Jonny Cascasan lie in his bed, the once fluffy pillow given to him by his ex retaining the indentation of his rather large head like a misshapen marshmallow. Jonny didn’t like being alone. He missed Maria’s lips, her smell, her hair, her snore, her…quiche. She claimed it was the only thing she knew how to cook. He looked at the pillow. It was covered in make-believe dragonflies that looked real. Maria’s quiche was the closest thing he had to high class cooking; the recipe coming from the torn page of a magazine in the bathroom of the café where she worked. Seems like it’d been a year since Maria left and now Jonny’s cuisine consisted of oatmeal and all those things he used to avoid—low fat, low sodium edibles—along with veggies. No more donuts; no more quiche, no more Maria. Now he’s on team solo. These days he cheats occasionally by indulging in a hunk of beef jerky. He was tearing open a package of Tear Jerky with his teeth—in the cellophane casing with the slogan: Jerky so tough it’ll grow hair on your tongue–when the phone rang.
“What’s up Caucasian?”
The receiver slips from Jonny’s hand. The cord dangles down the side of the bed like a noose. The burgundy receiver lands on the rug in a fetal position knocking over several bottles of medication like bowling pins. He picks it up like a dripping fish.
“Yeah?” He says.
“Still droppin’ the phone like you dropped the ball, huh?”
Inky Black’s voice comes in clear. He’s the only one that calls this early.
“What’s happening, Inky?”
“Just got back from Tai Chi.”
“I thought you were giving that shit up.”
“Man, ain’t no givin’ nothin’ up,” Inky replied, his voice vibrating through the receiver.
“I’m more limber than I’ve ever been. You need to try it.”
Inky black, a man with brown skin who Jonny had known since high school; loved to eat squid cooked in its ink. He’d get it all over his fingers and hands. Claimed he was using all that squid ink to write a novel. The nickname stuck. Jonny looked at his belly in his tight fitting shirt. The curve of it an arc rising and dipping like one of those hills the cable cars trudged up, climbing halfway to the stars, bells clanging, tourists gawking. I need to lose a few pounds, Jonny thought. Maria would lay her hands on his stomach like a crystal ball then rest her head on it. When she left, she left a dent that stayed.
“Tai Chi makes me feel younger. I tossed my Viagra prescription in the trash.” Inky bragged as if he were keeping score with the world.
Inky—a self-improvement guru who talked less about basketball nowadays and more about health, mostly if it involved CBD or THC—that stuff you’d pick up at the neighborhood pot club. Jonny admired him for wanting to improve himself. He and Inky went a long way back—high school days. It began with some good-natured trash talk that stuck with Jonny for years. Jonny had dreams of playing basketball—the NBA.
“But you too short, Caucasian,” Inky would say. “You five foot 3 and nothing but bones.”
And Jonny, rolling his eyes would correct him for the thousandth time.
“How many times I got to tell you, my name ain’t Caucasian, it’s Cascasan!”
But everybody got it wrong; teachers, counselors, priests and the loudest of all, Coach Guaco who everyone called Guacamole behind his back. On occasion someone would pronounce it Cat-Scan, which was closer to being correct than Caucasian. But Jonny never unheard Coach Guaco mispronouncing it for the world to hear:
“Cah…Cah…Caulk…Caucasian!” he’d call out across the court. “Put some mayo on those passes!”
Jonny hated mayonnaise, he preferred mustard. Between that and being called Caucasian all the time, Jonny figured it was just a shit sandwich he’d have to eat. So instead of the Filipino name he’d been born with, Cascasan, he became Caucasian, or Jonny Caucasian.
“Jonny, come out with me today. Let’s get a few beers at the Buddha Bar.”
“I thought you were health conscious.”
“I am but, you know how it is. Some things you can’t give up.”
Jonny knew about giving things up. He looked at his hands. Gnarled at the knuckles–gout. How many things would he have to sacrifice on account of it? Pork, fish—everything he loved. You only live once, people told him, but he didn’t want to die from an early heart attack. He was disciplined. For a good while it was oatmeal and celery sticks. He was motivated by a scenario he’d played a thousand times in his head. He saw himself walking to the bathroom and, as he unzipped his fly, he heaved and fell forward; his head submerged in the toilet while his heart fought to keep beating.
