IMG_3415.JPG

Fiction

Stuck Like Magnets to the Fridge

Standing in front of the stove and staring into the pan it’s easy to let my mind wander. I remember the years it took me to learn to cook and how the hardest thing to get right was always the timing. How long should the vegetables be roasting before the fish should go in? How long can the soup stay hot after taking it off to free up another burner? It’s difficult to remember when these things stopped being such an issue. All I know is that after countless meals with burned garlic and hard potatoes, black pie crusts with soggy centres, it seems tonight the food has finally learned to waltz.

As I push my caramelizing onions around the pan I casually wonder why more people aren’t shocked about the hidden sweetness of onions. The red of the electric burner as it glows is beautiful, and as it moves from red to orange then to black, reaching the temperature I had asked of it, I am hypnotized. The asparagus sizzles satisfyingly in my favourite antique copper pan and I give it a quick nudge to make sure it doesn’t stick. The salmon is starting to smell good, which worries me since it isn’t supposed to be ready yet, so I kneel down and open the oven. Poking the fish skeptically, I find that under the layer of spicy mayo the pink meat is still quite translucent so I close the oven back up and switch off the onions.

I sigh contentedly and turn around to face the island in the centre of the kitchen. I run my hand lovingly over the smooth birchwood countertop. It was put in over five months ago as part of the kitchen renovation and I still haven’t gotten used to it — I hope I never do. As I wait for the asparagus I look at the sea-green walls. Patrick was crazy to think we should have gone with yellow. The colour is absolutely perfect, and I love the blue with the light birchwood. But as my eyes continue to scan the wall I wonder for the hundredth time what I should hang between the windows in the blank spot that is begging for a piece of art. I put so much work into designing this kitchen that not just any painting of a fruit bowl will do. This is a worry for another moment, however. I turn back to the asparagus and it seems about done to me so I turn the burner to “warm” and pull the cheeses out of the stainless steel fridge.

When the door closes three magnets tumble to the floor and before I do anything else I pick them up and admire each of them. They were each bought in a different city years ago when Patrick and I took our trip around the world. I smile to myself. We were so broke, pretty much living off of bread and cheese as we tried to get from city to city. Still, we wanted a memory from each place and, as gaudy as they were, the magnets were affordable. I smile to myself and place them back in their spots.

I take my time arranging the cheese and crackers on the platter then push the kitchen door open with my butt and carry them into the living room. Patrick is just finishing up vacuuming when I enter and when he clicks it off I can still hear the swish of the kitchen door as it slowly loses momentum.

“Dinner smells amazing,” he says.

“Thank you,” I say as I put the cheeses down on the coffee table.

He hugs me from behind and kisses my ear, but my childish giggle is interrupted by the ring of the doorbell.

“I’ll get it,” he offers, detaching himself from me.

I hear him open the door and then hear Alice and Nick greet him. They all show up in the living room and I hug the couple as Patrick puts their coats away.

“I see you brought a friend,” I say as I slide a bottle of deep red wine out of Alice’s hands.  

“We brought it back from Italy!” she explains excitedly. “We’ve already had two whole bottles to ourselves so we thought we’d share this one with you.”

“Thank you so much,” I say. “I can’t wait to hear more about your trip.”

Alice and Nick exchange gushing glances and, as always, I regret my attempt at being polite and seeming interested.

“Should I open it now or wait for dinner?”

“Well we have so many stories to tell…” says Alice.

“Now it is!” I interrupt, grabbing the opener from the coffee table and struggling a bit to unscrew the cork.

I begin to pour and they all find spots on the couch. Alice clears her throat and Patrick eyes his glass, indicating that he’ll be needing more. I stifle a chuckle and Alice begins.

“Of course, Italy was so beautiful. I think Tuscany was my favourite but Venice was lovely too, of course.”

“Of course,” I say. I start to sit but I realize I’m still wearing my apron so I dip back into the kitchen.

I take my time in the kitchen, unconcerned about missing the beginning of the story. I hang the apron carefully on the wall and smile at how nicely its blue colour contrasts the yellow wall. I had struggled when choosing between the mustard and the daffodil, but it’s clear to me now that the daffodil was absolutely the right choice.

