By: Keith Fuchs
“Why are you crying?”
We sat in the car, looking out of the window at the picturesque Ravensbourne Park. Though the skies were blue, clear and radiant with sunlight, the mood matched the weather associated with London: morose and gloomy. It was hard to enjoy the clotted cream.
I can tell you about the experience, I can tell you about how the different flavours melted together to form a nectary and savory tapestry for my taste buds, but I don’t even care to speak on that. For sometimes food can be connected to a memory, and sometimes, though the recipe or course may be succulent, the context may be bitter. That was me sitting in a hatchback in the middle of a park in a part of London I had never been to, looking across the woman I loved, whose sapphire eyes could see right through me, but also burnt my world down from the inside out.
I took a sip of my tea that I had taken away in a disposable cup, fidgeting with the cardboard designed to protect my hands from the heat. I didn’t care much about safeguarding my hands, not in that moment.
“Alison, do you know how much I love you? I did all this for you. I never cared about my own life as much as I cared that you were in it, and that somehow, someway I could make you happy. That’s all I ever wanted! How is that not enough?”
She flicked her mahogany pony tail and gazed back at me with wonder, as if she were trying to imagine a reality different than the one she found herself in. She nibbled on her raspberry scone and deliberated what to say, as tensions marinated through the car.
“You can’t just up-sticks and be with me,” she sighed.
“Because, this is mad!”
“No, because you don’t believe you deserve it! But you do!” At that very moment, I recollected the first time I ever had beef Wellington.
I had made my way up the stairs towards the kitchen; flowers placed strategically behind my back. With each step closer came the sound of sizzling oil, hissing louder and louder. She was stirring some vegetables in a pan. Liss had always championed the importance of being nutritiously conscious.
Immediately, I was met with the scent of onion gravy cascading through the humid, paltry kitchen. There was a fluttering in my stomach; I had purchased a bouquet of carnations and tulips.
“You alright?” She smiled.
“Yea’ I’m straight.” I immediately pulled the flowers from behind my back and her eyes illuminated.
“Oh my goodness.” She hugged me and kissed me, “that is so sweet of you, peach.”
She had lost her words. She smelled the bouquet and indulged in the aroma.
“I need to fix these in a vase. Please sit, I hope you’re peckish.” She kissed me once more and exited swiftly to place her gift in an appropriate vessel.
Considering all the myths and fables I had heard about English food, I had expected that evening to be a long, insufferable series of culinary disasters. However, no such occasion ever arose; all the exaggerations and embellishments about the blandness, the unsavory or just plain gross were all lies. The meal was delicious, capped off by a true treat when I tasted one of my favorite dishes for the first time: summer pudding. Despite contrary belief, sometimes you can’t take someone else’s word; you just have to taste for yourself.
“So how did you like your tea?” She had her hair up in a bun, all the more casual and comfortable; seemingly focused on enjoying the final bites of her own delicious dessert.
“Well, it was a hell of a lot better than your attempt at trying to make sauce.” I gazed back with a devilish grin and winked at her.
“Oh…belt up, always chatty aren’t you?” The sarcasm was returned.
“No, I just remember you attempting to put goat cheese in baked ziti… can’t do that… and you can’t make sauce without some garlic or onion or olive oil, what do you think this is?” I giggled.
“Oh well pardon me, I wasn’t aware that I was under assessment by the City and Guilds. Bloody berk.” She shook her head playfully.
“No, it was really awesome and thank you. I loved it.”
“Well don’t be saying that now, you were trying to wind me up a moment ago.” She pointed her fork at me with a mischievous gaze.
“Nope, I am saying it because I’ll take whatever chance I can get to compliment you.”
Her expression changed to a more sombre and gentler one.
“Cheers, darling. I am with you to the end.” She arose from her seat, smiled at me and sat on my lap. I put my arm around her.
“Well I am always yours if you’ll have me.”
“Well, sometimes that is quite the proposition.” She teased.
I hugged her and kissed her on the forehead.
“I love you, sweetheart.” She embraced me back, gripping me as if I were a stuffed animal. She was a child at heart.
It was easy to grow so close to her; despite our national and cultural differences on the surface, we were very much kindred spirits. Perhaps one of our greatest similarities was that neither of us could ever grasp the idea of growing up – that just seemed too boring and depressing.
“I love you too.” She grabbed my face and kissed my cheek with ferocity, growling like a pup as she did so.
Later, I found myself sitting in a car with this same woman, but in a different place, in a different time in the future, and all of that had vanished. Seemingly it was meant to stay a memory.
“So what happened to all that Alison?! I always saw you as the noblest woman on God’s green Earth, whatever you said was gospel. ‘I am with you to the end,’ right?”
“It’s not that simple now, is it?” She parried my remarks with her signature sarcasm.
“It is now.” I dished it right back.
“What? Because you decided to turn up and muck up my life and then have a go at me, as well?!”
“No, it’s because you always wanted to give up, even when things were good between us.”
“I did not. You are the only bloke that I know that thinks he can overcame any odds and not be stopped by anyone or anything.”
“Damn right,” I affirmed.
“And while I admire it, there is a time and place for it.” She pointed her finger at me, tears were now trickling down her porcelain face.
