Ruth had forgotten that Sara’s celiac boyfriend is also intolerant to legumes and she remembers it just now, when there are minutes until her guests arrive and the table is served with countless vegan appetizers where, in the absence of eggs, there are chickpea flour. She is not even vegan, but, considering the peculiarities of the group, she thought that the 100% plant option would be the most inclusive. Tania does not eat meat but does eat fish and eggs; Luis is an Ovo-vegetarian, who is never sure what it means; Rober abstains even from honey in pursuit of the rights of bees, and the others combine phobias and intolerances of all kinds, so preparing this menu has not been easy. She has been in the kitchen for seven hours with scares and mistakes, with dishes that have traveled from the oven to the trash and started again, but she thought that she finally had it, that she had solved the puzzle and would be the perfect host, the one that is not forgotten of no one and cares for everyone equally. I did not count on the chickpeas.
It is the first Christmas that Ruth does not spend at home, that is, at her parents’ house, which is the house from which she left 10 years ago but which, abroad, is still “her home”, the place to which one returns, each time with less enthusiasm, each time with more excuses. This year she agreed to work overtime on holidays to avoid travel, and then, in a fit of alcohol-mediated euphoria, offered to host the Spanish diaspora from her small town in the Highlands for Christmas Eve. She wanted to reappropriate a tradition that she has always hated, re-signify it among friends, like-minded and non-imposed people, away from the family tensions to which she is used, but, in the end, there will be tensions and it will be her fault. She insisted on doing it all alone, as her mother would, refusing to allow each one to bring a plate of something that she found edible, and now she has nothing to feed Sara’s boyfriend.
Fortunately, it is raining and that means delays. You have a small margin to improvise solutions. He grabs his mobile phone and enters the app food delivery. The Indian restaurant on Main Street is still open. Blessed be Browse the menu and select a couple of vegetable curry dishes. In the suggestions section, it specifies allergies to gluten and legumes and, somewhat unnecessarily, adds that it is urgent.
Notification that your order has been accepted overlaps the doorbell. He takes off his apron and opens.
“We almost took a deer ahead of us,” says Rober. I couldn’t see a meter away even with my high beams.
“And considering you wouldn’t have wanted to eat it, it would have been a gratuitous tragedy,” adds his girlfriend. Where do we leave our coats? I warn you that they leak.
Ruth guides them to the bathroom and offers them a towel to dry off. As he uncorks the wine, the bell rings again and crosses his fingers that he is the delivery man, but it is only Jaime, his roommate, even more soaked than the others. A puddle of mud is forming on the entrance mat.
—Merry Christmas! Fantastic night. Don’t you already regret staying here? Look, in Valencia they have had maximums of 18 degrees.
“But it always thunders at my parents’ house, dear.”
-I know what you’re talking about. By the way, that over there looks incredible. It doesn’t have sesame, does it?
Ruth slaps him so he doesn’t sting early and he’s officially the incarnation of his mother.
—No sesame, no cruelty. It’s my catchphrase tonight.
“Well, it seems fatal to me that you have bowed to the demands of the animalists.” Sesame, on the other hand, never contributes.
Ruth smiles and apologizes for a moment to check her cell phone, because she has received a new notification from the restaurant. It says that your order is already on its way and, by clicking on the link, you access a map with the route of the delivery person. The little red dot on your GPS is stopped one block from your street. With a bit of luck, she will arrive before Sara and her boyfriend do, so she can dump the container into her own fountain and pretend that nothing has happened, that she has not forgotten anyone.
Here there are no passive-aggressive mothers of those who serve the lamb exaggerating their lordosis, so you know that they have suffered in the kitchen
Up the stairs, singing Christmas carols, Luis and Tania go up, already drunk, and immediately take over the computer to play Latin music. The house finally feels like a party, not necessarily Christmas, and with the wine and the background noise, Ruth feels the pressure drop. None of this is that important. In fact, it is not at all. Here there are no passive-aggressive mothers of those who serve the lamb by exaggerating their lordosis, so you know that they have suffered in the kitchen, or enmities that sowed the inheritance of some great-uncle, or uncomfortable crying with champagne, because there is always someone who is missing. But Ruth has found that spatial separation does not exorcise the patterns carried by the body. Her family is here, it is repeated in her, like a latent destiny that emerges with the calendar.
