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Lorraine's Recipe-Fiction by Alison Kaiser
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

87_ym_lorrainesrecipe_kjhgreenberg.jpg
Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg 2021

Lorraine's Recipe

By: Alison Kaiser

 

Shirley pushed her cart up and down the meat aisle. She picked up and put back several slabs of beef from the refrigerated case. Frank had given her sixty dollars. It was the same amount he always gave her. Her list was the same as it always was, and every night they'd eat the same things. She wanted to tell Lorraine she'd lost her recipe, or that it had completely slipped her mind, but for Shirley, no matter could ever be dealt with so simply. She was a married woman, after all.

Her lips moved as she tallied the prices of the items in her cart, but she kept losing count. Maybe she was dumb at math, like Frank always said. She tried placing her hand on each item and rounding the numbers. It worked well enough until she got to the pound cake. Her pulse quickened as she imagined abandoning Frank's loaf on an end-cap display of paper towel rolls. Again, Shirley began her tally, this time, starting with the pound cake. That meddling Lorraine! Shirley sighed. She knew, really, it was her own fault. She shouldn't be talking family business to anyone, even if it was only about cake. Frank always said her big mouth would get her into trouble.

  She grabbed the same size roast she always did, turned her cart down the next aisle and headed for the register. She should have paid more attention to where she was going. The next aisle happened to be the baking aisle, and passing by the flour, sugar and baking powder only made things much more difficult. It made her think, again, about the butter. She pushed her cart back to the meat case. I'll just get a smaller roast, she thought, and she unfolded the recipe. She ran her finger along the ingredient list. The real problem was that butter. A whole pound! She pictured Frank slamming his fork on the table and pushing her face into his meager second portion of beef, or maybe he'd just give her a good slap for ‘socking the change,’ like the last time the milk prices went up.  She examined the roasts again. She hated making any kind of decision. She always seemed to make the wrong one.

Shirley didn't realize that her hands were trembling until she saw the recipe drift to the floor. I must have dropped it at the grocery store, she thought. It was perfect and it wouldn't be a lie. She couldn’t lie. Lying to Frank made her too nervous and lying to anyone else would be a concession she was not yet willing to make. She kept telling herself that if she didn’t have to lie to anyone, then things at home really couldn’t be that bad. She glanced at her watch. She was taking too long.

Shirley almost wrecked the Oldsmobile trying to save time on the way home, but when she got there, Frank was in his toolshed, drunk and tinkering with an old, busted chainsaw. If he even noticed how late she'd been, he was saving it for his next tirade. Shirley put away the groceries and began preparing the roast, and as she did, she kept thinking of the way Lorraine had butted in and volunteered her to make that cake. It should have been enough when she'd said that Frank didn't like it when she baked. That would have been enough for Doris or Rose. That would be all she'd have to say, and they'd know. They'd know they ought not get involved in someone else's domestic matters, but not Lorraine. Lorraine had put her right on the spot without a second thought, like it was so easy for people to just change the way they did things. Maybe it was that easy for Lorraine the merry widow.

Shirley glanced at the clock on the wall as she placed the roast in the oven, and then began neatening the living room. She listened intently for Frank and when she was certain he was still in his toolshed, she slid the novel Lorraine had lent her out from under the sofa cushion.

She had told Lorraine, “Frank thinks it's frivolous to read novels,” but Lorraine had kept on pushing like she always did.

“Nonsense!” she'd said, “this isn't some silly novel. In fact, it's quite educational,” and she'd forced it into Shirley's hand. Shirley had hoped she'd managed not to frown as she turned the book over and read the synopsis. Who wanted to read a book about a battered woman? Really, what an awful book it must be, she'd thought.

Awful or not, Shirley was determined to read that book and get it out of the house, where it would no longer threaten to slip out of hiding and upset Frank. So, she sat on the sofa and read and listened for him as the roast browned in the oven. It wasn't until she smelled the roast burning, that she realized how engrossed she'd been. She was curious about how someone so strong, like the heroine, Jeanie, had fallen into love with such an awful abuser. She didn’t want to see things go badly for Jeanie, but she found it hard to put the book down.

Later that evening, Frank blackened her eye and gathered every left shoe that she owned. He locked them in his trunk and took off. He'd come home in a few days. He usually did. She wouldn't be able to go to bridge club the following day, of course, but at least she wouldn't need to worry about the cake. She'd say she wasn't feeling well, and after all, that was true. Shirley decided she would make good use of the time and try to finish Lorraine's book. The sooner it was out of the house the better. It had already been enough trouble. It had distracted her from the roast, and she was sure it would just keep distracting her from a million other household duties, duties she wouldn't even realize she had slighted until Frank pointed them out. That book would just keep getting her in trouble until it was out from under that cushion and back in the hands of that meddling widow. If she finished the book that day, she wouldn't have to upset Frank, and she wouldn't have to make any excuses to Lorraine.

 Shirley pulled the book out from under the couch cushion and read right through her hunger pangs at lunchtime. It was better if less food disappeared when Frank wasn't home, anyway. She wouldn't want him to think she'd had company.

