Fiction

Deidre's Last Meal by Esther Cohen

Wired by Alan Linton

Chestnut by Katherine Gleason

The Moon is an Outdoor Sandwich by Patty Houston

Garlicky Greens by Lois Marie Harrod

First the Shell, Musical; Then the Custard, Irrevocable by Sarah Begley

Meals of Choice by Dorian Fox

A Low Table by Christian Aguiar

The Sylvian Fissure by Rosalie Loewen

Two Versions of Eating Potatoes by David Spiering

Conch Salad by Michele Ruby

Hopper by Michael Onofrey

Caution: Coffee is Hot by Gary Scott

The Fairy Part by Alberto Giuseppe

Foie Gras by Judith Edelman

Rosemary and Olive Oil by Gail Gauthier

Mario's Shoes by Natalie Parker-Lawrence

Cake by Marianne Villanueva

Retreat: October on Copper Mountain by M.E. Parker

The Sandwich Diaries by Angus Woodward

But There Was No Star Anise by Andrew Martell

Fruit Route by Susan King

Deidre’s Last Meal

by Esther Cohen

April 2014    

Irene at the post office, a young eighty-three-year old woman, she still talks about sex, goes on dates with men who shoot (only men who shoot, that’s her central requirement. They don’t have to be in rifle associations. She believes that shooting bodes well) Irene tells us all a story alongside our mail. She is throaty,a cigarette person. Because she is the postmistress of our very small village, she doesn’t feel the need to smoke outside, and nearly every day, all summer, she has a cigarette, as well as a story.

Today she told us about the death of her friend. Three of us were listening, but my guess is she told this more than once.

Deidre Dunn
knew more
than all
the rest of us
and then she died

We didn’t believe her when Deidre told us she was dying. She wasn’t the dying type. Deidre whose hair was the brightest possible red – how did that color even occur, and where did it come from? Deidre whose voice, from so many years of cigarettes, from so many years of storytelling, of phone conversations that did not end, of lunches and dinners too many to count, Deidre whose life was so much bigger than anyone’s, who could, under the most dire of circumstances, tell a good story, Deidre who at the age of 74 could fly to the Himalayas and scale a mountain not just climb it, who had muscle tone, even a bright pink bikini that she bought 36 years ago in Brazil, imagine that Deidre married to husband number none of us liked him still she claimed maybe it was bravado maybe it was true we’ll never know that he was a lover unlike any other that he could, at the age of 79, make love every single day with unexpected imagination although she never did provide us with any details. We believed her. Why else would she marry such an arrogant man, a man who monogrammed whatever he could, who gave himself the middle name of Horacio for the H though no one was Spanish on either side, a man who had an unpleasant expression at every concert even before the concert started.

Deidre’s life had not been easy. Ever. Even when she was a young child, curious, adorable, her hair was brown then, long before it was possible to create bright bright red hair the wayhad not been invented and neither had the color. She began in a family somewhere in the Midwest a town with a name like Life Springs Eternal Here, although she told us all, her legions of friends from every single year she was alive, she told us all that her childhood was full, that it was rich with people walking in and out the door, that it didn’t matter much about her parents (they were not happy) that alcohol didn’t matter either, and neither did problems with money that didn’t go away. She left at l7 on what she called Her Big Adventure, her life. College in California, a girls school (they were girls then. Not yet women) and then, Husband number one, handsome Cambodian sculpture who managed to get a full scholarship to Berkeley from a tourist he met who’d visited Ankar Wat. Ang made matchstick sculptures, Big Big pieces. Though he was a tiny man his fish looked like ancient dinosaurs, Deidre and Ang had adaughter they named Diang. A beautiful Irish Cambodian child and when Diang was 1 Ang just took her one day away from Deidre away from Berkeley for no reason that anyone could ever figure out and moved back to Phnom Penn. Deidre, devastated,went to court for years but it was impossible to bring Diang back, although she spent money she didn’t have, worked hard to try. She continued her life, a persistent strong person who believed, no matter what her life circumstances, that she should have wonderful meals with friends. As many as possible. All the time. So all those difficult years, adjunct teacher piecing together jobs, until finally she got full time work, English as a Second Language to nighttime students in an innovative community college, she loved her work, her students especially, they came from everywhere, all those years she made meals. She never ever ate alone, and the doorman in her building, her UPS delivery woman, the neighbors on all floors were all frequenters of her apartment, regulars at her meals. She’d serve macaroni and cheese with as much cheese as much butter as she could fit into her Pyrex dish and it was always absolutely delicious. Or something she called Mexican rodeo, a kind of hamburger salad with shredded lettuce in a big taco. She’d eaten it in Tijuana once. Or meat loaf baked with bacon strips. She roasted Idaho potatoes and stuffed them with whatever occurred to her, cheese on a dull day, tomatoes cut up and roasted inside, or something she called meat surprise.

Eating with Deidre no matter what was always a good time. When she married Ephram, an MIT gamesman who played with math for fun, she did not stop her dinners, even for one day. Ephram was a big shy man, one of those confident people who says very little but is pleasant enough to have around. The kind of man who’d drive you anywhere. He liked cooking too, and it was possible, any day of the week, no matter how hard their days had been- Ephram taught math at City College, to stop in and eat with them. Even after they had a child, a beautiful daughter who was practically born speaking full sentences, they always entertained. So many years went by and many nights we ate together, all of us and everyone else who happened to be around. Age didn’t matter and neither did quantity. They knew how to have guests. And when Deirdre found out that Ephram was sick, that Ephram was dying, that he only had a few months to live, he was only 55, she invited every single person she’d ever known to say eat a meal with Ephram, and say goodbye.

So it wasn’t a surprise to any one of us really so many of us who’d eaten one meal or twenty or even fifty with Deidre over all these years it wasn’t a surprise when she called us with the terrible news, ten years after Ephram died, that she too had a disease, an awful disease, that she too wasn’t going to live very long. They could do nothing. By now, Diang, back in her life forever, had children of her own and so did Bee, her daughter with Ephram. Deidre’s plan, she said, while she could, while she was still able, her plan was to have a meal a day, even when she couldn’t eat, even when food didn’t taste like food. She still wanted her meals, food placed in front of her, on the long table where we’d eaten forever. And she wanted the chairs around the table to be full.

The last time I saw Deidre she was all dressed up, wearing a bright red wig, a color red that has nothing to do with hair and everything to do with Deidre. She sat up in a chair – she couldn’t stand anymore, swathed in clothes, a tie-dyed scarf she’d always loved, a dress she’d gotten online to wear for her final meals, a dress that was part muumuu, part sari, part dashiki. Deidre covered all her bases, even in the end. She wore large gold hoops in her ears, and before the meal was over, she handed them to me. “I’m giving my jewelry to my friends,” she said. “And I put these on to hand to you. Don’t worry,” she reassured me. “I’ve got plenty of pairs.”

For our last meal, we sat together, Deidre and I. I’d dressed for her because she still cared, even in the end. She’d had her hospice aide Elana make our meal, make her Mexican salad, chopped beef and avocados and even though she couldn’t eat it, couldn’t eat by then, we sat across from one another just the way she liked – she in her wheelchair, and although she fell asleep in between sentences, she was ready, she said, to go somewhere else, her last words to me, the last time I saw her, although she’s the kind of person who stays with you long past the time she’s left this earth, her words of advice that I’m passing along to you, her last words to me were “No matter what happens, eat with your friends.”



  Esther Cohen writes whatever she can: stories, poems, essays, even novels. She earns her living in many ways including book doctor, teacher, and curator.

Photo used under Creative Commons.