Like Mushroom Soup for Casserole
Bon Appetit / AlamyI happen to teach college English. My class and I just discussed Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, and after we finished, the book, still ringing with me, inspired me to write the following piece. Here's my true memory about an event five years ago.
1 can of mushroom soup
2 cans of green beans
1 can of dry cooked and canned onion rings
2 wives, one present, one former
Take care in opening the cans before the Thanksgiving party begins and your former wife arrives. You don't want to cut yourself or anyone else with the sharp sides of the lids. Mix the green beans and the mushroom soup together and put it in a bread loaf pan. Sprinkle the onion rings on top and cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
People will be impressed a man made this, even though you know how to make intricate dishes and the best hollandaise sauce around. For the latter, you had experimented with margarines and whole eggs long ago and found the right mixture that's not so bad on the heart. This isn't the day for hollandaise, though. It's your wife's day to show off in the kitchen and she's letting you make your college-days recipe of Green Bean Casserole.
She suggests your former wife to come. The divorce was four years ago and you've been remarried two. You and your former wife recently argued over your eighteen year-old son -- with whom would he would have Thanksgiving dinner? He's old enough to choose and smart enough not to. Your present wife, who could be Mother Teresa but a hell of a lot sexier, said invite her already. That way your son won't have to be King Solomon.
So you invite her. You'd already invited many other friends. Perhaps the night will be like a Caesar salad where all the different ingredients somehow work, including the anchovies.
Your new wife has been cooking for hours in the galley kitchen and the whole townhouse smells of basil, garlic, butter, and worry. You had listened to her because you realized after the divorce that your insight into people had been stunted, like taste buds that have been burned by hot coffee. You have needed a guide dog into people's souls, and your new wife has more insight than ten of those hounds. Without her, you are a coal miner with no canary.
As she cooks, you consider what may go wrong. What if the other guests are uncomfortable? What if the former wife points out your flaws to the new wife, flaws the new wife hasn't noticed yet. You know you have flaws, and that makes you depressed.
Everyone arrives. You don't know whether to hug the former wife or shake hands. After all, for at least five years both of your nervous systems have been like particle-beam phasers set to induce either unconsciousness or death in the target individual. You remember all the anger and the accusations. You recall the you're-not-thinking-of-your-son speeches. Now you have to make nice. You make nice. You hug. You remember a time when the hug was a real hug.
To your surprise, the evening goes well. Friends are amazed the former wife is there; everyone chats with her at some point, apparently reminded of why they'd liked her originally and happy to like her again because you do. Plenty chat with your present wife, too. There's even laughter in the night. Not yours, but you're not cringing, either.
The evening goes well. People eat. Your casserole disappears.
Goodbyes are said. Your wife walks out with the former to her car to be polite. Minutes later, a car screeches off, and your new wife comes back upset. She tells you that your former wife started saying bad things about you, and "I told her I didn't want to hear it because I love you. I said that we invited her out of respect, and if she can't respect you, then please don't come anymore." You kiss your new wife. Your worries vanish.
An hour later the former wife calls and apologizes to you and says that it was very nice that you invited her over. She's sorry, and she wants to move ahead. She wants to be friends.
That night changed everything. You have all been friends since then. It's good on the heart.
It's all about thanks and giving.
Christopher Meeks writes short fiction and novels. The Los Angeles Times called his first book of short stories, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea, "poignant and wise." Read about his short-story collection Months and Seasons and his novel The Brightest Moon of the Century on Red Room.
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