Dinner For Two

 

She jumps, imperceptibly, at the buzz from the stove timer. She scoffs at herself as she grabs the pot holders that match her floral dress. The heat from the oven blankets her face and she half closes her eyes as it washes across her. Grabbing the glass baking dish, she sets it on the waiting mat on top of the little island centered in her cozy kitchen. The sweet smell of teriyaki fills the bright room as the scent of the onion and peppers stuffed within the chicken breasts bite at her sinuses.

“Just another minute,” she calls out to the other room. 

He is waiting there, she knows. She cannot see him without moving to the other side of the island. She assumes he is perusing her bookshelf, assessing her personality from the various titles on the outward spines. She worries for a moment that she has left her mail on the tiny side table by the door. He might infer that she has lied about her name. Wendy but with an ‘i’ she had told him, and he had repeated it.

She scoffs again at herself; no need to worry about that anymore.

She dresses the chicken breasts on the plate with crushed pineapples and spoons a side of rice. She thinks of meeting him just the week before. There were a lot of loud people in that place and after several drinks, and even more dances, they exchanged numbers. They met for dinner the following day. 

It was a terrible restaurant that smelled of too much grease and tequila. They had shared jokes about the poor food, and she had gotten him to agree to call her later so she could make him a real meal. 

He had arrived the day before with flowers and a bottle of wine. Her dish had been inspired by the one the restaurant had failed so miserably at. They laughed, and enjoyed a few more drinks. While he relieved himself in the room with the pastel pink bath mat, she had slipped his phone from his coat. She removed the battery and broke the sim card and placed the pieces in the trash under the sink. 

She brings out the plates of chicken breasts and rice and pours a rich red wine into the glasses that had been standing guard at the table’s placemats. He is sitting there in the same blue and white shirt, with its starched collar, that he had been wearing when he arrived the evening before. He looks at her with his eyebrows slightly up. A bit forlorn of a look as she considers their deep brown. She takes her first bite congratulating herself on the chicken. 

She speaks light-heartedly to him while she eats. Talking about her mother and her father. She tells him about their controlling ways and how she hadn’t ventured outside her own backyard until she was nearly twelve. She explains that while he was waiting she had placed his car in the garage for him. She tells him it can stay there for now, but it too would eventually have to go. She smiles at him, the corners of her mouth moving high enough to squint her eyes; he is such a good listener.

Grabbing the last bite of chicken with her fingers she slides it around the plate, sloping up the juice from the pineapple. She licks her fingers with a smacking as she savors the final piece. She closes her eyes, feeling them flutter. I should really cook like this more often, she thinks.

She stands and picks the plates from the table, “Well, you’ve hardly touched yours. You don’t like it?” 

He looks up at her. His eyes even bigger than before, his mouth turned downward. He seems off to her. He seems so sad. But of course, she thinks, he had received some bad news when he woke up that morning. 

“I guess that could ruin anyone’s appetite,” she says and scoops up the dishes and deposits them into the porcelain sink. She makes only symbolic attempts at cleaning up. The kitchen can wait until morning, she decides. There is other work to do.

She turns, finding him standing there, his shoulders slumped and his eyes drifting to the floor. So sad, she thinks as she reaches behind her back and begins to draw the zipper of her dress down. Her bra and matching panties make contact with the cold tile floor a second after her dress. She steps free of them. He had said she was beautiful last night. She saunters her way down the short hallway to the room that holds the bed they had shared the night before. He trudges along behind. She doesn’t bother to glance back. 

She carries herself across the room, but he stops just inside the door. Her eyes find his. Her face hardens as she turns toward the bed, and then looks back at him. Her hands clenching and unclenching into fists. She sets them high on her hips to steady them.

“You see what you’ve left me to clean up! Will you look at this mess.”

She stares into his eyes and thinks he may cry, if only he could. She looks around the room. A blue and white shirt with a starch-stiffened collar lay to one side. On the other, a pair of pants, and some boxers with a strange green print to them. She doesn’t care for the boxers. On the bed, his body lay as naked and exposed as she left it. The knife was still in the sheath she had made of his chest. Hands still on her hips, she shakes her head as she gazes across the room at his vaporous form, “You only cried out once, but you were quite the bleeder.” 

