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جمعه 20 فروردین‌ماه سال 1389
داستان کوتاه انگلیسی

Rowena Cooks A Meal

Fiction by S. D. Youngren



Rowena invited her parents to dinner. She was not doing this because she could think of nothing better to do with an evening, but because she intended to prove, once and for all, that she was managing by herself.

“Do you use those cookbooks I gave you?” her mother asked. “What were they called?”

Cooking For Morons and How Not To Incinerate Your Dinner.”

“Yes, that's right. Do you ever use them?”

Rowena shut her eyes. “They were so helpful,” she said, “that I can now use normal cookbooks.”

“Oh, that's good to hear.” Sarcasm was lost on Rowena's mother. “I do worry about you, Rowena; I know how you young people are. But you just can't live on Big Macs.”

“Whoever said you could?” Rowena asked.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

The afternoon of the dinner looked promising. The weather was good, the apartment was in perfect order, including the bouquet Rowena had remembered to buy for a centerpiece, and the food—which she had made from scratch, right down to the breadsticks and the salad dressing—was perfect and, unbelievably, on schedule.

Her parents were only twenty minutes late. Rowena jumped when she heard the doorbell, stopped quadruple-checking everything to let them in.

“Hello, Rowena,” said her mother. “Something smells good. Dear, your hair is a mess.” She gave Rowena a peck on the cheek. “You look like you've been through a wind tunnel.”

“Hello,” said Rowena at last. Her father shoved his wife out of the way, charged past his daughter. “Your TV in here?” he asked, and turned it on.

“Daddy?”

“I'm afraid you decided to have your little dinner in the middle of a football game,” her mother explained. “He was not happy.”

Rowena's father turned the volume up. “Well—” said Rowena doubtfully.

“Child, do something about your hair. Let me have a look at the food.”

“It's just about ready; it doesn't really need—”

“Oh, I almost forgot. Here.” Her mother gave Rowena a big smile. “A hostess gift.”

1001 Things To Do With Velveeta,” Rowena read.

“I was looking for Any Fool Can Cook!, but they were out.” Rowena started thumbing through the book's index, was disappointed to find that all the ideas seemed to involve eating the stuff. “Then I thought, Recipes For Tiny Tots, but I was afraid you would think I was pressuring you. You know, nagging you to get married and have babies so they could cook.” She laughed brightly to show she didn't mean it. “Though, of course, if you're going to go around with your hair like that . . .

Rowena excused herself and hid out in the bathroom. She undid what was left of her chignon, brushed her hair out, and put it up again. She took her time about it. As she finished she could hear her father swearing at the football players, and decided to check her supplies of toothpaste, soap, and everything else she could think of.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“I thought this main course thing needed something,” said her mother. “So I put in some salt, but it seems I put too much.”

“Mom—”

“Do you have any potatoes? You can remove excess salt with a raw potato.”

“All my potatoes went into the soup.”

“Already cooked?”

“Already cooked.”

“Oh, well. I don't suppose it matters.”

From the living room Rowena's father swore and stamped his feet.

The building shook.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“The soup is cold,” her mother said.

“It's vichyssoise. It's supposed to be cold.”

“Oh. Vichyssoise.” Brief silence. “I never could understand that sort of thing. Nothing wrong with good old potato soup, but people have to do strange things to it just to be fancy.”

“Well—” said Rowena.

“Anyway, men don't go for all this complicated stuff. You're going to have to learn to broil a steak; that's what you're going to have to learn. Cold potato soup—that's no way to get a man.”

“I'm not trying to get a man,” Rowena said. “Do you see any potential husbands here? Do you?”

“Now, Ro—” But Rowena's father, whose attention had never once left the television except when he had to unplug it to move it into the kitchen, let out a roar. Rowena and her mother sat quietly as a dozen “bums,” eight “bastards,” and eleven “idiots,” all in the form of one unfortunate football player, were consigned to hell for all eternity. Eventually her father paused for breath, and Rowena became aware the phone was ringing.

“Daddy, could you—Dad, I'm on the phone; I can't hear a word—Daddy, please . . .”

The quarter ended and her dad sat quietly through the beer commercials—so quietly that Rowena got a perfect earful from Mrs. Frobisher upstairs. “I'm sorry,” Rowena told her, once she could speak. “It's my dad watching football. I've been trying to keep him quiet, but—well, that's—but—Look, I really can't do that to my father.

“What about Ferd Frannon?” her mother asked when Rowena hung up.

“Ferd?”

“You know—the one you kids used to call ‘Ferdie the Fink.’”

“We still do.”

“Rowena! That is not very nice.”

“Neither's Ferd Frannon,” Rowena said. “But the cheesecake is. How much would you like?”