The grapes of wrath were just grapes, or so I think. I never read the book. The forbidden fruit was merely an apple. And, the pizza margarita Julia Roberts passionately lauded in the movie Eat, Pray, Love was but a simple symmetry of bread and cheese. So, I had to ask myself, were the onions under the edge of Mauricio’s knife really the onions of lost, undying love? Or just onions?
Stiff waves of oniony scent circulated around the kitchen, so harsh that I double-checked the window. It was doing the job I’d assigned, blinds drawn up, half-open, sifting the light in while letting the place breathe, yet my eyes watered. Mo’s too were spouting onto his tanned cheeks as he chopped away, however those tears weren’t aroma-induced. Only a week had passed since the lovely split, after all.
Mo put the knife down and lifted the cutting board, carrying it toward the hollowed out heads of iceberg lettuce on the counter. “Onions in first,” he said, voice frail. “Just how she did it.” He tapped the edge of the wooden board to let chunks of onion fall into each of the two lettuce heads. “Isn’t that right, Nick?”
“For sure,” I said, thumb in the air, dripping in sarcasm. “Got to go in first.” The dents in the carpeting from Penny Triano’s now-removed sofa hadn’t even risen before Mo wanted to wallow in her dirty bergs. A head of iceberg lettuce stuffed with onions, ground sausage, peppers, and grated cheese, cheddar jack preferably. Really it was mediocre cuisine, at least now without the snarky comments.
“Penny always burrowed right down to the bottom for these,” Mo whispered. He ran his finger around the rim of a berg, peering inside. “Like her fork was a drill. She couldn’t leave the onions alone.”
And Eve couldn’t leave that damned apple alone, I thought, which is cause for this sobfest of human imperfection to begin with, if we’re to listen to my Grandma Jean. I was actually content with Penny’s departure. When one’s best friend since college is returned from two years in a plastic wench’s purse and wiped off her to-do calendar, gratitude trumps sympathy.
“I miss her so much already.” His quivering hands opened the oven, offering a meaty twist to the onion smell.
“Yeah, sucks man,” I dully said. Eyes dried, I stepped forward and enjoyed a whiff of the sausage pan. The eyes across from me, of course, remained damp.
The sausage found refuge in the bergs, and Mo plucked from the fridge a pre-sliced bag full of red peppers and made way for the microwave. “She would’ve never cooked like this,” he said with a wounded chuckle. “She’d be ashamed.” A high, whiny-type noise was now seeping from his mouth that fell beyond recognition. A laugh? A sob? A precursor to a bowel movement? The final straw was losing hold.
“Who cares what that bitch thinks?” A tinge of hurtful profanity was worth a shot to snap him out of it.
He faced me. “What’d you say?”
“You heard. You’re better off without Penny. Mo, you’re a thirty-year-old man, not some lapdog for a prima donna with too much bronzer. This is your chance to move on, now take it.” The bite marks lined on my tongue were healing, freeing it to let rip.
“I can’t belief you,” he said. The Latino in his voice spiked, a flash of Venezuelan in his oft-American pan. “You know I still love her. And saying that while making the recipe we wouldn’t have if not for her!”
“Do you see me helping? I wanted pizza.”
Mo gasped dramatically, mouth open, some gelled hair and stubble away from a soap opera cameo.
Then came delicate knocks on the front door.
“Stay here,” he said, storming past me. “We’re not done.” The draft of outside air tickled the back of my neck once the door creaked open. “Penny?”
I whipped my head around, praying Mo had been mistaken, but no dice. Bleached blonde extensions, push-up bra, makeup fit for late October, all in the doorway.
“Hello, Mauricio,” she said. “May I come in?”
Mo stumbled, shot, though not by a gun. “Of, of course,” he said, wiping his eyes. “C’mon in.”
The humanity. Like the last week never freakin’ happened.
The click-clack of those cheap heels followed Mo inside. I quickly turned to avoid the displeasure of locking eyes with the hyena.
“Nicholas,” she said sharply. Her enormous black purse collided with my arm on her way past.
“Penny,” I grumbled, eyes glued to the floor as per usual.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Mo said. “Look at what I was making.”
“Awe!” exclaimed the dirtiest of bergs. “Baby, my dish! You’re so sweet!” Her extensions rustled as she hugged him.
“Just for you, baby. Want some?” I peered up to see Mo toss some peppers and cheese into my lettuce head before putting it all on a plate. “Here you go.”
Penny snatched the plate with a “thanks sweetie,” grabbed a fork, and dug it so deeply into my dinner. “Onions first,” she screeched, wilting my eyebrows. “You should start cleaning up in here, though, Mauricio. It’s a mess.”
The fork had its haul and was about to deliver an onion-filled bite. The fading sunlight through the window turned a fiery red, or perhaps that was just my vision. Akin to an involuntary twitch, my arm leapt into action without warning and drove through the fork and plate, knocking both downward. The plate shattered while the lettuce head erupted in a flurry of meaty chunks that coated our lower halves. Mo and Penny were speechless, slack-jawed, like they’d seen a ghost. Not a ghost, just a friend who’d finally had enough.
I cracked a smile. “So…who wants pizza?”
Header Image: CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1417092