“Come on, get out of the house,” Inky said. “You need to get your mind off that woman.”
“You hear from her?”
“No. I think she split to be a sous chef.”
“A Sioux chef? I didn’t know the chick was an Indian.
“A sous chef, brother—not a Sioux Indian”
Maria, the woman whose head left a permanent dent in his belly after all those nights; hot, heated, heavy nights—a heat created by body and kitchen, heart and stove. She rested her head on his belly as if it were the most comfortable pillow from the factory.
“Mataba.” She said.
“What’s that mean? Jonny asked as they lie in bed.
“You didn’t learn to speak Filipino?” she asked. It was more a statement than question.
“No, I didn’t. My mom and dad wanted me to speak English only. They thought it would make me some sort of American dream. Anyway, what does it mean?”
“Mah-tah-bah,” Maria said slowly, moving her middle and index fingers, walking the word up the round moon of his belly like a pair of tiny spacemen legs. “It means fat.”
Jonny looked at Maria’s shapely figure. Her legs were light brown, tannish, like one of those expensive coffee drinks. And sometimes a pinkish spot would appear near here calf for whatever reason. He would rub that spot and Maria would scrunch her shoulders upward and moan.
Jonny had met Maria a year ago. He worked at a life insurance brokerage downtown. He wasn’t an agent. He was too lazy to study for a license so he became a case manager which was basically a marriage between a receptionist and data entry clerk. Jonny knew how to type. Basketball was his dream but his father forced him to take typing in high school out of practicality. There he was the starting guard on the varsity basketball team who everybody called Jonny Caucasian, in a room with 15 or so girls. On the court people paid attention to him, scoring and assisting, leading the team to more wins than losses. In typing class he was out of place. There was a silent competition between the students whose volume was turned up by the drone of piston-like keys. Joe was the only male in the class which initially elicited snickers from the girls. But they paid him no mind. He was on their court now. It was as if he were a fly that somehow flown in and landed on a key—namely F.
Jonny was overwhelmed by the noise of the typewriter keys. It felt like a metallic rain hitting his spine, his ears, his brain to the extent that he couldn’t think. He could shoot 3 pointers with hundreds watching, yelling from the stands but the tinkling of a few typewriter keys turned him into a guy walking a tightrope with one leg and eyes covered with a blindfold. During tests he was slow and inaccurate. They only word he managed to type in its entirety was his last name which wasn’t his last name: Caucasian. When the instructor, Ms. Dinkmeister checked his work, she noted the misspelling, chuckling, you wish. At least she noticed, he thought. Mrs. Dinkmeister with the old-fashioned glasses attached to a chain and a last name that sounded like it came out of a 1950’s sitcom. So many years of classes; for her this was a rerun. Joe was so slow that he thought he might as well be typing with his toes.
In the class was a girl, half Filipino and half Mexican. She saw that Jonny was struggling and offered to help. She drew a diagram of typewriter keys on a piece of paper.
“Practice on this,” She said. “You’ll get better.
She demonstrated by poking the drawn keys on the paper with her index fingers.
Jonny took the page and his fingers danced across it for weeks. The keys on the typewriters in the class didn’t have letters or numbers. At least on the paper given to him by Carmen, he could see the letters so he had half a chance. His typing got better—a whopping 10 words a minute—to which Ms. Dinkmeister responded by writing Good Job! in red ink across the top. His typing improved. One day he typed Carmen a letter expressing his thanks and if she’d like to go out to a movie. But when he went to deliver the letter she was gone. What happened to Carmen? Jonny asked. Ms. Dinkmeister looked at Jonny through those funny glasses and said, “She moved.” She dropped her head and went back to marking papers with that red pen. How could he be so accurate on the basketball court and be so completely inept at typing? A grand total of 10 words a minute. How hard could it be, he asked himself. He looked at Carmen’s empty seat, typewriter sitting like a gravestone. He looked at the paper in his hands covered in red marks as if someone had bled on them. He crumpled it into a ball and tossed it; the paper ball travelling an upward arc banking off the wall near the light switch before landing in the waste basket.