 

Young Love, Old Earth

by M.D. Parker

The blue trimmed, off-white building came into view. The over-painted brick wouldn’t give up the textured detail of the stone underneath even if Calvin had been touching the side. A sign near the corner of the school said something about Building future minds since 1949. Calvin passed the sign with the hollow thump-thump of skateboard wheels over cement cracks. He guided himself in a long arc toward the entrance. Steering clear of the meat of the parking lot, where those who already had cars were pulling in to join the fray. He already had Dad on his side; even showed him which car he wanted. Tonight was the time to start working on convincing Mom.

Stepping off the board, he kick-stomped it into his hand. He paused, looking up at the school’s attempt to use the bright color to distract from its looming presence. Pleasant colors to hide the natural angst of every one of the future minds being built.

“Hey, Cal.”

He turned his head. He grinned as she strode the final few steps toward him. A clamminess slickened his palms as he readjusted the hold on his skateboard. He drew in a deep breath. She looked at him, glanced at the ground, and smiled as she lifted her head up. She knew. He knew she knew, but they both pretended that they didn’t.

“Hey. ‘Nother day of servitude at the day-prison. You ready, Mads?”

“Nope. But no one is giving me a choice, are they?” Madeline’s rhetorical sarcasm lofted through the air and she took her first step toward the doors.

As Calvin’s eyes fought a losing battle to not follow Madeline’s march away into the hub of social conformity, the world around him brightened. The sidewalk suddenly illuminated as if by an extra sun. The light gray of the cement reflected the glare as it grew to blinding proportions, joined by an array of brilliant color. The rapid increase of purples and oranges, of blues and greens, overtook the morning’s yellow-white hue. His head turned away from her and up to the sky. His mouth fell open as his vocal cords squeaked out one last word…

“Mads–”

Madeline had already turned to see it.

The sky ripped apart, like a tear in the middle of an overstretched vinyl seat cover. The rip was growing; a swirling mix of every color they ever had a name for poured through the wound in the sky and forced the gap even wider. No sound accompanied it, but in their minds Mads and Cal could hear a torrential ripping sound as it rattled their souls.

Every color spread out from the tear as a blackness filled the center of the growing rift like the iris of an eye; a cold dark nothingness of an iris. The gash filled the whole of the visible sky with the trailing end dropping below the horizon. The black opening slowly gained color of its own in the center of the center. A steel gray flecked with various greens shaped itself into a circle. And like the first pimple before the school dance, Calvin and Madeline watched as the circle became a sphere and started to bulge through the blackened center of the kaleidoscope.

The sphere grew in size and appearance of closeness. The green of a hundred variations splashed across a gun-metal gray surface. The prism of color that tore open the sky gave birth to a planetary orb as the sky cried in silent agony. The orb slipped through the great tear. The rip began to draw the colors back into itself as the hole shrank as the last of the orb was free from it.

Other students, and teachers populated the grass and front steps of the school building. Gasps could be heard, vulgar inquiries of the divine were made, and others remained frozen in the same mouth-agape silence as Mads and Calvin. Nearly the whole of the orb could be seen above the western horizon, and it filled the illuminated sky in glaring contrast to the morning sun on the eastern horizon.

Then, the Earth itself took its cue and groaned under their feet.

A great wrenching sound twisted itself from the miles below them. The world screamed with a voice born of breaking glass and snapping wood and crumbling brick. Some ran in every direction with unknown destinations. Calvin fell. His ass hitting the ground harder than he would have liked, if he cared enough to notice. Mads hollered, but he did not hear it. His own shock and the sound of the second level of the school lowering itself to the first floor, stopped her voice from reaching its target. Car alarms screeched. Buildings collapsed into rubble. Trees were ripped from their ancient roots. Calvin’s eyes turned away from the orb for a single moment to see the nearly two hundred year old tree in front of the school join the dying world around him.

Mads was still beside him. He realized she held his hand. Together they watched. He was reminded of a freight train as a new sound wormed its way into the world. The barreling, chugging, crunch of a sound grew and climbed to an octave a hundred times louder than anything else. The screams and whimpers of people scampering about were muted. Power polls and their exploding transformers could only be seen, not heard.

Mads and Cal turned away from the orb in time to see most of their beloved day-prison swallowed by the Earth as it opened in a jagged line that disappeared into the streets beyond the school. The freight train noise paused. A single moment of stillness before rising again in a crescendo that would claim Cal and Mads as they locked in their first, and last, embrace. With closed eyes, their young souls merged as they breathed each other in.

The Earth cried as it claimed them.

They never let go of each other.