Sitting together for dinner is not something the Smiths do often. Most nights, Kate has to work late shifts at the hospital, and Tom is left eating bland Chinese food all alone. This isn’t how it used to be, though. When they first got married, they cooked exciting and delicious dinners every night, each one seemingly better than the last. They took cooking classes, bought recipe books, and never shied away from a new culinary experience. It was the best of times; they laughed hard, loved even harder, and didn’t care to stop and catch their breaths. But, like everything eventually does, those times came to an end.
The laughter quieted and the food lost its flavor. Kate took on more shifts at work, and Tom often found himself sitting at their kitchen table, staring into the late hours of the night, and watching his shadow grow while he waited for her to come home.
One night, as Tom sits on the couch reading the newspaper, Kate is packing up for yet another shift in the ICU. As she starts to head toward the door, he turns around in his seat and calls out to stop her.
“How about I make dinner for us tonight?”, he offers, his voice pleading. “I can make that chicken risotto I know you like.”
Kate sighs. “That’s sweet, Tom, but I won’t get home until really late. Maybe a different night.” She walks over and pecks him on the cheek before continuing out the door, checking in the mirror on her way to make sure she hasn’t ruined her lipstick.
This time he stands up.
“Kate…”, Tom says slowly. “Don’t you remember what today is?”
She turns to face him and after a moment, her eyes widen, as she realizes the day’s significance.
“Oh, Tom. It’s—“
“Our anniversary!” he interrupts. “Can’t you come back just a few hours early from work? I promise, this dinner will be the best meal you’ve ever had.”
A small smile lines her lips, but her eyes say something else.
“Well I guess it is a special day…” Kate admits with another sigh.
Tom beams, and they agree on a time to meet back at their apartment. He grabs his wallet, and they walk down the stairs of their building together, hand in hand.
An hour later, Tom bursts through the front door of their home with an arm full of groceries, the same goofy smile still plastered on his face. He chops red pepper, green pepper, and yellow pepper, and places them onto a hot pan over the stove. He mixes in green beans and onions and stirs in lemon and garlic for flavor. After what feels like an entire century later, the food is finally ready. He switches out the current dirty tablecloth for a new white one, and sets the table with their wedding china that they’ve only ever used once before.
Realizing that Kate should be home at any moment, he serves the food onto each plate, even caring to use a napkin and wipe around the edges of her plate for the best presentation.
Waiting patiently, Tom’s smile persists, faltering, but never fading completely.
Several times, Tom gets up, hurrying to the microwave to heat up both of their food, as they keep becoming cool, and then rushing back into his seat.
Tom must have heated and reheated Kate’s food a dozen times, that night. Minutes pass, and turn into hours, but still, no Kate.
Tom looks at the food; once a beautiful meal that he was so excited for, and now, with all the heating and reheating, looks sad and dull. The green beans look small and shriveled, and the once strong peppers now are mushy and weak, all seeming to blend together in one meaningless grey.
With this realization, Tom’s smile fades completely.
As he continues to stare into the food, his legs weaken and he crumbles onto the floor, as the loss of their amazing meal truly sinks in.
A long while passes, and he stays like that. He is curled up on the tile, consoling himself, as he imagines what it would be like to hear the jingle of keys on the other side of the door.