The Empty Space

February 29, 2008
By Beth Hascall, Columbia Falls, MT

Guten tag! My name is Mina. I live in small apartment on the edge of small town Michigan with my cat, Liam. I am large, lonely, and 65 years old. “But you have a cat! How could you be lonely?” you may ask. Well you see, the cat does not talk. I talk to him, I chatter incessantly, but he never answers back more than a “meow”, not to mention the fact that he doesn’t understand German, the language of my home. It comes down to this: I am starved for love.
My apartment is no help for my situation either. The neighbors are rude and uncaring. Also, my unit is so small that I can hardly stand it sometimes. The white walls and brown carpet close in on me, and I just don’t want to be alone anymore, especially at night. And then it came to me one afternoon while I was cooking dinner for me and Liam. I am a good cook, and I love to do it. I like to arrange flowers and decorate, and I want to make people happy, so I put this ad in the paper:
“Surprise your love: Want to have a special meal, but don’t want to go out? Wonderful! I’ll come to your home, cook your meal, and decorate however you would like with flowers and, candles. I’ll even include desserts. Requests outside of the above said may be made upon booking an evening. For more details, call Mina at 555-5309”
I didn’t really expect to get any calls of interest. As I said, I am large, and old. I know the reader can’t see me when they read the ad, but it just seemed so impossible. I was also afraid. I am not the most outgoing or brave person, and I was scared that my customers would turn me away at the door when they saw me, then tell everyone not to call; “she’s so ugly and old!” But there was so much I didn’t know.

My ad went out in the Tuesday paper and by that evening, I had one customer lined up for Thursday – a dinner for him and his girlfriend – soon to be fiancée, he hoped. Len was such a nervous man on the phone. He hadn’t a clue what he wanted me to cook for dinner let alone what flowers or other decorations he or Adelle, his girlfriend, fancied. He said his budget was $200, and that he liked German food like his mother makes, so I began to plan.

I would have a small relish plate to start with. Delicate crackers and a wedge of brie, along with strips of yellow and red peppers with an herb dip would complete the appetizer. For a beverage, I decided to keep it simple with sparkling water. For dinner, I prepared, chicken schnitzel with…broccoli. Everyone likes that! A small dinner salad drizzled in a balsamic vinaigrette would complement the meal. For dessert, I decided on apple strudel “a la mode” with decaf coffee.

Decorations were my next endeavor. After a few phone calls back to Len, I finally discovered that the décor in his house was mostly blue and white; now I could begin planning. I created a small center piece – nobody wants a huge thing in-between them while they’re eating dinner! To one side of the table would sit a small bouquet of mixed flowers, excluding carnations. In the center of the table, I placed a square mirror laden with a wreath of pink and burgundy miniature roses splashed with green leaves. Inside of the wreath, there were two white votive candles. Beneath the candles, I placed light blue glass “blobs”. They add such a nice effect.

The table setting is where I had the most fun. The napkins were folded fan style and placed in the water glasses. The plates, off white with a silver trim, were a nice contrast. I placed two forks, a spoon and a knife beside each plate. I decided to bring the plates out with the meal upon them, which worked quite well and, I reasoned, would leave less mess. Dessert and coffee inherited the same method.

Finally, the night was upon us! Dinner was set to be served at seven, with appetizers around 6:45. Adelle would be over just before then. I was scheduled to arrive at 5:30 to begin decorating and cooking. This would be plenty of time – I had all the decorations together and arranged already. I would simply need to put them up. I almost wore my favorite dress – dark blue with white lace on the cuffs and hem – but decided to take it with me to change later so I didn’t muss it. I pulled my hair back in a clean and tidy bun, said goodbye to Liam, and I was ready to go!

I was still nervous when I arrived at Len’s home, but not nearly as nervous as poor Len. He was nearly beside himself. I told him to just sit down and relax for awhile. He sat down for about five minutes before getting up and pacing again. When I finally told him that Adelle would be much more comfortable if he didn’t appear so nervous, he forced himself to calm down. I brought him a cup of chamomile tea, which may have helped.

