Spring 2006

 

 

 


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Comfort food
Matthew Spillum

Steve,
I am leaving you. I am going to Acapulco with the bisque.
— Helen

The bisque, well, that made sense. It had been great bisque. I was planning on having some for lunch. Creamy and soothing…I had used some of the fresh tomatoes out of the garden, along with the canned stuff for body. Damn you, bisque! I should have known each buttery spoonful was a come-on. But, Acapulco? She had hated Mexico when we vacationed there last year.

The refrigerator’s harsh white light revealed only the other leftovers, The brisket sat on my Ikea serving plate; it was good, if perhaps a bit dry. Helen hated dryness. “No trip to Acapulco for you, my friend,” I said, sliding the remainder onto my plate. I reached for another pot, my oldest one, all charred aluminum and half-broken handle. Peeling back the foil, I stared into the light yellowy remains of the garlic mashed potatoes. My blood came to a rolling boil. I recalled the previous night’s dinner conversation:

“Oh, honey, you’ve outdone yourself!”

“You like it? I tried using some of those heirloom tomatoes in it this time…I think it turned out well.”

“Yes, the bisque is good, but your potatoes; Steve these potatoes are a Shakespearean sonnet in the comfort food world! You could wrap yourself in them on a cold night with a bottle of wine and never need a therapist!”

We had both laughed for some time. The already boiling rage was frothing over my emotional saucepan as I thought of her clever ruse. Distracting me with the potatoes! With the bisque sitting right there, biding its time, knowing that the slight was unintended. I made to dash the potatoes against the wall, and stopped. That’s not me, I don’t rage out of control, I thought. I put the potatoes down and decided to make coffee.

I opened the top of my cheap drip coffee maker, stained and battered with use, and poured half a carafe of water in. I opened the coffee bag. Perhaps the day would not be a total loss. With coffee burbling away, I set out to warm some brisket and potatoes for breakfast. My feet kept finding sticky spots on the linoleum floor from last night’s cooking. I looked down at the dusty tiles, with their horrid pattern of light yellows, as though someone had geometrically arranged spilled cream corn on the floor. I reached over to flick on the TV.

Katie Couric yammered away incessantly about something. The de facto winner of Survivor: Today Show, you had to admire her determination. Oh, sure, Al Roker was still around, but at what cost? Gastric bypass had left him a shadow of his former self.

I sat down with my first cup and my plate at the table that my old roommate Scott and I had found one May driving on Ontario Street. Amazing what you can find when the college kids are leaving school.

Leaving was a constant in the neighborhoods near campus. It could still surprise you, though. Like when Scott had taken off last year, with a tray of my famous lasagna. Of course, I didn’t even get a note that time. He hadn’t even waited for dinner to start, just scuttled out the door with the tray while I was in the bathroom. He had left his nice flat-panel television, though. Time to make myself feel better by watching other people’s bad news.

Al Roker was doing his talk to the yokels routine on the screen. Who travels across the country, waits outside in New York at like five in the morning, just to talk to a weatherman? Sometimes, I despair.

I was just finishing the leftover brisket and starting on the potatoes when Katie came back on.

“Our next guest comes from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She’s on the run from her former life and has some things to tell us about, was it bisque? Please welcome Helen Anderson! Good morning, Helen.”

There she was, sitting down with a container of my bisque, on national television. She had obviously been spending some money on her new love…the bisque was in one of those really nice upscale versions of Tupperware. The kind I don’t have.

“Good morning Katie.”

“So, tell us a bit about yourself.”

“Yeah! Tell them!” I leaned in over the coffee table and poked my potato-covered fork at the screen. “Tell them how you left in the middle of the night and stole my left over bisque even after you knew what happened with Scott! Tell them about lying about going to Mexico! You know how much you hated Mexico!”

“Hello, Katie, and thanks for having me.” I watched through errant potato flecks as her left hand caressed the container, the way she would rub my shoulder when I was cooking. For us.

“Helen, please, tell us your story.”

“Well, first of all, Steve, I know you’re watching. I want you to know, it’s not you, it’s me. And the bisque. It was so perfect this time I couldn’t help myself. I found myself playfully stirring it during dinner, the candlelight twinkling in the shiny oil drops. And you know your bisque, it wanted this as much as I did.”

“Can we show the viewers the bisque?”

“Sure, Katie.” Helen opened the container. All of America could see the puff of steam as my bisque made its network debut. It was a natural. Damn, she really sprang for a container, one that keeps things hot, too.

“It just smells amazing!”

Al Roker sped in from his outside post. “What is that divine aroma?”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Helen closed the lid and brought the bisque closer to her.

It was too late, of course. The bisque had tasted fame and wanted more. I saw Helen talk about their plans to travel Europe and perhaps move nearer to her folks in Connecticut. I knew it was not to be, and the station went to commercials.

As the show returned, I could see that something was not quite right on the set. Roker hovered over the bisque like a bodyguard over his charge. Couric looked quite irritated, and Helen, well, she just kept looking from one to the other, fear on a slow simmer behind her green eyes.

“Well, we’re back, with Helen Anderson and her extraordinary bisque. Al, don’t you have some weather things to do? Somewhere over there?” Katie pointed off-screen.

“Not really, Katie, some places will be cloudy, others sunny. What say we open that container again, Helen? I think the folks back home want to see the bisque again.”

Helen looked to Katie for some sort of support, but her hope browned to a nice horror as Ms. Couric nodded eagerly. “I couldn’t agree more, Al. Hey,” she turned to what I could only assume was the producer, “can we get some spoons out here?”

Helen cradled the bisque in fear. “Um, there really isn’t enough to go around. I probably should be going.”

I was enjoying this in my warm happy place with my potatoes and my coffee when the phone rang. I looked at the caller i.d. and rolled my eyes.

“Steve?”

“Hello, Scott. What do you want?”

“Are you watching this?”

“Of course I am. What a whore for attention, huh?”

“Hey, look, don’t be so hard on Helen.”

“Who’s talking about Helen? Look at my bisque! The camera loves it, and doesn’t it just know it!”

“C’mon, Steve, take it easy. I just wanted to call to say…”

Just then, Al Roker made his move. “Scott, I’ve got to go. I forgive you, but I’m keeping the flat-screen.” I hung up in time to see the struggle. Helen fought bravely, but Roker was too big for her. As he triumphantly made to open the bisque’s container, Katie Couric leapt across the set. I had always suspected she was a vicious fighter, but America and I were treated to the full spectacle of her savagery.

As her knee repeatedly sought his groin, her manicured nails slashed like talons at the bisque’s container. Al finally doubled up in pain, and every male watching winced. The container’s lid tore free, and the set lights glinted in the fountain of flying bisque droplets.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Al Roker toppled like a felled tree to the side of Helen’s chair. Katie Couric’s face was a mask of inhuman rage, howling a visceral “NO!”

Helen, rooted to the chair, seemed frozen as the bisque rained down on her. The pinkish soup mingled with her tears as the station went, too late, to commercial again.

I turned off the television and tucked into my potatoes again. They embraced me like an Italian mother, holding me to their warm, garlicky bosom, promising to never let me go.

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