Bobby’s been to the new butcher, the one that lists the names and locations of each of the producers from which it procures it’s ethically sound animal products. He’s making meatloaf and he takes the making of it seriously. He had elevated the idea of meatloaf long before the idea of comfort food had been pushed as an antidote to fussiness. He has his special barbecue sauce in the fridge because he always has a batch in the fridge. And so he piles the ground chuck, veal and pork in a large stainless steel bowl. He adds salt and some cayenne and Keene’s. He cracks two eggs into the pile of meat and then he covers it all with panko. He folds everything together, gently, he learned long ago not to overhandle the meat in meatloaf — or meatballs — and then he pours the barbecue sauce in and folds the mixture some more, until he’s pleased with the consistency of it. He pours it onto a baking sheet lined with foil. He pats the meat into a loaf. He also learned long ago to not stuff the meat into a loaf pan, and if anyone mentions the quality of his meatloaf, this is what he tells them, this trick is all you need to produce a superior meatloaf.
Mention of his meatloaf is a door to commentary, a story told through digression.
Bobby brushes more of the barbecue sauce over the loaf, and finally he pours some honey that’s been spiked with ground chiles over the mass. He places the baking sheet into the maw of the hot oven and sets the timer. He cleans his hands. He cuts some organic carrots he picked up at the small market next to the butcher. He melts butter in a cast iron pan and adds some olive oil, some apple cider vinegar, and a twig of thyme. When the butter bubbles, he places the carrots in the pan and gives it a shake. He checks on the rice in the pot on the stove. He sits at the kitchen table and takes a sip of his scotch. He wished he still smoked.
His life had become this. And quickly. He thought of dust and food and cleanliness often now, the way he once thought of spreadsheets and fear and profit, and every once in a while, he sat down and wondered about this transition. He’d thought about taking up jogging, quite a bit, exercise would be good. He’d always complained he didn’t have time to exercise and now he had nothing but time; he understands he never had the desire, that exercise was an activity that felt distant, unnecessary. He wasn’t sure that exercise was worth it. What did good health get you? An extra year? Two? Did it even guarantee that? Did it guarantee even an extra second? Did exercise equal time or did it simply grant purchase into conversations about being in shape? Because in the end, the only people who really listened were the other people exercising, the tribe, a society of the fit, exercise was a lifestyle, like anything else, under a larger umbrella of wellness, what a word, wellness, which implied that everyone who didn’t subscribe to it were fans of unwellness.
He was going to jog. It was just a matter of buying the right gear. Which he would do. Tomorrow. That would be his errand. He’d go to a running boutique and he’d purchase his uniform and he’d become one of them, he’d look the part, and perhaps in that pursuit he would gain entry into a world he didn’t want to enter.
He stands and checks on the rice again and turns the burner off and then he starts stirring the carrots. He adds some more pepper and then he shakes the pan. He turns the exhaust above the stove to medium and the smoke from the carrots runs toward the fan, to its efficient disposal.
He pours himself another scotch. He hears the door open and then the short steps running up the stairs and he knows it’s Dee. “Dinner in half an hour!” he yells. He’s not sure if Abbie is in the house at all. Lately, every meeting with his son has elicited a kind of surprise, and Abbie has noted it and seems to enjoy the awkward serendipity of their encounters.
Mimi has texted her arrival. This is how they speak now. Bobby has watched Mimi become consumed by her business and each level of consumption is another wall constructed between them, another barrier to their communication, to the confirmation of their relationship. He has suggested date nights and Mimi says yes and then forgets the suggestion, that it was ever mentioned, because she no longer listens, her world is lived in her head when she is not in the only world that matters to her.
Dee runs into the kitchen and gives her father a kiss on the top of his head. He reaches for her, but the scotch has slowed him, and he misses, and Dee opens the pantry and stands staring at the delights within. “We’re eating soon, Dee Dee,” Bobby says.
“I heard you,” she says. She turns to him and smiles. “Meatloaf?”
Bobby stands and turns the burner controlling the carrots to low. “And glazed carrots. And rice.”
Bobby reaches for his phone. “Sure,” he says.
“Do we have any fruit bars or something?”
Bobby doesn’t think they do but he doesn’t know either and this bothers him. Fruit bars are the kind of thing Mimi might buy if she were thinking of her family’s needs. But Bobby wouldn’t, he would never buy fruit bars, because he’s not even sure they are a real food, he didn’t grow up with something called fruit bars, and so when he goes shopping, they do not exist, not in the realm of the things he thinks he can buy when he steps into a grocery store. He thinks he lacks empathy. “Is your brother home?”
“So is that a no on the fruit bars?”
“I didn’t even know you liked fruit bars.”
Dee turns to face her father. “I love fruit bars.”
“I didn’t know.”
“I do now.”
“So do we have any?”
Bobby shrugs. He’s not sure what a fruit bar looks like. He can’t picture the packaging. Is a fruit bar the kind of thing that would even occupy the pantry? Is she looking in the right place?
“OK. I can hold out.”
“That’s good because the meatloaf…”
“I love your meatloaf.”
“Is your brother home?”
“I don’t know,” Dee says, because she doesn’t, because like her father, and like her mother probably, she never knows if her brother is home, because his door is always closed and when he’s in there it’s silent and when he’s home he’s in his silent room, and even though it’s next to her room, she never knows where her brother is or what he does with his days and she long stopped caring much or worrying about it. She backs her way out of the kitchen, keeping eye contact with her father, for no reason, she can’t fathom why she thinks she needs to maintain eye contact with him, but she does it, perhaps because she thinks it’s polite, but really she just wants to get back in her room and continue finding different ways to explore her new self that involve actually meeting other new selves and not girls on line who may or may not be girls. And she also wants to figure out if she should tell her parents about her new self, because meatloaf seems like the ironic meal, to her, and maybe she’s backing out of the kitchen because this is the last time she’s in the kitchen with her father while he believes his daughter to be heterosexual. And she finds this so silly she turns and runs up the stairs and dives into her room so her father doesn’t hear her muffled laughter.