When I push through the kitchen door back into the living room, Nick is doing an impression of a gondolier and I give silent thanks for the full glass of wine waiting for me on the coffee table. I take a sizeable swig as he finishes up his impression. Alice is giggling manically and Patrick’s face tells me it’ll be my job to come up with a suitable response.

“Wow…” is all I manage to come up with, but before my insincerity has time to show itself the doorbell rings.

“I’ll get it!” I all but shriek as I jump from my seat.

I open the door to greet Paige and Hope and before I can even say “hello” Paige flings her arms around me.

“I’m sorry we’re late!” she says. “Weird day; I’ll tell you all about it in a minute. What did we miss?”

“Well, Nick sang in Italian.”

“Fascinating.”

I give Hope a hug and we both follow Paige, who has already made a beeline to the living room. As they all sit I realize we’re short on glasses so I retreat to the kitchen to grab a couple. I pull them out of the cupboard and put them on the counter, then check the fish again. I close the oven and spin backwards, excited about how good the salmon looks, and in the process knock over a glass which shatters on the granite countertop.

“Fuck!”

I grab a rag and begin to wipe the glass into the trash can, but suddenly I stop and place my fingertips gently onto the granite. There is something strange about it. I squint to see if the glass has scratched it, but of course it hasn’t. I stare at how my hand looks against the surface and an uneasy feeling fills my stomach.

“Everything okay?” Patrick calls from the living room.

“Yes…” I yell back, unsure.

As I move to pull another glass out of the cabinet the painting between the windows catches my attention and I stop for a moment to look at it. It’s beautiful; I can’t deny it. Still, there’s something about it that bothers me. Something about the bananas… or the apples… no, maybe it’s the oranges. I decide the fruit in general is distasteful and I’m irritated at myself for being convinced to buy it.

“I’m ten seconds away from drinking straight from the bottle!” Paige yells to me from the living room.

I chuckle and forget the painting. With the wine glasses in my hands I try to back through the door, but it sticks and I hit my head hard on the wood. I’m embarrassed and glad nobody was there to see, but I’m also confused. The door always opens so easily. I push again and it opens slowly, as if it’s hesitant about letting me exit.

“So why was your day weird?” I ask Paige as she pours herself a glass.

Her eyebrows raise and before answering me she takes a sip, keeping her eyes glued on me as if to hold my attention.

“My sister came over this morning,” she says once she has swallowed. “She told me the strangest story.”

Everyone’s attention has turned to her at this point and I can tell she’s loving it.

“She was a mess!” Paige continues. “I swear I’ve never seen her like that before.”

“What happened?” Alice asks, wide-eyed.

“Well she has this roommate, right? They’ve been best friends for ages. I even think there might be something more there… but anyway my sister wakes up one morning and this friend has no idea who she is! It took them like a week to figure out what was going on because this girl was trying to hide it. I don’t blame her I would too. But anyway she was acting so strange so my sister started testing her. She would tell stories about them that never happened and then the girl would just go along with it as if she remembered this fake event perfectly. And then my sister would talk about things that had happened this girl wouldn’t be able to give any of the details about what happened.”

“That’s so weird,” Patrick says.

I shudder. “God, that’s terrifying,” I say to Paige. “Can you imagine if I just woke up one morning and couldn’t remember you?”

“Don’t worry, sweet pea,” she says patting me on the knee. “We all have our shit way too together for that.”

We all chuckle and then fall silent. I can tell from their faces and the knot that has tied itself up in my stomach that we’re all wondering if that’s true.

“I’m sure the fish is ready by now,” I say finally. “How ‘bout we eat?”

I disappear into the kitchen and let the others find their places at the dining room table.

The fish is done, but the asparagus seems to have gone a little cold. I wish so badly that I could have an electric stove, even though I know my gas one is just fine. It feels as I light the burner to give the asparagus an extra minute, that I should have one. I feel somehow entitled to one. It can’t be helped, however and while I wait I scoop the caramelized onions out of the pan and onto the top of the salmon.