He remembered the day Maria walked up to him. It was 40 pounds ago. He always stopped at the little café at lunch—Roger’s cafe. Roger was an old Chinese guy who had 3 or 4 things on the menu: fried chicken, chicken chow mein, chicken strips and donuts. The old man liked basketball and would show the games on the big screen mounted near the ceiling close to the window with the neon donut sign. The foot traffic never stopped at Roger’s with people grabbing donuts and coffee to wash down their lottery tickets.
“What you like?” she asked. She was Roger’s height but had the no nonsense voice of someone you’d look up to. Her loose-fitting shirt had flowers that looked like paint splashes while her snug fitting slacks accentuated the firmness of leg, thigh.
“I’ll take the chicken—“Jonny began.
“Hey!” Maria said, her head turning sharply towards the door. “Put the coke and sprite back!”
2 men in their late 20’s stood near the cold drink refrigerators. They wore heavy sweatshirts. Jonny had seen them before hanging out, washing their fried chicken down with a donut or vice-versa.
“I aint got no soda, mama,” the white one with the stringy beard said.
Maria walked over and stuck her hand in the man’s jacket pocket.
“Oh yeah, then what do you call this?” Maria asked, pulling out a can of sprite as if she were removing a gun. The other guy, the black one, pulled the coca cola from his pocket and handed it to Maria. Maria grabbed both men by the earlobes and pulled them to the cash register.
“Let’s have it.” she said, putting her hand out.
Both men rummaged their pockets, the sound of change jingling.
Jonny was taken by her assertiveness—her balls—if one could call it that. He fell in love. Those donuts and Maria’s voice soon took on the shape of love. He began visiting the shop during Maria’s breaks, sharing plain donuts and coffee. Plain donuts slowly turned into plain old fashioned which progressed to old fashioned glaze; from that they dove into French donuts—glazed or chocolate and Jonny realized that the connection was real when they ventured into jelly donut territory, a territory claimed by a poke of Maria’s forefinger into his belly. Jonny felt desired, not that he was bad looking; but he was told often he was handsome in an English bulldog kind of way that he didn’t take as a compliment. But Maria’s finger poked his belly leaving behind a small dent the size of a dime—the cost of a donut hole—was something that he, over time grew accustomed to. One afternoon during one of their get-togethers over donuts, Maria pulled out a hunting knife, one of those big one’s you’d see in the movies with the hero using it to cut off tree bark in some jungle. She drew it out of her pocket and spun it in her hand before pulling out the blade and slicing the jelly donut in half.
“I like you.” She said, lifting the piece of donut and placing it in Jonny’s mouth.
One afternoon Jonny and Maria sat at the café when Roger began flipping the channels on the wide screen with his remote that resembled a granola bar; covered with a layer of donut crumbs.
“Warriors and Lakers?” Jonny said, his eyes zooming in on the screen.
Roger was trying to find the right channel but the video signal got scrambled, dropping in and out.
“Put the game on, pop,” a customer sitting nearby said, the baseball cap on his head tilting to the left.
The TV adjusted itself and Roger continued to flip through the channels.
“Keep it there!” I want to see this!” Maria cried out as Roger landed on a random channel.
Jonny and Roger—everyone in the café—looked at Maria who eyed the screen.
“Turn up the volume.” Maria said to Roger as if he were her employee. He fumbled with the remote which Maria snatched from him, jacking up the sound. All eyes in the café fell on the screen.
“I like this show.” Maria said, stroking Jonny’s belly.
On the screen are 2 men cooking in some kind of competition.
“Is this a competition between cooks?” Jonny asked.
“Hell no,”Maria answered. “Chefs.”
Maria followed this with a gentle: Shhhhh
The 2 chefs are scrambling to make a dish from a mystery basket of ingredients. They both pull fish from the baskets—large fish with ugly heads followed by vegetables Jonny had never seen before.
“That’s tarragon,” Maria said. “They use it in soups and stews.”
