Before I replaced my computer, I wrote this simple short story on a mobile device. It’s less than two pages and it is born from a very personal place. Just a little bit of fiction with an honest heart.
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The Egg Bowl by Carissa Starr
It felt like desperation and he supposed it was, the days old container of leftover take-out rice. Were he doing this properly, it should be freshly made rice…light, fluffy. The rectangular, compressed lump of cold rice thumped into his bowl. With a resigning sigh, he mashed it down with a fork, then shoved the bowl in the microwave.
Oh, she’d hate that. Making this together was their ritual and he was already ruining it. The light of her laughing face illuminated the grim darkness of his mind as he remembered the last time they made this together. It only took twenty minutes to cook the rice, but they would laugh and talk. Current events gave way to philosophy, or pop culture and gossip. Always she engaged him and they would make each other laugh. Oh, her laugh—
The microwave beeped. He took the bowl out and grabbed the sesame oil. “Not too much, just a drizzle for flavor,” he could hear her say nearly every Friday, as if he would have forgotten from the week before. He reached for the Sriracha- shit! He had used the last of it two days ago on that bland ass take-out! Panic surged up in his chest, his heart pounding. It had to have Sriracha!
Digging through cabinets and drawers he hunted for a substitute. His breath hitched as he found the packet jar. The receptacle for every condiment packet that came with their take-out food. He emptied it onto the counter and sifted through. Relief flooded him as he spied one lone Sriracha packet. He didn’t dare question how old it was.
Tearing off a corner of the packet, he meticulously squeezed out an approximation of a spiral onto the rice. She always did it so artistically. This wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t quite right. Nothing about this was quite right.
He went to fetch the pineapple chunks from the fridge. Rummaging around the take-out containers and the pizza box, he couldn’t find any. That’s fine. He’d just open a fresh can, no problem. He opened the cabinet and stared into the gaping hole of a nearly empty pantry. Shuffling what little was there aside, he discovered there was no can of pineapple.
Gripping the cabinet doors, he fought back the urge to scream. He needed this, damnit! It was a simple thing, a simple meal! He just needed to feel something that brought her closer to him. He just needed— pineapple. On the pizza.
Imperfect as everything else so far, plucking pineapple off his crusty old pizza wasn’t quite the bridge too far it should have been. He cupped the tiny chunks of fruit in his hand and rinsed the pizza sauce off under the tap, then pat them dry, lovingly, on a paper towel. As if adorning a gourmet plate, he carefully arranged the pineapple around the rice bowl.
Getting out the cast iron pan, he set it on the stove and started warming it up with a little oil. This was his part in their ritual. She always made the rice bowls and he was in charge of the eggs. At least he knew that, if nothing else was right, this part would be right.
Collecting two eggs from the fridge, he set them on the counter and then got the ‘right’ spatula from their utensil bin. There was only one that did the job properly. He lifted the pan and rolled the oil around to coat the bottom evenly, then set it down and tested the heat coming off. Yes, it was ready.
Holding the spatula aloft, he cracked the first egg against its sharp edge, then dropped the egg into the pan. The yolk tore, oozing out across the white.
“Nonononono….” He whined, miserable in his immediate failure. Drawing in a calming breath, he tried to reassure himself, “That’s ok. It’s fine. I have a second egg. It’ll be fine.”
As careful as could be, he cracked the second egg and delicately dropped the egg into the pan, relishing the sizzle it made as soon as it hit the oil. It, too, broke the yolk and sprawled a yellow pool across the pan.
Lacking the energy to throw the shell in the sink with anger, he merely stared in defeat, eyes welling with tears. His shoulders sagged and a knot formed in his throat. He just wanted this one thing. His shoulders trembled. His hands trembled. The egg shell fell to the kitchen floor. The whites and yellows of the eggs blended together as his eyes swam with tears. The sob came on with a suddenness that he was unprepared for. The spatula clattered onto the counter a moment before he gripped the edges of it for stability.
None of this was supposed to be happening. She was supposed to be here. She was never supposed to leave. Management made last minute changes and she was sent to that conference and now… Because of the storm they had shut down all travel around the area. It was too dangerous. He hadn’t heard from her for two days. She wasn’t even supposed to be at that stupid conference.
He didn’t dare let his mind cycle through every scenario that could explain why she hadn’t called, why she wasn’t answering her phone. The ideas that came to mind were always the worst ones. Why was his brain such a jerk? Why couldn’t it be hopeful and trying to comfort him? Stupid brain.
He started to smell smoke and realized that the edges of the eggs were starting to burn. Swiping the tears away from his face, he grabbed the spatula and scooped them out onto his bowl of rice and pineapples. Normally they would garnish it with green onions but, he didn’t have the will to continue trying. Turning off the stove, he moved the pan off the heat. And though he no longer had an appetite, he stuck a spoon in his bowl and carried it to the couch.
Sagging into her usual seat, as if it brought her closer to him somehow, he just held his cobbled together egg bowl. It wasn’t going to taste right. He didn’t want it to taste right, as if that would be a betrayal of their ritual. And yet, he wanted to have this thing that brought her closer. It was a paradox he couldn’t explain.
Afraid he was going to start crying again, he slid the bowl onto the coffee table and stared at his phone lying only inches away. His heart nearly stopped as his default ringtone, Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly”, started to play. Snatching up the phone, he looked at the number. He didn’t recognize it, but it was from Georgia. She had gone to Florida.
“Michael, it’s me. I’m so sorry I- my phone died and the storm took out the cell towers, and we were evacuated—”
“You’re okay?” He gasped with tears in his eyes.
“Yeah, hon, I’m fine. Tired but I’m fine. Listen, we have to keep the lines free, so I have to give this phone back to the nice woman who let me call you. I just didn’t want you to worry. I love you. I’ll be home as soon as I can.” She sounded so tired.
“I love you, Grace. I miss you so much.” He wasn’t sure if she heard him. She may have been rushed off the phone. But she was alive, that was all that mattered.
Tears of relief blurred his vision as his chest swelled with the enormity of a heart overwhelmed by emotion it couldn’t contain. Riding a wave of giddiness, he scooped up the egg bowl and sank back into the couch. Though the meal was mediocre, even when prepared perfectly it was the simplest of dishes, he relished it. The misbegotten egg bowl tasted better to him than anything he had eaten in days.