Charley calls me delicious and doesn’t care who knows it. Only one problem. I’m delicious like a pizza, he says. Round and moist and just enough spice. But then there is tasty Loretta, who is more of a cupcake delicious. Gooey swirls of buttercream and sweet. Charley will argue that a man needs different flavors. He says it’s biology and that you can’t fight instinct. Later, when we make love, when he plates me up, lays me out like a table, I feel the gnaw of his hunger biting down on my ears, on my neck, on my breast. I rise under him like dough.
I start to buy cookbooks. How to dress up a pizza. In other words, how can I be, say, a cheerleader pizza, or a pizza like a naughty schoolgirl. Pepperoni, of course, but I can’t help thinking about cupcakes and why not on a pizza. That night I throw on a bolt of cotton candy when I dress myself up for Charley. It melts under my bra. The goo cloying against my skin. I think about the whole biology thing, and I wonder how the cavemen satisfied their need for different flavors when all they had were sabertooth tigers and such.
That night when Charley bites down hard on me, on my cotton candy breast, I hear a moan that I am happy/not happy to hear. His mouth curling up in an L—the beginning of a Loretta about to leave his lips. I push Charley off my breast. He is mid-nibble and visibly confused. It’s as if he didn’t hear the L that barely made it out of his mouth. It’s as if he didn’t know he was cheating on me with my own delicious body.
Later, I tell Charley we’re through. Kitchen is closed, is what I say. He is busy now chomping on a real-life pancake and God knows what other woman he is thinking about. Doughy, yes, but not like pizza. He lets the butter dress his lips. He licks it slowly while I stand there and watch. Finally, he answers me. More of a long, empty stare than anything else. A lean back in his chair, patting his bloated stomach. He seems to be saying that’s okay. I’m full anyway. I’m tired of pizza, and you can only be one flavor at a time so stop trying. And so, I do. I pack up my knicks and my knacks and I’m ready to go. The last thing I see as I walk out the door is Charley useless to anyone until his next hunger and me happy to never have to taste like anything ever again.
It is the end of July, and I am thinking about file cakes. That’s because of my husband, Dave, who is over at the county jail. He called me collect, and he asked me to bring him a file cake. And, I swear, he wasn’t kidding.
He’s in jail because I put him there. Nearly all of June, he was trying to tell me something with his fist. Must have been important because he just kept pounding it into me. All kinds of reasons he must have had, but I couldn’t hear one.
So, this one night, say June 23rd, I was running out of makeup and excuses and even Old Molly, the downstairs neighbor, said I should turn him in. “For your sake, too,” Molly said through her missing-tooth grin, “but mostly so I can get some sleep.”
That’s when I called the cops, and I figured they’d lock Dave up for just one night, but when they came to get him and saw my plum-colored eye, they said I better get used to living alone. Which I have always been too scared to do because folks might look at you funny at the supermarket when you buy just one pork chop.
Which I couldn’t eat when Dave was here because he hated the smell of pig floating up through the house.
Gave me a good slam that Sunday. I cooked some bacon and it woke him up.
And I shouldn’t even visit him at all except for the fact that I’m still in love with him, if you can call it love, and I guess some folks do.
I just hope this isn’t the night his other wife, Lynn, shows up. I hate it when she gets there first, and I have to look at her in the waiting room.
She’s always carrying that kid that looks just like Dave, even down to the black devil curl that falls down on his forehead.
The first time I saw her, I asked Dave who the hell she was, and he called her a lunatic and big, fat liar, but the curl on that kid’s forehead kept shouting out the truth to me.
So, I was all set to bake a file cake. But today, I was at the supermarket and instead of the flour and eggs I would need, I ended up buying a lonely little pork chop, and you know, no one even seemed to care.
I’ll bake the file cake tomorrow, but I don’t think anyone would mind too much if I just sit here bruiseless and almost happy for just this one time, the smell of pig filling up the house like a flower.
Food is such a natural element to go to whenever I am trying to add sensory detail to a piece. Food really evokes all of the senses. If I’m trying to add smell, for example, it’s so easy to throw in a slab of bacon in a frying pan. This also adds sound, sizzle, pop, sight, the bacon strips curling up the way they do, and, of course, taste. The sense of touch is the snap of the strip in your fingers, the delicious grease on your fingers. This kind of detail can totally nail a scene to the wall when you are trying to make the reader feel involved, which is always, I hope.
Food is also a valuable element in character shorthand. A character who eats fluffy pancakes is a different character from one who will only eat a salad. Of course, a character can do both, even at the same time, but in that particular moment, the fluffy pancakes can act as a subtle buffer. If the character is ingesting fluffiness, is he comforted or in need of comfort?
The way a character eats is telling, you can nibble, shovel, chomp, etc. All of these little things add up and go a long way.
Since I love food so much, it’s always wonderful to read a good food description even for no other reason than pleasure, but writing about food really does go a very long way in terms of craft.
Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid–American Review, and Passages North. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc Fiction) and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books). She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) was published by ELJ Editions in September, 2021. She lives in NYC.