Jonny bit into his plain old fashioned, sitting next to Maria watching the chefs chop and slice and boil. Jonny watched as well as the other customers. His eyes dropped to the table and the large knife sitting next to the donut. He gave Maria a sideways glance before lifting his eyes to the chefs on the big screen mounted near the ceiling.
The next several months were blissful. Maria would come to Jonny’s apartment on Acton Street. A potted plant that never grew began to sprout when Maria began watering it. The large pot was one Jonny had gotten from Chinatown and as much as he watered and poked the soil, the little plant refused to grow.
“You need to have a touch.” Maria said.
Soon, Maria began investing her half step above minimum wage earnings on cookbooks.
“Maybe I could go to chef’s school.” she’d say as she transformed Jonny’s barren kitchen into a culinary fiefdom all her own.
And Jonny loved it. She made Filipino dishes he grew up eating—pancit, adobo, nilaga—but she also made other things like pasta in Bolognese sauce, veal Marsala and chicken fricassee; and one night for dessert, Bananas Foster—which Maria pronounced Banana Forester. Jonny would dutifully wash the dishes and after an evening of television and pots and pans having been stirred, frantic lovemaking ensued. Hot and tender, their bodies tossed about, intertwined in a heated frenzy that caused the very walls to drip with sweat. Maria’s nails dug into his back and her tongue flicked across his ear like a rosebud bringing about his collapse. They both caught their breaths, giggled and fell into a deep sleep.
Jonny sat at his desk at the insurance company. He disliked the overhead fluorescent lights that cast a milky glow on everything. The phones were busy, especially with applicants from the east coast, 3 hours ahead. The phone lights blinked with incoming calls.
“Hello, Rely-a-quote insurance, Jonny speaking, how may I help you?”
“Is this Caucasian?”
“Actually, it’s Cascasan.”
“What kind of name is that?”
A pause filled the gaps between coasts.
“Oh,’ The voice said, “I thought you’d be…”
“Caucasian?” Jonny asked, finishing the client’s thought.
“Uh, yes…no offense”
“I kinda am.” Jonny chuckled followed by nervous east/west coast silence.
“Uh, ok,” The man said. “Did you get my colonoscopy report?”
Jonny checked the computer screen.
“What is your name, sir?”
“Canape, Jonny Canape.”
“It hasn’t arrived yet, Mr. Canape.”
“Ok then, I’ll light a fire under my Doctor.”
Jonny thought about the pending applications stacked on his desk like an all you can eat pancake house. All those folks wanting life insurance; all those medical appointments he’d scheduled to check blood pressure, blood sugar and liver functions. Jonny thought about his own weight. He was heavier than he’d ever been. He’d gained 15 pounds in a few months, in just about the time Maria had turned his kitchen into her own cooking show, stocking it with a small library of cookbooks. As time went one he watched less basketball and more cooking shows with Maria. One night, after a cooking show they made love. Maria straddled him and he lie on his back taking in the soft brown hair tousled on her head, her red lips parted, her pinkish tongue sweet, set to strike. He turned his head towards the kitchen, his eyes lifting towards the ceiling where a squiggly, serpent-like shape was affixed. Jonny realized that it was a solitary pasta noodle that Maria had tossed upward to test if it was cooked. The movement of her hips became more frantic. With a fist she pounded into Jonny’s chest.
“I’m…I’m–!” she exclaimed.
The bed shook and soon Maria’s head was on Jonny’s chest, as if listening for its heart story. Jonny looked at the kitchen ceiling again. The noodle was gone.
“Caucasian, what’s happening brother?”
Inky black wore a black kung fu uniform with matching black slippers he’d gotten from a tourist shop in Chinatown. Jonny watched him as he walked across Portsmouth Square approaching him. Jonny had known Inky for 25 years. They played basketball at George Washington High. Inky was an inch or two taller than Jonny but Jonny had longer arms. He always cited that as a reason his defensive game was better. Inky looked good, young for his 45 years; he wasn’t a dark black man; his skin was coffee colored with a good dose of cream. He was called Inky not only for his love of squid cooked in its natural ink, but because in high school he’d spilled a bottle of black ink on the homeroom teacher’s desk. The girls held crushes on him.
