by Colleen Sutherland
Sometimes the best way to end a relationship is with a quick and nasty knife to the gut.
Kathy met Bertrand at a library book club. He was one of the few men at gathering and the only one who read the books and could discuss them. She thought most of the male readers were there to meet women. Bertrand was skinny and balding with an oversize nose but at her age Kathy had developed the knack of looking inside to see what she might find. Within a few weeks, she was meeting Bertrand for coffee after the library closed, their discussions going on until the coffee shop manager shoved them out the door. They disagreed on most of the books they read. He liked history, but nothing after the Civil War. She enjoyed novels, especially modern novels by good authors. They debated each book, tore into it as no one else in the book club did.
In time, they moved to a bar after the coffee shops closed to continue their arguments. One night, more than a little inebriated, Kathy did what she really hadn't planned on and woke to find him in her bed. Well, she thought, nothing for it but to make him breakfast and send him on his way. The book club was finished for the winter and she wouldn't see him again until the fall and then only if they both signed on.
Breakfast changed all that.
Besides the book club, Kathy's other nights out were spent at classes at the local technical college studying the culinary arts. Her long term plan was to become a chef but so far, all she got were offers at fast food places frying chicken. She continued to practice her skills at home, inventing new recipes, trying out spices, and testing everything herself. Perhaps a catering career was in her future. She didn't see herself in a corporate setting forever.
When she served Bertrand a blue cheese and bacon omelet for breakfast with hazelnut coffee, he was smitten and she finally had someone to test her recipes. He was now part of her life.
He was intelligent in a wordy kind of way but it dawned on her that he was Tea Party and she was a Fighting Bob LaFollette progressive. During elections he worked the phones at the GOP headquarters and she did the same for the Democrats. They didn't discuss politics when they were together. And the sex....there was always that.
He was spending more and more time at her apartment. His toothbrush was there and he was always prompt about showing up for dinners.
One night she was cooking baked chicken and pastina, Bertrand wandered into the kitchen. He sat on a stool with his mouth watering and chattered about the latest book club selection. He was half way through, she was just beginning.
“Here,” she said. “You can help.”
She gave him a knife and told him to chop up some onions. He was doing it all wrong so she showed him how. “Do it right and you won't tear up.”
He was intrigued. His mother never let the boys in his family cook. It looked like fun. “Teach me,” he said. And so their lessons began.
At first she made him the salad chef and taught him about greens. He did his best, but he really preferred iceberg lettuce to arugula. He sneaked in his own lettuce and added it to the salads. She didn't mind that much so left him alone.
She began to teach him how to do Italian dishes which were really easy once you had the knack. The problem was garlic. He didn't like pealing the cloves, smashing them and chopping them. “It's a lot of work for a couple of cloves,” he complained.
“Oh, but the results.” Kathe said, “and you might as well learn how, garlic shows up in lots of recipes.”
The next day they went shopping for groceries together for that night's meal. She was in the produce department when he found a jar and showed it to her. “Look,” he said. “You can get garlic already chopped up. Why bother with the other? This is less work.”
“You can get it, but you'll see the difference. Fresh is better.”
Bertrand never saw the difference so when she let him prepare his own dishes he used his jar of garlic and horrors, some dried onion he had picked up somewhere.
“That's awful,” she said.
“When we're married, you'll do most of the cooking,” he said, “but I can take care of things when you're gone or pregnant. The kids will have to eat something.”
Marriage? Pregnant? Kids? How many? She said nothing.
When it came to religion, he was a Catholic and she was an agnostic. She thought no wars were ever started in the name of agnosticism while at the same time she could hold out hope that there was indeed something after death.
She was pro-choice and he wasn't, though he thought birth control was a good thing in their case, at least until he was more established in his job and she could get pregnant. Not in her plans, she thought but kept mum about that. She could see the relationship was going nowhere but for the time being, the sex was good and she could cook for someone who appreciated her talent.
Kathy didn't think Bertrand would be around on Super Bowl Sunday. Usually he went off to a sports bar with his friends to cheer on his team. She planned a thorough kitchen cleaning for the weekend.
“How about my friends come here on Sunday?” he asked. “You've got a big screen and I've been bragging about your cooking. Maybe you can put on a spread? I'll give you the money for it. And I'll help with the cooking. Not much to it really. Brats and potato chips will do.”
“No, I'll do the cooking. You and your friends can enjoy yourselves.”
It was a great chance to try out new recipes and show off her skills. She thought of opening her own catering business. Maybe a football spread would sell. She settled on an international menu. Sweet and sour meatballs using peaches as a sweetener, Reuben fritters made with corned beef and two cheeses, shrimp egg rolls.
She woke up at sunrise with a sneeze followed by a cough. She took a nostrum right away but it left her in a daze. No matter. She chopped, she stirred, she broiled, she baked. Bertrand wandered through the kitchen, stirring and looking in pots.
In the end, there were fourteen of his buddies there. Instead of drinking the appropriate wines she placed on the sideboard, they brought a keg of beer and some Styrofoam glasses. They even had paper plates and napkins, but she set those aside and used her second best china and cloth serviettes.
During the pre-game show, she began with her hors d'oeuvres which she put on a tray and placed on the coffee table. The men ignored her as the game began. She noticed they were cheering the Vikings and booing the Patriots, whoever they were. When she checked back, her perfect hors d'oeurvres tray was virtually untouched, even the deviled eggs and the ham and Guyere pinwheels. The honey-mustard dipping sauce had been dipped into once, there were some drops on the side, but the rest remained.
Then it was halftime. The football fans went through her neatly displayed buffet line, grabbing, and shoving things in their mouth.
“Aarrgh,” one said and spit out an egg roll on a serviette.
“Dammit,” another one said, and dropped the baked brie in puffed pastry on the floor.
“What is this shit?” a chubby guy in sweats said gazing at the smoked salmon. “You said she was a good cook!”
That was when Kathy blew her nose, used an inhaler and tasted.
Garlic. There was garlic in everything.
“What the hell?”
“I helped out.” Bertrand waved his jars around. “I thought garlic was good in everything.”
Kathy began to cry. The men glared at her.
“Isn't that just like a woman.”
“Isn't there anything else we can eat?”
“Not worth crying about,” Bertrand said. “I am so sorry,” he said but not to her. “Back in a minute.” He rushed to the corner store and was soon back with bags of chips and dips.
But that was it for Kathy. As the men happily ate their junk food and swilled beer, she threw her buffet in the trash and washed up. By the fourth quarter, she was in the room, rooting for the Patriots.
When the men ogled the cheerleaders and made cracks about getting in their pants, she told them they were sexist pigs and to shut up about it in her house.
When there was a news break about the debt ceiling, she espoused her liberal views. “It all began with Reagan and that idiot Bush finished us off. It was those two wars.” She showed them a photo someone took of her at a peace rally.
She talked about her career. “By the time I'm forty, I intend to be president of my firm.”
“When will you find time for children?” Bertrand asked.
“There won't be any,” she said.
Bertrand and his friends left after the game. She looked in the bathroom. His toothbrush was gone.
So was his jar of garlic.