Melanie Wilcox

Dinnertime

“I’m hungry.”

“…it’s hurting their morale…”

The pans are iron, blackened by the weight of seventy-five years of breakfasts and dinners, meals prepared by more than one woman’s hands while children and husbands hovered nearby.

“Can I play outside?”

“…and it’s just one more thing I have to handle…”

A spoonful of soft margarine plops onto hot iron, sliding towards the edge of the pan. Bubbles form in the ghee, bursting in tiny explosions as the heat intensifies.

“Mom, can I go outside?” The child’s eyes reveal doubt that the plea was heard. A nod of assent and the screen door slams shut behind him. Time is always urgent to the young, who have experienced so little of it.

She thinks of the moths fluttering around the porch light each night, lulled by warmth and light, until they settle against the wall, introspective and endangered.

“…Can you believe she said that? I mean, I’ve spent five years working on this project…”

Cold bloody meat falls heavily into the melted margarine, splashing grease onto the white enamel stovetop. She reaches across the pan carefully, finds the correct bottle of seasoning, and pours a small amount into her palm.

“…when I said I could…”

She rubs the spice with her thumb, grinding it into a fine powder before sprinkling it over the flesh in the pan.

At the sink she runs water, too hot to touch, over the steel spatula. Washing the implements several times as she prepares the family meal, she tries to forget the microscopic things that fester in living tissue, especially once it dies, things that creep unknown into the stomachs and bowels and cause illness. Or worse.

“…so there’s a meeting tomorrow afternoon to discuss how to handle the problem…”

Now she slices onions and peppers into thin strips, a whole cup of sweetness that she spreads over the meat as it grumbles in the pan, bleeding taupe puddles from its sides.

As the aroma of onions drifts into the room, she pours dusty white rice into a clear glass bowl, takes it to the steel sink, and runs water enough to drown the naked grains.

“…Is my jacket back from the cleaner?”

The bowl chinks hard against the revolving glass plate in the microwave. Did it break? Fingers trace the circle of the rim, probe gently around the bottom. No. It’s safe.

“I’m hungry. Is it ready yet?”

The child’s face has returned to the screen door, remembering what had been on his mind before the irresistible urge to flee had struck him.

She ignores the flightiness, ignores his question for the moment.

“…it’s not in the closet. Are you sure…”

Three plates, three glasses, three forks, three knives. No spoons. Napkins. Steak sauce, salad dressing. Is there salt in the shaker?

Each item crossed off the mental list, she removes the rice from the microwave and stirs it. Yes, it has been adequately cooked. The salads, prepared first and chilled, are taken from refrigerator to table.

“…and my blue-striped shirt has a stain…”

Meat, darkened and made safe by the heat, is cut into three portions in the pan. She slips pieces gently onto each plate, allotting onions and peppers to each. The long butcher knife, its steel blade daubed in grease and bits of meat, is left in the pan on the stove.

Rice is scooped onto the plates before she places them on the table. Then her son and husband sit at the table and begin to eat. Before she sits, the pan, bowl, knife, and spatula are cleaned.

“…and I’ll be back at eight fifteen. Can you meet me at the airport?…”

They do not say grace. There are enough blessings in this house, she thinks. Enough to last a lifetime.


Melanie Arrowood Wilcox writes about spirituality, nature, and people. She is a native North Carolinian.

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