“Inky, you’re the only one who could drag me out of bed on an early Saturday morning.”
Surrounding them were a gathering of about 20 or so Chinese elders.
“You know them?” Jonny asked, pointing with his thumb.
“They’re part of the Tai Chi class,” Inky said, bending down touching his toes.
“I’m impressed,” Jonny said, eyes dropping on Inky. “I haven’t seen my toes since high school, forget touching them.”
The old folks began to bend and turn, rotating their hips in circular motions. Jonny followed the slow moving limbs of Inky and the elders. Their form was graceful; arms moving in arcs, circles, pushing outward, pulling inward; arms in patterns of moon and sky.
“Pretty soon you’ll be back to your normal weight.” Inky said, reaching upwards as if trying to block a 3 pointer.
Jonny reached up with both hands, stretching as far up as he could. In the sky was a faint moon. Jonny felt that if he could reach high enough he could grab it like a basketball and slam dunk in into a celestial hoop. He then saw himself on the court 25 years and 40 or so pounds ago. Inky had the ball dribbling upcourt. Jonny was open, he had a lane. All he needed was the ball as the seconds ticked away. They were down by one point with 3 seconds left. He saw the ball come at him. He jumped, reaching for it but in a flash another pair of hands appeared and snatched the ball meant for his hands. He had taken his eye off the ball for a split second. He had seen her in the stands. He thought it was her—Carmen from typing class. Hadn’t she moved? He missed the ball and with it the team missed advancing to the Tournament of Champions (TOC). Day turned to night. A darkness took a hold of the gymnasium and when it was over and he was alone with nothing but his hands still searching for that illusive ball.
Joe reached up then slowly lowered his arms to his sides trying to mimic the Tai Chi moves. He then felt dizzy, a funny sensation entering his chest as if wanting to rob him of air. Jonny stopped moving and placed his hands on his chest.
“What you doin’, the pledge of allegiance?” Inky asked, slapping Jonny’s shoulder.
“I don’t know, I feel weird.”
“Well, sit down a minute, catch your breath.”
Inky walked Jonny to an empty bench where a pair of pigeons was poking around. He sat and watched Inky do his tai chi moves with the Chinese elders as if her were travelling through water, sky, air and into space. Their movements calmed him as he watched. Jonny saw his doctor 3 days later—bad news. His cholesterol was in the high 300’s and he had a mild case of gout. A stress test showed his heart wasn’t in the best of shape. A minute on the treadmill felt like an hour. What happened to my basketball legs? He asked himself. The doctor applauded the fact that Jonny had never smoked but issued a warning—make lifestyle changes, now—starting with diet and exercise. Jonny looked at his profile in a window as he walked out of the doctor’s office. In the reflection he looked as he always did, a few extra pounds. At least I’m not obese he thought as he headed home.
Jonny came out of the Doctor’s visit with doctor’s warnings pulsing in his ears along with a prescription for blood pressure and cholesterol medications—statins the doctor called them. Jonny had heard about statin drugs, they were supposed to keep the cholesterol under control. But he also heard about the side effects—body aches, short term memory loss and the inability to get an erection. He thought about his uncle Roly, who at 85 had a wife 40 years his junior and proclaimed, while planting up squash in the yard: I can still fuck! The man never took medication outside of an aspirin his entire life. What would Uncle Roly think of him now? A few days later Inky called.
“Caucasian, how’s about you and me go down to the pork chop house in Chinatown for some clams and black bean sauce?”
“I’d love to, my brother,” Jonny replied. “But my doctor got me on oatmeal overdrive. Got to get my cholesterol down.”
“Aw, come on brother. Some clams and black bean sauce ain’t gonna kill you.”
Joe loved clams with black bean sauce. There was nothing on the Pork Chop House menu that he didn’t like. His father used to take him there. He’d watch him eat a plate of pig nose with a side order of Chinese sausage. The remnants stayed in his father’s veins. He wanted to join Inky but the feeling that clutched at his chest continued to clutch at his brain so he gave Inky 2 words he never before gave him: I’ll pass.
