If I ever describe a food in my writing, there's a solid chance I was making that food right before or right after writing it. Food for thought.
THE NEXT SECTION
“What am I supposed to do without internet?” Ellen moaned. “We don’t even own a deck of cards.”
“I think I might have a deck of cards,” Alfred offered.
“I don’t want a deck of cards,” Ellen said. “I want my internet… is it too early to start drinking?”
Alfred looked at his phone. Five past four.
“I think it’s acceptable if you’re doing so while preparing dinner, right?”
The two got up and made their way to the kitchen. Alfred opened went for the fridge while Ellen crawled through the pantry. The fridge was barren save some expired eggs and milk that was two days past the sell by date (“We should throw this out,” Alfred had said. “It’s fine,” Ellen had said. “Like, I won’t drink it straight – it tastes fine – I think I’m just deluding myself into thinking it doesn’t taste fine because I’ve seen the date? But we can definitely still use it for cooking for a couple of days”). There were also two tubs of cream cheese spread and an empty bag that used to hold bagels; Ellen had a tendency to grab the bagel out of the bag while it was still in the fridge instead of pulling out the whole bag, taking a bagel, and returning it to the fridge. She was good at taking out the trash, but getting things to the trash was another story.
The freezer was more stocked. There were a few bags of frozen vegetables (untouched), a bag of frozen chicken breasts that had been mostly combed through save the last few that were oddly shaped and visually undesirable (but would probably cook up fine), and a half used container of ground beef that had been thrown into the freezer a week prior after Ellen had discovered the ‘use of freeze by’ date on the day of; neither was sure if it was still good, but neither were going to throw it out.
The pantry on the other hand was fully stocked, predominantly with pasta and a vast array of soups. Alfred wasn’t originally a soup person, but Ellen was the soup person, and she took on Alfred like one of those ‘unlikely animal friendship’ videos where a mamma pig adopts some kittens or something of that nature (“But isn’t it just all salt?” Alfred had said. “I saw a meme once that said canned soup is all just salt.” “Not if you get the good stuff,” Ellen had replied). On the top two shelves there were also two separate bags of potatoes, one sprouted, one recently purchased, as well as a wide variety of produce that was well past its time.
“Soup or pasta?” Ellen asked, holding an option in each hand.
Having had had soup at work Friday, Alfred opted for pasta. It would probably benefit Ellen to have some solid food in her stomach after a day of strictly coffee, Alfred thought. Thank goodness, I’m not actually feeling soup right now, but like hell am I going to betray my brand like that, Ellen thought.
Alfred pulled the chicken out of the freezer and – after a brief argument between the two over the best way to thaw chicken – poured hot water into a bowl and let the chicken thaw that way.
“More time to use this an excuse to drink,” Alfred reasoned. “Also, I don’t trust that microwave.”
“I’ve had her since college,” Ellen said, rubbing the side of the microwave lovingly. “Don’t speak of her like that in her presence.”
Ellen pulled out a near-empty bottle of cheap cheap cheap cheap wine. Cooking while drinking wine was far more aesthetic than cooking while drinking a cocktail. She poured two shallow glasses and looked at the bottle.
“Do you think there’s a way to cook with this?” she asked Alfred. “Or do we have to do the thing with the fire. I don’t know if I’d be up for that.”
Alfred, having just a little experience with cooking as Ellen, shrugged his shoulders. He pulled out his phone and searched “chicken wine cooking recipe.”
“Safari cannot open the page because your iPhone is not connected to the internet,” said Alfred’s phone.
Alfred swore at his phone.
“Wait a minute wait a minute,” Ellen said excitedly.
She disappeared into her room and reappeared minutes later holding a binder. She slammed it down and opened the cover. Inside were pages and pages of hand-written recipes in tight cursive that had been scanned and reprinted.
“Yeah, my family doesn’t trust me with the originals,” Ellen said. “See if there’s anything for pasta or chicken or wine.”
Ellen grabbed half of the loose papers – nothing was hole punched; the binder was acting more as a folder than a binder; nothing was actually bound – and left half to Alfred. The two sipped and read and sipped and read.
“I’m a little disgusted by how many of these recipes involve jello,” Alfred said. “Am I allowed to say that.”
