The Joy of Cooking

I stood alone in the center of my empty kitchen, staring idly beyond tattered floral drapes, single-pane glass, and drone of houses hugging the street. The sound of painted white floorboards clacking as I tapped my “Dorothy” ruby red heels was the only disturbance to cut through the thick humid air, inescapable during Atlanta’s oppressive summers. Standing there in a summery polka-dot dress with twin strands of pearls swinging down towards what I know to be perfect breasts, I felt like a parody of myself, an adult caricature of the little blonde girl who dressed dolls in white wedding gowns and always wanted to grow up to be a housewife. Seeing the white peach blossoms outside, I allowed myself to get lost in the afternoon sky, tinged with just the right amount of red. Closing my eyes, I felt the airy sensation of a daydream creep up gently from behind. Bob’s warm calloused hands slid along my waist in an impossibly seductive embrace. Moist lips traced a path from my shoulder to my neck, and came to rest—with a playful suck—on my creamy earlobe. They parted to whisper a deep guttural moan into my eager ear. All alone in my big white house, I let out a moan of pleasure. I was struck by the unfamiliarity of the sound I used to know so well. Imagining Bob behind me, I moaned again, letting the all-consuming noise envelope my dainty body until the misfire of a familiar red Studebaker announced the arrival of the real Bob and shattered the glimmering surface of my fantasy.

Snapped back into reality, I clacked to the kitchen, licked my thumb, and began to rifle through the worn pages of my favorite cookbook. Each recipe required only a glance: I had the book all but committed to memory. I paused at the meat section—salivating as I allowed pork-chop flavored desire to pass just in front of my trembling lips—before flipping to an exhausted section that advertised “100 Ways To Cook Potatoes!” The section failed to mention that no matter how potatoes are cooked, they always taste like potatoes.

The front door opened and allowed the gruff question, “What’s for dinner, Sandy?” to enter into the house. The door slammed shut behind Bob’s words, as if to punctuate the question and assure me of my husband’s foul mood.

“Potato pie,” I answered calmly, bracing for the indignation with which I knew Bob would take the news.

“Potatoes? Oh good! Potatoes! You know how much I love potatoes! Nothing better than good ol’ lumpy potatoes after a long hard day at work.” Bob stormed off to the bedroom, leaving me, alone again, to prepare his dinner. I knew better than to reply to my husband’s volatile sarcasm. I simply watched him leave, staring at the twin curves of his supple butt cheeks, shaped like perfectly marinated chicken cutlets.

Though the heat of the day had dissipated slightly, no evening breeze entered through the open windows. By the time dinner was ready, the sticky air was about the same consistency as my mushy potato pie. I glanced over at Bob, observing beads of sweat as they trickled down his strong forehead. We ate in silence until Bob’s twelfth gut-wrenching sigh of the night made the sinewy nerves that tether my temper to my good sense snap.

“Bob! Is that absolutely necessary?”

“Do you expect me to be happy with this meal?” Bob snorted at me.

“It’s all we have. We have to make do,” my no-nonsense tone startled me. Before the war I’m sure I had been a romantic. Bob didn’t respond. I bit my lip seductively and changed my tactics: “The war’s hard on all of us, Bob.” I advanced towards my husband and brushed the back of a painted red fingernail across his cheek. “We all just need to try and relax.”

Bob shrank away from my touch. “What are you doing?”

“How long has it been?” I watched Bob push his chair away from the table. I didn’t know whether to cry or tear my clothes off and beg. Stuck in between these two acts of desperation, I went on the attack.

“We haven’t made love since the day you got deferred from service.”

Bob started, “I told you not to mention–”

“Look, I know you’re upset. But having a bad ear is nothing to be ashamed of. It means you get to stay here with me… maybe make a baby?” I touched him again, more suggestively this time. I willed him to remember the love and passion we shared before the war. “What do you say?”

“Now you listen to me you… woman. There are certain things your kind can’t understand and how men think is one of those things.”

I sighed into my husband’s words. “Help me to understand, Bob.”

“You want to know? Really? Bob was standing now.” Patches of his collared shirt were becoming transparent with sweat. The shirt reminded me of the taboo fact that Bob worked in a factory where his coworkers were mostly women, and I felt myself immediately cut to the stomach with seething jealousy. I barely heard my husband’s next words. “Well for one men don’t look at sex the same way as women do.”