Joe didn’t mention the prescription meds to Inky. He didn’t want to talk about it. How many times had he been in a café to hear a pair of middle aged guys comparing notes about their medications—how many pills they take and for what ailment—milligrams, all that stuff. It was bad enough having to cut back on food. Why make his meds a conversational piece?
Joe was back at work at the Relia-quote. His phone line buzzed and flickered.
“Rely-a-quote, this is Jonny, how may I help you?”
“Hello Mataba.” A sweet voice said.
“I don’t’ want to be mataba anymore.” Joe replied, adjusting his telephone headset that had a habit of slipping.
“I’ll cook for you tonight.”
“Oh yeah, what are you going to cook?”
“You’ll see. And I’m going to be a chef.”
“You already are.”
“A real chef.” Maria replied.
“Maybe I should cut down on—“Joe began.
Walking towards Jonny was his boss Mr. Rudnick. Most of Jonny’s coworkers disliked Rudnick, they thought he was testy. But Jonny liked Rudnick’s directness; he told you what he wanted; didn’t get lost in a haze of vagueness.
“I gotta go. See you tonight, babe.” Jonny said quickly before disconnecting the call.
Rudnick approached Jonny’s desk. He was a big man—as in wide—with gray hair and small intense eyes of a warthog. Some of the black folks in the company would intentionally mispronounce his name turning Rudnick into Redneck but making it a point to get Jonny’s name right. Jonny figured that since he’d become Caucasian through mispronunciation of his name, that he and Rudnick/Redneck had something in common.
“Jonny,” Said Rudnick. “Did that colonoscopy report come in?”
“Which one?” Jonny asked.
“That fellow in Scottsdale, George McGibbney. He’s up my ass. He leaves voicemails every hour.”
“I talked to him. He said he got on his doctor’s case about it; said the underwriter should be getting it soon.”
Rudnick looked around. Other case managers were at their desks staring down their computer monitors. Nearby, a desk sat empty; it’s only occupant a half jar of multicolored jelly beans and a stack of file folders.
“You doin’ ok, Jonny?” Rudnick asked.
“You know, folks around here talk behind my back. Redneck this and redneck that. But you’re a pretty straight forward guy, Jonny. We never had a problem. I appreciate your hard work. Anyway, would you like to go to lunch—on me?
Jonny was surprised at Rudnick’s offer. They never socialized outside of work-related matters.
“The Chinese place down the block.” Rudnick said. “I love their fried rice.”
“I appreciate it but I can’t.” Joe said. “I’m having lunch with my girlfriend.”
Rudnick ran his hand over his tie, looked away from Jonny then back again.
“Oh, ok, no problem; some other time then.” Rudnick replied.
Jonny was taken by the look on Rudnick’s face. His eyes held a disappointment he couldn’t hide. But there was no lunch date with Maria But how would it look, having lunch with Rudnick—the boss? He looked at his hands—gout in the beginning stages. How did that happen? He grabbed his coat and put it on; the sound of pills in bottles rattling as he headed to the elevator. He left the building for lunch in search of a salad.
The kitchen at Jonny’s apartment was a blanket of warmth with pots speaking to one another in a symphony of sizzles and pops seeking out gastronomical harmony. The kitchen smells crept upon Joe, aromas transforming into a trail of vapor at which end was a finger poking his shoulder, reminding him of the deliciousness that awaited him and of the medications that lie in wait. On his mid-sized TV the warriors were playing the Lakers. He watched the Warriors sprint down the court. He watched Curry, waiting for a 3 pointer that always seemed to float through space. But the smell of food took his attention away from the action. The cooking smelled good but he thought about his cholesterol, his medications. He needed to cut down on fattening food. He took a pill bottle from his pocket. The name of the medication: Atorvastatin. Such names, he thought; who could pronounce them? With humans walking the earth who confused his name Cascasan with Caucasian and Rudnick with Redneck, it was a wonder how anybody knew anything at all.
“It is ready, honey.” Maria said, inching up to Jonny.