“Yum,” Patrick says entering the kitchen. “Can I help you with anything?”

“Yeah you can bring the salmon and the potato salad out to the dining room. The potatoes are in the fridge.”

Patrick has to pull hard on the door of the refrigerator because it’s sticking, as usual.

“We really should think about getting a new fridge,” he says and sighs. “This one is driving me crazy.”

“Yeah and the colour looks like it’s straight out of the ‘70s,” I agree. “A stainless steel one would look so nice against the grey walls.”

He kisses my cheek and leaves with the potatoes and fish. I turn back to the asparagus and push it around in the old, black pan. I need new everything. I click off the gas and move the asparagus into a serving dish. Then, grabbing the green salad I follow Patrick to the dining room.

“Everything looks amazing,” Alice says. “How do you do it?”

“It all comes from a box.”

Alice laughs nervously, unsure whether I’m joking or not, and I roll my eyes to indicate that I am, obviously.

“Everyone serve yourselves,” I say as I sit.

“So as I was saying,” Paige says as she scoops potatoes onto her plate. “They’ve been trying to figure out what is wrong with her, like if there has been some trauma that made her forget or something. It’s really affected their other roommate Lydia. She barely ever even looks at Camille any more.”

“Is she getting medical attention?” Hope asks, mouth half full.

“Of course,” Paige says. “They’re doing everything they can to help her remember, but the more they talk to her about the past the more she seems to forget. The weirdest thing is that it’s only Diana she doesn’t remember. Everyone else she remembers fine.”

“It’s weird that it’s so isolated,” I say. “But maybe she needs one part of her life to fall apart in order to really grasp the rest of her life, you know?”

I feel strange about what I’m saying but I continue.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s good to be forced to reflect on reality every once in awhile.”

“Okay, I’ll go ahead and work on triggering a paralyzing existential crisis for you and then we can talk,” Paige says then laughs, obviously entertained by the idea.

As the salmon disappears the conversation moves to the more mundane. Alice talks more about Italy, Patrick tells a joke about shellfish, and the night climaxes when Paige and Hope announce that they’ve decided to get a dog. I beg them to let me go with them to the SPCA but they politely make it clear that it’s a family affair. When the food is gone and everyone reassures me that there was plenty and they’re all stuffed, Patrick starts to clear the plates and I go to the kitchen to grab dessert.

Holding the salad bowl, I push through the kitchen door backwards then freeze once I turn around. The kitchen, my kitchen, is white. The floors are white, the counter is white tile, the refrigerator, the walls, and the cupboards are all white. A chill runs through my body and I almost drop the bowl. Instead, I place it on the countertop and gingerly slide my fingertips over its surface. I can barely feel the tile as if it isn’t even there. I move slowly to the back wall and press my palm into the space between the windows and stare at the contrast between the back of my hand and the white paint. I lower my hand but my eyes stay stuck on the wall. Somewhere in the back of my mind I find the whisper of a memory of picking out this paint. Patrick and I had argued about it; my taste had always been more colourful. But just as the memory begins to solidify, another one of us picking out a daffodil yellow seeps into my brain and then another of grey and then another of a sea-green. I shut my eyes tight and then open them again. The wall in front of me is white, so that must be the true memory. The others must be dreams, or wishes, or lies.  

Taking a breath, I retrieve the salad bowl from the countertop and place  it into the porcelain sink. I turn towards the fridge and notice that all the magnets have fallen off. I stoop down but there is nothing on the floor.

“What are you looking for?” Patrick says laughing as he arrives with the dirty plates.

“Where are all the magnets?”

“What are you talking about?” he scoffs. “We hate magnets.”

I feel my lips tighten and eyes harden as I continue to stare at the floor in front of the refrigerator. I try my best to breathe as he runs the tap and leaves the plates in the sink to soak. When he turns off the water I force myself to stand up and open the fridge.

“Will you bring spoons?” I ask.

“Sure.”

I pull the bowl of vanilla pudding out of the fridge then back my way out of the room, pushing through the kitchen door.

 

Alejandra Melian-Morse