“Don’t they?”

“No. And there are only two things that get a man’s blood up: that’s fighting and meat. And this goddamn war has deprived me of both!”

That night Bob slept on the couch and I dreamt of the war. It was not unlike my sensual fantasies: I felt totally immersed in the bloodshed around me, but quite certain of the fact that I was immune to it, as if surrounded by a thin silk cocoon that picked up a pleasant, stimulating effervescence from the titillating energy of the war, bringing it to me in pleasurable waves. I woke with the paralyzed face of a slain soldier etched deep in my mind, and was struck by how manly he looked, even in death. Even in death not a boy, but a man capable of all things that men can do. Upon further reflection I realized that the slain soldier looked exactly like my husband.

Breakfast was oatmeal. I added a dash of cinnamon and snuck in a few precious raisins in a meager attempt to add some flavor but, from the look on Bob’s contemptuous face as he moved the lumpy paste in circles with his spoon while reading the morning paper, I had not been not successful. Despite his misgivings, I decided to remain pleased with my effort and wore a determined twinkle in my eye for the duration of the meal. The night had refreshed me, and I passive-aggressively hummed to myself as I washed up after the meal. Coaxing a not-nearly-long enough kiss on the cheek from Bob on his way out the door, I made a quick phone call, urging a charming old friend to join me for my afternoon tea. I then turned my attention to sprucing-up my already spotless home. All morning I worked furiously at the house, dusting, mopping, even beginning to prepare a side of mashed potatoes for dinner. At a quarter after one, the doorbell sounded. An unassuming houseguest waited on the front porch in the sweltering afternoon heat. I took my time answering the door, first stepping into the bathroom to check my perfectly powered visage. My white face glowed. My softly curled golden hair cast shadowed ringlets across my shoulders and cheekbones. My delicate skin and light hair complimented the flushed red paint that coated my voluptuous lips. If nothing else, I was beautiful, and if Bob was going through some sort of mid-life crisis that made him too insecure to sleep with me, then fine. But why should I suffer? I had always been a survivor, and I was going to do whatever it took to make my perfect marriage to the sexiest man (with the biggest piece of meat in Atlanta) endure this war. Even if that meant getting my hands dirty.

I sauntered to the front door and, giddy with anticipation, let my guest in with an alluring giggle and my sweetest southern-belle voice, “Why Father Carter, you certainly got here real quick! I haven’t even had time to straighten up.”

Father Carter was a mildly handsome man in his fifties whose strong hands and sun-worn face betrayed time spent tending to crops when he wasn’t performing his Catholic priestly duties. As far as I knew, Carter felt none of Bob’s confusing emotions regarding not participating in the war, and I assume he was grateful that his age provided him with a legal justification to avoid seeing combat. On the phone I told him I was inviting him to tea because I was thinking of converting to Catholicism; from the moment I opened the door, I could see how excited he was to convince me that I was making the right decision. He was a simple man, certainly nothing to spark wild daytime fantasies, but perfect for what I had in mind.

“Well hello there Sandy, you look… may I have a glass of water?”

“Certainly,” I flounced to the fridge, took out a crystal pitcher, and leaned over as I poured water into a glass, revealing even more of the cleavage that was already swelling over the top of my strapless red sundress.

“Thank you.” Carter glanced towards the heavens to avoid making eye contact with any part of me and breaking the tenth commandment.

I sensed that I was making Carter uncomfortable, so I moved in close to him and traced tiny circles on his knee with my middle finger. I had no time to waste, my husband would be home in a little over four hours, and I had no idea how long the process would take.

“So, Father Carter, I’m dying to know,” I opened my mouth slowly and seductively on the word dying, letting Carter get a good long look at the way my tongue lingered just behind my perfect white teeth during the “y” sound, letting him wonder at just what that tongue, and those lips, were capable of when given the chance, “just how are things at the parish?”

