The Contest

In the middle of the dark room was a steel kitchen table and the demon. The table was heaped impossibly abundantly with food. The demon sat at the end of it, smiling, waiting.

“I’ve come for my father,” Becky announced.

“He’s here.” The demon gestured and there he was, seated at a dining table high on a dais, fidgeting with the silverware.

The demon raised a hand, cutting off her cry. “He can’t see or hear you. He’s simply here for the contest.”

“What contest?”

“A cooking competition!” The demon spread his arms and the walls transformed: banks of stoves and ovens, rows of mixers, racks of knives, bowls, spoons; a vast and perfect kitchen. “Whichever of us makes the dish your father likes best, with them shall he stay.”

“But – he’s a food writer! How can I make something that will impress him when you have the power to do all this?”

He bared his blackened teeth in a cruel smile. “Begin!”

He materialized in a puff of smoke before one of the stoves, flanked by a staff of smaller demons. Becky remained alone. She looked one last time at the dais and began to plan.

The table seemed to boast more food every time she looked: cured meats, fresh herbs, gleaming peppers, oils and vinegars, whole chickens, fragrant cheeses, bowls of greens. Even with all the exotic flavors and techniques her dad had introduced her to, the variety was overwhelming. Her demonic competition scampered back and forth, taking ingredients, but the table never seemed to empty. They took a slab of purplish fish – tuna, she realized – and some greens, which the demon sautéed. Both items soon reappeared on the infinite table.

Becky picked up some tomatoes. The food rearranged itself, adding crab and capers to the assortment. She was beginning to feel sick with fear. What could she possibly make with her skill level – which was high for a fifteen-year-old, but still – that could best a supernatural being? And assuming she could produce something Michelin-star worthy, what could she make that could win over her father, who’d eaten at the best restaurants in the world?

On the demon’s side of the kitchen, a squat assistant was blending a green emulsion. The demon himself was grilling something wrapped in parchment that was steaming gently and smelled like backyard summer.

And then Becky knew what to make.

*

They served her father three dishes: two by the demon and one by Becky. The kitchen lay shadowed, and the dais had transformed into a candlelit leather booth. He even had his notepad out for reviewing.

He sampled the tuna first.

“Magnificent,” he announced after swallowing. “Beautifully seared. And is this wasabi in the emulsion? Amazing.”

The demon smirked. Becky’s heart sank.

Next, the mysterious parchment dish, topped with fries from multicolored potatoes and bathed in a swirl of scarlet oil. Her father unfolded it, enchanted, and carefully took a bite.

“Barbecued chicken,” he murmured, his eyes closing in appreciation. “Perfectly balanced sauce…fork-tender meat…and these fries, with this spicy oil, it’s just perfect!”

Despair tore through her as he reached for her dish. A tear escaped down her cheek. Even though he couldn’t really see her, she wiped it away furtively.

“Grilled cheese and tomato soup?” Bemusement gave way to a smile, distant but warm. “My favorite.”

Becky felt her own small smile. At least she’d been able to give him this moment, before the end.

He dipped half the sandwich into the soup and took a bite. His smile grew broader. “Mayo instead of butter on the sandwich – nice touch. And this soup…”

He frowned suddenly and tasted another spoonful. The smile reappeared. “Plenty of oregano, Parmesan, garlic…and sun-dried tomatoes. Just like my daughter makes it.”

He looked up at her – really at her – and the dark kitchen vanished behind her, taking the frustrated roar of the demon with it.

They were home. The demon’s polished kitchen had transformed into their own battered wooden cabinets, scratched black mixer, and mismatched knives.

“Hey, Bec.” He was still smiling. “Great soup! Where’s yours?”

She smiled back and poured herself a bowl.

(I forgot to actually submit this to yeahwrite this week, but go check out the other submissions! There are new nonfiction essays, short stories, and 42-word microstories every week!)

Links Lundi

I wish I was this metal at 14 (or ever):

Ordinary, non-supermodel women get the magazine cover Photoshop treatment: “It’s like someone else made a decision for me about what plastic surgery I should get and it’s way more intense than I could’ve ever imagined.”

Superheroes and pop culture characters get their portraits taken in the Flemish style. Catwoman is majestic.

Winnie Harlow, a model with vitiligo, will appear in two new fashion campaigns emphasizing “inclusiveness and positivity.” (Thanks for the tip, Katie!)

It took me so many years to understand that my body is beautiful. I had a lot of moments where I was close but it is really, really hard to hear the good when you are surrounded by so much shame. Even as a healthy adult, far away from the playground, my fatness is not okay with a lot of people.

Esther’s Visitor

The clatter of pottery shattering into a basin brought Esther running from the parlor.

“Aubrey, I swear, if you’ve broke another mug…”

Her anger evaporated when she realized Aubrey was staring at something out the window.

“Mama,” the girl whispered, “there’s a man out there.”

Esther squinted through the leaded glass. Standing just inside her gate was a huge man with a bushy black beard. His horse was tied up beyond the fence, and he was holding his hat in his hands.

Sure. She’d seen that trick before.

“Stay here. If there’s trouble, go get Curtis.”

And she took shotgun from over the door, tossed her graying black braid over her shoulder, and went to meet the stranger.

Continue reading

Tuesday Quotes

“I don’t decide to play the characters I play as a political choice, yet the characters I play often do become political statements because having your story told as a woman, as a person of color, as a lesbian or as a trans person, or as any member of any disenfranchised community, is sadly, often, still a radical idea. There is so much power in storytelling, and there is enormous power in inclusive storytelling.”

Kerry Washington, demonstrating intersectional feminism and all kinds of awesomeness in her speech at the GLAAD Awards.

Links Lundi

Spring weather approaches (at least in this part of the country), and with it, the first stirrings of clothing-related modesty lectures aimed at women. As usual, I have strong opinions about this issue, but I really like what this article had to say about it: “You might see some cleavage and have a sexual thought. You might also see a woman tying her shoe and have a sexual thought…That battle happens within your mind and it is your responsibility.”

A new mom’s anxiety over baby clothes teaches larger lessons: “Femininity is not less than masculinity. It is a different kind of strength, but it is powerful and wonderful and deserves our respect.

How often does modern Doctor Who pass the Bechdel Test? (A note on the Bechdel Test. Passing doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is a good representation of women – it only means the creators took the time to come up with more than one female character and put them in a conversation together. Which shouldn’t be difficult, and yet alarmingly few movies pass. Conversely, a movie can have multiple well-written female characters, but if they never talk to each other, that movie will fail the test – like Avengers, or How To Train Your Dragon 2 [see my thoughts below].)

A new anthology uses science fiction to reimagine justice. It never even occurred to me to wonder what we could do besides prisons, so I’m looking forward to reading this.

We finally saw “How To Train Your Dragon 2″ and since I’d already read this article, I was prepared to be disappointed by the character of Hiccup’s mother. I do believe Valka was grossly neglected for the movie’s final act, but I agree more with this article in that overall, HTTYD2 does an awesome job challenging gender-based tropes. What do you think?