She would consume them nightly, cooking magazines—Food & Wine, BON APPETIT, Cooking and Food, Gourmet, Cook’s Illustrated—while standing in our kitchen. She would stand on top of everything: chairs, countertops, voices, ceilings. She especially enjoyed reading her magazines aloud, turning the glossy pages and reading the recipes in a frantic voice. Sometimes her voice carried like an opera singer’s and sometimes it clamored with attention deficit disorder. She sounded like leftovers, when things are pushed through too fast and what remains makes a sound something just audible enough to be inaudible—but she was there. She was all high-pitched and hard to tell.
She read her reviews and her recipes out from under her wig of childlike hair, red and terribly cut. All of her, bony elbows and satin skin, beneath those thin red wisps that framed not her face, but the teenage figure of a boy. Somehow, she almost made skin that looked to bruise easy seem sexual. Almost. She was terrible. She was what is left after and changed. Rotting. And the what is left, the what was before and the what is now, were hidden compactly, concentratedly, completely in alien moons. In dark-star eyes. And when she smiled at all, if she ever smiled, each part was small, especially the many parts of her behind it that I never knew. Miss White.
Miss White was briefly my chef, always my annoyance and once my roommate’s girlfriend. I think he knew—everyone knew, but I didn’t know who everyone was—and they said she was a lot of people’s girlfriend. He didn’t know. I could tell, but I couldn’t tell him, or I guess I tried to tell him, but he didn’t listen. He was too infatuated with all of her off-beats, her many sounds, too taken aback by her skinny knees and the sex that oozed out and up and over and that somehow, for him at least, covered every room. She was abused. She was clear—she had been abused. It was the only part that showed. He told me she was raped and I told him: Uh oh. And she was and she did, as the abused can, turn into an abuser. I never quite knew.
He held onto every part of her. She broke him. He told me he used to play Beatles’ records with the hope that he would hear her sing, that he never lifted the needle anymore. That was after he read her diary. She fucked other guys. She documented it. Many tallies. She never lifted his needle anymore. And though this was sad and that was sad, nothing was more abusive, more terrible, than what she did in our kitchen. Because, oh yes, Miss White fancied herself a chef.
She would leave food and utensils all about—scallions on the cutting board next to the honey beside the peeler, three knives of varying sizes covered in garlic near the stove top, flour in a trail leading to a large silver bowl—just to be the space between the stove and the kitchenette, just to be all of herself in one place. She ignored her boyfriend. She ignored the whole world outside save for the silent black of space in our kitchen. She consumed and covered that one planet. Boyfriend. The kitchen. Eclipse. He would stare at her. He would wait. It was silent but for Chop.Chop.Chop. and, as they say, in space no one can hear your scream. She would do ugly things in those spaces. She would hurt him for his cast-iron pots and pans. She loved the granite and stainless steel. She would suck the air out. He couldn’t scream.
Her creations were hot and cold and exotic and alien. Like her, they were half cooked and oh, what might have been. One night there were pork pot stickers that filled the air with waves of cilantro and squishy, wet meat. It made my stomach hurt. There was garlic-honey soy sauce covering a plate of peeled avocadoes next to a tomato and spinach salad that was doused in black pepper and balsamic vinegar. She was there. In the kitchen. Steaming hot boyfriend. Every night.
Before the kitchen and the table and the countertops, before the ruins of veggies and fruits and foreign meats, and before the wrappers and plastic and garbage and spoils and during the cheating and the yelling and, for lack of better word cooking, she was terrible. She was terrible at the front door, that’s where it would start. She was terrible before my roommate even opened the front door. She would Hurry!Hurry!Hurry! my roommate who would grab his coat in a whirlwind and spin to the buzzer and listen. She would scream for him, his name with too many Fs through the intercom from the steps, through the door, and he was happy/scared/guilty just to see/hear her.
Miss White would show up and yell, and then Miss White and my roommate would go out for provisions. For the show. For her masterpiece. Every night was her special program: What Happens in the Kitchen! She abused him in many ways, yelled and withheld all the fucking and told him you’re the only one, sure, but it was worse around dinnertime. Then she wouldn’t talk. She would scream his name from outside, just off the street, and then it was all what she did and what she didn’t. She was good with a knife. Exact.
She would wait at the steps and walk with short-strides, half steps, boyfriend following behind, to the nearest specialized grocery on the corner after the corner, after that one next to the corner we lived on. She would walk quickly, filled with loathing, talking in tongues about everything. And nothing. I thought for a while it was the hurry that my roommate wanted. That she gave him something to follow. I imagine the only thing better for him than walking behind the oddity of her complaints and criticisms and her raves and reviews was when she walked quietly, letting him ask her what’s wrong. I imagine he loved that. I imagine she somehow made him love that.
He told me she would let him follow her up and down that store aisles as she picked a product off a shelf. That she turned each and every thing over at different angles, checking for bruises. That the small Tack.Tack.Tack. of her heels was his favorite sound. That she would allow him to buy everything, even though she didn’t like to. I think it made him glad. I think it made her feel special. Both in a very similar way. It was like watching a cycle within a cycle: abuser to abuser/hate to hate, and somehow it all equaled or maybe canceled out. Life. Two miserable people come together. Briefly.
One night she spent hours making matzo-ball soup, the whole while ranting about cheeseburgers and how badly she wanted one. That night her boyfriend didn’t wander circles around the table; he sat in the corner, arms folded over knees, looking long. I never understood. Never, Miss White. Never. But I got close one night! I closed in on their mystery when she stayed late one night after the baking and stabbing and tenderizing and overcooking. One night they watched a vampire movie and I thought that makes sense. I think it was the closest they could get. They were sucking each other’s blood.
I have tried to forget the two. I have moved and moved out. I moved out two years ago, but I still can’t shake her. Her. I still remember. I remember exactly how she looked, exactly how she sounded. I remember when she pulled a bloody rack of lamb from the oven and danced. I remember how she screamed: I’m a chef! Chef!Chef!Chef!
Photo credit: Mark Coggins / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped by Burrow Press)