“And lard…” Ellen replied, nodding. “Where do you even get lard?”
After sifting through for about five minutes, it because readily apparent to both that this was a book of dessert recipes and nothing more, but it provided a form of entertainment, so the two read on happily, pointing out funny misspellings, and arguing back and forth over the names of certain spices that they could neither read, guess, nor look up online, because – if it wasn’t clear yet – the internet was not working. Ellen brought out and offered her personal bedroom wine that she kept stashed under her bed (so Alfred wouldn’t steal it), and the two slowly finished the bottle.
“What time is it?” Ellen asked, setting down a recipe for (PUT A FUNNY NAMED FOOD HERE) and picking up her phone. “Oh God, that chicken’s been thawing for like an hour.”
“Is it still good?” Alfred asked.
“I don’t know, Alexa, is chicken okay if it’s been sitting in warm water for like an hour?”
“WHATEVER AN ALEXA SAYS” Alexa did not say, because she was unplugged and also in a closet.
“Jesus Christ,” Alfred said. “Are we sure there aren’t any chicken recipes in there?”
Ellen shuffled through the papers, mostly for show. The closest they had found was a chicken pot pie, and that wouldn’t have turned out right even if they had had the proper ingredients, which they didn’t. They were working with limited supplies, people.
“Hold up,” Alfred shouted from the freezer.
Ellen stopped her performative shuffling and looked up. Alfred was holding the bag of chicken – ‘bag of chicken’ here really meaning ‘bag that used to hold chicken but now just had a couple of unknown crumbly bits chilling out in the bottom’ – mouth opened wide.
“There’s a fucking recipe on the bag,” he said.
“Oh my god,” Ellen said. “What a fucking game changer. Does it include wine?”
“No,” Alfred replied. “But we’re out of wine, so that doesn’t really matter.”
“Right, yes, we are out of wine,” Ellen said, lying about the two more bottles of personal bedroom wine she had stashed away. “Let’s do whatever the bag commands.”
The recipe on the bag was basically ‘coat the chicken breasts with a flour mixture and pan sear it with some olive oil’ which Alfred did to the best of his abilities while Ellen captained the pot of boiling water for the pasta.
“You know, at the very least an iPhone is good for a timer,” Ellen said as her alarm went off.
She took the pot off the burner and tossed the boiled cavatappi noodles into the strainer in the sink. She left it there momentarily to retrieve a blanket from her room which she used to wave some smoke away from the fire detector.
“Should I open the door to the balcony?” Ellen asked.
She turned to Alfred as she waved, incidentally blowing more smoke towards the detector. Alfred’s own alarm went off and he pulled the chicken off the heat.
“How cold is it outside?” he asked, coughing a bit from the smoke.
“Ale-” Ellen started, stopping herself before attempting to conjure the deceased.
She opened the door and stuck her head out. The sky looked like midnight despite it being only afternoon. It was also very cold.
“Super cold,” Ellen reported. “But the heat from the kitchen is super hot, so I think the two will even out.”
Ellen opened the door the entire way and continued her waving of the smoke out the window. It got to a point where either there was no more smoke, or it was thin enough to not be noticeable by Ellen. Given her eyesight, she wasn’t the best fit to determine this, but Alfred had stopped coughing at the very least. Ellen tossed the blanket onto the couch for potential use later and jumped suddenly. Her text tone had sounded.
“Alfred!” Ellen shouted, pulling her phone out immediately. “Alfred it’s back up!”
Ellen sat down on the couch. Alfred looked at his own phone. Still no service, but again, he had a different carrier. He clicked off the burner and met Ellen on the couch. She was scrolling through Twitter faster than one should be able to read, but Ellen was picking up every word.
“This is incredibly validating,” Ellen said, staring into her happy little black mirror. “My entire feed is just people complaining about spotty internet.”
Alfred looked on. The feed was full of #TwitterOutage. The usual ‘oh God, I had to use Facebook during the outage and it was awful’ memes were instead replaced with #FacebookOutage and #FuckCharterSpectrum. Scrolling further there were a number of articles from various clickbaity blog outlets citing Russian interference as the cause of the outages. Another article blamed China. A third blamed it on high user traffic. Twitter had released an official statement stating that Twitter’s servers were fully operational, and that users having issues should contact their internet providers.