“Oh, ok.” Jonny replied, shoving the pill bottle into his pocket.
“What is that?” Maria asked.
“Nothing,” Joe replied quickly, “Just some allergy pills.”
“Allergy? I never hear you sneeze.” Replied Maria.
“I sneeze when you’re sleeping,” Jonny said. “I fart too.”
Maria playfully slapped Jonny on the back of the head then walked to the stove.
“Time to eat,” Maria declared. “No more basketball.”
Maria grabbed Jonny’s wrist and pulled him upward like a child. Maria was a thin woman but she pulled Jonny to his feet as if lifting a fish from water. Jonny plopped onto the kitchen chair.
Maria opened the oven door and pulled out a yellow puffy thing in a glass dish. Maria wore 2 oven mitts that were puffy like boxing gloves. She placed the dish in front of Jonny. It was so yellow, so puffy, so inviting. I poked at it with my index finger.
“Don’t do that!” Maria snapped, swatting my hand away as if it were an overgrown mosquito.
Maria cut into the quiche with the hunting knife she pulled out at the donut shop.
“Eat!” she commanded as she placed a hunk of quiche on Jonny’s place like a slice of lemon merengue pie.
The quiche was hot. The cheese and mushrooms seared the roof of his mouth. With each bite he thought about his love for Maria but also cholesterol number; that eggs would only increase that number on the cholesterol scoreboard, perhaps ascending into record digits.
“It’s good you are eating, that you appreciate my cooking,” Maria said. “I dreamed of being a chef but my brothers made fun of me when I was young. They would tell me my cooking was shit, that I couldn’t boil water. But I can cook. I learn from books.” Maria said, sitting across from Jonny, pointing at the stack of cook books on the coffee table next to the couch. The quiche began cooling in his mouth. It was very tasty. Joe felt as if he were eating the food of higher Gods in a high class establishment and not his 1 room apartment with the temperamental toilet that on occasion refused to flush. With his mouth half full he reached over and touched Maria’s hand.
“Baby, I love your cooking but do you think you could…maybe…cook something different once in a while?”
“Like what?” Maria asked, putting down her fork.
“I don’t know, kim chee maybe.”
“I’m not Korean.”Maria laughed.
“You’re not French either and you make Quiche.”
“For your information, quiche is German. Do you not like it?”
“I love it.” Joe said, stroking her arm as if it were cat fur. “It’s just that it’s so…fattening.”
“Fattening? What about those donuts and chow mein you eat?”
Maria pushed Joe’s hand away. She yanked Joe’s plate away and carried the quiche to the sink.
“Fattening, huh?” Maria snapped. “Here’s your fattening food you ungrateful—“
Maria picked up the glass dish and dumped the yellow glob of quivering quiche into the trash.
For the rest of the evening Joe’s apologies bounced off the wall and somersaulted off his belly and onto the floor. They slept. When he woke, Maria was gone.
A few weeks went by. It was Sunday morning. The phone rang. Joe opened his eyes. It was 11:00
“Caucasian!” the voice called out.
It was Inky Black.
“Get out of that bed, brother. I know your old lady done split but you can’t under the covers all day.”
“I know, I know.”
“You need to get out. Let the air blow the stink off you. Meet me in Chinatown; we’ll do some Tai Chi.
Joe’s insides already felt twisted and contorted; it was as if his guts were doing Tai Chi already. Joe hung up the phone; didn’t say goodbye or anything. It was the first time he’d ever hung up on Inky. Joe embarked on his steel cut oatmeal diet. He didn’t like it at first. He thought it tasted like grape nuts boiled in water minus the taste. He missed Maria’s cooking, her kiss but she was gone—no trace, no nothing. He’d gone to her house over in the South of Market Area, an old flat with 3 units. Filipino families lived in the units. Joe knocked on the door. An old Filipino manong answered the door from across the hall. Joe smiled when he saw that the man was wearing a loose fitting Golden State Warriors tank top.
“I’m looking for Maria.” Joe said to the old man.
