The Shiksa Choice
by Callie S. Blackstone
The walls of his apartment are bare, save for a painting he has been led to believe could be worth big money. All I have to do is get it assessed someday, he said during my first visit as he stared into the bright scene of a Mexican village. I could pay all my debt down. The windows of his apartment are bare, the glass streakless and clear. Light from the McDonalds sign pours in, casting a warm yellow glow. Sometimes the smell of fryer grease drifts in if the breeze is right. Tonight, the smell of oil won’t be from the industrial fryers but from his own cramped kitchen. I am waiting patiently on the couch, surveying the room as his cat perches on the windowsill and looks out. His strong arms are rhythmically pushing the potatoes against the grater, the sound slow and methodical. He has gone to visit his mother and has come back with the family recipe. He refuses to disclose the contents. Instead of allowing me to help he asks me to sit, perched on the couch. After a few episodes of The Office he emerges, sweat lining his face, muscles swelling out of his sleeves. I want to throw him on the ground and devour him there, on the floor–let all the McDonalds’ customers see. I think of how I couldn’t find a sexy Hanukkah card for when I gifted him one blowjob per day of the festival. I want to celebrate the revolt, let’s celebrate the miracle lights. I want to cover him in body oil, rub his sore muscles down, rid his fingers of the damp earthiness the vegetables left behind. But, no, no, he’s a boy who plans, who sticks to a schedule, who isn’t religious but wants to celebrate his culture. I stare at his arms while he shows me the cheesecloth that he rescued from an abandoned beer making kit, how he explains he’ll press out all of the water before forming each fritter with his strong hands. The hot oil sizzles as he drops the first one, the delicious smell immediately wafts out. I can’t wait to devour them, before kneeling to devour him. Curses fly out of the kitchen as the oil hisses on to his bare arms, wounds I imagine myself licking later. Finally, after several minutes of sizzling, he presents me with a plate of thick potato pancakes, grease trailing on the porcelain. There are dollops of sour cream which I slyly scrape to the side–there’s too much of the cooling dairy for my taste, let me lean in all the way, the richness of the fried potato paired with the sweetness of the applesauce. After we dated for a few months I had told him I suspected he was a feeder because he was always trying to provide, always giving gargantuan portions, always upset if I didn’t eat all of it. He has outdone himself, the pancakes are huge and heavy and they are piled on my plate. There’s a gleam in his eye, he knows I can’t say no when it’s a food linked to his culture. I begin to fade quickly, I was starving but they’re so filling. I methodically fill my mouth with more and more and when we’re done we lay on the couch looking at each other. I cannot think about entering any other position, I cannot think about kneeling, and maybe that was his goal after all.
My condo is cluttered with his things, it is a hoarding hideaway in the making. We’ve been under the pandemic lockdown for several months. The attic door broke and I don’t want to have a handyman fix it right now, I don’t want to invite the virus into my home. So he has leaned several of his paintings against the walls, protected by plastic bags. They go unhung, just like most of them did in his last apartment. Plastic container after plastic container takes up the majority of my living room, belongings he is too nostalgic to part with: shoes filled with memories, cards he purchased but has never gotten the opportunity to send, gifts for ex-girlfriends he never had the opportunity to give. I know he stashes every love letter I’ve written to him in a specific desk drawer. He has told me it is one of his favorite parts of dating me: waking up, discovering a paper lined with my thoughts. Even the ugly ones, he says, even the angry ones. Despite this I still get upset when he tries to downsize, to get rid of artifacts of our relationship, like the flight glass with the neon frog on it from the shitty brewery we went to. It is this chaos that he brought into my home after nine months of dating. It is in this chaos that I try to forge our relationship, to keep things interesting, to get him to want to fuck me again. He told me he stopped fucking his last girlfriend before he even moved in with her, but I never thought it would happen to me. A series of strategies followed: nudes, sexts, lingerie, sex toys, new positions, new locations. One long term strategy involved date nights, something to feel different and special, something to look forward to amongst fear of the virus. Originally