Fiction · 10/21/2020

Cooking with Onions

Today at work, Steve had his annual review. It didn’t go well. His sales numbers have been falling lately — hard to sell anything in this economy — and he’s taking it extremely personally. He knows that technically his ability to sell air conditioning systems doesn’t reflect his character, but also, he feels strongly that it does.

Damn economy. Steve learned at a young age that most things can be blamed on the economy. The rest can be blamed on his parents’ divorce.

After lunch, Steve got a call from his brother. Their father was hospitalized again last night.

Then, Steve stubbed his toe.

+

Tonight, Steve is making dinner. He loves to cook, and he’s a bit self-congratulatory about it. He recently lectured his wife Ingrid about the flavor differences of red, yellow, and white onions.

Steve frequently cooks with onions. He knows that Ingrid worries he’s sending subliminal messages about their sex life. (Maybe he is trying to repel her, etc.). But it has nothing to do with their sex life, which used to be well above-average.

Steve sets a white onion on the cutting board and begins to peel it. The skin is first crisp and brittle, then damp and supple like a prematurely erupted blister. The innermost translucent skin sticks to his finger, and he peels it away as if it is his own. The whole process is somewhat grotesque. Steve enjoys it.

Ingrid sweeps into the kitchen with Baby Matthew on her hip. Baby Matthew is screaming. His face looks like a gnarly autumn squash, orange and wrinkled with rage.

Ingrid eyes the row of white onions.

Steve eyes the screaming baby.

It’s uncomfortable. Steve doesn’t like the animalistic shrieks from his infant son and is relieved when Ingrid carries Baby Matthew upstairs, leaving Steve alone again with his onions. He picks up the chopping knife.

Soon, Steve’s eyes are wet bloodshot bubbles about to pop. The knife hits the cutting board with a steady chomp, chomp, chomp as onion pieces tumble into existence.

What if he accidentally chops off a fingertip? The tears blur his vision. Would the onion absorb the blood and become pink? Or would the droplets land around the white pieces as isolated beads, dark red and foreign?

When Ingrid went to therapy, she told Steve that her therapist didn’t offer her tissues. The tissue box sat on the desk, nearby, but the therapist never suggested that Ingrid dry her tears. Therapists don’t say Stop crying, pull it together, have some goddamn self-respect. They’d go out of business if they did that.

Steve’s father — yes, the one in the hospital — is not a therapist. Steve’s father has never worried about going out of business. He can say whatever he likes.

Sometimes, when he’s chopping onions, Steve pretends the onion is his father’s head.

Sometimes, he pretends that he’s in therapy.

Sometimes, he forgets to pretend.

Steve’s eyes gently explode, and two frenetic tears race down his face. His nose runs sloppily.

There’s something unsanitary about this process, something pathetic, but Steve doesn’t stop. These unsanitary, pathetic moments make all the rest a little more bearable.

+++

Hayley Zablotsky is a writer based in Northern California. She graduated from Texas Christian University, where she won the Sandra Brown Excellence in Literary Fiction Award. Her writing has recently appeared in Narratively, The Syndrome Mag, and The Belladonna Comedy. She is working on her debut novel.