Spring 2010, Volume 8

Fiction by Dietrich Kalteis

Dished Up Hot

No toilet brush, no problem—five, six sheets of toilet tissue balled up got it done. Jimmy’s ex had stripped the place of just about everything but hurt and sentiment. Swishing the tissue around the pink rim, Jimmy added a brush and toilet bowl crystals to his mental shopping list. He would rebuild his life, determined to purge the place of her ghosts.

Next came the taps; two sheets and the water spots vanished, and the chrome glistened. He swept hair and lint, one hand as dustpan, the other as broom. The aerosol gave it that spritz of pine. The bathroom was sanitized.

Without the Hoover, he pinched the dust bunnies from the rug, hid the empty bottles, and straightened the bed, tucking a condom under the fluffed pillow. Once around the living room with the Swiffer, he worked his sock around the table and chair legs, swiping his sleeve over the hall mirror.

Jimmy unfolded the recipe from his pocket and laid it in a wet spot on the counter, his scribbled notes from the Jamie Oliver cookbook turning Chinese as the ink ran. The girl loved curry, that’s what she told him, and curry it would be. Jimmy would just have to improvise.

Setting the pan and pot on the stove, he searched for measurement spoons and the big knife that had gone with the ex, along with all the dishes and cutlery. Every drawer, every shelf bare, except for the old coffee grinder and Jimmy’s butterfly coffee mug. Jimmy’s mind was made up, away with all feelings of ruin, rape and being rolled over.

He grabbed the eggplant, onion, garlic and ginger from the fridge. A scoop of the yellow powder, a scoop of the red, and a glug of oil went into the pan, then he reached the bag of rice, looking around for scissors.

The hands on his wristwatch told him to hasten for the little bathroom scissors reserved for nostrils and toenails. Bird-poking the rice bag, he spilled some in the pot, some on the swiffered floor. Sock-sweeping the grains under the fridge, he topped the pot with what he thought was enough hot water.

Dicing the eggplant proved hard slogging with the little, curved scissors, but he got it severed to bite-size bits. Twisting the cap off the wine, he poured himself a settling glassful before stabbing, gouging and snipping the onion that brought on the tears. Jimmy stamped his feet, yelling, “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” but it didn’t help the pain, nor did splashing water in his eyes.

Glazed, burning, morning-after junkie eyes. Jimmy knew better than to attack the Serrano pepper with the scissors, tossing it and the ginger root in the coffee grinder. Scooping the pulp into the pan with the eggplant and onion and spices, he remembered the recipe called for minced garlic. Pasting his ex’s face on the bulb, he crushed it under his heel. “There, it’s minced,” he said to her ghosts.

While the mess sizzled in the pan, and the water in the rice pot rose like the tide, Jimmy raced to the bathroom to relieve himself, finding out residual oil from the pepper burned like hell.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he blurted, his crotch an inferno, his fingers clawing the air, blaming his ex. “If you didn’t run off …” Jimmy cried at the mirror, longing for a photo of her, a possession, anything, wanting to go Hitchcock on something that belonged to her.

The bubbling-over rice pot broke the spell, calling him back to the kitchen, Jimmy spilling water down his pants. This time the tears came solo, no help from the onion or pepper or ghosts.

Down to a half hour to go, he dialed up the heat and set out paper plates and plastic cutlery, running down a mental checklist. Place clean, dinner on, no time left for a shower, but his beast-sweat required another dash to the bathroom for a splash of water and a roll of Ban. He flung his pants off, took the cleanest dirty jeans from the laundry pile under the bed.

Back in the kitchen, Jimmy pinched up the sopping recipe from the wet counter, barely making out the words coconut milk. He got the can from the cupboard, fumbled through drawers for some kind of opener; a screwdriver was all he found. He struck at the lid over and over, the clock forcing him to give up. “Milk is milk, right?” he reasoned. The quart in the fridge door was a week ripe of its expiry. “What can I do?” he asked it, tipping it into the pan, pleading for the spices to overwhelm the turned milk.

The smoke alarm bleated. Slapping the lid on the pan, he fanned the squawking ceiling contraption in the hall with a magazine until it was silent.

The knock at the door startled him; he eyeballed the peephole. She was early.

A last check in the mirror, Jimmy swallowed his heart, catching his breath and pulling back the door. “Hey, there she is.” His smile was synthetic with anxiety, but hers disarmed him. There was something in those brown eyes that made him hold steady, made him want to melt.

She held out a bottle. “Hope I”m not too early.”

“Right on time.” He accepted the wine, his fingers touching hers. “Enter at your own risk,” he joked.

“Smells interesting,” she said, stepping past him.

“Curry, you said you liked it.”

“Hmmm, love it.”

“Let’s hope you still do after.”

She laughed, letting him take her jacket. He hung it over his on the only hanger.

“A man that cooks, you get points where I come from.”

“Truth be told, it’s my first try,” Jimmy said. “I copied the recipe at the library.”

The sizzling from the kitchen called him. “Excuse me. How about a glass?” He was moving to the stove.

“Sure. Anything I can help with?”

“Under control,” he called. Her bottle required a corkscrew. “If you want, pick out some tunes. Make yourself at …” He lifted the lid off the pan, the eggplant and onion sticking to the burned milk. He shook the pan, dialing down the heat, scraping at the black with the the screwdriver, using it to impale the bottle’s cork, fishing out the bits, bringing her a glass with his synthetic smile. “Almost there.”

“How long you been on your own?” She sipped, sensing the ghosts, reading the back of a Van Morrison CD.

“Going on three months,” he said, heading back to the kitchen. “How about you?”

“A year. Just gets easier.”

Jimmy divided the rice not stuck to the pot, dumping the curry onto the paper plates, bringing them to the table. She smiled with her mouth, doubted with her eyes.

“My ex kind of cleaned me out,” he said. “This is like camping.” He slid her a packet of plastic utensils.

“Camping’s fine.” She grinned and tore into the plastic with fantastic white teeth.

Dinner was just on this side of palatable, but the talk was easy, the music mellow, and the wine was good.

Afterward, there was ice cream, and as the last of the wine vanished, Jimmy looked ceiling ward, a silent thanks to whatever celestial being rescued him from total kitchen calamity. He lit a stub of candle off the stove. With Dylan and incense filling the living room, he joined her on the sofa, the ghosts pushed to the corners.

“The perfect evening,” she said, laying her head on his shoulder.

“When I get some new stuff, I can–”

She put a finger to his lips. “Next time’s my turn.”


BIO:  Dietrich Kalteis is a writer living in West Vancouver, Canada. Twenty-two of his short stories have been published or accepted for publication over the past year. His screenplay ‘Milkin’ DIllard’ has been optioned to Bella Fe Films/Los Angeles, and a collection of his short stories entitled Big Fat Love (Cantarabooks) is due out this spring.