Just uttering these words filled my stomach with a fluttering sensation. I had always fancied myself a type of Scarlett O’Hara, and my excitement at the impending compromise of my good-girl “southern morals” was palpable. And why shouldn’t the possibility have excited me? In the north women wore impossibly short skirts and drank bootleg gin. I had felt the residue of these actions throughout my life as it had trickled down south. Not that I would ever want to be one of those floozies, what with their premarital pregnancies and short hair. I am and always have been better than that, but still there’s something about them that seems so… satisfied.

Carter struggled to put together a sentence,  “Well…things are um well…well. Things are going well.”

“That’s fascinating, you’re a fascinating man, Father Carter,” I inched my hand up the man of God’s thigh, “Simply fascinating.”

“I-i-is that so?” Carter stuttered.

I tried to smile like the devil: as sinfully and seductively as possible. “Yes,” I ran my tongue across my red lips in a way that I hoped portrayed a sexual hunger, “I think you are.”

I thought that I heard Carter whisper, “Forgive me,” as my hand reached further up his thigh and found its mark.

Before long the priest, who had entered my home with every intention of converting a good southern girl to Catholicism, found himself tied to a bed by an apparently sex-crazed woman in a red sundress who was promising to “make all your unrealized fantasies come true.”

“Yes, but is the blindfold absolutely necessary?”

“But of course. If you don’t see what I’m doing, it enhances the sensation.” I gave Carter one last glimpse of my swollen cleavage before I tied a red bandana across his eyes, plunging him in blackness.

Leaving my helpless victim in the dark, I tutted to herself twice before measuredly heading down the stairs to her kitchen.

After a few minutes I heard Carter’s voice: “Sandy, Sandy where are you? What’s going on?”

I didn’t bother to answer him; it was no longer necessary. I stood in the kitchen, letting delicious waves of pure fantasy wash over me: Bob in a soldier’s uniform, holding me at gunpoint and telling me to tear off my clothes. Bob kissing me as though trying to suck the life from me. Bob and myself at the kitchen table with meat fat smeared on our faces and bones on our plates. Before I even knew what had happened I found myself back in the bedroom with Carter, wearing a white apron with red bows and frills and heart-shaped patches for pockets.

“Sorry about that,” I giggled, “I had to use the bathroom. Truth is, I’m a little nervous.”

“Listen, Sandy, can you take off this blindfold? I mean I appreciate you trying to make my fantasies come true and everything but this seems a little excessive. You’re a beautiful woman and…”

I didn’t answer. I just let Carter knead the tense air of the guest bedroom with his anxious babbling. As my hand gripped the butcher’s knife, I felt my heart pounding audibly in my chest. I closed my eyes. Bob’s face swam before me and I spread my blood red lips into a wide smile.

Four hours later I heard the telltale misfire of my husband’s car in the driveway and felt myself grin in the way people with delicious secrets tend to grin.

I heard the front door open as it always did around 5:30, every weekday. I heard the all too familiar “What’s for dinner Sandy?” punctuated by the slam of the  front door.

I let only a small smirk of self-satisfaction play at the taut red corners of my lips as Bob entered the kitchen to find his wife in a stunning red sundress, holding a large meatloaf in her oven-mitted hands.

“What did… how did…” Bob was speechless. Seeing my husband revitalized set me emotionally ablaze. I resolved to tell him later that night how much I loved him: that I might not know what’s it’s like to be a man but that I would kill for him, if it ever came to that. The catharsis was so great that I wondered how I had ever survived in such a repressed state.

I watched my husband inhale the final bite of his dinner proclaiming, “I feel like twice the man I was before.” I let my satisfied smile spill out my ice blue eyes.

 

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Leah Barsanti is a Bachelor of Arts candidate at Washington University. Her work has previously appeared in Oddball Magazine, as well as on various theatrical stages in St. Louis. Recently her play — If I Were You and Other Elvis Presley Songs — premiered as part of the Washington University Performing Arts Department’s 2012/2013 season, receiving standing ovations and sell-out shows. Follow her professional twitter account at @LeahBarsanti to learn what’s new in the world of her writing.

Seth Sankary is also a Bachelor of Arts candidate at Washington University who recently took an Intro to Fiction Writing class. He is studying biology and will be headed to medical school in the fall of 2013. His upcoming publications include a medical essay in The Journal of Hand Surgery. He is also dating the coolest and most talented girl ever, who just so happens to be his co-author on this story.