"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

The Special One

The Special One

The father and his grown daughter stand in the kitchen, their hands slick from egg whites and grainy from parmesan. They have been trying all day to recreate the recipe, and their discarded efforts are littered across the marble counters, seeping into the porous stone. The oil bubbles, occasionally popping with a menacing growl that makes the girl slide into the cool hug of the stainless steel refrigerator. 

With each new attempt, the daughter preps the cauliflower the same way, rinsing the pale head carefully until it appears whiter in the abrasive kitchen light. Her father cleaves off chunks before they batter them in varying combinations of eggs, parsley, salt, parmesan. When her father drops the vegetable into the oil, the heavy smell lingers, suctioning to the walls. It’s animalistic, pure. The popping grease flies like shrapnel, so the father stands over the daughter’s right shoulder, a safe distance from the debris. He watches her turn the fried pieces with a fork, her arms a red landmine of burns. 

The recipe was one his mother made. Now they can’t remember the process. The father has asked the daughter to try. Please think, he says. Please help. The daughter only remembers her grandmother teaching her to grate cheese, demonstrating how to roll her fingers back from the metal grates as they separated cheese from rind. 

Her father rarely asks her to do anything so she agreed. Now, in the room full of spoiled food and dashed expectations, she regrets this compliance. She could be home with her daughter. They could be finger painting or planting flowers. 

This is the one, her father says, as he slips the freshly fried cauliflower bits onto a paper towel and pats them dry. They haven’t spoken much this afternoon so, her silence is irrelevant. She scoops the remaining half of the breaded cauliflower with a fork, sliding it from the oil like a woman slithering from a steamy bath. The father gazes eagerly at his portion. For a moment, the daughter feels better about being here. She pushes aside the thought that he persistently and vocally wishes she were someone else:

As tidy and feminine as her mother.

As smart as her brother was allowed to be.

As demure and kind as her own daughter.

She shoves her old resentments deep into her stomach—things she wishes he’d say, like how proud he is of her—because she hopes this experience will be a special one. That they reincarnate a piece of her grandmother. 

The father takes a bite, his teeth severing the cauliflower’s neck. He gargles it in his mouth before savagely spitting it into a napkin. 

It’s not hers, he says. Once again, the daughter deflates. She is only herself. Only that. Always capable of being who she is without ever truly being who he wants.

Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist and author who covers fine food and parenting—two things rarely related—in Charlotte, NC. She has an MFA in fiction as well as an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her two daughters. Katie has published a number of stories in literary magazines across the country and is working on her debut collection. Twitter: @KatiePSherman, Facebook: Katie Piccirillo Sherman

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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