“When? When I’m dead?” I laughed and looked out the window and shook my head. “You know what, Liss? Honestly I’d rather be dead than not be with you. That’s the truth!” I would have screamed it from the mountaintops, if I could.
“Please don’t say that, Heaven forbid,” her speech was muttered through her whimpers.
“Why not? If you were happy and you were being treated the way you deserved to be… it would still be agonising not to be with you, but at least I knew you were happy…that’s all I ever want anyway…” I opened the door and threw the remnants of the clotted cream out in frustration.
“That’s a dish, you know?”
“Yea well who cares?” As I went to close the door, a small and feeble bird swooped in and took advantage of my haste. For the bird, the clotted cream was not an artifact of malady, but an unexpected confection.
“Nothing would ever make me happier than to see you smile, to see you become the woman that had a passion for psychology because she wanted to give troubled souls someone to talk to that cared.” I paused to catch my breath. “If that stupid soccer team you love so much won every game imaginable and I had to sit there and watch it… If it would make you jubilant, then I am always for it because I would do anything to make you happy.”
Glancing back at her, her cheeks were glistening, visibly soaked, and her eyes were even more saturated with tears. I reached my hand across the console to where her left hand rested, trembling on the gearstick. Cautiously, I clutched her fingers and locked my hand in hers, she did the same. As she sniffled and rubbed her eyes, I reached across with my other arm and embraced her, stroking the back of her head.
In the silence, interrupted abruptly by her snivels, I continued to gently stroke her hair and comfort her, resting my chin on her head, endlessly gazing out the window into the bucolic Ravensbourne Park. All the while I thought to myself, wouldn’t this have been a great place to take this woman for a picnic? Yet, as the events would unfold, it would be final resting place for a piece of my heart and soul.
“Alison… we can work this out.”
“No, no, we can’t,” she insisted.
“Why not? Why can’t we just take this a day at a time? Why can’t you open up your mind to it?”
“Because, what am I to do about Shawn?”
“Shawn?!… Fuck Shawn. You don’t love him!”
“No, but you know, given the circumstances…”
“Yeah, and we both come from broken homes – is that want you want for Michelle?!”
“Well that is exactly why, sir!”
“Why! You shouldn’t be with this guy if you don’t love him!”
“It does not matter at all. Obviously, if I had my choice, I would be with you.”
“Well you do have that choice!”
“No I don’t.”
“You always did. You’re the one that left, but even with that… I told you one day… I would find a way to eliminate all the horseshit.”
She raised her eyebrows and broke a smirk. “Well you certainly are a man of your word.”
“I told you… I would never tell you something that I did not intend to follow through on.”
“To be fair, can you blame me? I never thought I would see you again.”
As the argument persisted, I recollected the first bite I ever had of that beef Wellington. I remember when this kind of trouble seemed inconceivable, and I was focusing solely on experiencing one of London’s most famous courses. I found solace recollecting the hearty and robust flavours of the gravy. The constitution was just right, not too thick, but not too thin. There were a medley of herbs and spices which gave the beef itself an affable taste.
“Do you love me, Liss?”
“Of course, I do. That’s never been the problem,” she simpered.
“Then I am here, now… what do you have to lose?”
“Well you… this isn’t fixed. You don’t have a proper title, you are not a permanent citizen.”
“So… we are doomed no matter how we spell it.”
“No we’re not. This situation is beatable”
“Yes we are, dear, and being that I have a daughter to care for, I can’t be so rash to make hasty decisions like this.”
“And I would raise your daughter as my own. I would go out in the street and pick up dog shit if I had to, to help you and her,” I countered.
“And I… can’t ask that of you.”
“You didn’t! I offered.”
She shook her head. “Bless your heart, it is a good one. And your resilience, it’s a one-off, but nonetheless, I can’t undermine such a glorious person like you.”
“And such a wonderful creature could only bring out the best in me.” I smiled at her.
As I sat at a pub waiting for a train out of Euston Station, I ordered a beef Wellington, for it was the special of the day. I only had seven pounds to my name, and conveniently it was offered at 6.99. Perhaps the greatest selling point was that this main course came with a free pint. I figured the pint would come in handy with the memories that the beef Wellington conjured up. I recollected the first bite I took, sitting in the dimly-lit pub. It didn’t taste the same. Right then and there as I looked out towards Euston Road, chewing on the rubbery texture of the beef, I came to a realization.
I knew no matter what, Alison would in some way always have a hold on me, and I understood I would always love her. The old saying is true: to the world you are just one person but to one person you could be the world… Alison was the world to me. I would have savoured every moment in that car in Ravensbourne Park, just like I would have indulged more in her signature dish, had I known I would be sitting in a dark pub, eating that same dish by myself at a point in the distant future.
Since that day in the park that I remember so vividly, I have never seen her again.
A pasta junkie, Keith Fuchs is always up to cook the oldies but goodies, including his traditional favorite, spaghetti with meat sauce. Keith is a poet, rapper, screenwriter and aspiring novelist coming to London all the way from New York. Excited to join the WSJ staff and the University of Westminster. Keith looks forward to continuing his creative endeavors while hoping to employ a unique and raw approach toward literature and the arts.