Dinner for Loretta

Loretta pulled her fork to her lips and tasted her childhood in Dothan, Alabama. The red gravy she remembered from Sunday dinner at Gram’s. Gram would fix Loretta her favorite dinner every once in a while. Gram would fix all her grandbaby’s favorite dinners every once in a while, that way all of them were happy and when they grew up they could always look back and remember when Gram made dinner just for them. Loretta’s favorite dinner was swiss steak with mashed potatoes to hold all the red gravy and Gram’s famous coleslaw. It was famous because it was fancy, like the kind of thing you would bring to church for the pot luck, but she made it fancy all the time. She put chunks of red apple with the skin still on for color and pecans for crunch, and the dressing had her secret ingredient to make everything taste good, sugar. Loretta had been telling Margaret for years about Gram’s cooking. Loretta had stood at the stove while Gram would cook and although Gram had never officially taught her how to make the swiss steak, she could remember from her eyes. Loretta told Margaret about how important it was to flour your cubed steak and get a good brown on it at the beginning, then you take the meat out for a second while you get the onions and green bell peppers cooking in some oil, then a can of tomato sauce, some salt, pepper, garlic powder and, of course, a pinch of sugar. Once that gets all stirred up you put the meat back in the pot and let it simmer real low for a good while, till everything gets soft and tender and the red gravy gets thick from the bits of brown fried flour. And the mashed potatoes were perfect, no lumps, and not the kind of no lumps that comes from beating the potatoes to death until they are gluey. Gram always said the number one thing to do with mashed potatoes is not beat them to death, and the other thing to do with mashed potatoes is put in a lot of butter. A lot. Loretta had planned to make swiss steak and mashed potatoes for her children and then one day for her grandbabies, but that hadn’t been how things turned out. She had made swiss steak for Larry when they first got married, but he didn’t like it much, he didn’t like anything that seemed like a casserole. Larry said that cooking tomatoes and vegetables and meat all in one pot was almost like a casserole and so he didn’t like it. Larry had been mean a lot and had pretended to not like things sometimes just to make Loretta feel bad. One time he claimed to “not really like” peach cobbler when she offered him a bowl topped with ice cream. Loretta had invited her friends over for dinner, so it was an especially hurtful blow. Loretta and Larry fought a lot, but one fight stood out and she told Margaret about it over and over and over again. Margaret had been visiting Loretta at the Huntsville Women’s Colony for at least a decade. Margaret started going to the women’s colony because of the bible. The bible says that we should visit the people in prison, and so Margaret took up her cross and spent an hour every Wednesday with Loretta, talking about Gram’s cooking and Larry’s grubby fingers and Jesus. Loretta had one day made a fancy cake for her boss at the funeral home. Loretta had taken a job as the receptionist at Greenwood Funeral Home after her and Larry got married. Larry had told her he didn’t want to be married to a lazy woman and that until there were babies to care after, she had to get a job to contribute. Larry said he was a feminist that way. So, Loretta made this cake, it was a Coca Cola cake that she had baked in three pans and then cut in half so there were six layers. And the icing, a sticky concoction of confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder and Coca Cola glued all those layers into a magnificent tower. She had even taken the time to make a perfect swirl on the top of the cake, then she took a shower. When she got out of the shower, Larry was home. He heard Loretta open the door to the bathroom and he shouted, “What kind of weird cake is this?” “Don’t touch that cake Larry!” Loretta yelled down at him. “Too late.” Larry laughed and his eyes were smiling as Loretta scurried down the stairs and jumped to the kitchen. Larry had put his grubby fingers right in the top of the cake and had scraped off a huge chunk of icing and poked a hole in the cake. Loretta didn’t say anything, she just turned and walked silently back to her room and put on her pajamas. But later that night she got out of bed after she heard Larry’s snoring and she went to the kitchen and she got her biggest knife and then she went back upstairs and stabbed Larry in the chest. And they said that she had been thinking about doing it all night so it was premeditation. And then, when they found Larry’s index finger sticking straight up out of the middle of that cake, they called that particularly heinous circumstances, and because Larry had kept it a secret from everyone except for Loretta that he was so mean, they gave her the death penalty. And so it came to Margaret to cook that last meal. Loretta had told the guards that she wanted swiss steak and mashed potatoes and cole slaw for dinner that last night, but she begged them to let Margaret cook it. Loretta trusted that Margaret had the recipes memorized by now and that Margaret had the right qualities to provide the special touch that grandma’s give to the cooking. Loretta knew that Margaret would remember the pinch of sugar, and she did. Loretta pulled her fork to her lips and tasted her childhood, her innocent days at Gram’s side, she tasted her tears and she tasted love.

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About audreyryan

semi-pro rogue theatre critic
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