Happily, my balcony garden is growing well, especially that huge tomato plant! The trick here in Texas seems to be starting plenty early (mid-March) so the plants are well established before the overwhelming hot weather hits. I already have lots of little green cherry tomatoes. I enjoy reading out here!
I’m also pleased to report that my story “Shelf Life” now appears in the 7th edition of the U.P Reader (Modern History Press). In this twisted tale of revenge, a woman discovers some shocking news and proceeds to serve an unusual recipe to guests! I’ll have to wait a while to share that one with you. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy my story below, which was published last year and features a very different type of meal.
Dinner for Two
by Becky Ross Michael
Built at the advent of the twentieth century, the proud house on Tamarack Street keeps watch over the neighborhood. With a facelift of white paint and new porches, the home embraces the whispers, laughter, and tears of those who came before. Tulips and daffodils reappear like clockwork each spring, and perennial flower beds rebloom every summer. Each autumn, the maple leaves let go of life and flutter to the ground. And the inevitable snows blanket the dormant lawn and insulate the foundation every winter.
Within the walls, modern updates conceal remnants of faded papers in floral prints and musty wooden lath. Residues of past colognes and stale cooking aromas occasionally escape into the air to puzzle the present-day residents.
In the kitchen, snowflakes swirl beyond the windows as the man carefully constructs a multi-layered vegetable dish. No meat or dairy, as a nod to her favored eating trends. Together, they learned to cook by trying new recipes and ingredients in their remodeled kitchen.
A snowplow churns past the corner, throwing a wall of white.
He places the pan into the oven and sets a timer for one hour. Surely, she’ll come. It’s her birthday, after all. Taking a sip of white wine from his glass, he glances at the bottle of red set aside for the occasion. I hope she’s careful driving on these roads.
While cutting and chopping vegetables for a colorful salad, he thinks back to other birthdays. One year, he hired a string quartet to accompany their meal. For another, the two dressed in Victorian garb for the memorable occasion. The man chuckles aloud, thinking of a time early in their story. The beef Wellington had refused to bake beyond an overly rare pink. Maybe that led to her dislike of meat?
He checks the timer and savors the lovely smells filling the kitchen. Now to set the dining room table. He has purchased roses, not easy to find in the North during long winter months. I’ll wait to light the candles. While choosing some of their favorite music, the man rests on the sofa near the fireplace, enjoying the ghostly reflection of flames dancing on the surrounding tiles. With escalating winds outside, the old house creaks and sighs.
The sound of the timer startles him, and he moves back to the kitchen, switching the oven from bake to warm. As he reaches for the wineglass, the man notices the quickening beat of his heart and admits to feeling nervous after all these years. Things have been rocky between them, as of late, with more time spent apart than together. Hopefully, this evening will be a step in the right direction.
Seated at a small bistro table near the stove, he finally opens the saved bottle of red wine, noting her still-empty glass. The sky is now dark. Through the frosty window above the sink, he sees the revolving white lights of a snowplow as it cycles through the neighborhood. He peers at the clock and is at first surprised to admit she is late, worrying that dinner will turn dry.
The furnace clicks on, disrupting the stillness in the room and breathing a soft puff of air upon his neck. Suddenly, a new dread grabs hold of his mind. What if she’s hurt and needs me?
When he jumps to his feet, the man’s shoe catches on wrought iron. The chair topples on its side with a clatter and jars his senses. Only then does he remember that she is gone. There will be no more shared birthday dinners or plans for a renewed future. The rooms will remain silent and lonely. They had already said their final goodbyes without realizing the truth at the time. This life is the “empty after” he has always feared.
With tears of regret burning his eyes, he leaves the warmth behind and heads out for a cold winter’s walk. After the door is closed and latched, the house heaves a long moan of sorrow.