The manong looked at Joe. Joe felt the warm air of his unit. It was as if it were the collective breath of all who lived there. He knew the smell—chicken adobo—something he couldn’t eat anymore. Inside the house he heard the voice of a child with a whining voice.
“I don’t want to eat this. I don’t like it!”
Joe looked at the old man.
“Have you seen Maria?” he asked.
“No more!” the man said, shaking his head, closing the door.
“Wait, did she move?” Joe asked.
“Gone already.” The old man said, closing the door, leaving Joe with the smell of adobo.
Joe walked around as if he’d forgotten the layout of the city. So many different places; high end bars and shops aimed at high earning tech workers. He kept walking until he was close to Roger’s café—where he and Maria had met. When Joe arrived at the café he saw that the glass door had been boarded up. The front window had been shattered leaving a gaping wound dripping with glass shards.
“What happened?” Joe asked Roger.
“Somebody break in overnight.” Roger replied. “They take the TV.”
Roger pointed to the ceiling. Joe looked at the space where the TV once hung. He looked at the few customers sitting around chewing on donuts like forlorn goats.
“Fuckers take the TV. Now I have to buy new one.” Roger said, shaking his head.
Joe looked at the donuts inside the glass case; all glaze and jelly and chocolate. He thought about his cholesterol and ordered a decaf. He sat and thought about Maria. A few chairs away was a man holding a plastic knife, his lips wet with coffee, the brown drops dribbling down his chin as he dozed with his eyes half open. A young man in a flannel shirt walked through the door. He looked around then approached the counter.
“Can I get a cup of coffee?” the man asked.
“Over there.” Roger answered, pointing at the glass coffee pots at the edge of the counter.
“Do you have 2 percent milk? The man asked.
“No 2 percent, only cow milk.” Roger replied, his white paper hat looking like a paper airplane that just landed on his head.
“But I want 2 percent.” The man insisted.
“You get all fat or you get nothing!” Roger snapped prompting the young man to leave.
“Mudda packa.” Roger snapped.
Joe sipped his coffee. The man who’d been sleeping a few tables away woke up. He opened and shut his eyes several times, as if not knowing where he was. He took the plastic knife and sawed into his old fashioned donut. Joe sat and looked towards the ceiling as if the big screen were still there.
Joe took the bus home. He put his key into the keyhole but the door was open. He pushed it wide and looked both ways as if he was on a busy crosswalk but instead of a car, he was thinking burglar or worse. Why was the door unlocked? He asked himself. He was always good about locking things before leaving the house—turning lights off if they weren’t being used—habits that lingered since childhood. Joe looked around. On the coffee table was a stack of cookbooks. On the top of the stack was a book titled, All About Quiche. He looked at the window near his bed. It was shattered with bits of glass resembling hail. He heard a noise that sounded like static followed by music. A gust of wind hit him and he became dizzy. The only other time he felt that lightheaded was when he was doing Tai Chi with Inky that day at Portsmouth Square. The wind grew stronger, blowing through the broken glass. It took a hold of him; it lifted the cover of the cookbook and knocked it to the floor He felt a gust of wind swirl around him, pulling him down in his kitchen chair. He sat with a thump as if pushed down. The kitchen, the entire apartment was swallowed in darkness. He looked around, unable to move from the chair. And then a light blared, crashing from the ceiling, a light that sputtered like a flash of lightening. Joe looked up and saw a wide screen TV mounted on the ceiling. Now all the lights in the kitchen were on. He looked up at the TV and saw her face. It was Maria. He watched as she made her quiche. He felt the kitchen’s warmth overcome him. The smell of quiche was in his pores.
“My brothers told me I couldn’t cook, that I could not be a chef. They knew nothing of their sister. I am a chef now.”
Maria looked into Joe’s eyes. He felt a jolt of wind poke at his side. In front of him was a plate of steaming quiche. Next to it was Maria’s knife, the one she used at the donut shot. It emitted a glint that seemed to smile.
“Now eat!” Maria ordered.
Joe stabbed into the quiche with his fork. As he chewed, the phone rang. He didn’t pick it up. He knew it was probably Inky Black who would say those two words that stuck to him: Hey Caucasian!