by Kat Read
I have a tattoo of a fork on the inside of my left arm. Sometimes when I’m sitting at the bar in a restaurant, someone will ask me what it means, the tattoo, and even if I’ve wanted them to ask about it, even if I’ve been holding my drink in my left hand all night, my face will get hot because I don’t have a good answer. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t have a good answer that isn’t too personal. I’ll say brightly, “I love to eat!” and then leave it at that.
But if it’s later in the evening and I’ve had a few glasses of wine, I’ll be honest: I got the fork because my dad cooked for me and now he is dead. I’ll say it evenly, in my “IamokayIamfine” voice even though I am not okay and I am not fine and that is why I am there, sitting at the bar.
My dad wasn’t an adventurous cook, or even a particularly talented one. I have one picture of him in the kitchen. He is looking defiantly into the camera while wearing an apron that says “Don’t Expect Miracles.” Holidays were always a rack of lamb, arranged in a circle with little paper caps perched on the tops of the ribs. On weeknights, he’d make me tortellini, the kind you can buy in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, stuffed with ricotta and spinach and covered with gobs of pesto and parmesan cheese from a can. There’s a pull tab at the top, but it never really works--the best way to get it open is to stab the plastic and draw a knife down and across.
I remember sitting at the one tall chair in our kitchen at the counter before dinner and if I concentrate hard enough, I can conjure an image of him with an apron on and a spoon in his hand. I can see the condensation on the glass he’s put on the counter, an etched rocks glass, orange juice and a slug of gin. I can feel the steam on my face from the pot.
I am fairly sure these images are composites, my brain desperately manufacturing images to quiet the screaming grief. I didn’t know how tightly I needed to cling to memories of my dad cooking me dinner until he was already gone. I thought the memories would keep regenerating, that nights like that would pile up for years and years. But I woke up one morning when I was fourteen and I went into his room and he was dead.
I do not have my dad anymore, so this is what I have: I go out to eat alone and I sit at the bar. I watch the cooks at work, aprons on and spoons in hands. I watch the bartenders mix drinks, watch them put glasses down, watch the condensation drip. I lean close into the dish when it comes and inhale deeply. It’s an elaborate pageant recreating my pitiful shadowy memories, and I know that, but I am also convinced that if I let myself be swept away by the experience for just a moment, I can conjure one more image: my dad watching me from around the corner.
He is breathing softly and he is just out of sight.
About the Author
Kat works and writes at Grubstreet in Boston, MA.
From the Editor
Want more of Kat's work? You can find her online here and on Twitter @KatARead