“Did you hear that!? Six.” I turned and glared at the cranky orange cat that sat on the kitchen table, “That’s soon.” I smiled a wide smile as I went back to my cutting board.
At the moment, I was standing at the kitchen counter cutting carrots for the absolutely delicioso ginger chicken stir fry that I was making for our dinner. I had just gotten a message from my new live-in boyfriend. Bernal was soooo handsome and great. The fat, old cat that came along with him was Moose.
I was a pretty good cook, and I was bent on making sure that Bernal knew exactly what a lovely lady he was getting. In other words, after all these years of honing my cooking skills as a single woman, I was finally able to put them to good use. I had taken every cooking class at the local food co-op. They were great classes, and I now cooked a variety of ethnic foods proficiently. I also had excellent knife handling skills. I could pick a cheese for any occasion. However, every once in awhile, I had looked around the room and thought, “Where are all the men?!” ...in the cooking classroom, at work at the nurses’ station, in my home, the list went on.
Now I had one.
Here I was, chopping along happily, humming FourFiveSeconds and julienning away.
Moose jumped up on the counter and sniffed at my chunk of ginger. I did not particularly like this cat, but other than that fat, furry detail, I was in love with my new life. I had never lived with a boy—never ever in my long 33 years. In fact, I had not experienced life with any male. My father had passed away when I was a very little girl, too young to even remember what it was like. Since I’d met Bernal, my life had been turned upside down with smiles and laughing and sweet hugs and… kisses.
It was a delight.
I come off as extremely naive, I know. Actually I am, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know when something is good.
“Get off the counter, Moose.” I shooed him away, trying to avoid brandishing the knife at him. I scolded him sometimes, yes, but I tried not to, especially when Bernal was around. He loved this weird creature, so I was trying to train myself to like him too.
I went to the stove to turn on the burner. I got out a wok and some oil. Onions, garlic, ginger. So much spicy ginger.
“Hi, Honey.” I called out to him as he came through the living room and made his way into the kitchen.
There he was—my man. I sprinkled a few snippets of green onion on top of the bowl of rice and then added a sprinkle of freshly ground cracked pepper, a little garnish that was both handsome and added a kick of flavor to white rice.
I stepped towards him and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Ready for dinner?”
He looked up at me and showed off his dazzling smile.
“Yeah, I suppose I could have some.”
I laughed at his passivity. “You suppose? You aren’t hungry?”
“Yes, of course I’ll have some…” He trailed off and leaned over to scoop Moose up off the scratch pad under the table.
“Is something wrong?” I asked. “Did you….” A suspicion swept sadly over me. “Did you already eat?”
“No, no… not really. I just, uh, had a late lunch with some associates. Great bunch. What a riot. I really enjoy the new members of the team.”
“Oh, well that’s nice. I’m glad they’re good guys.” I saw that his eyebrows raised just a smidgen and wondered why, “Let’s get this table set and have us some dinner.”
“Actually, I’d love to catch the latest episode of This is Us. It’s Tuesday, right? And then The Wall! That Lebron. Love that Guy. Let’s just grab some bowls and take it into the living room.”
“Yeah, ok. Sounds perfect. Stir fry and cuddles! That’s what’s on the menu tonight!”
He let out a chuckle and I gave him another quick kiss on the cheek. What an adorable laugh he had.
“Did you hear that, Moose? She wants to cuddle with us!”
We laughed together and I went over to the cupboard for some bowls to begin dishing up.
“Is this enough rice for you?” I asked him.
“Oh, sweetheart, I can do that. You just dish up your own and I’ll get mine in a second. I want to change out of this suit.”
My eyes followed him from the room. He wasn’t going to eat, it seemed, but at least he was polite enough to pretend.
Despite the abundance of leftovers, it was a nice night. I was quite happy to be living with another human. My whole adult life I had been sitting quietly, waiting for someone just like him.
Each day, my morning began with four pieces of toast in the double-wide toaster—a new addition to the kitchen appliance lineup. I would make two for Bernal and two for me, his heavy on the butter and jam, mine with a bit of butter and cinnamon and sugar.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I began work late, so I made him a sweet little lunch box.
He would get home earlier than me and would be awaiting me with a smile and a cat on the couch in the living room, ready to spend the evening together. It was a great setup. Our relationship was well-rounded and complete.
I would have loved to make him lunch every day, but on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I had to work the early shift. Plus, he frequently had lunch meetings those days, so the little Bernto boxes, as I liked to call them (in my head), would more often than not get tossed out anyway.
I always made him dinner. He was usually quite happy to be on the receiving end of my experiments with fresh pasta and homemade meatballs, kale pesto and quinoa elbows.
On Friday I came home from work especially refreshed. The winter flu season was over, and the number of patients in my ward had decreased to a mild trickle. I flipped through a recipe book until I found what I was looking for, vegetarian meatloaf. Chickpeas galore! I started in on the mix, pausing only long enough to train Pandora when it was necessary. I was working on a new Joshua Bell station. This was a first time recipe, but I could already tell that it would be delicious.
