
“Where did you go?”
“That doesn’t matter. You’re low on blood. You need some. You can spend two days lying in bed trying to make up your own, but the dizzy spells are still getting worse each time correct.”
He said this more as a statement of fact than posed as a question. How he knew about the dizzy spells I still have no idea. He just knew.
“I just know. Do you want help or not?”
When I said yes, he told me to wait in my car after I left Linda’s the next time. Once again, he knew something I had told no one. I began to wonder if he knew Linda, but he anticipated my question.
“And I have no idea who this Linda chick is okay.”
“Then how do you…”
“How did I know about your dizzy spells? You haven’t seen her for a long time.”
Stumped and confused I had nothing to gain from arguing anymore and just said I would see him next Thursday at eight o’clock in my car.
It had been awhile since I’d sat in the car after cooking at Linda’s watching her house. The same thing always happened regardless of the weather: at quarter to eight a white Corolla would pull into Linda’s driveway and a young girl with unchanging blonde hair would get out of the car and head inside. An hour later she would emerge and get back into her car, back out and drive away. Several times I thought about meeting her at her car, but for some reason could never muster the courage. I did follow her once for five minutes, but felt embarrassed about it and headed home instead. I assume she ate the meal I prepared with Linda. Were she and Linda seeing one another? During our year long relationship I had never suspected Linda to be bisexual, and if they were seeing each other then why did she leave after one hour and why did she show up to eat after the food had long grown cold?
These things bothered me at first, but as time slipped by those questions seemed mundane and trivial. I made dinner at Linda’s and someone either came over to eat or came over for another reason. It made no difference to me and I stopped considering the possibilities.
The reunion with my friend was quick and to the point.
I tried to keep an eye out for him, but my dizziness was so pronounced that I doubted I would be able to drive home. I jumped when the passenger door opened and he climbed into the car.
“Hey, I didn’t see you…”
“Give me your hand,” he said.
My friend looked serious; in fact he looked exactly like I remembered him ten years previous, so without protest I automatically held out my right hand. He turned it palm side up and with a quick move he cut my palm with a razor blade. For a moment the dizziness vanished and I jerked my hand away.
“What the hell is the matter with you,” I yelled pressing my hand against my shirt.
“Look at your hand.”
“You cut me!”
I fumbled for the latch to open the door and escape the deranged psychotic that had once been my friend, but he grabbed me by the collar and switched on the interior light.
“Look at your hand,” he said speaking slow and calm.
Thinking I was a dead man, I froze.
With an impatient sigh, he grabbed my wounded hand and with a strength I did not know he possessed he held it up in front of my face.
“Where’s the blood?”
I peeled my terrified stare away from what I thought were his murderous eyes and looked at my hand. Sideways across the palm was a two inch slice that gapped open like a lipless mouth. I could see the soft white of the fatty tissue just inside the cut, but nothing else. There was no blood on my hand. My friend released me and I stared into the wound, hypnotized by what I was not seeing.
“Just like I told you. No blood.”
I didn’t reply and just kept staring at my hand. For some reason the lack of blood wasn’t as surprising as the absence of pain. I touched the wound with my fingers and even stretched it out so I could see deeper into it.
“Now stop that. You can still get an infection though.”
“Is this some sort of disease?”
“Kind of I guess, I never really think about it in that way,” he said as he removed a satchel hanging from his shoulder and opened it. He pulled a glass bottle, the kind I’d seen in hospital shows and some rubber tubing.
“Is that blood?”
“What’d you think I was going to fill you up with soda pop?”
“I don’t understand.”
“That’s not really a consideration right now. You just need to trust me. Do you?”
I didn’t know what to say, but I guess I did and I nodded.
“Ok. I remember you don’t like needles to put the seat back and look the other way. Ok.”
“What are you…”
I stopped speaking as he just stared at me.
By then, the dizziness returned with a vengeance and I slumped back in the seat.
“Just put the seat back and we can begin.”
I pulled the lever on the side of the driver’s seat and let the back down. Before I blacked out I heard the sound of the glass bottle clinking like how it must have sounded when the milkman used to deliver to people’s homes back in the fifties.
I woke up alone in the car about thirty minutes later. The only trace of my friend’s visit was the bandage wrapped around my hand and a small circular band aid on the inside of my forearm. The bandage on my hand had turned red from what was now a bleeding wound. I tried to flex my hand, but a sharp pain was all I received for my effort. Only then did I realize I felt no dizziness. My mind felt sharp and aware of everything around me and I felt this intense hunger as if I hadn’t eaten a thing in months.
