Every time we get together we cook too much, and then we eat too much. Even though our parents did their best to try and teach us proper table manners, we hunch our backs, put our elbows on the table and eat with our hands.
Someone inevitably spills something, usually Benny. Beatrice rushes to clean it up. She’s the oldest and a real mother hen. She recently had her second child, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she has more. Benny’s got a baby on the way, which makes me the only one who’s childless and alone.
They almost always ask when I am going to settle down and have kids. They tell me that I’m not getting any younger, and my clock is ticking. Beatrice has usually read some article she wants to tell me about: What Millennial Men Want; How to Find a Man; and How to Keep a Man. It’s not that I don’t appreciate her concern. It’s just that it can get a little exhausting, especially when I feel like I’ll never find love. If I ever start looking genuinely upset, Benny reaches across the table and squeezes my hand. He tells me that it’s a big world and there’s someone out there for everyone, which is about as eloquent as he gets.
If we’re not talking about family or relationships, the conversation often turns to politics. That’s when things can get really heated. Benny and I don’t agree on much. I think that he’s still a little annoyed at me from the time I tried to chuck a bread roll at his chest, but missed and knocked his glass over. Red wine spilled all over the table, and splattered onto his white collared shirt.
Even if we argue sometimes, it’s never mean-spirited, and at least we’re talking. At first we hardly talked at all. We sat around the table staring at half empty grease-stained cardboard takeout containers with congealed noodles, hardened cheese, rubbery pepperoni and cold chicken.
It was over a year before we could even look at Mom’s old cookbooks, and even longer before we started to make any of the recipes she’d neatly copied out in big, loopy cursive writing with circles that looked like hearts over her ‘i’s, and punctuated with lots of exclamation marks.
Lately, we’ve been making our favorite childhood dishes. We stand side by side in the kitchen making cabbage rolls, sweet and sour meatballs, lasagna and chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes, we even make our own bread.
No matter what happens, we always end up talking about Mom and Dad. We talk about how Dad used to project movies onto a screen in the backyard every summer, make buckets of popcorn and invite everyone we knew. We talk about how Mom used to bake us two birthday cakes every year: one for breakfast and one for dinner.
One of our favorite memories is when Mom lost her engagement ring while gardening and Dad spent weeks looking for it. He eventually found it in the vegetable patch with a carrot growing through it. Mom ran out of the house barefoot, jumped up on him and wrapped her legs around his waist. We looked away as they kissed, but I think that we were all secretly happy to be the only kids we knew whose parents still acted like that around each other.
We talk about how we all want to have that kind of love. We talk about how it took a long time not to miss them so badly that it hurt. We talk about how happy they would be to know that we’ve eaten dinner together almost every Sunday for the past eight years, even if we do put our elbows on the table and eat with our hands.
Erica Evelyn Simmonds is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and the Emerging Writers Intensive at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Her short fiction has been published in The Dalhousie Review and Into the Void. Originally from Ottawa, she currently lives in Vancouver.