I forced us to get dressed up but he didn’t see the point of the whole thing, so he complained and retreated into his sweats. Fine. Still, it is something different to do while staying at home–something to put effort into, something to continue to hope for, something to help guide his cock back to my mouth. He doesn’t even want me to blow him anymore. I purchased an international snack box subscription. I had eyed them for a long time but denied myself in my austerity, always investing my money into others but never myself. In some ways, the quarantine has released me. I pair each country’s box with dinner from the region. Ukraine. I have always wanted to try blintzes, tightly rolled pancakes stuffed with a variety of fillings every time I went to a diner. But I have always been afraid to try something new, to go hungry if I didn’t like them. So I purchase some frozen ones; I read once that my state has one of the highest number of Jewish food items per grocery store in the country. The flavor choices are overwhelming, my hands go cold in the freezer while I try to decide: cheese, potato, cheese and potato? Apple? Blueberry? Cherry? I eventually selected cheese, potato, apple. Three courses. I tell him the dinner will be done quickly, unlike other events where I underestimated how long it would take and he was left waiting hours–I’ve never been a good cook. Still, he isn’t prepared when I come in with the food, won’t put his cell phone down–we are supposed to put our cell phones down, to focus on each other, on date night. I explain the food choice, note it is associated with the Jewish culture. He complains that they were previously frozen, eyeing how pale and undercooked they look with suspicion. I try to remain excited as I cut into the first one. The crunch of the outer layers of crisp pancake gives into the soft filling. The farmer’s cheese is semisoft, large chunks reminiscent of cottage cheese. I have never liked this form of cheese, even as the filling of pierogi. Admittedly, we both pushed it away, me glad to have tried something new, him utterly repulsed. The potato filling is surprisingly light and delicate. I dig in with fervor, savoring the contrast of the crispiness against the softness. He notes that these were probably not things you should eat straight from the freezer–were probably things best served fresh. As if we can go to any diner. I stop meeting his eyes, determined to enjoy something I had been looking forward to–blintzes, date night, which only came once a month after he stopped wanting to put any effort in, the potential for sex. I eat the potato blintz with fervor, even swiping it through the sour cream, savoring the cold coolness against the crunchy wrapper. Next, the apple. Even he admits the apple filling is soft, sweet, laden with cinnamon, delicious. His mouth is full of it while he complains about the Ukrainian horror film I selected to watch. Half of my blintz goes uneaten and my body goes untouched.
The man who owned the condo before me installed a wooden backsplash in the kitchen. He worked in restaurants and claimed this was the cutting-edge design choice. The white wood is stained with gravy and cherry juice, the edges have softened over time with water. I’m not sure what restaurants he worked in but I imagine they are long rotted out. The space is small and the counters are cluttered with various appliances, leaving little room to actually cook. I got rid of the slow cooker a beloved maternal figure gave me, throwing it into the huge container at the dump and waiting until the metal hit the bottom and sent ringing echoes back before I left. I should have saved it and put it in the attic once the ladder was fixed. Why didn’t I save it and put it in the attic once the ladder was fixed? I think of other nostalgic things in the kitchen, the mug and measuring cup that belonged to my ex-boyfriend’s dead mother who I idolized. I had shipped him the sign she hung in her kitchen. I was careless, I did not even bother to package it, and it cracked on its way across the country. There are reasons I am staying with a man who is constantly angry at me; there are reasons I only look into the mirror, at my own reflection, in dim light. The remaining sign in my kitchen is white and reads Nugs Not Drugs. It features a picture of chicken nuggets. A friend I have since lost touch with gave it to me long ago. When he gets home from the restaurant my boyfriend looks for a place on the countertop that isn’t covered with dirty dishes (the dishwasher had broken long ago and had gone unfixed due to the pandemic,) and pulls out the two containers of matzah ball soup. Local restaurants are running specials for Passover. One container is filled with a muddy broth featuring large expensive mushrooms that intermingle with carrot, onion, celery