Shirley kept reading, and by the time the sun was setting, her face was streaked with tears. She carried the book in front of her, barely glancing away from the print, as she rose to pluck a tissue from the box on the mantle. She wondered, why couldn’t I see before? Jeanie’s husband was just like Frank. When Jeanie went to therapy in the book, Shirley felt as though she was beside her in the chair, speaking for her—telling the therapist all the things that Frank did. Am I a battered woman? She certainly didn’t like thinking of herself that way; what a shameful thing to be. Beneath the shame, Shirley felt an ember of rage. She hoped the book’s final chapter would burst that ember into flames. She was tired of feeling scared and sorry. She longed to feel something different. As she turned the page, a slip of paper fluttered to the carpet.

#

The following week, Shirley stopped by Lorraine’s house after bridge club. The two women sat in the parlor and made small talk over tea. Shirley told Lorraine that she'd misplaced the cake recipe, and though she told Lorraine not to trouble herself, Lorraine wrote it out again.

“It's a very simple recipe, Shirley. You'll know it by heart after making it just once, and it's so much better than store-bought.”

Shirley swallowed hard and forced herself to smile. “I'm sure that's true,” she said, as she tucked the rewritten pound cake recipe into her coupon folio.

 Lorraine said, “So, what do you think about the book?” 

  “I've already finished it,” said Shirley as she dug the book from her purse and extended it to Lorraine. Lorraine grasped the book, but Shirley didn’t let it go. She kept her grip firm and leaned even closer to Lorraine. She lowered her voice, “You left something between the pages, right before chapter thirteen.” Shirley released the book and bit her lip. She hesitated. “It, sort of, looked like another recipe.” She reached back into her purse and felt around for the slip of paper.

Lorraine clasped Shirley’s wrist, forcing her to abandon her search. “You know, before I moved here, before Doris invited me to join you and Rose at the bridge club, I was like the girl in that book.”

Shirley shook her head in disbelief. “I didn’t know. I never would’ve thought you’d have gone through something like that.”

 The two women locked eyes. Lorraine said, “You think we’re really so different?”

Shirley squinted at Lorraine. We as in you and me, or we as in you and Jeanie? Even if she asked, she wouldn’t have been sure how to respond.

“All three of us,” said Lorraine.

Shirley took her hand out of her purse and looked up. No one had ever come so close to saying it outright—that Frank was abusive. She’d only just admitted it to herself. The similarities between her own situation and Jeanie’s had been too striking to ignore.

“The coroner said it was a heart attack,” Lorraine said.

Shirley looked at her, confused. “He ruled it as a homicide,” she said.

Lorraine smiled. “Jeanie’s husband was rather young though, wasn’t he?” She zipped Shirley’s purse closed and gave it a little pat.

#

Shirley's next trip to the grocery store felt easier. She'd been rationing butter for two weeks and besides, there were a few more days before bridge club, and for those few days, she supposed she wouldn't have to use any butter at all. Then again, they might not be meeting for bridge this week. It wouldn’t be appropriate. She pushed her cart down the aisles and picked out the same size roast she always did, and she loaded up the cart with the same things, as usual. It’s fine that I’m nervous, she thought as she pushed her cart to the register. I’ve been nervous for as long as anyone in this town has known me.

When she got home, Frank was in a good mood. He was out on the patio wiping grease off the gears of an old, rusted lawnmower. He smiled and grabbed the glass of beer from the tray she'd brought out. He took a long pull of the beer and grimaced. “What’d you pour in this,” he said rotating the glass.

Shirley froze. She still couldn’t bring herself to lie to Frank. Despite how much she loathed him, and despite the upper hand she had now, she was still afraid of him. She was certain that he’d know. He’d hear it in her voice.

“Goddamnit, Shirley. Is this the IPA?”

She lowered her eyes and managed a stiff nod.

“Those were for Al, you nitwit. I don’t drink this crap,” he said, pausing to take another pull. “Go get me a Budweiser,” he said.

Shirley managed to steady her trembling hand and reached to take the glass from her husband. He swatted her hand away and took another sip. Shirley stood beside him, heart hammering, as she waited for the glass.

“Are you stupid. What are you just standing there for? Go get me my Bud.”

When Shirley brought the next Budweiser out, the first glass was nearly empty. Frank held a finger up at her, as she waited for it. She watched him swallow the dregs. When he was done, he handed it to her with a grunt.

In the kitchen, Shirley let out her breath. It felt like she’d been holding it since her wedding day. She was calmer, still, after she donned her rubber dish gloves and scrubbed the glass under scalding water. I'm actually really good at math, Frank, she thought. She glanced at the clock and knew precisely how much time was left for preparing dinner, how much time she’d have to wait until Frank’s ‘heart attack.’ She had calculated. She liked the sound of that: calculated. It seemed like something a powerful woman would do. She smiled as she placed the roast in the oven and sat at the kitchen table where she could watch it closely. Tonight, Frank’s roast would be perfect.

-END-

 

Alison Kaiser is a writer of poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Skidrow Penthouse and Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, among others. She lives with her husband and son in Brooklyn, NY.


KJ Hannah Greenberg captures the world in words and images. Her most recent poetry collection is Rudiments (Seashell Books, 2020), her most recent essay collection is Simple Gratitudes (Propertius Press, 2020), her most recent short story collection is Demurral: Linens, and Towel and Fears (Bards& Sages Publishing, 2020), and her most recent photography collection is 20/20, Eye on Israel (Camel Saloon, 2015).

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2021