Susie quickly sliced the Brussels sprouts until they were a tangled mass of light green ribbon across her cutting board. She split the garlic, chopped it. The pan on medium flame, the olive oil sizzling. Susie toasted in pecans. She browned the tofu.
Later all of this would be foolish. Making dinner for a dead person. But as the smell lingered across her kitchen, as she took the stairs up to her bedroom, drunk with drinking wine for two, she wasn’t thinking about fools. The snuffed candles and their sulphur smell followed her under the covers where she thought about resolutions.
Susie cooked the dinner. Set the table. Waited. Hands folded, and then with a cookbook open, considering the other recipes she might have chosen. Better recipes. More appropriate dishes. She decided to slice some apples and throw together a quick cobbler. Easier than worrying or thinking about Neil standing her up, again.
Instead Neil was on a highway driving his pickup too fast, not wearing his seatbelt because the seatbelts didn’t work in his piece-of-shit truck. He would’ve been drumming his fingers on the sill of the open car window. He’d have wiggled the tuner to get the game on, ran a hand through his hair, maybe wondered what he was doing, heading toward Susie again. No one would ever know, of course, where he was headed that night. She’d certainly called to confirm. They’d flirted like they did sometimes on the phone. Neil had said, Sure, sure he remembered. He’d picked up some ice cream, even, because she was sweet.
No ice cream in the truck. Susie had asked the police officer on the phone. Not that they’d known to call her or have a reason to. She found things out days later. After she’d eaten the crispy-cold meal. The browned sprouts, the sweet pecans, the tofu—all shriveled over rice. She’d forked it slowly—holding out even at the end. And still, Susie had saved a little container for him, hating herself.
Neil didn’t set an anchor. He came and went—but mostly went. When he did come he was either all-on happy love or moody as shit, gliding like a ghost from room to room. Susie couldn’t figure. Some days couldn’t tell if he even liked her or if she liked him. Other days, everything boiled clear and passionate. Boom. And they were off. Hot and sizzling. All this in between silences and days away.
Neil had been driving south. A tire blew out from what they could tell, and then he maybe hit some kind of oily patch. Susie was sure, that he’d thought no problem, knew he could handle it. Until the end. The police officer said he didn’t feel any pain, but they always say that—especially to sometimes-girlfriends sobbing on the other end of the phone. And Susie didn’t know how she felt about the pain. Maybe she wanted Neil to have some, just a few seconds of it.
Susie had opened the wine. A nice Syrah. She’d checked to see if she had whiskey, in case he didn’t want wine. He never wanted wine. She didn’t know if he liked wine, but she did and even though it was Neil’s birthday celebration, she wanted some things for herself. This was the problem she later said, Susie was selfish at the wrong moments.
Susie washed all the dishes before Neil should have arrived so he couldn’t offer. So she couldn’t know if he would or wouldn’t. Everything neat and humming in the dishwasher. The kitchen looking homey and warm. Candles. Linen napkins. She knew this wasn’t the kind of birthday celebration Neil wanted. She knew a mistake when she saw one. But Susie couldn’t help herself with these kinds of kindnesses. She wanted to show people their own potential—show them what the world could be like when they weren’t driving around work sites in crappy pickup trucks, eating fried food, tossing the wrappers under the seat. She wanted to civilize Neil. And maybe, she thought in later years, that was precisely why he was driving so fast—to spite her and her fancy tofu meal. To show her.
She dreamed up some other things because she could: he’d had a change of clothes in the back of the truck. Nice jeans and a shirt he planned to wear. That he’d started dialing her phone and then stopped knowing he’d be on time for once. She imagined that he’d planned to talk about moving in together, buying a new truck. She invented these things, and they made her feel better.
That night, before she turned everything off, before she gave up for good—long into the night, really, if she had to admit to it. She stepped out onto the front porch. City sounds nearby, the sliver of a moon, and she thought she felt her life turning for the better—like fresh earth dug up and flipped over.
Sherrie Flick is the author of the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting (Flume) and the novel Reconsidering Happiness (Bison Books). Her flash fiction appears in many anthologies including Norton’s Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction. Her flash fiction has appeared in journals such as North American Review, Ploughshares, Quarterly West, Northwest Review, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, and Booth. She has received grants and fellowships from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Ucross Foundation, Atlantic Center for the Arts, PA Council on the Arts, and PA Partners in the Arts. She lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in Chatham University’s MFA program.