The phone rang just as I was pulling the darling little muffin tins of veggie loaf out of the oven. Note to self, parsley garnish.
It was Bernal.
He would not be coming home for dinner. He had a business meeting that would end with dinner out for the new clients from the city.
I sighed and set down the phone, turning back to the spicy yogurt sauce.
Aiiiik! That cat! Bernal’s cat was sitting on the countertop, smugly licking the Greek yogurt right out of the tub. “Get!” What an annoying creature. He was about the only piece of this relationship that wasn’t to my liking.
Though it really would have been nice to eat dinner with Bernal tonight.
The following day Bernal got home even later. By the time he walked into the kitchen, I had finished my cold plate of veggie lasagna and was washing my dish.
“Sorry,” he greeted. “You know, work.”
I moved to the table, where I averted my eyes and rearranged the colorful splay of flowers there in my favorite vase.
“There’s my darling.”
I looked up at him, relieved, but found him snuggling Moose.
Well, that wasn’t good.
We watched a show and fell asleep next to each other, but something was different.
It happened again the following Monday. When he called to tell me he wouldn’t be home until late, I nearly threw the phone across the room at the cat.
What was happening to us? Even our bathroom towels coordinated, and that was surely a sign, right? All my adulthood, I’d been preparing for two but was only one, and now that had changed. I didn’t want to go back to being alone again.
A few minutes later I was still standing there at the kitchen counter, eating horribly cheap nacho cheese chips in horribly salty nacho cheese sauce. I would never buy something like this. What a terrible influence he was!
No. I didn’t mean that. I loved Bernal. What a mess.
I felt so very cross. Everything about my situation seemed awful. I saw Moose out of the corner of my eye and suddenly pictured a brandished knife. Yikes. I pushed the bad thoughts from my head. I needed a new recipe.
I didn’t need this plate of nachos. I would make my own truly Mexican delicacy—chile rellenos. I would make delicious, fluffy, egg-dipped poblano peppers stuffed with queso de Oaxaca. I was sure I had some on hand.
Who doesn’t love a knotted ball of cheese?
Even Moose probably liked a bit of Mexican cheese. I threw him a chunk as I was stuffing the peppers, a peace offering for my earlier knife thought.
In return, he sat calmly on the kitchen chair watching me work.
An hour and a half later I was on the couch with a beautiful plate of food. I was still angry at Bernal, however. A perfectly stuffed chili relleno and not asking for anything but for him to sit next to me on the couch and eat it. My heart hurt a little.
For possibly the first time ever, Moose jumped on the couch next to me, and I didn’t tell him to get down.
This is what I have, I suppose.
Bernal texted me just as I was swiping the last bit of crema off my plate with my finger. He wasn’t coming home. He was staying at a friend’s.
I would be alone tonight, and something inside me told me I should be getting used to it.
At that moment Moose’s tail swiped in front of my face and I became irrationally angry at him.
“How are you still here!?” I could feel my face turning red. “I have hated you every second and loved him. I loved, I love him, I will love him.” Hszhgh. I practically growled at him. My life was the worst.
As I did the dishes, I continued, yelling at Moose for Bernal’s many faults and for his current absence.
When I finished putting the dishes away I rolled my eyes at myself. Here I was, just talking to a cat, an ugly, orangish brown cat with patches of fur missing. “I had alopecia as a child, you jerk,” I yelled at him. “Are you taunting me?!”
“Mrow, yourself Moose! Scram.” Moose turned his head slowly to glare in my direction. Then he licked his lips. He was going to go through the recycling when I was sleeping and lick out that crema tub. I knew it.
“I said, ‘Scram.’ Scat, Cat!” I laughed bleakly in spite of myself and the terrible situation. How was this cat a part of my life?
“I. Hate. Cats!” I yelled at him at the end the night, and thus, the end of our arguing. “Now goodnight!”
When I woke up, my eyes felt crusty. I’d fallen asleep crying.
I let out a pathetic groan, a whimper, more like, and made to turn over and get out of bed, but something was next to me.
There was a little warm lump at the small of my back.
It was Moose.
At least I wasn’t alone.
We made dinner together the next night, Moose and me. When I was done with my bowl of soup, he sat on my lap as we watched reruns. He followed me into the bedroom and slept on my feet. It was nice, actually.
Once again Bernal did not come home.
It was all over before the next Bernto box was made. Bernal showed up at 10 a.m. and the fight began. Shouldn’t he have been at work? We continued half the day. Pizza was delivered for lunch, and it wasn’t even good. When he left, I slammed the door behind him.
I ran to the bathroom in anger, took one of the towels off the rack, and threw it roughly into the laundry bin. Jerk. This was terrible. Horrible. Sad. Lonely. Painful.
The next morning I woke alone. So very cross, and so very alone...
Even Moose was gone.
And unless I wanted to beg Bernal back and put up with more of his bologna, Moose and I would never be together again.