“Are you still cooking?” Shelley’s husband asked.
It was a rhetorical question, of course – dinner had been laid upon the table already, the wine was poured, and Shelley had finally fallen into her chair after being on her feet all day. Rather than simply switching off the oven or even pointing out that she had forgotten to turn off the oven when she was done, Rodney always turned it into a sort of disingenuous question. “Are you still cooking?” Or, “Are you using that towel?” (The wet one, draped across the bedroom chair.) “Do you need that bathroom light on?” (As they were walking out the door to drive to work.)
Shelley sighed. “Sorry, no. Would you get it for me on your way by?”
Rodney turned the oven knob and sat down at the head of the table. They ate in silence broken only by the murmur of, “Pass the vegetables, please,” and, “Could I have a napkin, please?” Except, Shelley realized, the “please” was mostly in her head – a rhetorical, perfunctory, and therefore pointless “please” that existed only as minor annoyance – like a mosquito buzzing – in her brain. She resisted the urge to say, “You’re welcome,” as she handed Rodney the salad dressing.
One night, Rodney didn’t sit down to dinner. Smoke began to leak from the oven vent as Shelley sank deeper into the couch, sipping a fine Malbec, and she barely noticed it. Except that Rodney’s voice – as he’d always imagined it would – popped into her head like a habit. Shelley pushed herself off the couch reluctantly and slipped into the kitchen, wrinkling her nose at the smell of burnt meat. She opened the door and wafted away the acrid smoke. Peering into the oven at the large ribs, she smirked, “You still cooking?”
This was one of the pieces I entered into the OWFI contest, in the Flash Fiction category. There was a 500 word limit; this is just under 300 words. Rather than share the feedback on this one, I’d like to ask you for yours. Please be honest and constructive!
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