The guests keep arriving in a continuous trickle that no longer forces her to answer the doorbell. There are no racks left on which to hang the trench coats and they pile up in a festering pile next to the Christmas tree, as if they were ironic gifts. I’d rather no one smoked, but it’s too late to impose restrictions. There is a smoke that prevents him from distinguishing the faces of those on the other side of the table. He discovers that Sara has arrived because she identifies the timbre of her voice; only for that. Where is the order? He checks the location of the delivery man on the map and is surprised that he is still standing at the same point where he was last time, more than a quarter of an hour ago. Either the system has been hacked so that users are not impatient, or it has been lost or something strange happens. Refresh the page a couple of times and, since nothing changes, call the restaurant to ask. Your awkward accent is measured by another awkward accent. Politeness is difficult between non-native speakers, like jokes. He understands that his complaint is not founded because the boy on the bike, as they refer to him, left the establishment a long time ago, he must be there when he falls or he will be fired. Ruth then decides to leave the house and meet him on the street, in case he is walking around and does not find the number, and also so that no one knows that he has asked for a delivery.
The apartment is so crowded that he sneaks away without anyone noticing. She does not notice that she has come down without a coat or an umbrella until the rain soaks her, and at this point, what does it matter. As he crosses his street in the direction of the center, he understands that the person he is looking for is also out in the open, without powerful lights or protections against the storm, and his own shivering seems to him an atonement. She has done this to him that she now does to herself, but without receiving a salary in return. This is a horizontal agreement.
The food inside the delivery trunk, on the other hand, does seem warm. Gives off a warm and spicy aroma that comforts in the midst of a drizzle
There is no one on his street, so he decides to walk towards the static point indicated by the GPS on the map. Through the rain, the Christmas lights on the buildings look like the product of drugs. Has someone brought ecstasy? He should have taken care of it. Christmas Eve mydriasis. That’s the spirit. Although ecstasy makes her want to fuck, and fuck with whom. Among the rain, you can barely distinguish the color of the traffic lights, but when you reach the intersection indicated by the mobile, the darkness is broken by the turn signal of an ambulance. He turns on the flashlight to see what is happening and discovers that the van has the doors closed. It starts, in fact, before it reaches its height, and on the road there are only puddles and a bicycle in the wrong position, as if it had been carelessly thrown from above. Ruth goes over to caress the saddle and checks that it’s not hot, but how could it be? The food inside the trunk delivery, on the other hand, it does seem warm. It emits a warmth and a spicy aroma that comforts in the middle of the drizzle. One of the lids has been split open and its insides are spreading through the trunk like vomit, but the other is intact and Ruth doesn’t know what else to do except take it with her. He hugs it against his chest and starts on his way home, shaking.
At the center of the party is the table, impeccably served, a small refuge of order in the middle of the amalgam of bodies that overflow the living space of the apartment. They haven’t touched the food. They are waiting for a gesture, an order.
“But where do you come from?”
Ruth, dripping water, gazes at them from the threshold without opening her mouth. There are many and she has wanted to take care of them, take them all into account, but someone always escapes. A patch discovers another hole. There is no way to get away with it.
She locates Sara’s boyfriend on the yellow sofa in the living room and walks over to him.
“Here, this is for you,” she says, and hands her the curry container as if she is getting rid of a curse. The boy looks at her without understanding what is happening.
“Gluten-free and legume-free,” he specifies.
-Aunt! Thanks a lot! But you needn’t have worried. If I’m just a little intolerant… I was planning to make an exception tonight.
Ruth decides not to hear the latter. It is a detail that you will forget to include in your story to your mother about what happened tonight. He turns and walks toward the table. He takes a mushroom patty and, before putting it in his mouth, yells:
And then they eat.
Aixa de la Cruz (Bilbao, 1988) is a writer, author of ‘Animal models’ (Salto de Página, 2015), ‘La linea del front’ (Salto de Página, 2017) and ‘Change of idea’ (Caballo de Troya, 2019), by the one that received the Euskadi Prize for Literature in Spanish in 2020.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.