“Oh there are gonna be some great memes coming out of this,” Ellen said, eyes fixed.
She clicked off her phone and closed her eyes.
“Spins, spins, go away, come again another day.”
She opened her eyes and stood up sharply.
The two marched back to the kitchen to cut into their spoils. The pasta was a bit over-salted (there were no complaints), and the chicken, despite the burned outside, was potentially undercooked on the inside. Neither could actually tell. There was definitely a textural difference when you cut into it, but it didn’t look pink by any stretch of the imagination. It was a mystery, but it tasted very good.
“Need another drink? More sauce?” Ellen asked, getting up to retrieve the marinara.
Alfred was going to respond when Ellen’s eyes widened. She shouted at Alfred.
“Text him!” she commanded. “Text the boy now!”
Alfred spat out the pasta from his mouth. It wasn’t a performative spitting – it was sincere – but there was more pasta in his mouth than he had thought. It grossed him out a bit.
“Excuse me, what?”
“James. The barista boy. He’s definitely off of work now,” Ellen said. “Why not invite him over! We could have a movie night or something!”
Alfred thought, but not actually. Well, it would be disingenuous go suggest that no thought occurred to lead to his speech – Alfred was indeed a human being – but the words rolled off his tongue and off the cuff and poured over the rim like an overpoured shot glass of liquor.
“That sounds like a great-” he said, stopping. “Nope. No. Nope. Not at all. You said it yourself that my first text to that boy is not supposed to be while I’m drunk.”
I’m not drunk, Alfred thought. This was incorrect. Alfred was indeed drunk. He was past the point of tipsy where he could truthfully believe he wasn’t drunk. Past the point of drunk where he would admit he was drunk, and right before ‘will be sick in the morning drunk’. The good goldielocks period of ‘I will deny this to the end of the earth’ drunk. Of course, Alfred had said out loud to Ellen that he was indeed drunk, but that was performance for Ellen to get out of texting James, or perhaps it was subconscious admission of his drunkenness. Neither Alfred nor any omniscient being could tell at that point. People are complicated.
“When I said that, I meant if you were drunk alone,” Ellen said. “It’s different if I’m drunk too. Then I can mediate the experience. I’m a mediator. Ten out of ten mediation.”
Ellen returned to the table without marinara, which was a disappointment. Not for Ellen or Alfred or anything – both of them were too drunk to really register the complex disappointment of not having marinara with your pasta – just disappointing on a cosmic sort of level. An ‘objective disappointment’ that isn’t actually objective, but you feel like it’s objective.
“My phone doesn’t even have service,” Alfred said, shoving a final piece of chicken into his mouth.
It was a really good piece of chicken. Like, just enough seasoning, and a perfect protein to lipid ratio that just made it amazing. And though he was as drunk as previously explained, he wasn’t so far out as to not experience the culinary appreciation of a well-seasoned chicken breast.
“Fuck,” Alfred said in reaction to the bite of chicken and nothing else.
Ellen gave Alfred side-eye. Alfred didn’t look back. She noticed that Alfred spoke about his phone without bothering to even pull out his phone. She was unsure whether this was Alfred being the mischievous Alfred he sometimes was, or if this was drunk Alfred just not having his senses about him. All the while this was drunk Ellen trying to figure this out, and although this is presented critically, all her thoughts were really just waving through her mind abstractly like pollution through a river.
“Gimme your phone,” Ellen said.
Alfred complied without really thinking. He set his head against the table to rest, pulled it back up, stood up, and went to go make himself another drink. Ellen turned on Alfred’s phone. She didn’t have Alfred’s fingerprint to get her into it (a though of which felt way too futuristic for Ellen even though she lived in a world where fingerprint sensors on phones were the norm) but she could see from the icon in the upper right corner of the screen that Alfred’s phone indeed had service. She thought to deride him of this fact, but decided against it, knowing not whether he was truly and sincerely aware of this fact. The service had been coming in an out so rapidly there was a good chance that he had only picked up service when he handed the phone over to her.
“Thumb please,” Ellen said.
