Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald, a novelist and award-winning journalist and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
— What’s that smell? Fiona demands as she steps into the kitchen accompanied by a swirl of frigid air.
— Can’t you say hello like a normal person? says her mom.
— Is something burning? demands Fiona.
She kicks her boots off and leaps to open the oven door; acrid smoke billows out. She grabs the oven mitt and pulls out a cookie sheet revealing two halves of a golden butternut squash plus a paring knife, its plastic handle completely melted into the pan. Fiona opens the back door and runs out in her stocking feet, throwing the cookie sheet on top of the pile of snow at the side of deck. She comes back in and props the door open.
— What was that? demands her mom. Was the oven too dirty? You need to clean it more often.
— The oven’s fine, says Fiona, trying to stay calm.
How could Mom be so careless? she wonders as she takes off her socks and puts on her slippers.
— You left a knife by the squash, she says to her mother, and it melted.
— No, I didn’t, her mother retorts.
— I’m sure it was an accident, but you did, Mom. That’s the smell: melted plastic.
— Well, it wasn’t me.
Normally, Fiona would let it go. She’s the one who placates, who smoothes over the rough patches in their family dynamics, but this time…. She’s lying, thinks Fiona. She should admit it and apologize.
— Mom, you were the one who put the squash in the oven. I just walked in the door, so it obviously wasn’t me.
— Maybe Neil was poking at it to see if it was done. Neil! she shouts. Neil!
— Where is he? Fiona asks.
— Playing on the computer like always. Neil! Get down here!
— Mom, stop bellowing! He’s not five years old! He’s a grown man.
— Well, he doesn’t act it, as you well know. Still living at home at thirty-four. It’s shameful.
— And he’s not “playing” on the computer, he’s working. He designs web sites.
— Why do you have to contradict everything I say? (more…)