And Then You Made Me Dinner
for Museum of Restaurants

Gear boxes and hands shaking a little bit, we pulled into the carpark of the supermarket – you in that red car and me in my battered silver one. A car scored and punctured, like a tomato before undressing, by low garden walls and signposts. I am out of practice, both in driving and dating, and so the judders joined me, stopping and starting. Stalling. Losing words. Struggling to find the bite of my clutch. Rambling and repeating myself.

I liked the way the air smelled like a hot baking tray and the way we looked at punnets of blackberries instead of each other. Like going to a museum, we talked about the displays, reading the labels, sharing stories. I think you spoke about carbonara, but I wasn’t listening properly, sorry. Tell me again. Make me pasta, maybe, and show me how you do it, too. Do you salt your water? I bet you do.

This is where it began and apparently returns – the aisles of a supermarket, with rows of plastic wrapped peppers, potential and promise. So much at stake or, no, actually maybe it’s just that feeling of there being so much to make from this strange flurry of ingredients in our arms – why didn’t we get a basket? – picked up in passing while you talk about the things you like. We gather some semblance of a meal – vegetables with vegetables, herbs. I like patatas bravas, I say, and so we retrace our steps. Grab supplies. Nice.

It’s dark outside. We’re one of the few people wandering the bleached floor and the clearance stickers are on – all of these yellow shapes stuck in rows like airport runway lights. I swap some perky leaves of coriander for a bruised bunch and think I see you wince because of course, they won’t be as good as the good stuff, all spread tight and green – but you don’t, you just smile and walk on, then glide down the road home – us in two separate cars, in tandem, in quiet. I hear bags rumble in the boot and look at you in my rear-view mirror. The red traffic light renders you sizzling and delicious.

And then you made me dinner, so big in my little kitchen, as I knelt on the office chair and read that children’s book about a boy who fit in a walnut shell, stalling and stumbling over words again. I watched you feel the edge of my knives, and it was funny because they are rough and terrible. Your hands, such good ones, made my knives look like old, jagged sticks. You make things look bad without meaning to, just because you look so good. I like it.

So, this was the beginning. I did the peppers, de-seeded, with oil and salt, like they do at Brindisa or at any bar in Spain. They got so black like treacle and stuck to my teeth later, but it didn’t really matter because you’d made the rest, so beautiful and bright for something to eat at two in the morning. The potatoes you simmered for so long, gently, gently, so that they were like sponge cake, kind of melting. Garlic and tender stem broccoli. I should have got it from my garden. I forgot. We have loads. Maybe next time, I say, then realise what I’ve said, and get shy. Then, some sort of sauce. Tomato so small it disappeared. Onion. Gin from your glass for a laugh from me. It worked. More garlic. What else was there? Tell me later.

I get the mayonnaise from the fridge and scrape some into a bowl, then stir some other stuff, so unrefined and simple and maybe even disgusting, into it. I don’t want you to know what was in there. I keep it a secret – made up as you stirred your sauce, distracted. What isn’t a secret, though, is how it worked so well with your soft potatoes, your sharp sauce, your browned butter on those stems, my toffee-peppers. They all needed something smooth, white, thick.

It was all good. I liked it.

*

Today, later, with distance and time, I stand at a stove and stir some vegetables from a bag, pre-cut by a machine in some unknown town – abroad, probably. I squeeze in lemon juice and powdered spices that make some sort of sense. I fry an egg with a yolk so orange that it glows in this close June air, and I eat the thing from my lap on my windowsill.

Gathered from a nearby supermarket, I carried these ingredients to the till and queued behind a pair, stumbling and stalling as they looked at the fruit aisle and not at each other.

The supermarket. This is where it begins and apparently returns.




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