Alfred, spinning open the bottle of vodka – ‘spinning’ here meaning ‘putting an aggressive amount of force on the cap of the bottle of vodka so as to use the momentum to twist off the top’ and not ‘spinning the entire bottle of vodka and somehow opening it’ – reluctantly offered his thumb to Ellen. The reluctance came partially from the 33 percent of Alfred that was aware of what Ellen was doing and 66 percent that Alfred was just self-conscious of the size of his fingers. He had very short and thick fingers. It didn’t stop him from being able to play the piano or anything – his fingers were remarkably flexible side to side – but it did make him feel a little bit down whenever he would see an ‘lol look at the silly small handed bois’ meme on the internet.
“It didn’t work,” Ellen said, staring at the phone with light frustration.
“No service?” Alfred asked.
“Oil,” Ellen replied. “Your finger is too oily.”
She rubbed the home button off on her sweater and gave it back to Alfred. It worked the second time and the phone clicked open.
“Do you have his number again?” she asked.
Alfred returned to his chair and sat down. He then remembered what Ellen had just said and stood up. The receipt with his number was folded up in his back pocket. He fished it out and read the number aloud.
“NUMBER NUMBER NUMBER WHATEVER THE NUMBER IS,” Alfred said. “What’s that area code from?”
Alfred reached in his pocket for his phone to look that up and then remembered that Ellen had his phone. His hand felt lonely. He watched on as Ellen typed to compensate.
“I think that’s a Connecticut area code,” Ellen said. “An East-coaster, what a babe.”
“How do you know the area codes for Connecticut?” Alfred asked.
“Educated guess,” Ellen said, which here meant ‘pulling it straight out of my ass’. “So can I invite him over?”
Alfred thought for a minute, which again meant not really thinking. As much as he hated Ellen’s characterization of him as a horny attention-seeking drunk, she had seen him drunk enough times to properly characterize his drunk state as both horny and attention-seeking, and having an individual like James over would satisfy both of those needs.
“By all means,” Alfred said. “Just try to be cute or funny or something.”
“Got it,” Ellen replied.
Ellen plugged the number into iMessage and composed a text reading “Hey James, this is Alfred from Starbucks. My amazing and wonderful friend Ellen got your number for me. I hear that you are no longer working right now. Would you like to stop by and hang out with me and my amazing and wonderful friend Ellen? Our address is FICTIONAL ADDRESS, APARTMENT NUMBER FICTIONAL. With love, Alfred.”
Ellen hit ‘send’ and waited.
“Has he replied yet?” Alfred asked.
“I literally just sent the message,” Ellen said.
Alfred motioned for Ellen to give him back his phone, but Ellen refused, keeping her eyes locked on the screen. She let out a sharp exhale from her nose. Three dots bounced on the message screen as they do when another iPhone user is typing.
“I think he’s typing,” Ellen said.
Alfred got up out of his seat and stood behind Ellen. The two watched as the three little dots bounced and bounced and bounced some more. They bounced to the point where James was either writing an novel, or had left his cursor in the composition field and gone to do something else.
“This truly is a modern form of torture,” Alfred said.
Ellen elbowed him a little too hard in the chest.
“Stop reciting memes as if you came up with the on the spot.”
A message appeared. They both gasped.
“OMG! I live in the same apartment!” the message read.
Ellen looked at Alfred in shock, and Alfred looked at Ellen in shock. Were this a particularly campy episode of Ugly Betty, both would have slapped the other in the face out of shock.
“This is fate,” said drunk Ellen. “This is fucking fate. Can you admit that you were wrong to try to prevent this from happening earlier?”
“This is fate and I was wrong for trying to prevent this from happening earlier,” Alfred replied, but as he did, another message popped up reading “just kidding lol. I’m at ANOTHER FICTIONAL APARTMENT. But that’ just a couple of blocks down. I can be over in like ten minutes if you’d like.”
“I take it back,” Alfred said.
“I heard it come out of your mouth and you can never take that back,” Ellen said.
She immediately texted back, “get over here as soon as you can. BYOB. Also bring a board game or a deck of cards if you can. Internet is flakey as hell,” and the two waited in a drunken anticipation for James’s arrival.
James didn’t take a long time to come. He actually arrived sooner than he had estimated, but a combination of the liquor, the anticipation, and Alfred’s general horniness made the time feel like it was moving both ten times slower and two thirds as fast at the same time.