After getting all of the decorations up and the messiest part of dinner completed, I changed my clothes. I checked on the decorations and lit the candles. Then, I checked on Len. He was a wreck, all biting his nails, and pacing the floor. I said
“Len! Listen to me now – in our language, your name means “lion hearted”. Now quit being so scared and think about the end result! I’m sure this girl, Adelle, loves you, and since love is the greatest, you have nothing to fear.”
Len sat down, and relaxed for a bit. But then the door bell rang. He paled at the sound of it, as though it were his summons to the boxing ring. I gave him an encouraging smile, reminded him to show Adelle to the living room, then scurried back to the kitchen to make the final adjustments on the appetizer.
“Hi, Adelle!”
“Hello, Len, how are you?”
“Oh I’m pretty good, how ‘bout yourself?”
“I’m doing wonderfully…”
And that was my cue to bring the appetizer out. Adelle looked shocked to see me, another woman, an OLDER woman in the home of her boyfriend, but I introduced myself in hopes of clearing up any chance of bad publicity about me.
“Hallo, my name is Mina, and I have prepared dinner for you and Len tonight.”
“Oh I see! Fantastic to meet you, Mina!”
So I had passed my first real test – Adelle and Len had accepted me! I was relieved at this notion, and I felt much more prepared to face the rest of the evening.
The rest of the story of my first dinner is how one might expect. The food turned out quite well; dessert was a real hit. After dessert, Len proposed, and although the presentation was awkward, Adelle accepted, and Len stood just a little bit taller as I was leaving.

I arrived home that night with a satisfied feeling. Well, almost. I felt good that I had helped make Len and Adelle happy, and I felt like I had found my calling, so to speak. But there was something missing still. I reminded myself that love was what I needed. As I went to bed, I prayed to God that He would help me to not feel so lonely.
The months came and went, and my services became more and more in demand. Meanwhile, Truman, that old goat from the grocery store, had begun to be very interested in me. He was always asking how I was and how my dinners were going. Then, he started to give me discounts on my groceries. They were subtle at first – rounding down to an even dollar – but then he started taking percentages off. He started with 5 percent, and then increased to 10. At this point, I asked him what on earth he was doing.
“Truman, is your business doing well?”
“Oh, you know, I have my days. It’s been tough for the past few years, but it seems to be getting better. Why do you ask?”
“Well, you keep giving me these discounts. I was just wondering why.”
“It just makes my book keeping easier when it’s not some odd amount of change, that’s all.”
“Truman, do you realize that my purchase was just $21.63? That is an odd amount of change.”
“Oh…Mina, I just…I just want to help you!”
“But why? Why makes you want to help old me?”
“I just do, okay?” Truman said in a gruff yet pained voice.
“Well, okay, suit yourself,” I returned. Then I left the store.

I was ill-at-ease for the rest of the day. Why would Truman want to help me? I’m not attractive, and I live with my cat. I cook for people for something to do with my time. I AM NOT THE KIND OF PERSON THAT ANY MAN WOULD WANT TO SETTLE DOWN WITH! Or am I? I don’t know. But I sure am confused.

I continued serving dinners and aiding in the process of courtship. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I still had that feeling in my heart that something was missing. I carried on with my prayers, asking God to help me feel complete. God has a sense of humor!

One Monday evening off, I was sitting at home working on some knitting when my phone rang. The voice was low and disguised…and vaguely reminded me of Truman. Actually, I was almost sure it was him, but I played along with his little game.

“Hello, I have a question about your cooking services.”

“Okay, what do you want to know?”

“Erm, well, I was wondering if you would…ah…cook for justoneperson,” he said in a rushed tone.

“Well, what’s the occasion?”

“Ah, I have no occasion other than that I just want a decent, home cooked meal. I’m a bachelor, and I can’t cook and I’m weary of eating out.”

“I see. What do you like?

“So you’ll do it?” He questioned excitedly.

“It depends on what you want,” I responded almost coldly. This man was giving me a strange feeling.

“Okay, okay, I love good, authentic German cooking, just like from the Old Country. Anything you cook, as long as it’s German, will do wonderfully.”

“German you want, eh? I can cook German. I will charge a flat fee of $100. Take it or leave it.

“I’ll take it! Are you free, er, booked this Friday night?”

“That’s open – I’ll be there at 5:15 sharp. Thank you and goodnight.”

What an odd conversation.

On Tuesday, I began to plan the menu. I was sure Truman…I mean this man…would want an appetizer. I settled on chucks of bread, sausage, and cheese fondue, with sparkling water. Just before the meal, I would serve a dinner salad with apple cider vinaigrette. Sauerbraten, Knödel (potato dumplings), and Gedunstetes Rotkraut (stewed red cabbage) filled out the meal. For dessert, I decided on Bavarian Crème and coffee. I didn’t need to worry about decorations; the Wednesday before, the man called to say he didn’t want any.

Friday finally came, and I was nervous. I didn’t understand why, though. I was just cooking for Truman…or some other man. But then it hit me. I hoped it was Truman. I wanted to see him, and the thought of cooking for any other man tonight made me sad. I guess I liked him. There was no use dwelling on it though, for I couldn’t change anything if Truman wasn’t my client tonight.

I carefully prepared myself for the evening. I had cooked this meal so many times that I wasn’t concerned about spilling on myself. And I wanted to look good for Truman, that is if I was going to Truman’s house. You’re probably wondering how I didn’t know if it was Truman’s house or not, but I had never been there before, and I had no idea of where he lived.

