A Watched Pot
She stands there staring into the pot slowly heating on the stove. As tiny bubbles begin to rise from the bottom, she adds a few pinches of kosher salt in encouragement. The grains quickly dissolve, clouding the water like a dense fog. Next, she adds a tablespoon of olive oil, so they don’t stick together. She hates that. She glances to the right of the stove and sees her mother’s old copy of ‘The Joy of Cooking’. The binding is coming undone and the light blue cover has been stained and burned; a testament to the feasts prepared under it’s direction. The cap to a red pen is peeking out from between the pages, marking a recipe for roast chicken which she should know by heart, but can never remember. She stands there and waits. And wonders what it would feel like to stick her hand into the low boil. Like those times before - standing at the cutting board, holding a carving knife, wondering if I she had it in her to lunge it into her chest. Or run it across her abdomen, disemboweling herself Seppuku-style. But instead she just stands there, and stares, and once the bubbles are quarter-sized, she pours in the pasta.
It is 10pm and she hasn’t eaten anything since breakfast. She hasn’t been hungry. She use to have an insatiable appetite. As a lanky child, adults would always tell her how eventually her eating habits would catch up with her. Even into her teenage years, she was able to eat pretty much whatever she wanted. She finally packed on some pounds in college due to John Belushi levels of self-destruction. But once she graduated and had her first real breakdown, she was put on antidepressants. She was excited to start taking Prozac; like when you’re twelve and all your friends have braces and you want them too. Or being the last to get your period. It was a right of passage. Only now, she had to remind herself to eat.
She sits down on the couch and turned on the TV. It is tuned to the History Channel and there is a special on about ancient astronaut theory. It’s a bunch of nut-job talking heads, but she doesn’t change the channel, either because she is too lazy, or because she’s actually interested. Her phone rings and it’s Scott.
“Clara! what’s up?”
“Nothing, watching TV, eating dinner.”
“No. Just flipping.”
“Well, what are you up to tonight? Wanna come over?”
“Sure. I’ll be there in an hour.”
Their paths have crossed for almost ten years, but it is only recently that she and Scott have become friends. Mainly because it is too awkward for them not to be. They don’t have much in common, but despite their differences, they have forged a place in each other’s lives. They both grew up in Atlanta with mutual friends, however, because they went to different high schools, they didn’t know each other. They met when they ended up at the same college, and, again, found themselves moving within the same social circles. But Scott transferred to an Ivy League school their junior year and Clara quickly forgot about him. After graduation, she moved to Chicago with a boyfriend and started running into Scott at bars. He was there working in real estate and she was working as a low level assistant at the Art Institute. Eventually, these random encounters became too frequent for them to remain casual acquaintances. So they started calling each other to meet purposefully. At the time, she didn’t really know anyone in Chicago besides her boyfriend, so she was thrilled to have a drinking partner of her own. After several moves and failed relationships, she found herself back in Atlanta and Scott would call her when he was in town. He would ask her to be his date to weddings and holiday parties, and she always said yes. She usually didn’t have anything better to do, and he always had good coke. He was back now for a few months, studying for the LSAT, and staying at his mother’s house in Buckhead.
She drives up to his house about an hour and a half after his call and parks her dented ‘92 Integra behind the shiny BMW in the driveway. She doesn’t recognize the car, but then remembers how Scott told her he was selling the Mercedes he had just bought on Craigslist, because it was a piece of shit. This must be it’s replacement. Before she can ring the bell, Scott opens the front door and Clara notices his Wayfarers sitting on top of his head despite the fact that it’s almost midnight. “You want some champagne?” he says with a wine glass in his hand.
Scott has been alone in the house for the past couple of weeks while his mother is in Dubai, or Abu Dhabi, or somewhere. Scott’s dad is the US Ambassador to Argentina and hasn’t lived in the States for years. Since he’s had the house to himself, he and Clara have gotten into a little routine: she comes over at night, they drink champagne and maybe a bottle or two of wine. Then, they fall asleep in his bed, but nothing happens. The first couple of nights, she throws herself at him, but he never takes the bait. Finally, she gives up and wonders if he is gay, but at the same time she doesn’t really care enough to ask. She feels a little like they are back in high school, which is maybe why she likes it so much. The routine has become comfortable and she will be sad when it ends.
She walks into the house and sits down at the granite-topped island in the kitchen. Scott pours the champagne and begins the gossip.
“Did you hear about Cash?,” he begins.
“No, what happened?,” she asks, even though she doesn’t want to know.
“He flipped his car Friday night and walked back to his house not remembering what happened. He was covered in blood and told his roommate he ran into a ditch, but the next day the cops found his car overturned on Moreland. ”
“Oh my God!” she says, feigning surprise.
Cash has been an alcoholic for years and these stories have become increasingly common. At this point everyone is just waiting for him to die, and she finds herself annoyed that he keeps delaying the inevitable. She wants to scream, “Either get your shit together or just fucking kill yourself already! But quit making us have to listen to these fucking stories!” He has become a terrible cliche and she is sick of having to pretend to be shocked and troubled. Rather, she is relieved that she’s not a close friend and doesn’t have to go to the interventions or talk to his parents. But she don’t tell Scott any of this.
“Holy Shit. That breaks my heart,” she says according to script.
They sit there in silence for longer than most would find comfortable; the kind of pauses that have come to define their relationship. “How’s the job hunt going? Did you ever hear back from the Botanical Gardens?” he finally asks. She immediately despise anyone who asks her about her search for employment. “Yeah, I have a second interview on Tuesday with the Director.” As she says this she already knows that she won’t get the job. They will find her resume impressive and the interview will go well, but she will never hear from them again.
“Let’s watch a movie,” she says as she gets up and walks into the living room. Scott follows her with the bottle of champagne, which they quickly finish off. In the morning, she wakes up next to him, and doesn’t care whether he is gay or straight. She is just thankful that his body is warm and that they never have to talk about anything real.