I: Peas and Pasta
He was complaining about my cooking again. That night’s dish: uncooked pasta covered in peas and feta cheese. Crunchy, I thought. Good use of food groups. I served it all in the brick-red earthenware he’d bought me the summer before, watched as he spooned some up. Four peas and a rigatoni fell, miserably, back into the bowl. He chewed. He swallowed. He said, My mother thinks I can do better. I nearly threw the bowl at him.
II: Grass Julep
We met two years ago outside a gas station bathroom. He was next in line for the key, and I handed it to him as if it were a relay baton, so he asked me to lunch. We went to a dumpy soup place whose motto was Let’s Get Souper! Together, we gagged on a shared bowl of clam chowder, and I moved into his place four months later.
Now we sat on his veranda, legs out, SPF on, sipping my hand-shaken grass juleps. Same idea as a mint julep, but a little different.
Did you buy more potatoes? I asked.
He wouldn’t look at me. Clutched his highball glass as if it were a baseball bat. Condensation wet his fingertips, and he smeared it onto the tabletop between us.
Drink your julep, I said. He hadn’t even taken a sip. I knew he would not. I just wanted to see what he’d say.
This is not a beverage, he said.
Can you drink it? I asked. He stared at his thumbs. Then it’s a beverage.
To his cup, he cussed. Fuck, he might’ve said. Fuck you. Fuck this. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I couldn’t tell. He always mumbled.
What did you say? I asked.
He stared at his cup. The grass tanned the bourbon. I’d probably put in too much, but the garnish was always the best part. He tossed his drink into the bushes.
III: Four Almonds
I knew we wouldn’t last. A month into living with him, I learned he was a picky eater. That was basically my only turn-off. No man who made a meal out of SpaghettiOs and scrunched his nose at the sight of a spice rack was long-term material. I’d thought the chowder at the soup place was a one-off. His disgust was earned — we were mutually disgusted. Fair. Very normal. Then one afternoon, I bought him a turkey club from the supermarket and learned he could not stand the texture of any bread but cinnamon buns. I told him cinnamon buns were barely bread, and he said, They have yeast, yes? and when I said, Usually, he said, Then they count as bread.
He could not stand a lot of things, actually. The way Coca-Cola smelled, the shocking neon of smoked salmon, the coldness of ice. He could not eat while standing up, insisted the food would go straight to his ankles, which meant he once sat in the middle of the sidewalk to eat four almonds from a bag of trail-mix. You’re going to be run over, I said, hunting the street for some hopeful cyclist to knock him out of the way. I am making a presence, he said, and I walked home alone.
IV: Ramen Alfredo
Should we get married? I’d asked one evening, us threaded on the couch. His leg was my leg. My arm was his arm. We might have been drunk. It was definitely July; humidity smogged my skin which was also his skin. He pinched ramen alfredo between his fingers, our fingers, and smushed it against his teeth, our teeth, mouth open. Shut your mouth, I added, and he opened even wider.
V: Raspberry Zoodles
We visited his mother for Thanksgiving. She’d asked all guests to bring a dish, so I walked up the driveway with a 16-quart pot of raspberry zoodles. It was a very simple recipe: zucchini spiralized into strands, then topped with raspberries. Easy. Fresh. Delicious. He stopped me before I knocked on the door, put a hand on the pot lid.
Your cooking is not good, he said, gripped the lid’s handle. Your cooking is not good, he repeated. You know that, right? he said. Right?
In the kitchen, his mother half-hugged me and handed me a china serving dish. She smelled like her son always did, like a sad Christmas tree — a little pine, a little contact solution.
Why don’t you put out a little? she said, pointing everywhere but at my pot of zoodles. She was flushed.
Later, I overheard her tell him she was worried about the kind of woman he’d involved himself with.
VI: Granola Cheese
We stayed at his place for the holidays. He knew I was upset after Thanksgiving but didn’t ask why, even though he knew exactly why. Who am I? I’d asked him on the drive down from his mother’s place. I knew what his mother would say — that strange girl — and maybe the other guests would say that, too, but I wanted to know from him. My mistake was not adding, “to you” to my question, so he simply told me my name and then we didn’t speak for the rest of the drive.
Since it’d just be the two of us celebrating, I melted a block of mozzarella and sprinkled it with granola, then tossed it back into the fridge. He stood there the entire time, leaning against the counter, staring. So, I also stood there, leaning against the counter, staring.
Should we break up? he asked. His throat sounded dry. Not his voice. Just his throat. I knew because we were so quiet, and I could almost hear it crying.
VII: Clam Chowder
We drove to the shitty soup place on New Year’s Day. In the car, we shared a rope of red licorice, only took tiny bites, maybe because we hated licorice, maybe because we wanted the other to have enough, which was probably not a good thing because we probably hated licorice.
It was snowing. Fat flakes jotted the parking lot, which was empty except for us.
He entered the restaurant before I did. I watched him duck under the doorframe and then under the large silver bell hanging from it like iron mistletoe. And for a moment, I thought it was strange how we’d been dating for two years, and I didn’t even realize he likely did that, the ducking, before entering every single door because he was likely tall. I hadn’t noticed or couldn’t remember a time when I had.
Before I left the car, I sat in the passenger’s seat for a second, stared at the crisp imprints his boots made in the snow. I understood he’d walked there a moment before, and that, a moment later, any evidence of him would disappear.
My hand was sticky. I looked at it. I’d been clutching the nub of extra licorice, hadn’t even realized he’d given the last bite to me. I looked from his shoeprints, already half-gone, to the bit of candy. I stuffed it into the glove compartment where it would probably remain, forever.
He’d ordered by the time I got in. I didn’t have to ask to know what. Five minutes later, the waiter brought out a bowl of gloppy clam chowder and two spoons. Eat well, he said, then left us.
At first, we just stared at the bowl of chowder. It was flat white, like the unmarred banks of snow in the parking lot. Then, like a switch flipped, we picked up our spoons and shoved soup into our mouths.
It was bad. It was so bad. I said that all out loud. I said, This is so bad. I said, This is so terrible. I said, I could do so much better, almost laugh-crying. My chest ached. The soup was like eating fishy gasoline or gasoline fish. I kept eating it. Thank God he started talking because I could barely breathe. He said, Now you know, over and over again. Now you know. Now you know. Now you know, now you know, now you know. I ate. He ate. We kept eye contact. I cried. He cried. I lifted one half of the bowl up to my mouth. He lifted one half of the bowl up to his mouth. He licked. I licked. He licked. I licked. We licked it all clean.
Rachel Lachmansingh is a Guyanese-Canadian writer from Toronto. Her writing has been considered for various awards and is published or forthcoming in Minola Review, Grain Magazine, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Fiddlehead, CV2 and Augur Magazine, among others. She is currently pursuing her BA in creative writing. Twitter: @rachellwrites