and huge strips of chicken. The dumplings are small. The other contains a clearer chicken broth, small cubes of carrot and chunks of chicken reminiscent of the Campbell’s soup I grew up eating. The matzah are large, perfectly cylindrical. We started with the first. I avoid the mushrooms. He acknowledges that he knew I wouldn’t like them, goes on to state that this is the fine dining of matzah ball soup, praises the rich earthy flavors and the fact that the matzah was clearly made with schmaltz, as traditional recipes call for. I give him what I can’t eat, our small ritual which is likely part of the reason why he has gained so much weight during the pandemic. More food, no gyms. Not that he had gone to the gym while dating me; I encouraged him to go alone but he always wanted to be together, never apart, and so he slowly gained weight and blamed me for it. I love the way his stomach has expanded, the fur guiding me to his cock, nestled between two deliciously thick thighs. But he stares into the mirror, into thinning hair and expanding waistline and hates himself even more than he did before, and he hides his body from me even more. He is beginning to realize he’d never hike the Appalachian trail because he is old and fat and his chronic neck pain is worsening and this is all my fault, too. He slurps the remainder of the soup up quickly, brings out the second course. I am already full but have learned that there is no point in refusing food, and he’d been nice enough to pick it up, anyway. This dish was more palatable to me, the broth chicken-based and rich with salt. While the other soup celebrated all of its elements, the star in the second soup truly is the matzah, soft and round and fluffy. He explains different types of the dumplings, expresses shock that my coworker’s family enjoys them cold, notes that this soup reminded him of the instant variety that had been served in his home growing up. Yet, he says I make the shiksa choice, disappointment filling his voice after I praise the second soup. He always complains that he could never get a Jewish or black girl to hold any interest in him, drunkenly lamenting this, always reminding me that I am a last choice.
The hamantaschen have followed us from apartment to apartment, all of the kitchens dark, cramped, cluttered. Sugar and butter have carried us through this relationship despite our respective misgivings about our bodies, dimpled with fat; he holds anger about our bodies, he frequently reminds me what he hates about mine. He has creatively insulted every part of my body except for my face and my arms, but I’m sure it’s inevitable. He won’t even look at me naked anymore. If I enter a room naked it’s like I’m a ghost. What he really wants is a woman who can make money looking back at it on Instagram while simultaneously feasting with him, stuffing herself with more than just his cock. But oh, how we feast. The cookies are triangular. The shortbread base is rich and buttery. I seek out the raspberry filled ones, the tartness of the fruit balanced out with sugar. These happen to be his favorites, he has difficulty restraining himself, he powers through the whole package. He leaves one or two behind for me so he can tell himself he provided, so he can tell himself I never went hungry, so he can deny how much weight he is gaining. I savor the flavors, think of how his favorite desserts–simple shortbread, jam–often mimic those I associate with older people, how he is really a crotchety old man in a youngish body. I tell him that I think I could make these cookies–I’ve made thumbprints before, filled them with sharp lemon custard. I have dreamed of making him a variety of Jewish baked goods, their names difficult for me to pronounce and their forms difficult for me to master. Baking is one of the only activities I do that totally quiets my mind. I can’t hear his criticisms when I do it; I can’t hear my own. I only sense the cold dough in my hands coming together, forming the ball that splits off into cookies or scones. I don’t consider myself an expert but I focus on simple recipes things that are hard to fuck up. I always joke that any form of butter and sugar is acceptable, even if it comes out a little dry or malformed. When we first started dating I made him the perfect chocolate chip cookies, followed every step of the recipe to the letter, added the secret ingredients I’d been using for years. I had seduced my ex-boyfriend with these delights many times. My boyfriend loved them, devoured them. As time went on he told me I didn’t practice baking enough, criticized the signature shape of my cookies, sang the praises of an ex-girlfriend’s baking. I told him I thought I could make these cookies, I could tackle rugelach or babka, but he sat eating mindlessly, my words falling on deaf ears.