I bade Liam goodbye, and went on my way. I followed the directions carefully, and arrived at the home with two minutes to spare. My hands were shaking! I took a moment to compose myself, then made my way to the front door. There was a note, written in a familiar hand:


I had to run an errand. Let yourself in – the kitchen is down the hall and to the left. I should be

back soon.

Thanks –
How peculiar that note was, but I let myself in and set to work. I set the appetizer out in the living room, and just after I did that, the mystery man arrived. I heard him settle into the living room and begin eating. Oh how I wanted to peek out there and see just who this was, but something seemed to stop me. At first I wasn’t sure what, but then it dawned on me with a painful ringing in my ears. It was the timer. I took the potato dumplings out of the water, and then I dished up and garnished his plate. I announced that I would be bringing dinner out in a few moments, and that he should make his way to the dining room. I heard him get up and walk from the living room. Now was the moment of truth. Who would this man be?

Another surprise awaited me, though. At the head of the table was a note with a single purple German Iris attached. It said, in that same familiar hand writing:


I would be most happy if you would join me for dinner tonight. Eating alone is no fun.

Thanks –

Oh my! I had no idea what to make of this, so I set the first plate down, and returned to the kitchen for another plate. I was hungry, and sauerbraten is my favorite…AND WHAT IF IT WAS TRUMAN?! At any rate, I had nothing to lose.

A few moments later I left the kitchen, hands shaking and heart pounding. Who would I see when I rounded the corner? I walked over the threshold into the dining room, and there was…a man sitting there with a newspaper in front of his face. I silently moved towards the table. With a small clink I set my plate down and seated myself. I didn’t know what to say; didn’t know if I should say anything at all.

Suddenly, the “mystery man” lowered the paper. It was Truman! Oh how happy I was! He slowly smiled, his eyes twinkling, and said “Let’s eat.”

Over the next few months, I made dinner for Truman and me every Friday night. I still had that unexplainable empty feeling, though. Every night I prayed to God for help, for Him to fill that hole, but alas, it was still just Liam and me at home. I knew God heard my prayers and helped me, but human companionship is what I lacked.
From the first dinner with Truman on, I always let him choose the meal. He never repeated the sauerbraten, though. I asked him why one evening, but he just said “I’m not in the mood”. One week, though, I got quite a shock.

“Hello Truman! What do you want for dinner this week?”

“Well, Mina, that’s a tough choice! Everything you make is so wonderful.”

“Oh, well thank-“

“-How about sauerbraten with all the trimmings!”

“Oh sure, okay, I like to cook that one. Sauerbraten it is!”

The week dragged on. I was somewhat troubled, but mostly bewildered by his sudden change of taste. But I just excused it with men being finicky creatures, and left it with that. I couldn’t suppress the tingle of excitement I felt all week, though.

Finally Friday came around. I prepared the meal, and took my place at the table, just as I had for the past several months. Something was unlike the previous nights. There were candles on the table! And was that a vase of roses? I began to tremble, but I got myself under control just as Truman walked through the door. Wait a second I thought to myself. Truman looked different. He wore navy blue slacks with a button up shirt and tie, and his hair was neatly trimmed. The best was yet to come, though.

We ate dinner in the same casual manner we had previously. We discussed our week, and other things that I can no longer remember. But Truman just didn’t seem quite himself. He was quiet, yet still attentive. And then it happened.

I had just glanced down to my watch when I heard a rustling sound. I glanced up and Truman was making his way towards me. He seemed nervous and excited. As he came closer, he reached for his pocket; then he knelt down in front of me. What in the world? I thought to myself. He took my hand, and said

“Mina, there’s something I want to ask of you tonight.”

“Yes, Truman, what is it?”
“Well, Mina, I’ve been alone for a long time. I’m tired of it. I hate being by myself when I wake up, when I go to bed, when I eat my meals. I’ve enjoyed your company so much these past few months. I love your cooking and conversation. I love these few hours a week that I’m not alone. You’re beautiful, inside and out, and Mina…I love you. Even though I don’t deserve you at all…would you marry me?”

“And that’s why I chose sauerbraten tonight. You see, I felt something the first time you came here. I wanted tonight to be very much the same as then. It just seemed right.”

I was speechless. Absolutely speechless. All this time I had spent wondering why God hadn’t filled that space in me, and the answer was kneeling right here in front of me. It was all about timing. A smile spread across my face and I said “Yes. Yes, Truman, I would love to marry you.”

That night was one year ago tomorrow. That’s why I’m writing this all down – to remember what that one little ad – and God – has done for me. Truman and I are both happy, and our home is full of good German cooking, and love.

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