Without a thought for my once again missing friend I started the car and went stopped at the first grocery store I could find. After I filled one cart, I grabbed and second one and pushed it in front me as I dragged the full one behind me. A clerk seeing me clunking and fumbling around with two carts approached me.
“Do you need some help?”
“Yes. Yes I could,” I said almost laughing.
The clerk took my full load up to the front by the check out lanes while I continued to fill the second cart. I mainly bought food, every kind of food I could think of, everything that is that needed to be prepared, no frozen pizza, no microwavable dinners; nothing of that sort. I also grabbed some additional pots and pans, and enough Tupperware to serve a battalion leftover. I even bought a cheese grater as to go along with the several blocks of fresh deli counter cheese that I substituted for the prepackaged fare I usually bought.
When the final price popped up on the register I wondered if I had enough money to cover it, but my debit card cleared and with the help of two clerks I managed to squeeze the last of my buys into the car and drove home, the rear view mirror blinded by the mountain of groceries.
Before I even finished unloading the car I had three large pots heating on the range. I cooked the night away while drinking from the various bottle of wine I threw in as an afterthought during my orgy of shopping. I cooked from the binder of recipes compiled over the last year set to a soundtrack provided by the local hard rock station.
I made in the following order:
1. Hand made wontons.
2. Cheese enchiladas in a Verde sauce.
3. Salisbury steak with chopped onions.
4. Chicken primavera in thick white sauce.
5. Portabella mushrooms stuffed with pork and five different cheeses.
6. A three layer chocolate cake.
I ate as a finished and stored the remainders in the fridge. I was putting the finishing touches on a spinach quiche while eating stuffed portabella and finished the third bottle of wine when the phone rang. I jumped out of my reverie at the disjointed unnatural sound and realized it was ten in the morning. Of course the call was from the office. Without even trying to feign illness or my slightly slurred excited speech I told my boss I was sick today and promptly hung up the phone.
I finished cooking around three that afternoon to find the kitchen a disaster area destroyed by a hurricane named after me. I put the last of the food away and sat out on the porch with the last glass of wine from the fourth bottle. I felt a little drunk, but not like the drunken feeling I got during my dizzy spells and despite all the food I had eaten I didn’t feel stuffed like after a holiday meal. I felt contented, relaxed, satisfied.
Things continued like this for the next year. Every month I would run out of blood and my friend would appear and fill me back up. We never engaged in small talk, and the last few times we didn’t speak at all. I never asked who’s or what’s blood he was pumping into me, I didn’t really care. I was like a junkie who didn’t ask what his dealer provided him anymore, but had trust that his dealer knew exactly what he needed.
I would pass out and he’d be gone and I’d go stir crazy at the grocery store, the leftovers from the month before either eaten or spoiled weeks before.
Then the night of the stuffed tomatoes there was nothing. I sat in the car, my head spinning, barely cognizant enough to notice the passing of time. Eight o’clock, eight-thirty, nine o’clock. My friend did not show. I tried texting him again, but I could not focus clearly enough on the number pad to hit the right numbers. I had never called him before, but this was an emergency. I thought I might die at any minute, but when I scrolled through my phone numbers I could not find his. After a time, I managed to locate my sent texts, but the one sent to him earlier was gone.
I had no recourse.
I climbed out of the car stumbled across the street to Linda’s. Only when I bumped into it and fell down did I realize the other woman’s car still parked in the driveway. I pulled myself up on the rear bumper and lurched across the yard to the front door. The door wasn’t closed all the way and when I hit it, it flew open and I sprawled into the foyer.
I lay for sometime before I tried getting to my feet. As I steadied myself against the wall I heard the sound of weeping coming from inside. I moved down the hallway, bracing myself against the wall and came into the living room.
I think I gasped out loud, because the woman sitting in the middle of the vacant living room looked up at me. Tears washed down from her puffy blood shot eyes and her well coifed hair was mangled as if she’d just stepped out of a wind tunnel.
“She’s gone,” the girl whimpered through her tears.
I barely heard her speak my mind reeling from the fact that a house once completely furnished was now without a stick of furniture. The only sign of anyone having lived in the house was the dirty hollow squares on the white walls where frames once hung. Ignoring the girl and her distress I stumbled throughout the house finding only the same thing: nothing. The bedroom was empty, the closets were empty, even the drawers in the bathroom were empty. The china, as well as the table I had laid it out on only an hour and half earlier, were gone.
I walked back into the living room to find the girl still there. She had stopped crying by now and was attempting to mat her hair back into place.
“What happened to her, to everything,” she asked between sniffles.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
She sniffled and looked around the empty room.
“I feel so sick and dizzy right now,” she said.
I started to say that I did too, when I noticed I didn’t feel dizzy anymore.